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REVIEW:  Christmas Wishes by Barbara Metzger

REVIEW: Christmas Wishes by Barbara Metzger

Christmas-Wishes-1

A crisis sends Juneclaire Beaumont on a difficult journey to London, forcing her one night to take shelter in a stable with the rakish Earl of St. Cloud. Though he behaves as a gentleman, the ton would never believe him to act the nobleman for a moment, let alone a whole night. When Juneclaire slips out of town, the earl sets out to prove them wrong, spending the twelve days of Christmas on an all-or-nothing ride to find her.

Dear Ms. Metzger,

“Christmas Wishes” is a book I initially read many years ago. I won’t say how many but it’s a lot. Anyway, I had wanted to go back and reread it before doing a review since I basically remembered the hero and heroine being stranded in a barn with a pig and not much else. Turns out there’s a lot more to the book though not all of it worked as well for me this time around.

Juneclaire might come of at first as the stereotypical martyrish Regency heroine except for the fact that she knows she’s being overworked by her ogre aunt and isn’t doing all this so that a younger sister can have a Season or younger brother get his education at Eton. No, she knows she’s alone in the world and in order to have a roof over her head and clothes on her back, she’s got to do the work of about 10 people and fend off her smarmy male cousins to boot. So she runs her aunt’s household, wears castoffs and hopes that one day she might have a home of her own.

What turns out to be the last straw isn’t the fact that her aunt is now looking to marry Juneclaire off to a widower or older roué. Instead it’s the fact that Aunt Marta wants Pansy – Juneclaire’s pet pig – to be the centerpiece at Christmas dinner. With an apple in her mouth. That does it and with little fanfare or planning, Juneclaire packs her few belongings, stuffs her pockets with food and sets off with Pansy for London with the hope that she can find an old housekeeper now working there and obtain a position. Little does JuneClaire know about traveling conditions on the roads to London.

Merritt Jordan, Earl of St. Cloud, knows a lot about traveling from London to his ancestral manse and right now, none of it is good. Since the place is usually packed to the gills with odious relations and his vaporish mother, Merry attempts to avoid it if at all possible but a holiday command performance has him on the road with his man when they’re robbed. With no blunt, a banged up curricle and winded horses, Merry is forced to leave his wounded man at an inn and set off alone for home.

A trail of abandoned belongings leads him to Pansy and Juneclaire who reluctantly agrees to his offer of a ride to the nearest village from which she can catch the post to London. Merry is astounded and enraged that Juneclaire’s relations seem more rackety and less caring about her than his own are about him and though it takes Juneclaire a little while, she eventually realizes that Merry isn’t mad at her but them.

Merry has made a career at avoiding matchmaking mommas and their debutante daughters but further events lead him to the conclusion that he must offer marriage to Juneclaire after they’re forced to spend a night in a barn. Pansy simply isn’t enough of a chaperon for the high sticklers of the day and Juneclaire is Quality and thus not to be messed with.

Despite having confessed her Christmas wish to Merry of having a place of her own where she’s accepted and can never be thrown out, Juneclaire decides that she and Merry would never suit – thank goodness it’s not because of any initial farradiddle about only marrying for love – because of the vast differences in their social positions. So leaving Pansy in his care, Juneclaire writes a note and heads off into the morning to London.

A frantic Merry soon sets off in hot pursuit with the pig in tow and a determination to find the woman he feels he’s finally fallen for. But there’s a lot more he’s going to have to go through before he can try and convince Juneclaire to give them a chance, get rid of his leeching relations (his Christmas wish) and see that an old romance has a second chance.

As I said, there was a lot that I didn’t remember at all about this book. Like the whole second half of it. I adored the first part which is your standard “just barely on the edge of total chaos” plot. Things move swiftly and I laughed out loud more times than I could count. Merry’s dilemma about how to properly care for and cart Pansy around are worth the entire read in and of itself.

I also love Merry’s firecracker grandmother who has the entire household running in fear of her. Her ancient retainers and her even more ancient horse add to the fun. Juneclaire manages to pick up a litter of kittens along the way – because the old Signet Trad Regencies just weren’t Christmas ones without kittens – which makes things even more chaotic.

Where my interest sort of began to drift was in all the goings on at the Priory once Merry and Juneclaire were back together. Ghosts of Christmas present and past, rackety relatives, scheming widows and Juneclaire’s skinflint aunt and groping cousins all end up together which lead to a lot of characters to suddenly keep track of. But what truly saddened me was the fact that Merry was showing signs of doubting Juneclaire. Yes, the events were bizarre but his lack of faith or willingness to believe what she was telling him about what was going on in his own house dampened my holiday spirit. He comes around in the end but the delay was enough to lower the final grade on this one to a B-.

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Tracks by Robyn Davidson

REVIEW: Tracks by Robyn Davidson

Tracks

I arrived in the Alice at five a.m. with a dog, six dollars and a small suitcase full of inappropriate clothes. . . . There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns.

