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Christmas

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:  Christmas at the Castle by Marion Lennox

REVIEW: Christmas at the Castle by Marion Lennox

Dear Marion Lennox:

I fell behind reading your releases in 2013, but when I saw you had a Christmas novel out in December I jumped on it. From the first couple of chapters I could tell that this was going to be a vintage Lennox, combining a fairy-tale holiday setting and story with a likable, no-nonsense heroine and a sympathetic, aristocrat hero.

Christmas at the Castle

Angus Stuart, Earl of Craigenstone and Lord of Castle Craigie, has a problem. The unwilling inheritor of his horrible father’s Earldom, he wants only to sell up the Castle and its land and get back to New York, where he has lived almost all his life. But his young half-siblings want one last Christmas at the Castle, and with the way their father mistreated them and their mother, he’s having a hard time saying no.

Scottish-Australian chef Holly McIntosh also has a problem. Her worthless fiancé stole money from their restaurant and ran off, leaving Holly with a mountain of debts and maxed out credit cards. She returns to Scotland and her beloved grandmother for a break and a frugal Christmas.

Angus needs a chef and housekeeper, and Holly needs money and a job. They strike a bargain, but that bargain almost immediately becomes more complicated when Angus tries to reassure his father’s widow, Delia, that the children will be fine at the Castle because Holly will look after them, he goes too far and blurts out that Holly is his fiancée. Holly agrees to the deception but on strictly business terms, and our tale is off and running.

Angus is not your average Earl; he hates being the Earl, he hates having to take responsibility for a Castle, family, and tenants he doesn’t know, and he just wants to get things settled and return to his investment banker American life. But he’s a very decent person, and while he’s just the Lord and not the Laird, as Holly’s grandmother Maggie observes, he’s not actively malevolent like the previous Earl.

Holly is forthright and unimpressed by Earls. She takes pride in her accomplishments as a chef even as she berates herself for having falling for her worthless ex-fiance’s deceptions. But although she agrees to the engagement pretense for the children’s and her grandmother’s sakes, she won’t turn herself into what the Earl thinks an Earl’s betrothed should be. Their trip to an exclusive boutique in Edinburgh (Maggie’s suitcases are, of course, lost by the airline) is a great sendup of the scene in Pretty Woman: the boutique’s salespeople are more than happy to kit her out, but she doesn’t want their twinsets and pearls:

She flicked over a price tag and gasped. ‘If you’re serious about spending thissort of money, or, if you’re serious about letting me be a fiancée, then I reckon I ought to be my sort of fiancée. Does that make sense?’

‘Yes,’ he said cautiously. ‘I think so.’

‘But you like this?’

‘It’s suitable.’

‘You haven’t exactly chosen a suitable fiancée,’ she reminded him.

‘I haven’t exactly chosen…’ But then he looked at the manager’s dour face and he decided enough was enough. He wasn’t about to discuss temporary engagements in public.

‘My mother will probably be coming over…for the wedding,’ he told the man consolingly. ‘She’s American but this style of clothing is exactly what she’d love. That’s why I brought Holly here. If I can leave my car here now, I’ll bring my mother—and her friends—in for a pre-wedding shop as soon as they get here.’

‘Certainly, My Lord,’ the man said heavily, casting a look of dislike at His Lord’s intended. ‘So your mother has taste?’

‘Yes, she does,’ Angus said and Holly smiled her sympathy at the poor man.

‘That’s put me in my place properly,’ she said and she reached out and took the manager’s hand and shook it with such warmth that the man’s disapproval gave way to something that could almost be a smile.

Their next stop is a more appropriate store, where Holly finds:

black leggings, blue leather boots that reached above her knees, a gorgeous oversized scarlet turtleneck sweater and a cute scarlet beret that should have screamed at her copper curls but didn’t.

Much better.

Of course Holly wins over Delia (and vice versa) and of course the children love her, and of course Maggie and her helpers from the village are able to turn a dark, miserable Castle into an inviting, Christmasy home. And of course Angus looks incredibly hot in his kilt. It’s a Christmas fairy tale, so you know how these things work. But the relationships feel real, and Holly and Angus don’t just fall into lust with each other, they talk and share confidences and become friends.

Not everything works perfectly; sometimes the Christmas spirit is a little thick. There is a dog, who belongs to the forcibly retired gamekeeper. They get their happy ending too. Everyone gets their happy ending, except the villain, whose villainy is played for understatement and who doesn’t get punished as badly as he deserves.

The way Angus resolves his obligations to the village and the earldom requires the greatest suspension of disbelief, and it will undoubtedly cross over into sugar-overload-territory for some readers. But this is Marion Lennox’s story, and she manages to balance the sweetness with a few down-to-earth characters. And I’m a sucker for a Christmas story, so it worked for me. Go into expecting to read about a Christmas miracle and it may well work for you too. Grade: B

~ Sunita

 

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