Friday, November 6, 2009

The Heart of Christmas Anthology Book Review

I have something to admit. I am not a big fan of anthologies. But when Courtney Milan sent me The Heart of Christmas anthology that she, Mary Balogh and Nicola Cornick are all a part of, I decided to give it a read. The main reason is because I’ve been hearing great things about Courtney’s writing. I read her short story, His Wicked Gift, first and then the other two. And let me say that Courtney is a much welcomed author for the historical romance genre. Keep an eye on her because she is definitely going place.

Two out of the three stories were very enjoyable while one was not…

A Handful of Gold by Mary Balogh was my least favorite story in this anthology. We have the same old rehash of a plot with a gentleman rake who is bored in London surrounded by all his wealth. Julian Dare, Viscount Folingsby is out of sorts because his father is forcing him to marry. He’s twenty nine after all and it’s about time he settled down and has an heir. Julian has not finished sowing his oats but decided some relaxation is in order when his friend, Bertrand (what is up with that name?) invites him to his hunting box (for the life of me I still don’t understand what a hunting box is) for the holidays. Bertie has his mistress to keep him satisfied and wants Julian to bring his own mistress and come along for some cheer and holiday shagging. Julian has the perfect woman picked out. She is Blanche Heyward, a dancer for the opera *made this fix when it was was pointed out that Blanche isn't an opera singer* with “long, shapely legs with long titan hair and emerald eyes.” Julian is smitten or rather horny for this titan; emerald eyed beauty and asks her to join him for some holiday debauchery.

Blanche is actually Miss Verity Ewing, a virginal young miss who pretends to be a worldly opera dancer in order to pay for the costly medicine for her sick sister. Verity’s mother and sister have no clue about her secret life and tells them some laughable excuse about being a hired companion for a eccentric lady who needs Verity mainly at night. When Julian meets her at the opera and takes her to dinner, he explains how he longs for company for the week and will pay her five hundred pounds. Verity accepts because the money will help her sister. And all of London society thinks she’s a fallen woman anyway (except her clueless mother) because an opera dancer could never be a virgin! Who knew being stage could make a woman a hussy?

Julian and Verity head off for their week long adventure and even though Verity is nervous about being ruined by Julian, she decides to welcome his advances because Julian should have wonderful skills in the bedroom because of his reputation. He kisses her and figures out that Verity’s lips are virgin ones and is insulted. How dare she lie to him! He’s been played the fool. Now Julian and Verity are together for the week and can’t act on their desire for one another because of Verity being so pure and innocent.

A Handful of Gold was a ridiculous little story. How many times have I read before about the acclaimed opera singer actually being some virginal and precious young miss who catches the eyes of the biggest rake in all of London? Verity had no personality to speak of and Julian was a dullard.

Grade: C

Nicola Cornick’s The Season For Suitors was a cute and fun read about two people who are so right for one another but try to ignore their feelings because they think they want different things in life. Sebastian, Duke of Fleet is yet another London rake who is bored with life in general. Things begin to look up when he receives a letter from Clara Davencourt. Sebastian is surprised to hear from Clara due to the falling out they had eighteen months ago because he rejected her offer of marriage. She was insulted, hurled a few choice words at him and they haven't spoken since then. Now Clara is asking Sebastian for advice. Sebastian longs to be friends with her again. Clara is also pleased with renewing their acquaintance because Sebastian is a skilled rake. She needs him to help her with all these new rakes that keep popping up and trying to seduce her because she is now a rich heiress due to her godmother who died and left her a fortune. Clara is not ready to be married and since Sebastian isn’t either, he’ll help her out.

Soon Sebastian is under Clara’s spell but can’t give into his desire for her, mainly because he respects her too much and feels he’s not worthy because of something that happened in his past that still affects him. If Sebastian can forgive himself over the guilt he feels for this past deed, he’ll finally have the best holiday ever in the arms of the woman he has grown to love.

The Season for Suitors is a witty little tale with two lovely characters who can see how special each other is with their quirks and all. Both Sebastian and Clara are fun loving individuals and there are a few laughs withn the pages that makes for fun reading.

Grade: B

Courtney Milan’s His Wicked Gift was my favorite of the three. Courtney takes a Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol and gives it a nice twist with a regency romance where a mysterious man finds love with a poor girl who runs her father’s lending library business.

