Wednesday, December 19, 2018

#TBRChallenge 2018: Wish Upon a Snowflake

The Book: Wish Upon a Snowflake by Christine Merrill, Linda Skye, and Elizabeth Rolls

The Particulars: Historical romance anthology, Harlequin Historicals #1207, 2014, Out of print, Available in digital

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: It's a holiday anthology from Harlequin Historical. How could it not be in my TBR?

The Review: Anthologies, by their very nature, can be wildly uneven affairs.  Not every reader is going to find a good fit with every author.  Case in point, I'm trying to think of the last anthology I read where I liked all the stories, and my hazy memory is coming up blank.  Which is what makes this book really interesting.  There are varying degrees here, but I enjoyed all the stories!

Christine Merrill is grossly under appreciated for her willingness to take risks with the Regency setting.  I've read some really "out there" stories by her.  Have they all be raving successes for me?  No. But she's a risk taker, and I've always appreciated that about her work.  The Christmas Duchess features some refreshingly different elements from a normal ol' Regency Christmas tale and I quite enjoyed it.

Generva Marsh is having a very bad day.  Her daughter, who was supposed to be married on Christmas Day, has just been jilted in a very public and embarrassing fashion.  Naturally, though none of it is her fault, the girl is suitably ruined.  So the last thing Generva, a widow, is in the mood for is for the once-intended groom's uncle (a Duke!) to show up claiming victory because he was able to secure the special license in time for a Christmas wedding.  Thomas Kanner, Duke of Montford, is a bit surprised by Generva's response - which is to say she hits him over the head with a broom.

What I loved about this story is that it features an older, forthright heroine and a Duke hero who is, well, charming as heck while being a genuinely nice guy.  He's immediately smitten with Generva, sings Christmas carols, and reckons to fix the mess his heir has made. Generva loved her husband, but as a sea captain he was away an awful lot, so she's learned to be self-reliant.  She's past the age of believing that Prince Charming is going to show up on her doorstep and rescue her!  Bonus points for a well-written child character, the heroine's school-age son, who provides some nice comic relief at just the right moments.

Grade = B+

Once upon a time Harlequin experimented with shorter digital lines, one of which was Harlequin Undone.  These were marketed as short spicy reads set in a variety of time periods, and featured more sexy times than your standard Harlequin Historical.  As I was reading Russian Winter Nights by Linda Skye, I was struck that it read very much like an Undone and...I'm a genius (plus I read a lot of Undones!) - this is a reprint.  It was first published as part of the Undone line in 2013.  What's shocking is I hadn't read it until now - although a quick look in my Kindle Dumpster Fire of Doom shows I have this in my digital TBR!!!

Ekaterina Romanova is the niece of Empress Anna of Russia, who is naturally vile since hello - she's a Russian ruler (seriously, it's basically a job requirement).  She was summoned by her aunt to court, which frankly doesn't bode well, so Ekaterina has been aiming to keep a low profile.  She was succeeding until she meets Andrey Kvasov.  Their encounter is a chance one, suitably steamy, and naturally neither finds out right away who the other one truly is.  This leads to many complications, especially since it becomes quite clear that Aunt Anna has marked Andrey as her next conquest.

Skye does an excellent job of creating the backdrop in this story.  There's intrigue and political shenanigans aplenty, and it creates very high stakes for the lovers.  But after the somewhat traditional read that is the Merrill story, jumping into this one which reads more erotic felt like a bit too much of a tone shift.  The language in the love scenes tends to flirt too much with "overwrought" for my tastes, but it's not the purplest shade I've read in my day.  Also while the ending ties things up somewhat satisfactorily, it lacks a sense of finality. The story ends with the lovers getting the upper hand but do they really?  I mean, the villain is the Empress of Russia!  I'd have preferred them riding away from the Catherine Palace together.

Grade = B-

A Shocking Proposition by Elizabeth Rolls reads a bit more traditional than the previous two stories, in that we have a young, unmarried heroine determined to save her virtue, and her home, from an oily cousin trying to force her into marriage.  Madeleine "Maddy" Kirkby's solution is to propose a marriage of convenience to Lord Ashton Ravensfell, the younger brother of a Duke.  They knew each other as children, he's recently returned from fighting on the Continent, and he's obsessed with antiquities.  Given that part of Hadrian's Wall is on Maddy's property - well, it seems like a reasonable solution to her predicament.  Of course the evil cousin won't go quietly into that good night...

The main leads are charming, and well matched.  The villain, while one note, is suitably vile to give the story enough heft of conflict to spur us forth to the happy ending.  It's not quite as steamy as the Skye story, but still quite steamy - what with the heroine getting deflowered in the carriage ride back from the wedding! - and while the hero has a bit of a White Knight Complex, he's protective of the heroine, obviously smitten, and a breath of fresh air from the recent Alphaholes invading the genre.

Grade = B

All in all, this was not a bad way to spend my time and I inhaled the anthology in nearly one sitting.  Given that the book I tried to read before this one got DNF'ed out of indifference?  This was a big win!  It's a really solid holiday collection and I'm glad I chose it to close out my TBR Challenge reading for 2018.

Overall Final Grade = B

ETA: I just found out that the Rolls story was also originally published as a Harlequin Undone short!  Which explains the deflowering in the carriage scene!  But unlike the Skye story, it wasn't languishing in my digital TBR.

6 comments:

Jill said...

I actually managed to finish my book for my challenge! And I got done early. I read "A Christmas Kiss" by Elizabeth Mansfield, a traditional regency.

This was one of those books that shouldn't have worked for me. There was a really silly big misunderstanding, a scheming other woman, and a pretty big age difference. These are the kind of things that have burned me before when I got back and try to read regency reissues. But somehow it worked for me.

The heroine is Evalyn Pennington, a governess who needs to get out of a bad working situation quickly. James Everhard is a young buck who decides to help her out by taking her home to his family for Christmas. He's sure his aunt can find her a new position. His father, Phillip, the Earl of Gyllford, assumes that James has brought Evalyn home as his future bride. But he starts to fall in love with Evalyn. And of course, no one has any conversations that clear up the confusion.

I don't know how to describe except to say Elizabeth Mansfield is one of those writers that had "a light touch" and the book was short and well-paced enough I made it through with only a few eye rolls. I liked too she didn't pile on tons of angst (I'm looking at you Mary Balogh ;-)) There was also a few sweet secondary characters who had romances, including a young portly man who had a stutter. I wouldn't unreservedly recommend it, but it might it was a pleasant way to while away an afternoon.

Wendy said...

Jill: I just read a book like there where I was thinking the whole time, "I shouldn't be enjoying this but I am!" It's funny how sometimes those tropes that usually annoy you can work when an author is sticking her landings. I could see how that Big Mis could bothersome, but "light touch" certainly has me curious. These days I find I'm either in the mood for GIVE ME ALL THE ANGST or fluffy "light touch" concoctions. Seemingly no in-between.

azteclady said...

I have a feeling I own this one in print...

And hey, decent, king guys have it all over alphaholes.

As for cartoonish villains...given current events, nothing in that line is past my capacity to suspend disbelief anymore.

Wendy said...

AL: I had it in print as well - which is odd since given the publication date it would have been more likely for me to have it in digital. I wonder if we scored copies at the last RWA we attended together!

Dorine said...

I really need to get a few more of Harlequin Historical's anthologies. They've always been a favorite. I haven't read the other two authors in this one, but I'm especially fond of Elizabeth Roll's characters. Sounds fun!

azteclady said...

Wendy, yes, it is quite possible.