The Wallflower's Mistletoe Wedding
The Wallflower’s Mistletoe Wedding is a pleasant, light-hearted story set in an English country home at Christmastime in which two lonely people find love amid the hustle and bustle of a family house party. It’s an easy read to which the word ‘nice’ can be frequently applied; the hero and heroine are nice people, their hostess is nice, the hostesses children are nice, the book as a whole is nice… I think you can see where I’m going with this. It’s one of those books that has nothing wrong with it, but which isn’t going to set the world alight, either.
In the prologue – which is set three years before the rest of the story – Miss Rose Parker, her mother and younger sister, Lily, are attending a summer party at Barton Park the large estate owned by their cousins, the Bancroft family. The recent death of Mr. Parker has left them with large debts which meant they had to leave their home in order to repay them. They live quietly in a small cottage, but the Bancrofts continue to invite them to Barton Park from time to time, and it’s at this particular gathering that Rose first meets Captain Harry St. George, the handsome but somewhat retiring owner of the neighbouring estate, Hilltop Grange. Harry and Rose talk briefly, dance together and recognise that they have made some sort of connection; and Rose, normally a very pragmatic young woman, starts to dream, just this once, of a different life and a home of her own. Sadly, however, her girlish musings soon come to an end when she overhears that the Captain is to marry the lovely and sophisticated Miss Helen Layton.
Moving forward three years, we find Rose living with her overbearing Aunt Sylvia as her paid companion. Rose’s sister, Lily, married the man she loves – the local curate – and now has two small children, and their mother continues to live in her tiny cottage; the money Rose earns in her position is enough to make sure she can live reasonably comfortably. Sylvia is cantankerous and exacting, so Rose can’t deny the relief she feels when she receives a letter from her cousin Jane inviting her to Barton Park for Christmas, ostensibly to help with the children and give them some music tuition.
Harry St. George has left the army, no longer eligible for active service following the loss of one eye. All the while he was in the army, he dreamed of coming home to Hilltop Grange and living the quiet life of a gentleman farmer, but with the place in a serious state of disrepair, it seems he will have to marry for money if he is to restore it and fulfil his responsibilities to his dependents. His brother Charles reminds him that Lady Fallon – formerly Miss Layton, who married a much older man shortly after Harry embarked on his most recent stint in the army – is now a widow and has been left very well provided for; perhaps she may be the solution to Harry’s money worries.
When Rose and Harry are reunited at Barton Park, it’s almost as if the intervening years have never happened, and they very quickly pick up where they left off, conversing easily and without embarrassment or any of that stiltedness that often attends the building of a new friendship. Rose and Harry are decent, intelligent and compassionate people and developing emotional connection between them is well drawn. Their romance is sweet and tender, and there’s no question they are perfect for each other – apart from the fact that Rose hasn’t a penny to her name and Harry needs money.
While the couple is falling more and more deeply into love, the author is also setting up a potential romance between Charles and Helen, both of whom are obviously dragging a lot of emotional baggage and who were – at times – more interesting than the two principals. I assume their story will be told in a future book. In the final stages of this one, Ms. McCabe employs one of my least favourite plot points, the ‘I love you too much to ruin your life by marrying you’ cliché, and the only point of conflict in the romance – Rose’s lack of funds – is easily solved by the wave of the fairy godmother’s wand (or in this case, an aunt’s sweep of the pen). On the plus side, however, the author does a terrific job of describing the Christmas parlour games and traditions, the decorations and the food, injecting her gathering with an engaging degree of Yuletide spirit and cheer.
The Wallflower’s Mistletoe Wedding is a well-written story which is ultimately somewhat bland. As I said at the beginning, it’s not bad, but it’s not especially memorable either, and I suspect that its low-angst, low-drama storytelling may appeal to some readers more than others.