The Heart of Christmas: A Handful of Gold\The Season for Suitors\This Wicked Gift by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I don't have much to say about the first two stories, except that they were good. Both the Balogh story and the Cornick stories are reformed rake stories (it's fairly clear if you read my reviews that rakes are not my favorite types of heroes by far). I felt that the metamorphosis of Ms. Balogh's rake was a little more convincing. When I read a story about a rake, I really have to be convinced that he has depth, or he's just another one of far too many in historical romance. He's really got to stand out to get my regard. I felt that both rakes did have depth, but the brevity of the Cornick story didn't really allow me to buy into his redemption quite so well. On the other hand, the rake in The Season for Suitors had more reason for why he acted as he did, and he had a tortured past, but I think this story would have been better executed as a longer novella, despite the obvious excellence of Ms. Cornick's writing. Ms. Balogh's story was a reread for me. I liked it the first time, and the second time was just as good. However, I am a bit jaded with the theme, so I can't say I was blown away. I did like Verity quite a bit, and loved the aspects of Christmas, and the effect it had on the participants in this story. For A Handful of Gold by Ms. Balogh, I would give the rating of 4 stars. The Season for Suitors is a 3.5 star story.
The best story in this collection was by newcomer, Courtney Milan, This Wicked Gift. This story was like a refreshing drink on a hot day. I loved everything about this story. Ms. Milan's writing has an intensity and a depth that really enthralled me. It brought to mind some of my favorite historical romance writers who have a facility with the written word, and the beauty with which they employ it, such as Laura Kinsale and Judith Ivory. I believe that Ms. Milan has quite a career ahead of her. There is also the fact that William Q. White utterly seduced me. His intensity, his focus, his obvious feeling for Lavinia. I love that kind of hero. And then there's the fact that he's a working man. There's nothing I love more than a hero who works hard for his money, who pulls himself up by his own bootstraps. Out of all three of the stories, this is the hero that got my attention. I could care less about lazy heroes who have nothing better to do than spend their family's money. What's endearing about that. I'd take a man who made himself from nothing over a man who was born rich and is about nothing, any day of the week. That is not to say that I don't have favored heroes who were born in wealth, but they have to a drive, an inner intensity, to gain my appreciation. William is a man who has made my favorite hero list. His urgent need for Lavinia almost made me cry. He would have done something awful to keep her, but his integrity won out in the end. He made a very wicked proposition to have her for one night, but his reasons for doing it endeared him to me. And his remorse was very obvious and poignant. Lavinia also makes this story stand out. She is a very good person, and an extremely intelligent woman. She is easily as captivated and as in love with William as he is with her. She sees right through his wicked proposal, and takes him up on it for her own reasons. She's a heroine that goes after what she wants (him), and won't give up on it despite the odds against her. As I said above, this story was distinct and refreshing. It showed characters that we don't often get to see have a happy ending in historical romance. They aren't rich or titled. They are working class people, albeit extremely educated. I rooted for them to have their happy ending, hoping that their lives would not be dimmed by the blight of extreme poverty, despite their obvious devotion to each other. Thankfully, Christmas has some blessings in store for this wonderful couple. If you are a fan of historical romance, do yourself a favor and read Courtney Milan. I think you will find a wonderful reading experience when you do. This Wicked Gift earned five stars from this reader.
This was my last Christmas read for 2009, and the last book I read this year. I have to tell you, reading Courtney Milan's story in the last few minutes of 2009 was a great pleasure, and I look forward to spending more time with her (and hopefully more captivating heroes like William) in the new year and years to come.
Overall rating for this collection is 4 stars .
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