A Victorian Family Christmas
My love of Carla Kelly Christmas novellas means of course I was going to give this anthology a try. While her novella is solid, it isn’t her best, and the other stories are so lackluster that A Victorian Family Christmas is simply a disappointment.
A Father for Christmas by Carla Kelly
Grade: B Sensuality: Subtle
Ezra Eldredge, widower and New England businessman, becomes an inadvertent intelligence agent when his ship is taken by Confederates and a fellow passenger shoves a dispatch from Lincoln into his possession and then pushes him overboard. Ezra washes up on the coast, where widowed single mother Felicity Waring and her son have recently relocated, and Felicity agrees to shelter him. The biggest issue here is Felicity’s near-instant trust of a man pursued by the authorities. I’ve also seen a lot of these plot devices in Kelly before (a man laid up with a cold, a New England ropewalk owner). I did, however, like the meddling neighbor who became an engaging co-conspirator.
A Kiss Under the Mistletoe by Carol Arens
Grade: D+ Sensuality: Kisses
Apparently Louisa, Baroness Kirkwynd, is a villainess in other books by this author, but never fear: she’s neutralized within the first few sentences here. See, her man-hunting ways are all because she’s dedicated to saving her late husband’s estate and caring for her sister-in-law (who was disabled in a carriage accident), and her niece and nephew. Enter a tenant, Hugh Clarke, who has leased her estate while his own home is undergoing construction, and who mistakes Louisa for a servant, hiring her to look after his adopted daughter (again, never fear! Louisa is so maternal that she “knew she would agree to care for Belle even without being paid.”) So much pointless concealing of identities. So many clichéd mistletoe kisses. So much mystical bonding (“he had known Louisa Copeland for such a short time but something in his soul suggested that he had always known her.”) So much predictable tantruming from the hero when secrets are revealed, followed by predictable “oh, wait, I was a dick.” So many exclamation points in expository paragraphs! The epilogue that doesn’t magically cure Louisa’s infertility is soured by curing her sister-in-law’s paralysis. I ground my teeth and powered through this, but you shouldn’t have to.
The Earl’s Unexpected Gifts by Eva Shepherd
Grade: C- Sensuality: Kisses
Rufus Somethingorother, Earl of Someplace (don’t make me go back to check – I can’t face it!) is a distant relative of two impoverished children. He reluctantly agrees to let them come live at the family estate, and their governess, Anna Wainwright, comes with them. This started off intriguingly but rapidly flattened. The children instantly bond to Rufus’ family, and Rufus instantly bonds with Anna. Rufus wants to sow wild oats, but meeting Anna effectively neuters him for all other excitement. Anna is a martyr, having worked without salary to care for the orphaned children for years (?!!) before throwing a Hail Mary to the distantly-related earl. There is a Big Mis. Also, weigh in if you’re an expert on Victorian law, but Anna losing all of her parents’ estate to a male cousin because they died intestate seems… dodgy. They’re not aristocrats; nothing is entailed. Is it accurate that a daughter would just be turned out?
Generally, I’m a Kelly completionist, but even I have to say this collection isn’t worth the space on your shelf. Sorry to be a Scrooge, Victorian Holiday Christmas, but… Bah. Humbug.