My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?
The Bluestocking Belles are proud to present eight never before published novellas centered on the Duchess of Haverford's ball. Her favorite cause is also one dear to the hearts of the Bluestocking Belles, women's education. 25% of all proceeds will be donated to the Malala Fund.
Story Blurbs & My Review:
I truly enjoyed reading this collection of short stories. There were some amazing tales in here that I plan to read again and again. They're charming, sweet and romantic. A lovely book to read during the holidays! Because of the variety of these stories, I've reviewed each individually below.
Valuing Vanessa by Susana Ellis ★★★
Facing a dim future as a spinster under her mother’s thumb, Vanessa Sedgely makes a practical decision to attach an amiable gentleman who will not try to rule her life.This was a sweet romance between Vanessa Sedgely and George Durand. Although, I loved the rich historical detail and dialogue of this story, I didn't feel there was much conflict between the main characters. Their love story was short and brief, their relationship easily resolved. I enjoyed reading about George's spunky daughter, Louise. She more than stole the story with her antics. But, even she accepted her future step-mother far too easily. I would've like to see her protest more.
A Kiss for Charity by Sherry Ewing ★★★★
Young widow Grace, Lady de Courtenay, has no idea how a close encounter with a rake at a masquerade ball would make her yearn for love again.This story was deftly woven with the previous story where we get to see the viewpoint of Lord Nicholas Lacey and Grace, Lady de Courtenay. I fell in love with Lord Nicholas on the first page of this tale. Haunted by the death of his beloved wife, he's avoided society for two years until his brother-in-law, George Durand, drags him from seclusion. Eventually, he meets a mysterious woman at a masquerade with whom he shares an instant attraction.
With the encouragement of her friend, Moriah, Grace sneaks off to a masquerade where she enjoys an adventurous night flirting with a provocative gentleman. While they share a kiss, she fears letting him know her identity, afraid of his bad opinion of her wanton behavior. Grace runs away into the night before he can discover any more about her.
Months later, they meet again. Despite the fact they didn't view each other's faces because of the masks, they are both able to identify each other because of their intense attraction.
Despite the courtship being riddled with misunderstandings, I enjoyed reading this sweet romance. The characters were well-written and likeable. Even the secondary characters, such as Grace's brother and sister, were a joy to read. It was interesting to see how this story was blended seamlessly with the first. I look forward to reading more from this author.
Artemis by Jessica Cale ★★★★★
Actress Charlotte Halfpenny is in trouble. Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and out of a job, Charlotte faces eviction two weeks before Christmas. When the reclusive Earl of Somerton makes her an outrageous offer, she has no choice but to accept. Could he be the man of her dreams, or is the nightmare just beginning?Charlotte Halfpenny is an actress who has lost her job, lost her home and lost her lover. And she's pregnant. Charlotte is not in a good way at the beginning of this story. She knows finding work is hopeless with her tainted reputation and who would hire an actress who is far older than what society deems desirable? She's standing on the edge of a bridge looking into a deep, dark river when a gentleman arrives in a carriage to offer her another option. Curious, and not really wanting to die, she agrees to hear his proposal.
Apollo Rothschild, the Earl of Somerton, is in need of an heir. Seeing that he can't have children of his own, and learning that the beautiful Charlotte Halfpenny is pregnant and in need of assistance, he offers to wed her if she agrees to claim the child is his. Since her choices are extremely limited, she sees no other alternative but to agree to his proposal. However, the more she learns of the man, the more she feels for him and his situation. The mystery surrounding the Earl of Somerton isn't a simple one. The closer she gets to him, the closer she gets to his secret. A secret no one must discover.
This story was amazing! Typically, the stories I read are about the gentleman and ladies of the ton, but here's a heroine who is an actress with nothing left her to name. Despite everything she's gone through, all the choices both good and bad that she's had to make, she still holds her head high. It doesn't matter that she knows the ugly things people say about her, she does the best that she possibly can in the situation she's in to survive. I admired Charlotte and the strength of her character to continue to do good deeds when she could've easily become a bitter and jaded woman.
And the Earl of Somerton… What can I really say about him without giving too much away? He's a gentleman above reproach, able to give Charlotte anything she desires. He's kind, considerate, thoughtful and intelligent. I fell in love with him right along with Charlotte. He's a tortured soul with enemies who are eager to see him gone. Despite that, he does everything he can to protect Charlotte.
The ending was simply beautiful! I admit, I had my suspicions about the twist at the end. I don't want to give anything away, but I was so pleased that everything worked out just the way it did. This was a beautifully romantic tale that was both unusual and delightful! This is one story that I'll enjoy rereading again. I greatly admire Ms. Cale's storytelling abilities. She's definitely on my list of authors to read!
The Bluestocking and the Barbarian by Jude Knight ★★★★★
James must marry to please his grandfather, the duke, and to win social acceptance for himself and his father’s other foreign-born children. But only Lady Sophia Belvoir makes his heart sing, and to win her he must invite himself to spend Christmas at the home of his father’s greatest enemy.James Winderfield, Lord Elfingham is probably one of the most romantic heroes that I've ever read. He's handsome, devoted and passionate. When he falls in love, that love is forever. James needs to marry. His grandfather has chosen potential wives for James to marry that would aid them with social acceptance for his foreign-born siblings, but James insists he will marry only for love when he stumbles upon Sophia Belvoir. He makes every effort to learn more about her. He places himself in the same events and social venues that she attends to get closer to her. Rumors abound in society and everyone, including Sophia, thinks he is courting her younger sister, Felicity. Being older and "on the shelf," she doesn’t see herself as a potential wife for a man who will one day become a duke. She has low self-esteem when she compares herself to her younger sister who is everything she is not. But, James isn't interested in Felicity other than being the sister of the woman he loves and intends to marry. Eventually, Felicity aids him in winning Sophia's love, but at a moment when Sophia believes it might be too late.
