A Regency Christmas Carol
by Mary Balogh, Anne Barbour, Elizabeth Fairchild, Carla Kelly & Edith Layton
(Signet Regency, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-19387-3
Why am I reading Christmas stories in late September when the weather outside is a balmy 78? (And I don't live in California or Florida.) Well, the reason is clear; the Signet Regency Christmas anthology had appeared. So what's a Regency addict to do? Answer: get in the Christmas spirit three months early!

Many anthologies present a bit of a risk. There are a couple of authors whom the reader knows and trusts and a couple of relative unknowns. But the Signet Regency anthologies are usually different; they include stories by the cream of the line's crop of authors. This year's Christmas anthology maintains these high standards.

My favorite was Carla Kelly's "Make a Joyful Noise." As is always the case with Kelly's stories, this has an unusual hero and heroine. The hero is a shy marquess who eschews society and lives in happy anonymity with his two children. The heroine is the widowed, pregnant daughter-in-law of his obnoxious neighbors. The daughter of a Welsh sergeant-major, she has not been accepted by her in-laws. What brings them together is a parish singing competition, for the marquess is charged with recruiting singers for his church's usually pathetic choir.

Mary Balogh's contribution, the tale of a haughty lord who hears a beautiful boy soprano among a group of carolers on Bond Street and determines to have the boy sing at his annual concert, is very much in Balogh's typical style. Lord Heath finds himself unexpectedly attracted to the boy's lovely mother and winsome sister, and must reevaluate his rejection of love and family.

Edith Layton introduces a bit of magic into her story: a gilded birdcage/music box that brings lovers together at Christmas time. A misanthropic earl learns about the true meaning of Christmas from a governess as he participates in a bell choir in Elizabeth Fairchild's story. And Anne Barbour introduces us to the American heir to an earldom who discovers that the dowager countess' plain companion is truly as beautiful as her gorgeous voice.

As you can tell, the connecting theme of these stories is the power of music, especially Christmas music, to bring joy as well as sing of joy. As you might expect, these are sweet stories of love during a season of love. But they are all endearing and well-written. So if you are one of the many who look forward eagerly to the Signet Christmas anthology, you will not be disappointed. Bet you can't wait till Christmas to open this present.

--Jean Mason

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