Monday, March 27, 2017

The Last Chance Christmas Ball - Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, et al (Kensington - Oct 2015)

My True Love Hath My Heart by Joanna Bourne

A longtime love is rekindled, with a chance to strike at injustice, a future to determine and jewelry theft thrown in for good measure.

Claire, daughter of a Swiss jeweler and talented jeweler in her own right, is masquerading as a maid at a Christmas house party. She is determined to get revenge on a man who cheated her and damaged her reputation as an artisan. Nick is an English nobleman who spends his time traveling throughout Europe, doing work for the English government. Nick has followed Claire, determined to make her see that they can have a life together. Claire loves him too much to allow him to marry someone as far beneath him as she is.

I enjoyed this story, as Nick helps Claire carry out her revenge, while at the same time wearing down her objections to their love. I liked the way that he loved her for who she was, and wasn't worried about the social niceties. I liked the ending, as he revealed the depth of his feelings for her. His visit to her family was a sweet touch.

I liked the revenge story and Claire's plans to carry it out. I also enjoyed the adjustment to the plan, which involved helping the daughter of her target. The scene in the library with Claire and Mary was terrific.

A Scottish Carol by Susan King

A doctor fresh from the horrors of Waterloo is reacquainted with his mentor's daughter.

Henry is a doctor and viscount who served in the army during the war. Since his return to Scotland six months ago he has been filling in as a lecturer at the university. At the beginning of the story he speaks with the most talented of his students about an assignment, only to discover that the young man is actually the daughter of his former mentor. She is also the woman he had loved and lost. He is haunted by the things he saw during the war and has buried his emotions as a way to protect himself.

Clary is a widow after the husband forced on her by an arranged marriage dies in an accident. After moving back with her father and losing him recently, she needs something to occupy her time. When she discovers that Henry is back, she sneaks into his lectures, just to be near the man she always loved. She never understood why he had left so abruptly those years ago.

A series of events ends up stranding Clary at Henry's country home during a blizzard. Alone together, Clary senses Henry's turmoil and wants to help him learn to feel again. I enjoyed seeing her open his heart to the joys of the holiday again. After so many years apart, they also rediscover all the things they have in common, including a love that never died.  The dog, Max, was a great addition to the story.

Christmas Larks by Patricia Rice

Returning home from war, damaged and disoriented Ivor Whitney-Harris hears mice in the walls and rekindles his childhood acquaintance with Sarah Jane Langsdale.

A reunion story. Ivo has returned to England months after the war ended. First he was recovering from an injury, then avoiding seeing his father again. After receiving word of his father's death, he heads home. He's attacked by footpads not far from his childhood home, and arrives to find an empty house before he collapses. Sarah Jane grew up with Ivo. The house was willed by Ivo's father to soon become an orphanage. While checking on the house, she discovers Ivo injured and babbling of talking mice. With no one else to do it, she stays to nurse him back to health.

I ached for Ivo, who is haunted by the things he saw during the war. A talented artist, even in his illness he is compelled to put what he sees on canvas. Being in his childhood home brings him comfort, as he has dreamed of settling there after the war. He doesn't know that he no longer owns the house. Seeing Sarah again, he begins to see her as more than his childhood friend. Sarah has always loved Ivo, but he never saw her as more than a friend. Seeing how happy he is to be back in the house, she dreads telling him the truth.

I liked seeing them get to know each other again. Sarah's love for him is obvious in the way she takes care of him and worries about him. Ivo had a little more trouble realizing what it was he felt for her. His anger when he finds out about the house is understandable, but he says some terrible things to her. I ached for Sarah and her belief that Ivo hates her now. I liked his big moment at the end, as he finally finds the words to tell her how he feels.

The talking mice were an interesting addition to the story. I really wondered what kind of hallucinations Ivo was having, until Sarah heard them too. I liked the truth behind it, as it was another insight into the effects of the war on more than just the men who fought it.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Mary Jo Putney

A wounded soldier's final return to those who love him is ensnarled by his wounded anguish.

I loved this story. Kimball and Roxie had grown up together, and moved from friends to a couple. But Kim felt as though he'd had things too easy all his life, and was compelled to join the army and fight against Napoleon. Roxie wasn't happy with his decision, but had no choice but to accept it. Then Kim was badly injured, his life seriously altered. The doctor who saved him (Henry, from The Scottish Carol) made it clear that Kim would improve only if he made a determined effort to do so. So Kim went home, but he locked himself away, refusing to see anyone but his servant, including Roxie. No matter how many times she tried, he always turned her away.

I really liked Roxie. She is fun and she is kind, but she is also stubborn. When Kim's brother Edward offers to marry her instead, since Kim is refusing to follow through, Roxie agrees that it might be a workable solution. They are friends, after all, and have always gotten along. But Roxie is determined to see Kim face to face before she will commit to Edward. She still loves him.

I liked Kim, but certainly wanted to shake him. I loved that he wanted to do something worthwhile with his life, which is what sent him to war. I even understood his desire to hide himself away at the beginning, but I felt that he should have been working through his fears by that time. He still loves Roxie, but wants to protect her from being tied to a "cripple".

I loved Roxie's conversation with Kim's servant, and how it set things up for her confrontation. I really enjoyed seeing her knock down all his arguments, with her ballgown being the icing on that particular cake. I loved their big moment at the end, as she brings him out of darkness back into the light of love.

