Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Wallflower Christmas

The Wallflowers are four young ladies in London who banded together in their wild and wickedly wonderful searches for true love. Now happily married, they join together once again to help one of the world’s most notorious rogues realize that happiness might be right under the mistletoe...

It’s Christmastime in London and Rafe Bowman has arrived from America for his arranged meeting with Natalie Blandford, the very proper and beautiful daughter of Lady and Lord Blandford. His chiseled good looks and imposing physique are sure to impress the lady-in-waiting and, if it weren’t for his shocking American ways and wild reputation, her hand would already be guaranteed. Before the courtship can begin, Rafe realizes he must learn the rules of London society. But when four former Wallflowers try their hand at matchmaking, no one knows what will happen. And winning a bride turns out to be more complicated than Rafe Bowman anticipated, especially for a man accustomed to getting anything he wants. However, Christmas works in the most unexpected ways, changing a cynic to a romantic and inspiring passion in the most timid of hearts.

A Wallflower Christmas takes a trip to Victorian London, under the mistletoe, and on a journey of the heart. With her trademark charm, sensuality, and unforgettable characters, there’s no one like Lisa Kleypas to make you believe in the magic of Christmas.

A sparkling Christmas treat for fans of the Wallflower series!

Oh my goodness, what a wonderful Christmas treat!  I loved Lisa Kleypas' Wallflower series and I was really excited when this bonus Christmas novella came out.  Big hint:  this book cannot fully be appreciated until you have first enjoyed reading the 4 book Wallflower series (see covers below for series order).  Now then, the copyright on my hardback novella says October 2008, but I know I didn't discover this book until last year, so I'm a bit boggled by that.  And unfortunately, between eye surgery recovery and work (and being the seasonal reader I am), I reluctantly had to place it on my shelf as a priority for this year's Christmas reading.  Oh, I wish I hadn't waited, but at the same time, I'm glad I did.  After reading this, I want to go back and read the entire Wallflower series all over again.

Reading this novella was truly like visiting old friends.  Shortly after Daisy's wedding from book 4, Scandal in Spring, we reunite with all four girls and their husbands.  Here, the Wallflowers take a stab at helping Lillian and Daisy's brother Rafe learn more about the girl their social-climbing parents want him to marry.  Rafe is crossing the pond from New York to meet Natalie Blandford for the first time during Christmas festivities at the Westcliff's Stoney Cross Park in Hampshire.  With the Bowman family's high hopes for a betrothal announcement at the Christmas Eve Ball, the Wallflowers get cracking on finding out more about Natalie. So what better way to learn about the girl than interview her companion?  

Hannah Appleton is an impoverished relative who the Blandfords took in to be Natalie's maid, chaperone and companion.  We learn this when Lillian invites Hannah to tea and Rafe interrupts their meeting, leaving Hannah to question his manners, reputation and his overall suitability.  Nevertheless, Natalie is intrigued enough with Hannah's report to carry on with the plan to spend Christmas with the Westcliffs where she will meet Rafe and see how things go.  

Meanwhile Rafe is chuckling in the wings... Hannah was just too easy a target.  His attitude and lack of manners were an exaggeration to gain the upper hand of the whole situation but Rafe hadn't counted on finding himself intrigued by this intelligent, pretty girl.  Natalie?  Yes, he would go along with the plan to see if they suit, but Hannah was a surprise, and a pleasant one at that.  With Christmas around the corner, Natalie doesn't hide her attraction to Rafe and he shows just as much interest in return.   Will Hannah be able to stomach the growing attraction she sees forming between Natalie and Rafe?  And will the Wallflowers come to aid the romance that's due for announcement on Christmas Eve?

I really loved this story.  It was just one of those warm, cozy Christmas reads that make you want to curl up with a blanket in front of the fire with hot cocoa and fuzzy socks.  Sure the story was a tad predictable in the grand scheme of things, but the road travelled was an excellent one.  I would have loved to have seen this as a full length novel, and a bit more meat in the epilogue would have been equally welcomed.  The epilogue was very short and sweet, and unfortunately left no doubt that this was indeed the end of the Wallflowers series.  I'm sad to see it end but the series will remain on my shelves (and Kindle) and I look forward to visiting them all again soon.