For Robyn Davidson, one of these moments comes at age twenty-seven in Alice Springs, a dodgy town at the frontier of the vast Australian desert. Davidson is intent on walking the 1,700 miles of desolate landscape between Alice Springs and the Indian Ocean, a personal pilgrimage with her dog—and four camels. Tracks is the beautifully written, compelling true story of the author’s journey and the love/hate relationships she develops along the way: with the Red Centre of Australia; with aboriginal culture; with a handsome photographer; and especially with her lovable and cranky camels, Bub, Dookie, Goliath, and Zeleika.

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The book cover and the opening line are what hooked me on reading this book. And they about say it all. The cover might be a bit misleading in that Davidson usually walked alongside her camels rather than riding one of them and they were probably not as stair step perfect in size but still the cover conveys desert journey with camels and dog. The line pretty much shows both the humor inherent in Davidson’s writing and the fact that frankly she was in no way ready for this trip when she started. Or for that matter, for a long time into the preparations.

I quickly realized that amide the chuckles there would be a lot of grim information about the Australia of 1977 – and maybe of Australia today though I sincerely hope things have changed and from what’s written in the epilogue, it seems this might be the case. Rampant misogyny, alcoholism and racism – and sometimes all 3 at once – were alive and well in Alice Springs then.

Camel handling seems to be an art crossed with a strong arm and not something I’d be looking to take up any time soon but good onya for deciding to make the dream come true. I read with fascination and horror all that’s involved with getting a trained camel to do what you want and trying to train a newbie to do the same. Not my cuppa. I can see this taking a good long while to learn and become confident with but when it’s mentioned that it’s been two years since she arrived there, I thought, “Lady it’s time to either go or get off the pot.”

And when, from what was written, she appeared to be reinventing the camel wheel, I had to wonder, “Why?” This wasn’t rocket science. This wasn’t inventing how to get to the moon. People had been saddling up camels and loading them with pack supplies for 1000s of years. Why is she seemingly contriving her own camel tack and saddles? Shed been working with 2 people for 2 years now – one an Afghani camel herder for chrissakes. I kept wondering why can’t she just look at their tack and saddles and copy them?

Then when she went to meet with National Geographic people about sponsoring the trip and she admitted to us the readers that she hadn’t plotted a route yet. I think the words “you’ve got to be fucking me” crossed my lips. Talk about babe in the desert woods. At this point, I sat down with grim determination to see this adventure, via the book, through. She was like watching a toddler walk around with a loaded gun. Would she avoid killing/injuring herself and any more animals under her care before it was all said and done?

We then started the second third of the story and the change in her was almost night and day. Now that the journey has begun, she’s almost … competent. Much more in control and less hysterical than before even though the opening stages of the journey are even more of a learning experience. What items are needed and what she should have jettisoned before even starting? What’s the best way to pack the gear and distribute the weight? The coming days pared down not only the baggage but Davidson and this is where the book gets wonderful.

In the beginning, she was often among other people: tourists, the National Geographic camera man, rangers and Aborigines. Some of them were helpful, some annoying and some transformed her. Her time with Eddie, the elder Aborigine gentleman was illuminating and from him she began to see Australia as they always have. To slip into an almost dreamlike state of existing and coexisting. But this part also kept hammering home how much colonization has almost destroyed them.

Her description of her relationship with Rick, the camera man, came to annoy me. A friend of hers points out that without his advice to seek out National Geographic’s sponsorship, her trip might not have happened. But along with the money comes the stings and while I can see that, based on her original hopes for what the journey would be for her, having him tag along and document it in pictures utterly altered things, her whingeing got on my nerves. To answer her own question, yes she got too precious about it. He was only part of the snakes in her Eden and it was never going to be as pristine as she imagined. Maybe that’s my middle age speaking to her youthful 70s idealism but get over it.

We quickly see how dependent she is on the camels and their health. But while she takes good care of them, she totally falls down on the job in another quarter. She gives fair warning of what is going to happen, right before it happens, but I was sick at heart to read what befalls one member of their little party – especially since it could have been avoided. So while the opening line makes this sound like it could be fun to read, the reality is that this was anything but a breezy jaunt across Australia.

As I was reading the final third of the book, I kept thinking that this trip was a product of its era. That it probably couldn’t be done or repeated today and the epilogue confirmed this. Regulations and the modern thirst for publicity and fame would either condemn it or the person trying it for attempting to stay below the radar – to keep a tiny bit of privacy and have the journey, external and internal, remain their own. With the internet and GPS the prep and actual travel would be inevitably changed – maybe for the better but changed all the same.

Overall, I enjoyed the journey though the prep sounded like hell at times. I hated to see the privacy and ownership of the trip drift out of her hands, hated to see her get upset about this, hated to see the worst aspects of it too. But the trip is an interesting thing to read about and see how it all came together and, in some places, fell apart. I’m basically an armchair adventuress so I’ll leave such things to others to do and the reading of them for me. B

~Jayne

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