The Christmas Matchmaker
When I was at the bookstore last week buying Signet’s new Regency Christmas anthology, the sales associate managed to convince me to buy this book too. It didn’t take much convincing; all I needed to see were the words “Christmas” and “house party,” and the book all but sold itself. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I thought it might be a good, cozy comfort read. No such luck, unfortunately.
Vincent Beverly is on the way to his sister’s home for a Christmas house party in a snowstorm, when he sees movement by a tree. It turns out to be a half-frozen woman and her young child, who are huddling together for warmth. Vincent immediately rescues them and dispatches them to his sister’s home, where they discover that the woman is an old acquaintance. Her name is Penelope Garth, and no one has seen her since she eloped with a soldier several years ago. Her husband is now dead, and she had returned to pay a call on her father, who summarily threw her out into the snow. Penelope is not destitute; her husband left her an inheritance, and she’s planning to journey to Scotland to live near her in-laws. Vincent’s sister Georgi is outraged at Penelope’s circumstances, and insists that Penelope and her son Tal stay until after Christmas. Penelope has no desire to join a festive house party, but she agrees to stay anyway. She plans to keep to herself and spend most of her time with her son.
Penelope’s desire for a quiet existence suffers an immediate challenge when her father shows up at Georgi’s home and announces to all and sundry that she is no better than a prostitute (actually, the words he uses are a lot worse). Although he’s escorted out of the house, Penelope faces another challenge when the man her father wanted her to marry shows up. He has an obsession with her beautiful singing voice, and keeps insisting that she sing for the company (and that she marry him). For some reason, his hosts ignore his boorish behavior. As Penelope deals with these obnoxious people, she becomes closer to Vincent, who finds her attractive and gets along well with her son. But Vincent is reluctant to declare himself. He knows that Penelope truly loved her husband, and he’s not sure that she is ready to love again.
The thing is, Penelope is ready. In fact, she was pretty much ready when he found her in the snow. They both fell in love very quickly, and there never is any conflict between them to speak of. I hoped this would be a quiet holiday romance between two nice people. But because they already get along so well, the author bombards them with obnoxious secondary characters. These external conflicts run the gamut from the overbearing, music-obsessed suitor to Vincent’s annoying sister-in-law who doesn’t want him to move into a dower house on the estate she will one day inherit. This still isn’t quite enough to keep the plot moving along, so we are subjected to a lame kidnapping plot and a schmaltzy forgiveness scene at the end.
I really, really wanted to like this book, and I nearly convinced myself that I was enjoying it until the kidnapping attempt. Sure, the characters were a little on the wooden side. Granted, the villains were way over the top. But they were at a festive holiday gathering! Well, maybe not so festive. Once I thought about it, it wasn’t really all that Christmas-y. Where were the snowball fights, sleigh rides, presents and sugarplums? This had all the festive spirit of some of our modern holidays, the ones celebrated only by bank and postal employees. Nonetheless, I was still willing to give it the benefit of the doubt until the characters began acting in completely unnatural ways. Their reaction to the kidnapping attempt was bizarre and unbelievable. Everyone was strangely calm about the whole thing, taking it all as a matter of course. Which, come to think of it, was more or less how they approached everything. By the time the book ended, I was just glad for it to be over.
I suspect that the average reader will have even less patience with this book than I did. Since it had two of my favorite plot elements, I gave it chance after chance, hoping it would at least settle in and become an average-level comfort read. I’d be surprised if other readers are so persistent. Even if you share my weakness for the holiday house party combination, you are better off getting your fix elsewhere.
I've been at AAR since dinosaurs roamed the Internet. I've been a Reviewer, Reviews Editor, Managing Editor, Publisher, and Blogger. Oh, and Advertising Corodinator. Right now I'm taking a step back to concentrate on kids, new husband, and new job in law...but I'll still keep my toe in the romance waters.