These characters were beautifully described, both the main characters and the secondary. They were well-rounded and each had a distinct personality and goal. The descriptions of the James's unique background was entertaining as he explained the differences in their holiday celebrations. The dialogue between James and Sophia was believable and engaging.
This story was s joy to read! In my opinion, the stories in this anthology just get better and better!
Christmas Kisses by Nicole Zoltack ★★★
Louisa Wycliff, Dowager Countess of Exeter wants only for her darling daughter, Anna, to find a man she can love and marry. Appallingly, Anna has her sights on a scoundrel of a duke who chases after every skirt he sees. Anna truly thinks the dashing duke cares for her, but her mother has her doubts.I liked the beginning of this story. From the start we are introduced to the main characters and their problems. It was a great beginning and I was interested to learn more about these people. However, the flashbacks to her mother's past pulled me out of the story. This is just my opinion, but I think the story would have been fine without the flashbacks. I was eager to learn more about Anna and Jasper. I especially wondered why Jasper was going through a troubled time, as his mother put it. I knew there had to be a reason for his constant scowling and his rude behavior, the way Anna saw him. All in all, this was a sweet romance.
An Open Heart by Caroline Warfield ★★★
Esther Baumann longs for a loving husband who will help her create a home where they will teach their children to value the traditions of their people, but she wants a man who is also open to new ideas and happy to make friends outside their narrow circle. Is it so unreasonable to ask for toe curling passion as well?This was a sweet story about Esther Bauman and Adam Halevy. While Adam is on a mission in France, his thoughts are constantly returning to Esther, the woman he left behind. Once he returns to England, he races to Hollingstone Hall where Esther is attending a social gathering for the holidays.
I enjoyed reading this story. It seemed a little short compared to some of the others, but that might be because the main characters were already attracted to each other at the beginning of the story. They knew each other, but never admitted their love for one another until the end.
Dashing Through the Snow by Amy Rose Bennett ★★★★★
Headstrong bluestocking, Miss Kate Woodville, never thought her Christmas would be spent racing across England with a viscount hell-bent on vengeance. She certainly never expected to find love...Kate Woodville is a teacher and the sister of Freddie, a war hero who will one day inherit his uncle's title and estate. However, because of their gambling father, Kate and Freddie grew up poor. Freddie meets Violet Lockhart and the two fall madly in love with each other. Violet's family doesn't approve of poor Freddie thinking he is after the family's fortune. Anthony Lockhart, Lord Stanton, makes it clear to Kate that he wants Freddie to stay away from his sister, Violet, even going so far as to pay Freddie off. It doesn't work. Freddie and Violet secretly plan to elope to Gretna Green to marry. The plan is put into motion on the way to Hollystone Hall for the holidays. Freddie and Violet run off leaving both Kate and Lord Stanton behind. Furious, Lord Stanton demands that Kate accompanies him as they chase after the lovers intent on stopping them from marrying. The weather has other plans and hinders their pursuit. Along the way, Kate's harsh opinion of Lord Stanton softens until she begins to see him in a completely different light. Against her own wishes, she begins to fall in love with him. Lord Stanton also has a change of heart as he learns more about Kate Woodville and the woman she truly is instead of the person he assumed she was. Knowing they can't catch their siblings in time to stop the marriage, they concede defeat and arrive at Kate's uncle's home, Fenwick House. Here, Kate and Anthony share a kiss beneath the mistletoe that changes them both forever.
This was a thoroughly fun story to read! I loved the well-written characters, both the main and secondary, and the difficulties they faced. Both the hero and heroine had flaws that made them believable and all the more enjoyable to read. Anthony's anger and disdain along with Kate's low opinion of Lord Stanton kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next. I loved the interaction and the dialogue between these two. This story was far more sensual than the others in this anthology, of which I happily approve! I would've loved to see this as a longer story. I look forward to reading more from this author.
A Suitable Husband by Jude Knight ★★★
As the Duchess of Haverford’s companion, Cedrica Grenford is not treated as a poor relation and is encouraged to mingle with Her Grace’s guests. Perhaps among the gentlemen gathered for the duchess’s house party, she will find a suitable husband?A sweetly romantic story about Cedrica Grenford and Marcel Fournier. It was a charming story and I liked the characters, but I had some trouble reading it. For me, this story was difficult to read since it was broken up in chapters between the other stories in this anthology. I understand this was a creative endeavor, but it made reading the story challenging. Every time I started a new chapter, I had to refer to the last one to remind myself where these characters were last. This might not have been an issue if I had read the entire book in a short sitting, but I don't read as fast as I used to and it took me a while to get through this book, especially since I was reading it during the busy holiday season. If I read this book again, I would just skip pages and read this particular story in its entirety to enjoy the characters, the setting and the romance.
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