This is my fourth review for
The 2012 Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge,
which runs from
November 19, 2012, to Jan. 6, 2013!
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Title: A Regency Christmas Carol
Authors: Mary Balogh, Elisabeth Fairchild, Carla Kelly, Edith Layton, Anne Barbour
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
Published: November 1, 1997
Genres: Christmas Romance, Historical Fiction
Several years ago, I started a Christmas tradition for myself, and have been looking forward to it every time that beautiful season rolls around: reading Christmas romances, whether they are novels or short story anthologies. I especially enjoy reading Regency romances, since I am an ardent Anglophile, and love the period in which Jane Austen produced her masterpieces.
This particular collection contains stories by some of the best authors in the genre, and is a real gem! What makes it especially wonderful is the fact that all of the stories revolve around music. Of course, music is central to the celebration of this, the most beautiful, joyous, time of year.
The first story is by one of my favorite writers in any genre -- the incomparable Mary Balogh. In "The Bond Street Carolers", she presents the sweet tale of Fanny Berlinton, a widow with two children, one of whom, Matthew, is a talented singer. He's part of a choir that sings on Bond Street, in London, during the Christmas season. Busy, handsome bachelor Roderick Ames, who is also Baron Heath, happens to be passing by when he hears Matthew's beautiful voice. Not particularly fond of Christmas, he had been looking forward to a holiday by himself, without the commotion caused by his numerous nieces, nephews, and young cousins. Everything changes, of course, when he encounters this young singer, and the singer's very attractive mother... This is a very beautiful, truly romantic tale that will touch any romance lover's heart!
The second story is no less enchanting than the first, especially because there's actually a bit of magic in it. Penned by another great Regency writer, the late Edith Layton, this story is titled "The Earl's Nightingale", and concerns a jeweled, mechanical bird in a golden cage, which, unbeknownst to the characters, sings the listener's favorite piece of music every time the music box is wound up. It's an heirloom from Eliza Dumont's grandmother. She's a young woman who lives with her mother on the fringes of the disreputable section of London. Her mother had been disowned by her aristocratic family because she had married beneath her, against their wishes. So Eliza has pawned the golden bird in hopes of raising some money for the upcoming holiday season. Eliza's grandmother had sent a letter, along with the bird, in which she stated that this bird would bring Eliza happiness. And so it does, since, because of the bird, Eliza meets and falls in love with Frauncis, the Earl of Elliott, and he with her...
Elisabeth Fairchild penned the third story, which is titled "The Mistletoe Kiss". The female protagonist, Constance Conyngham, is a governess as well as a widow, while the male protagonist, Lucian Deleval, is a wealthy earl who was dumped by his bride, while waiting for her at the altar. Lucian is, naturally, a very bitter person, and prefers the solitude of his castle, which has been given the name of "Devil's Keep", by the people of the neighboring town. Lucian is even said to be the devil himself. But all this changes when he meets the sweet widow Conyngham, who offers to teach him to become a bell-ringer for that year's Christmas Eve church service. In the process, the earl and the widowed governess will discover love, in a very compelling story with touches of Jane Eyre.
"Make a Joyful Noise", by Carla Kelly, which is the fourth story in this collection, deals with the dilemma encountered by St. Philemon's Church, which is not blessed with a talented Christmas choir. So, Louisa Chard, the Dowager Lady Wythe, has volunteered to help the vicar to find great singers for the choir, which participates in an annual Christmas singing competition with other parish choirs in the area. But alas, Lady Wythe is suddenly called away to help her daughter nurse her sick children, so her son Peter takes it upon himself to look for singers. Thus it is that he accidentally discovers a very talented soprano -- Rosie Weatherby, who is the third widow in this collection. She has no choice but to live with her in-laws, who have nothing but contempt for her. Peter Chard, however, comes to appreciate her not only as a great singer, but as a gentle, sweet-tempered woman who will gradually steal his heart... This story is another winner! I especially loved Emma and Will, who are Chard's children.
I love the simple title of the fifth and last story in this volume -- "Melody", written by Anne Barbour. The title not only refers to music, but is also the first name of the female protagonist, Melody Fairfax, who is a lady's companion. Her employer is the Dowager Lady Sandborne, a countess, who receives an unexpected visitor one afternoon -- the American Joshua Weston. It turns out that Weston has inherited the title of Earl of Sandborne, and has come to take a look at his vast estate. He fully intends to return to America once he has satisfied himself that everything is in order. But then he meets Melody, who has a beautiful voice (and is not a widow). Weston is a very talented pianist, and, of course, they make beautiful music together... Needless to say, this is another lovely Christmas tale! It's also interesting how the two cultures -- American and English -- are contrasted throughout the story, with a very harmonious (pun intended!) blending of both in the end.
If you love this period in English history as much as I do, you will definitely enjoy this wonderful collection of stories! Aside from the historical setting, however, each of these holiday tales is a gem, sparkling with the true Christmas spirit! Each is beautifully written, with very well-handled characterizations. In fact, I would have loved to see each story expanded into a novel! I loved all the characters, the plots were cozy heartwarmers, and yet, none of the stories were overly sentimental. This book is a treasured member of my overflowing "book society" (my personal library), and I will most likely be reading it again during future Christmas seasons! I recommend it very highly for all of those who love the combination of Christmas and romance!!