This Traditional Regency Christmas anthology is made up short stories by the eight ladies who comprise the Word Wenches romance writers' blog.
She Stoops to Wenchdom by Mary Jo Putney
Lucy Richard has loved Gregory Kenmore since he was tutored by her father, the local vicar. Now they are all grown up and Gregory is recently returned from war a changed man. Will Lucy's disguise as a tavern wench make Gregory see her in a different light?
I liked both Lucy and Gregory and Lucy's interaction with Gregory when disguised was not nearly as silly as I feared it would be. A sweet, Christmas story of acceptance and love.
Miss Brockhurst's Christmas Campaign by Jo Beverley
Penelope Brockhurst and Ross Skerrie grew up as best friends, but have drifted apart as they became adults. After realizing that she is really in love with Ross, Pen decides to use a Christmas house party to lay siege to Ross's heart.
Pen was an interesting character - laser-focused on her objective, and thus, not entirely likeable all the time. And, as the story is completely told from her point of view, Ross was a bit of a cipher. However, the ending, where Ross does shine through and he and Pen declare their feelings, is all a romance reader could wish for.
Intrigue and Mistletoe by Joanna Bourne
Two years ago, Jack Tyler and Elinor Pennington fell in love when he was undercover, sent to Oxford to break up a French spy ring led by Elinor's uncle. After arrests were made, Jack returned for Elinor, but she had disappeared. Now, they are both snowbound at the same Yorkshire inn. Can Jack convince her to give him a second chance?
I really liked Jack and Elinor. He is adorable and so obviously happy to be with her again, though she is understandably wary. But, both are fun, smart people and you know it will all come to a very satisfactory end.
Wench in Wonderland by Patricia Rice
Alice, poor relation, helps her cousin Damaris elope with her true love, instead of taking her to the wastrel to whom Damaris is engaged. A snowstorm and carriage accident later, Alice wakes finds herself in the home of Adam, Viscount Trevelyan, brother to the aforesaid wastrel, where she is mistaken for Damaris. Alice is confused due to the accident, but really likes Adam, his house and his children, while Adam is ruing that his brother doesn't deserve such a paragon.
The mistaken identity thing went on too long, as these things tend to do, but, thankfully, this is a short story so it doesn't last too long. And Alice, but especially Adam, were nice, sensible, likeable people who really needed each other, so I didn't mind too much.
On a Wicked Winter's Night by Nicola Cornick
John Jerrold has been in love with Lydia Cole since childhood, but she gave her heart to an undeserving man who left her pregnant and an outcast. Johnny offered her marriage, but unable to saddle her friend with a loveless marriage, she chose to strike out on her own. Now Johnny is the new Baron of Newport in Wales and at a village inn on his way to inspect the new property. There he finds Lydia, who is the inn's landlady, and her three year old daughter. Can he convince her that his marriage offer wasn't just one of kindness?
I liked this story and Johnny a lot. He's a sweetheart and keeps finding excuses to hang out at the inn. Lydia is smart and fun as well, though concerned about what it would mean for her daughter is Lydia came out of hiding and married Johnny.
Weathering the Storm by Cara Elliott
Due to a rough Atlantic crossing, Bentley and Sophie find themselves stranded in a small Cornish fishing village. Both need to get to London before Christmas, Bentley to turn in and report on the contents of his diplomatic pouch, and Sophie to make peace between her dying ship-owner father and his estranged English relations. They team up, with Bentley providing the funds to purchase the only available vessel and Sophie to sail it.
It's a harrowing trip what with French ships, revenuers and the weather, and the story is long on sailing terms and logistics. But, it's an adventurous, exciting story with Bentley and Sophie finding hidden depths in themselves and each other.
The Mistletoe Bride by Anne Gracie
This one starts out like a gender-reversal of Mary Jo Putney's The Bargain, with Ronan McAllister needing to find a wife in a hurry in order to meet a will stipulation by his crazy aunt. Since he doesn't want a wife (been there, done that), his lawyer finds a dying woman willing to marry him for £500. However, she dies on the coach ride to Scotland, begging fellow passenger Marguerite to take care of her two daughters. Instead of going to her nasty uncle's home - the only family member who will take her in - Meg decides to marry Ronan, collect the money and set up a home with the girls.
This is another mistaken identity story with some fun and touching moments. Poor Ronan is appalled at himself for lusting after a dying woman and Meg desperately wants to escape her life of drudgery. I enjoyed them both, even with - or maybe because of - the morally shaky start on both their parts.
A Wilder Wench by Susan King
Cristina's brother Patrick is mistakenly arrested for smuggling and she decides to rob the courier bringing the legal documents which will transfer him to Edinburgh for trial, hoping to delay things long enough that Patrick can escape into the Highlands. She doesn't bargain on the new laird - and recently invested - sheriff, who is looking a bit familiar to her.
Edward, Lord Dunallan, and Cristina did meet under dangerous circumstances when they were much younger, and once they realize that, it colors their perceptions of the other. It doesn't make Cristina's scheme any less hare-brained, but it does give their reunion some poignancy.
All told, this was a pleasant collection of Christmas stories. They are so short, though, averaging only 40 pages each. I would much rather have had these eight authors - all of them terrific writers - published two books with four authors each and an eighty plus page count. Each of these stories would have been much more satisfactory if there had been a little more room for more depth and complexity. Of course, what I want and what a publisher will do is rarely the same thing…
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, October 18, 2012