Friday, December 31, 2010

Once Upon a Christmas

After a tragic loss, Celia Delacourt faces the daunting prospect of a lonely life as a governess... or worse.  Then the Duchess of Arnsford, her distant cousin, invites Celia to spend Christmas on the family estate.  Celia suspects an ulterior, but nonetheless decides that there are worse ways to pass the holidays than by spending them in a palace with family - however distant. 

Jack Delacourt knows his mother is plotting something when he receives a Christmas invitation from her.  If his mother plans to bully him into marrying a stranger, Jack is prepared to fight - with a delightfully mischievous plan of his own.  Then he meets Celia and discovers she's not what he expected.  In fact she's more than he dreamed.  Now, instead of playing the fool, he's becoming one - for love.

A lovely holiday story that I will enjoy again next year. 

This was a sweet story that I enjoyed reading last Christmas and earmarked for this year so I could enjoy it again and write a review.  Its a charmer of a book and, I'm ashamed to say, only my second Diane Farr title.  I really enjoyed her book The Nobody which led me to picking up this little gem, in addition to a few other Farr titles I have on my To-Be-Read shelf.  So many books, so little time, ya know?

So, first we meet Celia Delacourt.  While pondering her future (and imminent homelessness), she receives a visit from her very distant cousin, the Duchess of Arnsford.  A critical eye and an interview later, the duchess invites Celia to Delacourt for Chrismas and Celia accepts the invitation.  A visit would be a welcome change of scenery... but the duchess has a plan that will allow Celia to stay at Delacourt permanently.

Meanwhile, Jack Delacourt, Marquess of Lynden is carousing with his friends when he opens a missive from his mother - an invitation to Christmas at the family home.  Instantly a battalion of red flags pop up since he always makes an appearance for Christmas without the need of a formal invite.  Jack knows his mother has something up her lace-cuffed sleeves and it doesn't take much to realize that she's matchmaking.  Unenthused by this predicament, Jack comes up with a strategy to thwart his mother's plans by scaring off this girl who, no doubt, has high hopes of becoming his duchess.  Yes, scaring her off is the thing to do because Jack refuses to succumb to his mother's wishes... no matter what.

I really enjoyed this story for its witty writing and charming characters.  Celia is a sweetheart of a girl trying to find a place in the world while mourning the loss of her family.  Jack, of course, wreaks havoc, much to his family's disapproval and embarrassment.  But to appease his mother just a little, he does spend some time getting to know his distant relation.  Then he becomes intrigued, surprised... and maybe a bit smitten by Celia's sweet and honest nature. But the tables begin to turn when Jack realizes Celia actually feels sorry for him.  With all his hair-brained schemes and antics, Celia thinks he actually suffers from a mental illness!  But things aren't quite adding up and Jack isn't sure that Celia is really aiming for the prize of becoming a duchess.  By this time, the current duchess has already concluded that Celia could never fill her shoes and run Delacourt properly but Jack detests the thought of a cookie-cutter duplicate of his mother running Delacourt for him anyway.  Perhaps Celia would be the perfect candidate after all.   All this, and a moody cat named Manegold, create a beautiful and touching story that unfolds during the Christmas season.

Now I will be honest and share that I did find this story moved at a more leisurely, meandering pace than my usual reads.  Nothing wrong there but if you're the type who prefers to plow through a story while sitting on the edge of your seat eager for the next thing to happen, this story will probably move a bit slow.  There is no lacking in dialogue, which pleased me immensely because I abhor books that are heavily introspective.  This one balances nicely. 

I also enjoyed the little subplot with Jack's sister, Elizabeth - it shakes things up a little (Jack included) and helps round out the story.  If you have read the book The Nobody, you may remember Elizabeth as a minor character there as well.  A second subplot (which really comes first) involves Jack's mother and her urgency for finding a suitable replacement for herself.  I found the whole scenario to be poignant and beautifully illustrated.  Manegold, the cat, is a hoot even though he is really just a normal cat.  Ms. Farr describes the feline personality perfectly, which made Manegold fun to read especially since he was used as a tool to help the reader draw more out of the main characters.  But what I enjoyed most of all in this story was how Jack rang in Christmas for Celia.  It was sweet and sentimental and really showed Celia how he felt about her, rather than just telling.   It also wrapped the story up nicely even though this was one of those times when I wish there had been an epilogue.  Oh well, I will live.

All in all, this was a heartwarming story with characters you can't help but care about and root for their happiness.  I highly recommend this book as a lovely Christmassy historical romance with very mild sensual tones.  

My rating:  9 Loved it! 

These books stand alone but have a character connection:

1 comment:

  1. I'm a little late for Christmas but I might read Once Upon a Christmas anyway. I read The Nobody and thought it moved a little slow, but really liked the story, so hopefully this will be a similar experience. Thanks for the review!