As Shiny Book Review is well aware that we’re fast approaching the holidays, this seemed a logical time to review two Christmas-themed romances, one by Sabrina Jeffries and the other by Victoria Alexander. Jeffries’ romance is ‘TWAS THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS, while Alexander’s is WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS.
First up is Jeffries’ effort, set during Regency England and featuring Pierce Waverly, the Earl of Devonmont, and Mrs. Camilla Stuart, a respectable widow with a young son. Pierce has engaged Camilla to become a companion to Pierce’s own mother, whom he cares for but refuses to speak with for reasons that both he and his mother refuse to discuss. However, Camilla is having none of that as it’s Christmas. (She feels every mother deserves to have her son home for Christmas no matter how badly things have gone wrong in the past.) Which is why she sends a brief note to Pierce saying that his mother is unwell and that if Pierce wishes to see her “before it’s too late,” he’d best come soon or not come at all.
Of course this is extremely upsetting to Pierce, who immediately goes to see his mother. However, once he gets to his mother’s small house, Pierce gets extremely upset and feels both violated and manipulated. But as he’s immediately attracted to Camilla despite what Camilla perceives as her lack of beauty, he decides to stick around for a few days to figure out what’s really going on with his mother.
And, of course, since Pierce wants things his own way, he also blackmails Camilla in the process. Which means that he isn’t above a bit of manipulation of his own as he’s attracted to her, intends to get to the bottom of just why this is, and will figure out a way to make her his own if at all possible.
Over the course of this novel, many things are revealed, including why Pierce and his mother have been estranged, why Camilla’s so keen on keeping families together (hint, hint: it’s not just because she’s the widow of a vicar), and why these two are meant for one another. Yet because Camilla is not a member of the nobility and Pierce obviously is, it seems for a time as if there’s no way these two can possibly marry and be together.
Of course, as this is a Christmas romance — and “happily ever afters” are a specialty of most romances the world over anyway — you can freely expect that there will be a way around this conundrum. That way is well-written, involving, and interesting, yet felt a bit contrived beyond the normal levels expected of any given romance.
Still, it’s a nice read with two good main characters with many flaws (I do love flawed heroes and heroines), and I felt the romance between them was realistic and well done.
Moving on, Alexander’s farcical WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS is one of the more amusing Christmas-themed romances I’ve ever read. This Victorian-era English romance stars Camille, Lady Lydingham, and Grayson Elliot, the man who got away years ago. Camille was in love with Gray when she was eighteen and he was around the same age, but she was about to marry another. Gray declared himself, Camille was flummoxed, and both declared themselves brokenhearted forever when their abortive romance did not end in a “happily ever after.”
Now a widow (as Camille did marry the man she’d been engaged to), Camille is about to marry Prince Nikolai of the Kingdom of Greater Avalonia. Camille doesn’t know where Avalonia is, much less much about Prince Nikolai, but as she’s always wanted to be a princess — and as she hasn’t seen Gray in many years — she’s willing to do just about anything to make Prince Nikolai happy. So when the Prince wants a “proper English Christmas,” Camille is bound and determined to do anything she can to bring it off even though her mother and one of her sisters are in France and her father is presumed dead.
So what does the intrepid Camille do? Why, hire a whole troupe of actors, of course! They’ll play the parts of her devoted family plus all of the servants (who’ve been given holiday time off prior to the start of the book), and that will give the Prince the “proper English Christmas” he’s always wanted.
Of course, things go wrong nearly immediately when Gray comes back into the picture. Now an extremely wealthy man after making a great deal of money in India, Gray believes he has the panache to offer for Camille. Thus he goes to Camille’s house at the behest of his brother, the country squire, to renew his acquaintance.
But of course Gray has no idea that Camille hired a whole troupe of actors until he gets to her house. Then, seizing on the opportunity presented, he proclaims himself her “third cousin” and takes up residence in Camille’s home alongside the other actors.
And of course it’s Gray who realizes that Prince Nikolai is not who he seems to be, especially as the Principality of Greater Avalonia no longer exists, but the only person he can discuss this with is Camille’s identical twin sister Beryl. (Gray has always been able to tell the two apart. So can Beryl’s husband, which is just as well.) Beryl is not wholly unsympathetic to Gray’s pursuit of Camille, but she believes that Gray should have to earn Camille’s trust (a quite sensible attitude). This leads to much spirited and witty by-play and a great deal of comedic intrigue.
And then . . . as this is, after all, a farce . . . things get even more convoluted when Camille’s real mother and her other sister, Delilah, show up and start interacting with the actors. Because they still don’t want anyone to know what’s happening with all of these actors as the truth would ruin Camille socially, they end up taking false names right alongside Gray.
And if that wasn’t enough, another of Camille’s relatives shows up — someone completely unexpected — and he, too, must be accounted for in the whole farcical floating narrative.
Because WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS is a flat-out farce, all of this plot description doesn’t begin to do it justice. So let’s boil it down to brass tacks — Alexander’s book is extremely funny, and it’s well worth the read and the consequent re-reads because the humor is excellent, the characters make sense and the romance is incredibly realistic considering the farcical situations going on all around.
Bottom line: Both romances are better than average, but Alexander’s was funnier. Still, both are well worth reading and will hold your interest.
‘TWAS THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS — B-plus.
WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS — A.
— reviewed by Barb