Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Ball by Jennifer Ashley, Emily Bryan, and Alissa Johnson

Christmas Ball Christmas Ball by Jennifer Ashley

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Christmas Ball was an enjoyable read, but not particularly amazing. I had trouble keeping my interest in the stories. I'm not sure if it was the time of year, being so busy, or that I just didn't find them overwhelmingly interesting.

The Emily Bryan story was unique in that the couple were of the working class. Jane is the illegitimate daughter of a noble, consigned to work as a maid in the very house of her father. She has grown up with her spoiled legitimate sister and an indifferent father who never really acknowledged her presence. Since she's the spitting image of her sister, she is blackmailed into pretending to be her sister to accept a marriage proposal from a nobleman, since her sister has run off with an impoverished Italian artist. Jane would have said no, but her father's steward threatened to let go of her sweetheart, Ian, a stablehand, without a reference. She can't let that happen, so reluctantly agrees to impersonate her sister. This story definitely had some good points. I liked Jane and Ian, and I thought that the writing was good and rich. However, it had a bit of a modern feel that I found distracting. I really didn't think it was appropriate when Jane and Ian made love on the bed of the Marquess of Hartwell, a complete stranger. That had an ick factor to me. I certainly wouldn't want some strange couple having sex on my bed. The point of view of various characters involved in the intrigues, such as the legitimate sister, Sibyl, her Italian lover, the future husband, and the steward, was interesting, giving a fuller view of the story. Overall, I would give this story as 3 stars.

Jennifer Ashley returns to the Nvengarian series in this story about Valentin, a half Logosh bodyguard and agent for Prince Damien, and Mary, who is the sister of Egan MacDonald, from Highlander Ever After. I haven't read that book yet, so some of what occurred prior to this story was new to me. It didn't affect my ablity to enjoy this story. I have to say that this story didn't enthrall me like some of Ms. Ashley's other work. It was well-written, and it has the power and flavor of her characteristic style. I don't know if I just wasn't too captured by the story of a widow well into her thirties with a grown son, and her illicit relationship with a fallen aristocrat working as a bodyguard/assassin, or what. I'm not a big fan of the secret/forbidden lovers theme, so maybe that was the problem. At one point, I thought Mary was being a bit judgmental and intractable. She seemed to be very snobbish towards English and a bit towards the Nvengarians. She definitely seems to believe that the Scottish world is the center of the universe. I admit that attitude did not endear her to me. I can certainly understand the Scottish dislike of the English, but at the same time, I think it behooves a person to think outside of her own culture to gain understanding of the decisions and behavior of others. I didn't like the way she dismissed Valentin's need for revenge, and his need to serve the Nvengarian Prince and Duke Alexander. Yes, he needed to move on and find purpose for his life, but the way she communicated this to Valentin, was abrasive and somewhat annoying to me. She didn't seem to be considering why he felt the way he did very much, in my opinion. In the end, she did come around, but I can't say that she's a favorite heroine of mine. Overall, this was a good story. 3.5 stars.

The last story by Alissa Johnson was definitely my favorite, although there wasn't a lot going on. This is definitely a regency romance, in which the whole plot deals with an earl, at the point of realization that he must marry and soon, who starts to court one young lady, but ends up being captivated by her plainer friend. You would have enjoy these kinds of stories to like this one. For this reader, it was interesting to see this couple get to know each other, and watch their love grow as they spent time together. I never felt like I was reading a modern novel disguised as a historical, which is a plus for this reader. I enjoyed the back and forth between the couple, and their banter. I liked how the connection between them was very deep and real, with good chemistry. It was nice to see that the hero was able to see the hidden depths in this young lady, and quickly realized that she was the perfect bride for him. There was a serious element with the heroine's dealing with her father, who was showing signs of what we would call Alzheimer's disease nowadays. Back then, he was just considered 'mad'. The poor heroine didn't really have much of a life, trying to keep a roof over her head, dealing with a father who cared more about his experiments than his daughter, and finally dealing with a father who was sinking deeper and deeper into his disease process. And she felt like she would have to walk away from this man she had loved for some time, because he would be very unlikely to want to marry a poor nobody with a crazy father. It was gratifying that the hero didn't even think twice about the fact that the heroine's father had mental illness. He loved her, and was more than willing to take on the burden of her father. I found the couple to be very likeable, and I rooted for things to work out between them. Although this was my favorite story, I did have trouble concentrating on the storyline at times. Again, I don't know if it's the time of year and having so much on my plate, and feeling pressure to get this read. All the same, I'm glad I read this story. 4 stars.

Overall, a good Christmas anthology. Certainly not one of my favorites, and not the most involving read, at times. But, in all fairness, with so much going on, it's pretty hard to concentrate on a book right now. All in all, Christmas Ball was a good way to spend a few hours around the Christmas holiday.

Rating: 3.5/5.0 stars .

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