From the desk of Katie Jackson:
Christmastime often recalls the many forms that love takes. We all know what it is to love our family and friends, and even to find love when we least expect it, all year round. There’s something special about this time of year in particular that amplifies those warm feelings. The many forms of love are beautifully demonstrated in A Christmas Promise, the latest Timeless Romance Anthology® featuring bestselling and popular Regency romance authors Joanna Barker, Annette Lyon, and Jennifer Moore.
“The Two Bells of Christmas” by Joanna Barker brings readers to a country house party with identical twin sisters Cassandra and Vivian Bell, who have been invited by the mother of a most eligible bachelor, Roland Hastings—unbeknownst to him. After a promising introduction in London, Miss Vivian Bell has set her matrimonial sights on Mr. Hastings. During the Bell sisters’ travels, however, Vivian falls ill. It soon becomes apparent that she will be bedridden for most of their visit, so she begs unconventional Cassie to pretend to be prim-and-proper Vivian and keep Vivian’s quarry from being captured by another husband-seeker. “I am still determined to do what I can to claim his attention. I’ll not leave such a thing as love to chance.” (56) When Roland arrives home from London anticipating a quiet Christmas with his mother, he is dismayed to find his home filled with houseguests of the single young female variety. Reminded of the promise he made before his father’s death to marry and produce an heir, Roland reluctantly agrees to make an effort to get to know the ladies his matchmaking mother has chosen for him. He is most intrigued by the outspoken Miss Bell and her contradictory behavior. Can eccentric Cassie protect her heart and make her sister’s dreams come true during her risky masquerade?
“Promise Me Again” by Annette Lyon presents Miriam Brown, the daughter of a sheep farmer, and Jacob Davies, the younger son of a landowning merchant. The enamored young couple wishes more than anything to marry and start a happy life together. But Jacob’s controlling elder brother Norman has lofty goals for him, and low-born Miriam is a hindrance to those plans. In an attempt to marry without Norman’s knowledge, Jacob and Miriam secretly plan to wed on Christmas Eve morning by special license in the church of a distant town. Seeking power and influence, Norman will stop at nothing to bend his brother’s will. Miriam wholeheartedly believes that “their love could conquer anything, including a misanthropic, jealous elder brother.” (1680) But will they emerge unscathed?
“A Christmas Journey” by Jennifer Moore introduces readers to Miss Lucy Breckenridge—the lonely daughter of an army colonel—who has spent most of her formative years living with one relative after another while her father fights Napoleon’s troops on the Continent. Finally, Napoleon has been exiled, and Lucy returns home to make preparations for her father’s homecoming and their first Christmas together in nearly a decade. When Captain James Stewart unexpectedly arrives with a message from Colonel Breckenridge, Lucy embarks on an impulsive journey to salvage Christmas with her father, unaware of the life-altering secret the captain is protecting her from. “Love does that to us, Miss Breckenridge. It makes us behave in ways we never would have otherwise. Love can make the most logical person irrational.” (2834)
Each of the stories in this Christmas collection offers a unique perspective on some of the many different forms that love takes: sisterly devotion, enduring adoration, and unexpected attraction. “The Two Bells of Christmas” was most endearing to me, as someone who has a sister, because of how the Bell sisters took such gentle care of each other, even to their own detriment. What I liked best about “Promise Me Again” is the way it portrays an abiding, unconditional love between two young people who are kept apart by outside interference. It was heartwarming—and heartbreaking at times—to see the lengths they would go to for one another. “A Christmas Journey” is an uplifting tale that demonstrates how friends can be the family you choose, and how harmony can thrive amongst those from disparate backgrounds when they learn from and trust each other.
While Christmas is a culminating event in each story, it felt like a muted backdrop against which the more vibrant character relationships played out. There were times throughout the book when I had to remind myself that these were Christmas stories. I actually wish that these novellas were each full-length, first-in-series Regency romance novels because the characters are ones I wouldn’t mind revisiting.
A Christmas Promise shares some memorable characters and sweet love stories during a quiet Regency Christmastime and feels like wrapping up in a soft, warm blanket on a cold winter night.
4 out of 5 Stars
- A Christmas Promise: Timeless Romance Anthology® (Book 16), by Joanna Barker, Annette Lyon, and Jennifer Moore
- Mirror Press (November 17, 2020)
- Trade paperback & eBook (304) pages
- ISBN: 978-1952611025
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Cover image courtesy of Mirror Press © 2020; text Katie Jackson © 2020, Austenprose.com