Old Flames Dance by Cara Elliott

A long lost love returns from a far flung place. Too late or can all be set right?

Good second chance story. Lily and Edward had been in love ten years earlier, but his parents thought he was too young to marry and refused to allow the match. Lily's father was in financial difficulties, so Lily agreed to marry a much older man who agreed to help. She went to India with him, where he died, and she married yet another man. After his death, Lily came back to England, and arrived in time to attend her godmother's Christmas ball. There she ran into Edward again. Her love for him had never died, but it is rumored that he is about to announce his engagement.

I liked Lily. She's smart, beautiful and honorable. She doesn't want to come between Edward and his potential fiancée. I also liked Edward, who is now caught in a tangle.

I liked the rekindling of their relationship. The scene in the library, where they first saw each other again, was great. I loved that he knew her right away, even though she had changed a lot. Every time they were together, the attraction between them grew. I loved the advice that Lily got from the dowager duchess, though she was undecided about taking it. I liked her method of choosing, though I suspect she had some assistance in the outcome. The final scene in the library, then the ballroom was fantastic. I especially enjoyed how well it blended with the previous story.

A Season for Marriage by Nicola Cornick

What can you do when your husband spurns you? Why flee to the arms of your loving family and hope!

Very emotional story. Caro has been married to Piers for six months. He is her brother Edward's best friend and used to visit when they were younger. He was always nice to her and she's been in love with him for years, though he never seemed to notice her that way. They were forced into marriage because he had accidentally compromised her, and she has been trying to make it up to him ever since. She's gone overboard in shopping, trying to buy herself a boost in confidence, so that she can be the political wife he needs.

After a disastrous wedding night, Piers has avoided her, spending all his time on his political work. He is fascinated by her wit and kindness, and fears that he's falling in love with her. His experience with love was that of seeing his parents' obsession with each other to the exclusion of everything else, and he wants no part of that loss of control.

After a confrontation regarding her spending, Caro knows she has to do something to rescue her marriage. While he is away from the house, she leaves for her family home and the Christmas ball, hoping that he will follow, and fearing that he won't.  I loved his reaction and what he did, and ached for him and the turmoil of his feelings.

I loved seeing Caro stand up to him and let him know why she has been so unhappy. He was so oblivious to the effects his actions had had on her that it was quite a shock. He was still having trouble dealing with his feelings and managed to hurt her yet again with his words (or lack of them). It took an unexpected bit of jealousy and a waltz to drive him to finally admit his feelings to her and himself. I loved Caro's understanding and willingness to forgive.

Miss Finch and the Angel by Jo Beverley

A lowly companion captures the gaze of a well-intentioned rake.

Good story. Clio was introduced in the prologue as the companion of Lady Holly. She's very quiet, content to stay in the background. Gabriel is Lady Holly's godson, the second son of a duke, and something of a rogue and a rake. She has summoned him to the ball to help her make the wallflowers look good. He is more than willing, but also finds himself intrigued by Clio.

Clio is a young woman who was deceived by a man and spurned by her family afterward. She has settled on a life of service, knowing that marriage is no longer an option for her. She does her best to blend into the background, though it isn't really her nature.

I loved Gabriel's determination to help Clio find a man, even though she was reluctant. What was even more fun was how personal it became for him. It was great to see him start thinking of her as his, though he resisted at first because of what might be her reputation. They had a couple encounters where they got to know each other a little, and Gabriel was more entranced by her. I loved seeing them at the ball together, and how he brought her out of the background.

The ending was great, with the unexpected appearance of Clio's father. I loved Gabriel's immediate protectiveness. I especially enjoyed Gabriel's conversation with Mr. Finch. I liked seeing Gabriel get what he didn't know he wanted until it was right in front of him.

Mistletoe Kisses by Annie Grace

French verbs and mistletoe kisses. Life for Allie Fenton was set upon a oath that seemed unlikely to waiver.

Another good story. Allie is a young woman whose father has died and whose cousin has inherited the house she grew up in. Rather than stay and become an unpaid servant in his household, she plans to become a teacher. But Lady Holly isn't going to let her get away before attending the Christmas ball, and has even provided a beautiful dress for her. Allie agrees to attend.

For the few days before the ball, Allie has given her servants the time off and is staying alone in her home. Two travelers have a carriage accident near her home and she takes them in. Lord Kelsey and his sister Lucilla are also headed to Lady Holly's for the ball.

I liked both Allie and John. She is kind, pretty and practical. She has been running the estate for years and has the confidence of someone who is used to being in charge. It was fun to see her bossing John and Lucilla around. John changed his own holiday plans so that he could take his sister to Lady Holly's, which I found very sweet.

I enjoyed the development of their romance. Snowed in over the next several days, the three become good friends, sharing meals, chores, cards games and even a little dancing. Sister Lucilla is a bit mischievous and has a heavy hand with the mistletoe, leading to several passionate encounters. Allie comes to Lucilla's rescue, when her ball gown is discovered to have gotten ruined in the accident, and gives up her own and her chance to attend the ball herself. I loved John's reaction to her absence, and the assistance he received from Lady Holly to bring the ball to Allie. Those hours together were sweet, and he promised to be back the next day.

But an emergency at home had him otherwise occupied, and his note of explanation goes astray. I ached for Allie and her belief that she'd been forgotten. I loved John's big moment at the end, and the assistance he received from an unexpected source.

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