Lavinia Spencer has cut corners and saved every penny of her hard earned money to give her father and younger brother a very special Christmas. Times are tough and Lavinia spends her days running her family’s business because her father can’t any longer due to an illness. She also looks forward to seeing a special subscriber on certain days. William Q. White makes Lavinia’s heart flutter. The way he speaks makes her tingle. There's something so very special about this man who uses long vowels when he talks. Instead of William using the smell of sandalwood to make Lavinia, giddy, all he has to do is to recite the alphabet to seduce her.

Unfortunately Lavinia’s younger brother James does something foolish that will ruin their whole holiday. Lavinia thinks everything is lost until Mister William Q. White comes to her aid. William has come into a bit of money and will give Lavinia what she needs if she gives him her body. William has gone through tough times and is barely making ends meet working in a counting house for a man who is a total scrooge. But he has been given ten pounds from the death of someone in his past who he felt owed him a great deal. And since William feels he has sacrificed so much, he wants one bright thing to get him through the harsh unforgiving winter and that is Lavinia.

Lavinia is shocked and scandalized but there is something special she finds in William whose ways of speech is an aphrodisiac. One thing leads to another and Williams gets what he wants. He feels immense guilt over being such a blackguard, as Lavinia first calls him, but Lavinia shows him that the holidays are all about forgiveness, hope and kindness. And because of this, she has given him a most special gift. *the gift of the magic hoo haa comes to mind here*

This Wicked Gift was very sexy and sweet. The physical side of William and Lavinia’s relationship happens a bit too fast, and Lavinia’s reaction to William’s “help” was a bit unbelievable, but overall I really did enjoy how these two clicked. Too bad the story was so short because I would have loved to read something meatier between the two. Courtney really knows how to keep a reader interested, because what could be better than making some steamy love among a room full of books?

This Dickens type tale by the much welcomed debut author Courtney Milan shows that love among the stacks makes for some naughty as well as romantic reading.

Grade: B+

Two out of three isn’t a bad thing and I would say that The Heart of the Christmas anthology is nice for those who want to get in the mood for the holidays with their historical romance reading. (HQN)

Final Grade: B



pattepoilue said...

I have to read this book i received it a few days ago and i'll start reading it as soon as i finish Outlander *wink* I'll start with Courtney Milan's story because she sent me the book, the least i can do is start with hers ;)

Mandi said...

I love Mary Balogh, but have been disappointed in her last few series. Too bad this one sounds blah too.

However, the other two sounds really cute. I'm really looking forward to reading Courtney Milan - and steamy love in a room full of books (picturing James McAvoy in Atonement) *swoon*

Smokinhotbooks said...

I'm an anthology junkie. I know I won't like at least 1 short story, do I stop buying them? No. Crazy since I end up buying these books personally. Courtney Milan’s His Wicked Gift looks promising and since you mentioned 2 or the 3 aren't bad...{skips} adds to my TBR pile.

SonomaLass said...

I enjoyed all three stories. Although the premise of the Balogh isn't particularly original, she is such a fine writer, and she does the little details of a scene so well, that I didn't mind. Also, the heroine was a dancer, not an opera singer. Just FYI.

I was quite pleased to see that both of the other authors' writing quality and style held their own in an anthology with Balogh. Too often with anthologies it's one good story by the Big Name and a couple of inferior ones, which definitely was not the case here. I can't wait for Courtney Milan's full length book next year, and now I've got Nicola Cornick on my list as well,

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

SonomaLass: *Blush* I had a Harriet K moment! Thanks for pointing that out.

Liza said...

Sounds like I need to add another book to my TBR list. Must say that King Mho looks dashing in his picture.

heidenkind said...

I've never been a fan of anthologies, either. I don't even know why; I just avoid them.

Janet Webb said...

I liked all three stories altho I probably would not re-visit the Cornick. A better Balogh road trip/snow book, focusing just on the two characters initially (who are not exactly as they present themselves), is Snow Angel. In this anthology, I thought Balogh's heroine's personality really came to the fore in a Christmas setting: she was a born organizer.

Enjoyed Milan's story and again, the "gift" she gave the hero was unusual but not totally unheard of in Regencies, even earlier ones. Another Balogh example: The Ungrateful Governess -- a somewhat similar choice is made on the part of the heroine.

Have to agree with you though: you do write harsh reviews and that is just fine with me -- give me honest reactions any day over maudlin pap (not thinking of any website/blog in particular) just thinking how illuminating it can be to disagree with a strongly stated opinion ... or agree LOL!

Thanks KB :)

orannia said...

Thank you KB. I actually love Christmas anthologies and will no doubt be pulling out ones from previous years :)