Now, lets talk about the physical book.  I mentioned that I own the hardback release of this book, and it is indeed a pretty thing.  It stands approximately 8.5 inches tall, and 5.5 inches wide, and clocks in at 216 pages.  In other words, it looks dang good on my keeper shelf.  Plus it has generous margins, easy-on-the-eye type...  The price, you say?  Let's just say that I did NOT pay the original price tag of $16.95.  Nor would I.  And if you hunt just a little, I have no doubt you can pick up the pretty hardbound copy for under $6 if you look in the bargain areas of Borders, B&N and BAM.  Even Amazon has slashed ten bucks off the price (as of the date of this review) and I've seen them with my own eyes as low as $4 at BAM.  But keep in mind too that while the hardback can be found for a steal, there is a mass market paperback that was released this season for $6.99 (full price) and, truthfully, I'm ready to trade in my hardback to get the paperback instead.  Wanna know why?  The paperback will sit neatly with my other Wallflower paperbacks on the bookshelf.  Unless the Wallflowers are being released in hardbound sometime soon - which I doubt, but would totally buy! - the hardbound novella really means little to me.  Simple, really.  I prefer to keep my favorite series books grouped together on my shelves. 

All that said and done, I highly recommend A Wallflower Christmas.  It's a quickie read you can finish in an evening or two and a fine compliment and end to the series itself.  Below are the covers for the Wallflower series which are equally wonderful.  Devil in Winter is my personal favorite!  Please read them in order for maximum enjoyment.

My rating:  9 - Loved it!

The Wallflower series in order and the Christmas novella...

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Christmas Promise

A love that cannot be bought or sold proves to be the greatest gift of all, in this heartwarming classic that demonstrates once again why New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh is among the most celebrated authors of historical romance.

Weddings are supposed to be joyous occasions—especially when a couple seems as well matched as Randolph Pierce, Earl of Falloden, and his bride-to-be, Eleanor Transome. Ellie brings to the marriage a vast dowry, while Falloden, though distant, is handsome, tremendously desirable, and possessed of a title most young ladies can only dream of sharing.

Yet Ellie is not most young ladies. She knows that she must honor her dear father’s dying wish for her to wed the proud earl, but she dreads a lifetime in a union without love—and how can Falloden claim to love her when he married her only for her fortune? As Christmas descends upon the Falloden manor, the warmth of the season may yet melt away the trappings of duty and wealth, leaving behind only a man and a woman destined for each other’s arms.

Indeed heartwarming, but not sure about a classic...

I enjoyed this Christmas story by Mary Balogh but was a little disappointed with it.  My review is coming up!

My rating:  6 - It was a pleasant read

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Regency Christmas Proposals

The Soldier's Christmas Miracle by Gayle Wilson
Wounded soldier Guy Wakefield has finally found the woman who saved his life. Isabella Stowe accepts his gratitude, but it will take more than a kiss under the mistletoe to convince this world-weary widow to accept his proposal….

Snowbound and Seduced by Amanda McCabe
Mary Bassington, Lady Derrington, longs to be the carefree woman she once was. But she gets more than she bargained for this Christmas when she's snowbound with old flame Dominick, Viscount Amesby, who reignites her passion for life—and love!

Christmas at Mulberry Hall by Carole Mortimer
Spending Christmas alone with his unconventional ward pushes the boundaries of propriety—and self-control—too far for Lord Gideon Grayson. So he takes delectably pure Amelia Ashford to Mulberry Hall—but that pesky mistletoe is still all around….

McCabe's story shines... a perfectly warm and cozy Christmas read!

Harlequin Historicals has released a collection of three Christmassy romances tucked together behind a beautiful cover which offers light, seasonal reading for a few cozy evenings by the fire.  Amanda McCabe and Carole Mortimer were familiar names to me, thanks to other Harlequin titles they've penned but Gayle Wilson was a new author for me and she had a nice contribution to this anthology.  These three stories are individual and not related to each other except sharing the Christmas season but I must confess that as a big fan of The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor, I was excited to see Ms. McCabe give one of the supporting characters a romance of her own.  And it was my favorite in this anthology!   Ms. Mortimer also gives a supporting character from her Notorious St. Claires series a Christmas love story too.  (Book connections are listed at the end of this post.)

Above, next to the cover pic, is the brief synopsis of each story from the back cover of the book and below is my mini-review along with my ratings for each story.  My anthology stories are individually rated as follows:  LOVED IT, ENJOYED IT, JUST OK, or DIDN'T LIKE IT. 

The Soldier's Christmas Miracle by Gayle Wilson - Guy Wakefield was injured and temporarily blinded at the front lines several years ago, but the woman who tended to his injuries and gave him hope and encouragement has haunted him ever since.  Years later, Guy learns that the woman was Isabella Stowe, wife of Captain William Stowe, so he travels to her home to express his gratitude.

Isabella is trying to make ends meet with the pension from her late husband's military service but Guy is quick to discover her financial difficulties and contrives a plan to discreetly help her out as a "thank you" for everything she did.  Isabella was quick to brush off his gratitude, after all she probably said the same words of encouragement to hundreds of other soldiers too.  But Guy doesn't give up so easily, especially since he finds her to be a strong and independent woman, and one he is attracted to.  Can he make Isabella see that all he really wants is to show her the same kindness in return, with maybe some Christmas love to go along with it?

