Five Gold Rings
by Constance O'Banyon, Stobie Piel, Lynsay Sands, and Flora Speer; historical (1999)
Leisure, $5.50, ISBN 0-8439-4612-1

This is a Christmas anthology, just what I need to get into the mood for carols and the usual annoying circus show reruns on TV. However, this anthology isn't that good. It's pretty pleasant, but nothing memorable.

Two Turtledoves by Flora Speer starts off the anthology and if I did read through a few chapters before picking this book up at the bookstore, FGR would have never made past the romance aisle. TT is simply awful - a spineless, wimpy, starry-eyed heroine who is so mushy she would probably melt into a sickening goo in the rain, and a hero who's slimy and glib and irritating. Damien is a knight banished from Court and is forced to eke out a life as a minstrel even though he can't sing for peanuts. He visits Menton Castle on Christmas Eve and is befriended by the castle DJ, Pippa. Pippa is a woman who can sing songs that drive her audience to tears. Big deal - talent is useless without brains, I always say. Pippa "takes pity" on Damien. Pippa loves Damien three pages after meeting him - ehm, that's convincing, I'm sure. And in the meantime Damien alternates between lusting after Pippa and after the Castle heiress. That's really nice. Pippa is no match for Damien at all and is another of those cloying, pristine-pure naive heroines. Yucks.

Stobie Piel's A Patridge In A Pear Tree has the Lady of Menton Castle, Elisa, fed up with having to put up with her husband Robert's insensitivity. The blasted man returns out of the blue from the King's place with a large contigent of guests. Of course, that damned man isn't the one having a headache trying to figure out where everyone would sleep, where to get the extra food supply needed... and her wayward daughter is not helping matters by refusing to learn womanly arts. And the poor woman really hits the roof when Robert brings along a woman she is sure is his mistress. This is a pleasantly readable romance despite its Misunderstanding conflicts, yet it is another of those Much Ado About Nothing thing, where Robert just can't tell his wife the truth until the time is right (i.e. close to the ending), and Elisa just won't listen until the time is right (again, close to the ending, in time for the Big Hug Scene).

Constance O'Banyon's contribution is Eleven Pipers Piping, where Eleanor, banished from Court for having caught King Henry's roving eye, visits Menton Castle to meet her betrothed James. James is a hostage held in the Castle to ensure his father's good behavior, and he is adamant not to marry the English woman he is betrothed to. Eleanor overhears him and decides not to show her obvious lu - er, love for him. And he, of course, sees how beautiful she is and decides it's love and hence sets out to woo her. Lovely story, I'm sure, if I can get over this feeling that these two young people aren't actually in love - they're infatuated. They hardly know each other, and most of the time they're either snogging or thinking about how pretty/handsome/brawny/dainty each of them is. Young people. They have a lot to learn.

Lynsay Sands gets bonus points for trying to instill some vivid life to her novella Three French Hens and actually succeeding better than her fellow contributors. Maid Briana and Lady Joan are surprised to find themselves dead ringer for each other. Hence, Joan eagerly pays Briana to pose as her in order to avoid meeting Joan's fiance, a Lord Thurleah whom Joan hears is an uncivilized pig. Briana and Thurleah get sparking faster than one can say Love Is In The Air. But Briana's a maid, a lowly maid at that. What to do?

The romance in this novella is more convincing that the others because the two main characters actually take the time to talk and know each other. In this story, the brain's the most potent sex organ, and it shows - I actually like the two characters and want them to be happy. The story is very predictable however, but still, it is the best of the bunch.

Is FGR any good? Well, for an undemanding and easy read, yes it is. Just skip the Flora Speer one unless one needs extra dose of sugar.

Rating: 48

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