Regency Christmas Courtship
by B. Metzger, E. Layton, A. Pickens, N. Butler, and G. Buck
(Signet, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-21681-4
***
Signet’s annual Christmas Regency anthology is something that many Regency romance fans eagerly await. This year’s version is mildly entertaining, though readers might be hard-pressed to remember much of it a week after closing the book.

In “Wooing the Wolf” by Barbara Metzger, ladies companion Margaret Todd is unexpectedly saddled with two small nieces when her sister dies in India. Her irascible employer decrees that there will be no children in her house, so Margeret gratefully accepts the offer of the housekeeper next door to house the children temporarily. After all, Viscount Wolfram is too busy sowing his rakish oats to spend Christmas at his London town house, so nobody will be the wiser.

Wolf, of course, decides to do just that, and the two little girls immediately decide he’d make a perfect husband for their Aunt Margaret. Soon they are scheming to get the adults together via mysterious “gifts” of cats and gingerbread. Wolf and Margaret are forced together over the children, and their romance blossoms.

The story is pleasant, though it won’t stand up to much scrutiny. Margaret and Wolf are fairly well detailed for such a short story, and the kids are cute without being too precious.

Edith Layton’s “The Dogstar” features a lonely young boy who is shipped off to London over the holidays, there to spend his time between two homes: the rented rooms of a humble governess and the rich home of a viscount. A magical puppy, found enroute to London, will aid young Alex in bringing Sebastian and Laura together. Layton writes with her customary verve, and she’s so adept at putting a romantic tale together that the magical dog was completely unnecessary and in fact seemed to weaken the story. It was strong enough without such a gimmick.

“Lost and Found” by Andrea Pickens finds an English nobleman on his way to London to endure a forced betrothal. Waylaid by a snowstorm at a traveler’s inn, Nicholas meets the spirited Lady Anna, who charms him with her vivacity and joy in life. She also happens to be the very woman to whom he is ostensibly betrothed. Since this isn’t exactly hidden from the reader, the story becomes a series of getting-to-know-you romps in the snow and such, which isn’t all that intriguing. Nice people, but not much of a story here.

Nancy Butler serves up the strongest tale in “Christmas with Dora Davenport,” the story of a London lady who arranges a country Christmas house party to impress a wealthy beau and his mother. Elnora Nesbitt writes a domestic-advice column under the name “Dora Davenport,” cribbing advice and memories from the cook. She loathes the country and is only too happy that the family estate is rented out. Unfortunately, a certain Baron Kittredge and his high-in-the-instep mother know about Dora Davenport and are expecting a full-on country Christmas. When the tenant moves out unexpectedly, Elnora is forced to go to Merrivale Chase and try to piece together a holiday of pastoral delights, a real challenge when she finds the house neglected and stripped nearly bare of its furnishings. Things are complicated by the appearance of Lieutenant Gowan Merthyr, an attractive Welshman sent by Elnora’s cousin to help her refurbish the house. But Elnora needs to marry a man with money or her family will be living in penury.

Elnora and Gowan are delightful, mature characters and their blossoming romance is a real treat. I could almost recommend this anthology based on this story alone.

Gayle Buck’s “Christmas Cheer” has virtually no plot. A newly-married couple are still getting used to one another. The wife misses her family. The husband plans to bring them for a visit at Christmas. End of story. To make things even less interesting, the lead characters are referred to as Lady Hallcroft and Lord Hallcroft for the entire story. I couldn’t have cared less about either of them, and they made virtually no impression on me. This one did little more than extend the page count to the $6.99 point.

A Regency Christmas Courtship turns out to be a mixed bag, with only one truly memorable tale tucked inside. Except for one intriguing Welshman, the book elicits no more than a mental shrug. There are probably better books out there for the $6.99 cover price.

--Cathy Sova


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