Comment: It just can't be possible that this is the last TBR challenge installment of the year. When older people used to say "time flies as you get older" I thought it couldn't be true but I have to admit, it does. The more responsibilities you have, the less time there seems to exist for all our daily routines...
Now it's time for the last theme of the year, as usually it's Holidays. Wendy does say we can choose one of several but in December it always feels better to go with Christmas.
This time I picked an anthology published a long time ago (1992 is old, who would say it to me!). In this anthology there are five short stories featuring Christmas settings or loosely connected to the Christmas holidays. Of the five authors I had read two, Patricia Gaffney and Bettina Krhan. Of the others I had heard about Mary Jo Putney and Edith Layton but never tried anything by them and Patricia Rice is the only really new to me author.
This anthology wasn't one I was eager to read but it was one of those I got second hand and since it had Christmas stories, I thought why not choose it to be my pick for this month's theme.
All stories have some connection to the season but they focus mostly on the characters and not exactly on the time of the year as a key element to move the plot forward. I'd say the Christmas element is more a prop than a driving force. Also noted by the title is the fact all stories are set during the Victorian period, thus historical and following certain "rules".
I believe it will be easier to just leave a few comments on each story in order of appearance.
Edith Layton - Bird of Paradise
This is the story of a young woman, who is the only woman working in her company, she also has to take care of her younger brother and who is counting on her Christmas bonus in order to pay for some things on time for Christmas. However, her cheapskate boss gives her and the other employees a turkey and not money. While despairing but trying to carry the big bird home, she is helped by a man who often sees her movements from and to work, admiring her form but mostly her friendly behavior to everyone. Eventually this man is the one who helps her the most at a time of need.
I liked the story overall but it never got explained why the man was taking note of her movements, why he was important (we get he is rich) and his behavior felt a little too much like stalking. Their "romance" is not even at subtle level, the understated it felt.
Patricia Rice - A Christmas Angel
Here, we have an American man who got an English title after the death of his grandfather, and he imagined a certain scenario but is proven wrong when the estate is facing difficulties and some people, namely a specific young woman, are a little sad and bitter about the lack of opportunities for the poor village where they live.
This story had many interesting elements to exploit, like the different social and cultural backgrounds of the protagonists, the doubts they faced on their pasts...I think a short story wasn't enough to properly explain and redeem certain emotional aspects.
Patricia Gaffney - Second Chance
My least favorite despite a surprising scene towards the end. Two sweethearts reunite on the eve of the heroine's wedding to another man but the bride hasn't forgotten the man she used to love despite the way he disappeared from her life. He comes back, explains why he did what he did and she must think if she really wants to marry a man for the wrong reasons.
This one wasn't very good to me because I tend to dislike lovers reunited plots - even if these two never got to that point. The secondary characters had a part to play but things were so one dimensional except for the protagonists I felt this wasn't enough page count to fully present a balanced story.
Bettina Krahn - Kidnapped For Christmas
This one was cute. A young teacher at a girl's school gets kidnapped before Christmas when all the other teachers and the girls go home for the holidays. The kidnapper is the father of a young girl refused entry at the school due to the father's not to proper reputation.
The interactions of the main couple were interesting and the whole "vibe" was one I liked, it felt like their relationship was moving at a good pace. I'd would have loved a bigger books about these two. It was also a little romantic despite some less than reliable behaviors. The characterization made the protagonists likable and I was happy they found an HEA.
Mary Jo Putney - The Black Best of Bellaterre
As many other readers, this was my favorite. Another retelling of the Beauty and the Beast where the hero helps the heroine escape her father's greedy but careless hands by offering marriage so she doesn't have to marry another man.
I liked how the hero tried to protect the heroine by marrying her even while promising it could be a marriage in name only. As time goes by they of course find something about the other t care and even love. There was a moment where things go wrong and a bigger book would have smoothed this more but in the end, the pace of their romance and how things go is extremely captivating.
-> Of the five stories, I liked two a lot, one wasn't positive for me overall and the other two were more along "meh". Still, I appreciated some reasons behind the content of them all, so all things considered, this was average for me. I do feel interested in reading more by the authors whole stories I liked the best so I'll check their back lists.
In terms of Christmas content, like I said it was mostly randomly used and only to give us that sense warm feelings were in the air. Nevertheless, the stories were a good enough reason to spend the time reading.