A Regency Christmas
by Lyn Stone, Carla Kelly, and Gail Ranstrom; historical (2009)
Harlequin Historical, $5.99, ISBN 978-0373295677

A Regency Christmas is a Christmas anthology, but it is surprisingly free from Christmas martyrs. There is also a story from Carla Kelly. Other than these two reasons, it is hard for me to think of any good reason why anyone should get this anthology, unless that person wants to feel a little depression during the holiday season.

Incidentally, what's with the cover art? None of the main characters are saddled with a baby in this story. The closest to this would be the heroine of Carla Kelly's story, and her youngest kid is definitely not a baby. Talk about misleading advertisement!

Carla Kelly's story, Christmas Promise, is a pretty typical effort from her. If you have enjoyed her previous few full-length books, then chances are you would enjoy this one. Likewise, if you can't get into her last few books, this one may not change your mind about the author's books anytime soon. I'm a fan of this author, and as a result, I find plenty to be cheerful about in this story.

Ianthe Mears, her late husband Jim, and Jeremiah Faulk actually went way back as they were inseparable when they were younger. Both Jeremiah and Jim fell in love with Ianthe, but it was Jim whom Ianthe eventually married. Jim and Jeremiah eventually enlisted into the navy, and it was Jeremiah who composed Jim's love letters for Ianthe as Jim wasn't exactly good with words.

When the story opens, Jim had been dead for about ten years. Jeremiah was by his side when Jim died, but he had never returned to Torquay until now. Napoleon is done away with, and Jeremiah now finds himself without a ship to command this Christmas. As luck would have it, he comes to the assistance of two young kids who turn out to be Ianthe's, and he soon finds himself staying with the Mears for Christmas. Ianthe and Jeremiah predictably rekindle the sparks between them.

This story is short, but it packs almost as much emotional punch as Ms Kelly's longer stories. This one has intelligent and likable lead characters who come off as real people instead of stock archetypes, a powerful depiction of friendship and intimacy, and plenty of sexual tension despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of explicit sex scenes. It goes without saying that I find this one easily the best story of the three.

Lyn Stone's Scarlet Ribbons starts out fine. Captain Alexander Napier injured his leg during the wat with you-know-who and he is persuaded by his younger comrade to recuperate in the man's home. This young friend is actually the son of a Baron, and Alexander soon meets the man's sister, Amelia Harlowe. Amelia's legs have been injured since a riding accident, and she is not supposed to walk again... and if you believe that, you are probably not cynical enough about romance novels.

This one turns out to be bizarre. Amelia is suspicious of Alexander because apparently her brother has been throwing men at her all this while so that she will get married. There is a bewildering scene of compromise that lead to a forced engagement, with the main characters behaving like very silly kids all the while. All I can think of while turning the pages is since when do we have Barons so eager to marry off their daughters to a nobody from Scotland.

Gail Ranstrom's A Little Christmas isn't a story from an alternate Regency England like Lyn Stone's story, but it's a pretty tepid and predictable one, its faults unfortunately magnified from having to follow Carla Kelly's story. In this one, Viscount Sebastian Selwick finds himself acting as an executor to the will of his father's friend. The family members are all stock caricatures, except for Sophie Pettibone who is a stock romance heroine and therefore the only viable candidate for Sebastian to fall in love with. This one is a decent read under other circumstances. It's not too memorable, especially when Ms Ranstrom tells me more than she shows me. For example, she keeps saying that Sophie is exotic, witty, intelligent, and more - a woman that Sebastian has never encountered before. But what I see is a stock Regency heroine straight down to the putting out for free part. I wish the author hadn't pulled that twist in the end about the dead relative though, because that twist renders the whole story too silly for words.

If you are a Carla Kelly fan who want to have a complete collection of her works, you will want to get hold of this one for your collection and I don't think you will be too disappointed by the story. I'm not sure whether I can recommend this anthology to anyone else though, since only one out of three stories makes the cut where I am concerned. Still, I'm going to give this anthology a few more points than it deserves, because I really like Carla Kelly's story.

Rating: 70

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