ENJOYED IT.  Isabella was a bit too stubborn for my taste and Guy was a real sweetheart of a guy who had to do a lot of work to woo this woman.  I liked his attempts but got frustrated with Isabella.  He eventually wins her heart, but I wasn't quite satisfied with the ending since her pity for his on-again-off-again blindness seemed to propel the end of the story and, even then, Isabella was a trial to win over.  Guy just seemed too good for her.  Overall, I did enjoy it, although its Chistmassiness was minimal. 

Snowbound and Seduced by Amanda McCabe - At a summer party at Welbourne Manor, Mary Bassington discovers that her feelings for Dominick, Viscount Amesby have never truly gone away since he left her heartbroken several years ago.  Mary has since endured a loveless arranged marriage and, more recently, the death of her husband so her only solace is her young son.  Attempting to protect her heart from being broken again, she and Dominick part ways once more. 

Two years later, Mary is nursing another broken heart... the loss of her son.  To keep herself occupied she focuses all of her attention on finding a suitable match for her younger sister, Ginny.  But Ginny's in love with Dominick's cousin who doesn't have the means to support a wife or family.  Seeking Dominick's help in knocking some sense into these young lovers' heads becomes paramount until Ginny is discovered missing.  The discovery of a note reveals an elopement to Gretna Green so Dominick sets out to charge after them but not until Mary talks him in to letting her come too.  With her portmanteau packed, she climbs aboard for a journey that leads her to be snowbound and seduced.

LOVED IT.  Dominick still loves and desires Mary and we see that from their reunion in the first chapter.  But Dominick struggles with feelings of unworthiness and Mary is trying to protect her heart from being broken yet again.  So, cue the snowstorm as Mary and Dominick forget the rest of the world and indulge in their passion for one another for just one night.  But their journey isn't over and with Christmas day upon them, what better time for a love to reignite against the beautiful backdrop of the season?  No huge drama or hoops to jump through here... just a tender, romantic story and a perfectly warm and cozy Christmas read.  Curl up next to the fire with a cup of cocoa and enjoy this one!

Christmas at Mulberry Hall by Carole Mortimer - Lord Gideon Grayson stops to check in on his late brother's estate on his way to the St. Claire's family gathering for Christmas.  Upon arriving, Gray is shocked to find Steadley Manor in disrepair and Amelia, his brother's step-child and now Gray's ward, alone with only two old servants.  Angered to learn that the estate manager pocketed the funds sent to keep the manor running and fled, Gray begins to set things straight.  He also manages to drop the Grinch attitude for a few minutes and decides to bring Amelia to Mulberry Hall with him. 

Naturally, Gray is enticed by his delectable ward and Ameila finds her new rakishly handsome guardian irresistable, but Gray's stand-offish approach pushes Amelia away as Christmas festivities begin at Mulberry Hall. 

DIDN'T LIKE IT. I really struggled with this story so I'm just going to let it out... The absence of a consistent point of view resulted in reading a lot of the same details twice because scenes described by Amelia's thoughts would then be rehashed in the description of Gray's thoughts in the next paragraph.  All this was in addition to the reminders the author already gives us just in case you forgot what happened on the previous page and, frankly, it all became tiresome.  The author also got carried away using exclamation points and these weird things: "...!" and "...?"  Why not just end with a question mark or a period and be done?  And speaking of editing, or lack thereof, lets add to the list the many long sentences, often with no structure.  Several random fragments thrown together into run-ons do not tell a story any better than the instances where words were just plain missing:  "Gray's gaze narrowed he strode into the parlour, ..." (pg 229)  As for the actual meat of the story, I barely made it to chapter 5, then skimmed the rest.  There was nothing that made me care about Amelia or Gray nor was there even a hint of chemistry.  Their attraction was only physical which made their declarations of falling in love with each other the moment they met all the more laughable.  The only recommendation I can make for this story is to skip it altogether.  Honestly, I can't believe it even made it to print.

So, there you have it... three stories and three different ratings.  I'll be honest... I'm holding onto this book for the sole purpose of keeping McCabe's companion story to The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor anthology.  Snowbound and Seduced was definitely my favorite novella in Regency Christmas Proposals and rated best of the bunch. 

My overall rating for this anthology:  5 – I liked most of the book

Amanda McCabe's novella is connected to The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor anthology, which I highly recommend!

Carole Mortimer's novella is connected to The Notorious St. Claires quartet:  The Duke's Cinderella Bride, The Rake's Wicked Proposal, The Rogue's Disgraced Lady and Lady Arabella's Scandalous Marriage.  I have not read any of these titles.