I looked forward to reading THE GRAND HOTEL for some time. For one thing, I've learned that I enjoy Regency anthologies a great deal. I've loved every story I've read in one of these anthologies, even though I normally prefer novel-length works. For another thing, every one of the writers in this anthology is a great favorite of mine-I've collected as many of their books as I've been able to find. And for a third thing, I liked the idea of a connecting device holding the stories together. Such a device worked quite well in FAERIE MAGIC, an anthology of connected Regency-set stories that involved faerie. Two of those authors were Mary Jo Putney and Jo Beverley, the best of the best.
In my opinion, THE GRAND HOTEL also deserves the appellation "the best of the best." Every story I found to be quite delightful. I enjoyed seeing the way the authors connected their stories together. And an added bonus for me is that each story demonstrates the skill that I most associate with its author. I will use this perception as a basis for my review.
The first story in the anthology is "The Background Man" by Carla Kelly. In this story, I found what I considered a trademark of Carla Kelly: protagonists who are not at all like those I expect to encounter in a Regency. Well, would you have expected to find a hotel manager as the hero of a Regency story? You get one here! And he is so appealing that within a couple of pages I found myself desperately hoping for his happiness. When the unusual artistic heroine shows up, and the Duke of Wellington makes an appearance, you may find yourself in alt, as I did.
The second story, "Love Will Find the Way," illustrates Elisabeth Fairchild's unique ability for verisimilitude. She has a way of making you feel that you are right there, in the story yourself along with the characters. She is excellent with sensory detail and descriptive writing. The hero, a returned veteran who must bring her husband's effects to the widow of a slain comrade, wrings my heart with his struggles to deal with his war wounds, his loss of his friend, and his feelings for that friend's widow, whom he grew to love through her letters. The background, set at the time of the elaborate celebrations in London after Napoleon's defeat in 1814, comes to life. I was reminded of Samuel Pepys' vivid descriptions of the coronation of Charles II.
The third story, "The Castaway" by Anne Barbour, illustrates the author's ability to set up a powerful connection between the hero and heroine that transcends ordinary human interaction. This ability is one I have noted (and envied) in several Anne Barbour novels. Like Mary Balogh, she allows her characters to relate on a spiritual as well as a physical plane. All of the stories in this anthology deal with people who are not exactly what they seem, and that is especially true of the heroine of this story. The plot twists in this tale of a lost heiress, of undying hope, of tenderness overcoming hauteur, and of integrity overcoming expediency are quite satisfying.
The fourth story, "The Management Requests" by Barbara Metzger, illustrates the author's trademark humor and cleverness. For example, each chapter is headed by a management rule governing its employees. The hero must be concerned with these rules, for he is-can you believe it?--a nobleman pretending to be a concierge! It's amazing what goes on in the Grand Hotel! But one does what one must when one is suddenly blindsided by love. Metzger's trademark humor comes into play in this tale. For example, the last line in one scene is, "So he gave her a kiss." The first line in the next scene is, "Whap!" This hero definitely works hard for his happy ending.
So does the hero of the final story, "Promises to Keep" by Allison Lane. The heroine of this story is an American, in England to try to reconcile with the English relatives her father had left behind when he married and went to America. She is straightforward and unimpressed by titles or wealth-and she is therefore incomprehensible to most people she meets in London. The hero tries to help her untangle the mysteries behind the estrangement that took place before her father's emigration. This story, like many Allison Lane stories, gives us a familiar Regency setting, but at the same time introduces characters who are refreshingly different without seeming anachronistic. The hero winds up with his lungs full of smoke, his face blackened with soot, and his shirt soaked with dog piddle, but he's a happy man. I think that if you enjoy the Regency genre at all, this collection of cleverly related stories will make you happy, too.