Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Cotillion Country Christmas by assorted authors

TITLE: A Cotillion Country Christmas
AUTHORS: Carolynn Carey, Amy Corwin, Barbara Miller, Cynthia Moore
PUBLISHER: Cerridwen Press
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 70k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $7.99

A collection of four romance novellas within the holiday period, set in the Regency English countryside…

NOTE: This is a review originally written for The Electric Elephant.

I have to admit upfront, historicals are not my genre of choice. I’m not a history buff, and the periods that do intrigue me are very specific. The period of English history as specified in this anthology isn’t of any particular interest to me, but I was a fan of one of the authors and bought this specifically to read her work. It’s hard to admit, then, that the anthology as a whole, including the novella I was highly anticipating, is a rather disappointing presentation.

The anthology starts out with “A Christmas Surprise” by Cynthia Moore. When her father had a viscount indebted to him, Clara found herself married to the man she’d been in love with. Yet, two days after their wedding, Julian left for India, leaving her alone for nearly a year. When he returns just before Christmas, Clara finds herself wondering what kind of marriage she has entered into, and whether the coldness of their parting is going to typify the rest of her life. Of all the stories to start with, this was the worst possible choice to try and engage a reader. I almost put the whole thing down halfway through this story, even as much as I wanted to read a later novella. The author is all tell, no showing, explaining all the backstory in paragraph after excruciating paragraph. Her style does nothing to help flesh out the flat characterizations, and the plodding pace where nothing ever really happens is absolute drudgery to read.

Next comes “A Tradition of Love” by Carolynn Carey. Robert Maulton has married Thea, in an arrangement made when both were children. Robert is the sole head of his estate, and takes his role very seriously. That means he has little time for frivolity, especially Christmas. When Thea asks to go to the country for the holiday, he agrees, mostly because she’s never asked for anything in the three weeks they’ve been married. He fully intends to work, but his intentions are derailed once he’s swept up in her large, over-friendly family. This story, while not anything I’ll remember much past writing this review, still manages to be my second favorite of the bunch, partly because it improves on the style of the first one by not being nearly as tedious, and partly because of the really sparkling cast of characters. I found Robert to be a tad too dour, and Thea a bit predictable, but the supporting cast shines, bringing out the best of the two leads. This also has the benefit of having the best romantic arc of the four stories, smooth and relatively seamless from start to finish.

The third story in the collection is “Christmas Mishaps” by Amy Corwin. Caroline has spent the last two years being pitied by her family and society when her fiancĂ© ran away with her younger sister on the day of her wedding. Determined to prove to everyone she has moved on, that she wants the good relationship she had with her sister back and she will support their union no matter what, she opts to go visit them on Christmas, ignoring the superstition that if a female is the first person to cross a threshold on the holiday, bad luck will follow. The man who does love her, Edward Masters, realizes what she is about to do and dashes off to pre-empt the confrontation. Of the four authors in the anthology, this is the only one I’d read before. I’ve read two of her other works, one of which was most definitely a keeper and bought in print as soon as it was available. I’ve always found her voice to be charming and her characters fun, and while there’s evidence of that here in this short novella, it suffers from a jerky rhythm of back and forth, of characters that never seem to have the same emotion from one moment to the next, that ended up leaving me feeling vaguely unsettled when I was done. I enjoyed the original set-up and the writing itself is the best of the book, but the awkward pace tempers whatever satisfaction I might have gained from it, leaving it a mediocre read rather than the sprightly tale I’d hoped for.

Rounding out the anthology is “Country House Christmas” by Barbara Miller. Richard Trent has returned from military service in Spain scarred and half-blind, but forced to face the fact that his younger brother has married the woman he was betrothed to, and to take his place as the upcoming head of the household. He doesn’t particularly want to be there, but the arrival of his sister-in-law’s younger sister, the precocious Diana, convinces him at least the holiday will be entertaining. While this story is better written than the first, it suffers from a lack of cohesion that does its vibrant characters no good. The romance is all over the place, and then gets resolved in a whirlwind fashion that seems rushed even for novella standards. It does present the best world-building and best characterizations of the entire anthology, but the hodgepodge way it feels like the story is cobbled together detracts from it too much to make it very memorable.

For a feel good Christmas anthology with a historical flair, it fails to make the grade as anything more than a passing fancy. I can’t say I would bother looking up any of these authors on their own, based on these offerings.


7/10 – The tedious first story slows down the entire collection


6/10 – Unfortunately, fairly mediocre across the scale


7/10 – More attention paid to characters and setting than any believability in romance or pace

Entertainment value

6/10 – Disappointing even from the author I really enjoy

World building

8/10 – By far, the focus of all the stories is on setting at the detriment of other elements



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