A Matchmaker's Christmas
What’s better than a house party book? A Christmas house party book, of course. Members of the Regency list I hang out on know that my ears perk up with the mention of the words “house party,” and nothing seems to suit a house party better than snow storms and mistletoe. Donna Simpson’s latest book was just the type of warm, cozy read I was looking for, and it’s a fine addition to one of my favorite sub-sub-genres.
Lady Bournaud is getting on in years, and one November she decides quite suddenly that the coming Christmas needs to be very special. She invites several guests to spend the holidays at her home, and although nothing is really said at first, most of them can tell she has matchmaking in mind. One of her targets is her companion of ten years, Beatrice Copland. Beatrice is a very private person, but Lady Bouraud has long known that she has had a troubled past. Since Beatrice has served her so selflessly, Lady Bournaud would like nothing better than to see her happily settled with the right man. She determines that David Chappell would make an excellent choice. David is the son of her late steward, and has long been one of her protégées.
Beatrice knows of her employer’s plans and is none too eager to see David. The two share a history that Lady Bournaud knows nothing about, and it’s long been a source of shame for Beatrice. However, when David sees her he has no recollection of the past events; he merely has a nagging feeling that there is something familiar about Beatrice. He’s also very attracted to her, even though he senses that she is uncomfortable around him.
Meanwhile, four others have also fallen prey to Lady Bournaud’s schemes. Mark Rowland is a vicar who is an old friend of the family, and Lady Bournaud thinks he would be ideally suited for Miss Verity Allen, an energetic Canadian woman who has been sent to England to find a husband. Lady Sylvia Hampton has been sent to Lady Bournaud by her parents, who are frustrated with her reluctance to marry the man of their choice. Lady Bournaud thinks Sylvia would do well with Lord Vaughan, an unexpected guest who arrives in the midst of a snow storm.
Lady Bournaud’s matchmaking pays off, but not in the way she expects. Mark Rowland and Lady Sylvia are immediately drawn together; she appreciates his goodness, and he loves her quiet gentleness. Unfortunately, he is not her social or financial equal, so the match seems doomed. Meanwhile, Verity has little use for the quiet Rowland, but her frenetic nature and athletic tendencies mesh well with Lord Vaughan’s personality. The holiday season and convenient snow storm provide a romantic backdrop for all three couples as they work out their differences and seek happiness together.
House party books generally provide a large cast of characters and give them ample opportunity to interact together. I liked all the characters here, and found them to be well-rounded and interesting – quite an accomplishment considering the relatively short length of the book. In such situations many authors use shorthand and turn the characters into convenient clichés, but happily this set is varied and entertaining. My favorite of the bunch was probably Verity Allen. Her background is somewhat tomboyish and her wardrobe is lacking, and she’s not quite sure what to do about the feelings she has for Vaughan. Her forthright manner is very endearing, and the resolution of her particular love story was fun and satisfying.
Beatrice and David are really the main couple here, and they are somewhat of a departure in that Beatrice is nearly 40 and David is closer to 50. I really enjoyed reading about an older couple that had lived a little, made some mistakes, and learned from them. David’s maturity in particular served as a nice counterbalance to the more feckless personality of Lord Vaughan. At times I felt that Beatrice went a little overboard with her guilt, and it would perhaps have irritated me more if it had been a longer book with more space given to her problems. Fortunately there is really too much going on here for any one character to hog the limelight for long.
Although I’ve been glomming Simpson’s books since her debut, this is the first of hers I’ve actually read, and I’m impressed enough to want to move the others closer to the top of my TBR pile. Ordinarily this is the type of book I’d devour over an evening or two. As it happens, I read it during a very busy week when I could only read bits of it here and there. Since it was such a cheerful, fun kind of book, this method worked fairly well, and I would definitely recommend A Matchmaker’s Christmas to those who’d like to snuggle up with a holiday story. Read it now, or save it for a Christmas treat.