Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-1709-7
Historical Romance, 2013 (Reissue)
Okay, I feel like I’m cheating to review this book for the March TBR Challenge, as I actually forgot about the challenge until the last minute and decided that this book, which I already happened to read and was about to review, would do just as well. Well, this one fits the theme: a book in a series that I am catching up on. What Happens at Christmas is part of Victoria Alexander’s Millworth Manor series, so there! It can stand alone quite well, I feel, as I’m reading the series all out of order and so far I haven’t been really stumped. This one has a smaller cast of recurring characters compared to other books, which is also a plus for new readers.
Anyway, this is getting embarrassing, as I’m going to end up basically repeating the things I’ve said in other reviews of the the books in this series: What Happens at Christmas is funny, the characters are a little bit more than usual archetypes – in a good way, of course, and I’ve had a blast from the first page to last. I don’t know what happened, but it does seem like the author has been struck by a momentous kind of inspiration once she moved house from Avon to Zebra, and lucky me, I’m enjoying everything that happened.
Camille, Lady Lydingham, like her twin sister Beryl and her younger sister Delilah, all married well to older well-moneyed gentlemen. Their marriages were pleasantly happy ones, and now the three widows are comfortably off. Beryl even got married again. In this story, Camille decides that it would be fabulous if she becomes a princess. Why not? Prince Nikolai Pruzinsky of Greater Avalonia has indicated clearly that he’d like to have her in his life in sickness and health. To get that man to propose, Camille decides to give the man what seems to be his heart’s desire: a very proper English Christmas party.
The problem is that her mother is pretty… unconventional, Beryl and her husband had a soap opera which only recently ended after entertaining the Ton for a time, and while Delilah may seem like the only family member who fits the prim and proper mold, she and Camille don’t get along. Fortunately, the rest of the family are away, leaving Camille free to hire a troupe of actors to play ideal versions of her family members during the party. Unfortunately, “Mother” can’t remember her character’s name, “Delilah” is a tramp on the prowl for hot guys to play with, and the “family butler” is more earnest than talented. Too late, Camille realizes that the only reason she managed to hire this bunch of actors so quickly around the holiday season is because they are a motley bunch of ex-servants hoping to jump start an acting career along with has-beens whose days of glory are over for a good reason. Beryl warned her that her plan would flop, and now she sits back to enjoy the circus.
Even more frustrating is the reappearance of Grayson Elliott, her best friend from her childhood days. The man proposed to her the day before she was to marry the man that eventually became her now late husband, and then vanished without writing back or dropping by. Worse, Grayson seems intent on sabotaging her efforts to impress the Prince, even going as far as to tell her that he screwed up big time the last time around, but this time he wants to make sure that everything is right for the two of them. Ooh, this is so annoying!
It’s pretty clear from the beginning that Prince Nikolai is not who he is claiming to be, but yet the author still manages to avoid making Camille look too much like a gullible fool here. This is because Camille seems to be indulging Nikolai due to a fanciful notion she has, on her own terms. She’s the one wanting to do the chasing here, which may make her seem like a predator underneath her easily excitable exterior to some readers, but I prefer this approach to one where Camille is stringed along. Here, Camille controls the pacing of her relationship with Nikolai, and if it takes awhile for her to remove the blinders from her eyes, she never becomes a victim of her own fancies.
Grayson and Camille can bicker and argue like children sometimes… okay, most of the time, but they are so adorable while they are at it. These two have some fabulous rapport going on here, and each gives as good as he or she gets. I also like how both characters admit that they both messed things up back then when they were younger. This awareness bodes well for their second go for a happily ever after. They can argue and yell over what seems like petty matters at times, but it’s all in the spirit of arguments as foreplay. I get this wonderful feeling that they enjoy arguing because it’s an excuse to stay a little longer in the other person’s company.
The secondary characters, as always, as fun, playing their roles without advertising their books too overtly. Beryl has fragments of her own love story inserted here, but the details are just enough to make me look up the book she starred in without overwhelming the current story or, worse, dragging the whole thing into exposition hell. The actors are most amusing, and everyone else just adds to the cacophony in this farcical tale.
Later in the story, things can get silly as long-lost family members show up and the mayhem just piles up, but hey, this is a Christmastime story. Besides, the author makes use of these otherwise corny plot twists most effectively – things still remain funny as the sweet family moments get tuned up a notch, so I never feel the need to check my blood glucose level.
All in all, What Happens at Christmas happened fabulously, and I am most happy as a result.
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