Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29903-4
Historical Romance, 2016
When it comes to Christmas, we can’t leave out Regency England, of course, hence Once Upon a Regency Christmas with three staple authors from Harlequin Historical demonstrating the various ways one can show one’s rear end without even needing a drop of alcohol.
Louise Allen’s On a Winter’s Eve is the best written story of the three, with a strong Carla Kelly-esque vibe in that the author can create some really sweet and even poetic scenes using simple turns of phrases. Lady Julia Chalcott comes back to England with her stepdaughter in tow, on a whim to give Miriam a chance at enjoying a more English kind of life. Their carriage breaks down halfway, and Captain Giles Markham comes to the rescue, only for the man to end up snowbound with them at Julia’s new home. The new home, her late husband’s property which she has never seen until now, turns out to be a rundown place, but no matter, there is nothing like Christmastime cheer and some sex to keep the home fires burning.
This one could have been sweet, except for the hero doing his best to resemble the hypocritical ass that took a dump on the Christmas pie. He knows all about Julia, but neglects to mention that he has inherited a title so that he can still be “himself” with her. Julia, a wealthy woman, wants to keep news of her fortune on her downlow to keep away the predatory folks, so she neglects to mention that to him. So far, so good. But then he overhears her and assumes that she’s just another woman seeking a wealthy man to latch on too. Never mind that he needs a wealthy woman to latch on to – he immediately brands her as one of those women and treats her like dirt. Not that this stops him from shagging her, of course. In the end, he apologizes and she takes him back, but it’s never a good sign when the road to happily ever after begins with an apology from an ass.
Sophia James’s Marriage Made at Christmas is written in such a florid, overwrought manner that it is the complete opposite of the previous story. Unlike Ms Allen, Sophia James crams as many florid adjectives as she can in every sentence, but instead of scenes of heartbreaking elegance, I get a headache. Basically, we have the waif-like Christine Howard who is generally useless and helpless. Before she dies from being so hapless, she encounters William Miller, who will be called “the American” so often that it seems like being American is the poor guy’s sole characteristic worth noting. These two take what seem like forever to shag and profess their love. In the meantime, all they do is to sell me that America is a place that has no bigotry – none at all! – no class system – never! – no discrimination – Native Americans and the white people all sing Kumbaya together! – and so forth, so Christine really wants to live there with William propping her up forever and ever. Ugh.
In the meantime, the author writes like she’s drowning in eggnog and melodrama.
He needed to bury old demons and find the truth burnt in the ashes of lies. He did not expect the promise of the phoenix, but he hoped for peace at least. Only that. A peace to lay on the grave of his father so that his spirit might find a place in the afterlife allowing him some respite from anger, some understanding that he had not found in his troubled lifetime.
The author pounces on me like that, without any preliminary context. She forces onto my face all that gobbledygook about lies and ashes and phoenixes that I can only go, “Well, that must be some really strong libation!”
The author can’t even let someone be sick without laying on the cheese so thickly.
She would never rest knowing he lay there lost in fever and sickness.
Oh please. As I’ve mentioned, there is never anything too excessive or purple for the author – it’s not just enough to be sick, one has to be “lost in fever and sickness”. Once or while, such verbal diarrhea may be fine, even poetic. But a whole story with non-stop purplish excess only suggests that the author is far more impressed with her own wordsmith than she should be.
What is Christmas without idiot martyrs, right? Annie Burrows serves up two in Cinderella’s Perfect Christmas. Alice Waverly, the Cinderella in question, feigns illness so that her wicked stepmother and stepsisters will go off on their holiday, leaving her behind for some peace and quiet. Well, Captain Jack Grayling, his kids, and his buddy stop by, needing shelter from the storm, and Alice demonstrates that, despite being an unpaid servant, she has miraculously managed to master tricks and tips that make her the perfect mother figure, Oprah-like sensitive soul that understands a man’s wounded soul, and the hottest sexpot goddess that, despite being innocent and virginal, can still somehow do sexy (but not whorish, because romance heroines don’t do that kind of thing!) things that will trap a man into her honeypot forever.
Alas, Jack doesn’t believe that he deserves love – although that never stops him from screwing her happily nonetheless – so after the tupping, he asks her to come with him to be his kids’ nanny. He’d pay her! Generously! Ladies and gentleman, let’s clap for this hooker. Despite being given a lifeline – an insulting one, but still a lifeline – to be free from her odious family, Alice refuses to budge, preferring to become the unpaid Cinderella forever because A MAN DOESN’T TELL HER HE LOVES HER SO THE WORLD IS ENDING AND OH MY GOD BOO HOO HOO. Let’s clap for this hooker too! Both characters are grade A imbeciles and the true meaning of Christmas lies in the fact that this story is short and has the grace to end before I experience a Christmastime aneurysm.
I am normally a big sap around this time of the year, so I’m often more lenient than I normally would when it comes to this kind of stories. But Once Upon a Regency Christmas is still annoying enough to make me feel like a Scrooge. I don’t know whether to be impressed or not, but still, it’s never nice to try to ruin my holiday cheer like this.