Posts Tagged Sabrina Jeffries

SBR 2-for-1 Saturday Christmas Romance Special

As Shiny Book Review is well aware that we’re fast approaching the holidays, this seemed a logical time to review two Christmas-themed romances, one by Sabrina Jeffries and the other by Victoria Alexander.  Jeffries’ romance is ‘TWAS THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS, while Alexander’s is WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS.

First up is Jeffries’ effort, set during Regency England and featuring Pierce Waverly, the Earl of Devonmont, and Mrs. Camilla Stuart, a respectable widow with a young son.  Pierce has engaged Camilla to become a companion to Pierce’s own mother, whom he cares for but refuses to speak with for reasons that both he and his mother refuse to discuss.  However, Camilla is having none of that as it’s Christmas.  (She feels every mother deserves to have her son home for Christmas no matter how badly things have gone wrong in the past.)  Which is why she sends a brief note to Pierce saying that his mother is unwell and that if Pierce wishes to see her “before it’s too late,” he’d best come soon or not come at all.

Of course this is extremely upsetting to Pierce, who immediately goes to see his mother.  However, once he gets to his mother’s small house, Pierce gets extremely upset and feels both violated and manipulated.  But as he’s immediately attracted to Camilla despite what Camilla perceives as her lack of beauty, he decides to stick around for a few days to figure out what’s really going on with his mother.

And, of course, since Pierce wants things his own way, he also blackmails Camilla in the process.  Which means that he isn’t above a bit of manipulation of his own as he’s attracted to her, intends to get to the bottom of just why this is, and will figure out a way to make her his own if at all possible.

Over the course of this novel, many things are revealed, including why Pierce and his mother have been estranged, why Camilla’s so keen on keeping families together (hint, hint: it’s not just because she’s the widow of a vicar), and why these two are meant for one another.  Yet because Camilla is not a member of the nobility and Pierce obviously is, it seems for a time as if there’s no way these two can possibly marry and be together.

Of course, as this is a Christmas romance — and “happily ever afters” are a specialty of most romances the world over anyway — you can freely expect that there will be a way around this conundrum.  That way is well-written, involving, and interesting, yet felt a bit contrived beyond the normal levels expected of any given romance.

Still, it’s a nice read with two good main characters with many flaws (I do love flawed heroes and heroines), and I felt the romance between them was realistic and well done.

Moving on, Alexander’s farcical WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS is one of the more amusing Christmas-themed romances I’ve ever read.  This Victorian-era English romance stars Camille, Lady Lydingham, and Grayson Elliot, the man who got away years ago.  Camille was in love with Gray when she was eighteen and he was around the same age, but she was about to marry another.  Gray declared himself, Camille was flummoxed, and both declared themselves brokenhearted forever when their abortive romance did not end in a “happily ever after.”

Now a widow (as Camille did marry the man she’d been engaged to), Camille is about to marry Prince Nikolai of the Kingdom of Greater Avalonia.  Camille doesn’t know where Avalonia is, much less much about Prince Nikolai, but as she’s always wanted to be a princess — and as she hasn’t seen Gray in many years — she’s willing to do just about anything to make Prince Nikolai happy.  So when the Prince wants a “proper English Christmas,” Camille is bound and determined to do anything she can to bring it off even though her mother and one of her sisters are in France and her father is presumed dead.

So what does the intrepid Camille do?  Why, hire a whole troupe of actors, of course!  They’ll play the parts of her devoted family plus all of the servants (who’ve been given holiday time off prior to the start of the book), and that will give the Prince the “proper English Christmas” he’s always wanted.

Of course, things go wrong nearly immediately when Gray comes back into the picture.  Now an extremely wealthy man after making a great deal of money in India, Gray believes he has the panache to offer for Camille.  Thus he goes to Camille’s house at the behest of his brother, the country squire, to renew his acquaintance.

But of course Gray has no idea that Camille hired a whole troupe of actors until he gets to her house.  Then, seizing on the opportunity presented, he proclaims himself her “third cousin” and takes up residence in Camille’s home alongside the other actors.

And of course it’s Gray who realizes that Prince Nikolai is not who he seems to be, especially as the Principality of Greater Avalonia no longer exists, but the only person he can discuss this with is Camille’s identical twin sister Beryl.  (Gray has always been able to tell the two apart.  So can Beryl’s husband, which is just as well.)  Beryl is not wholly unsympathetic to Gray’s pursuit of Camille, but she believes that Gray should have to earn Camille’s trust (a quite sensible attitude).  This leads to much spirited and witty by-play and a great deal of comedic intrigue.

And then . . . as this is, after all, a farce . . . things get even more convoluted when Camille’s real mother and her other sister, Delilah, show up and start interacting with the actors.  Because they still don’t want anyone to know what’s happening with all of these actors as the truth would ruin Camille socially, they end up taking false names right alongside Gray.

And if that wasn’t enough, another of Camille’s relatives shows up — someone completely unexpected — and he, too, must be accounted for in the whole farcical floating narrative.

Because WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS is a flat-out farce, all of this plot description doesn’t begin to do it justice.  So let’s boil it down to brass tacks — Alexander’s book is extremely funny, and it’s well worth the read and the consequent re-reads because the humor is excellent, the characters make sense and the romance is incredibly realistic considering the farcical situations going on all around.

Bottom line: Both romances are better than average, but Alexander’s was funnier.  Still, both are well worth reading and will hold your interest.

Grades:

‘TWAS THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS — B-plus.

WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS — A.

– reviewed by Barb

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Sabrina Jeffries’ “A Lady Never Surrenders” — Fun, Realistic Historical Romance

 Sabrina Jeffries’s newest romance novel is  A LADY NEVER SURRENDERS, the fifth and final volume in the “Hellions of Halstead Hall” series.  (The fourth story in the “Hellions” series, HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY, was reviewed here.)  These novels, while not technically “Regencies,” have many of the same elements — including house parties and high fashion — but a great deal more heart than most.

The plot for all five “Hellions” stories is roughly the same: Grandmother Hetty wants all five of the Sharpe children to marry, otherwise she’ll cut them out of her will.  As she’s quite wealthy due to the dint of her own efforts (she and her husband successfully ran a brewery; she’s kept it going since her husband’s passing), this is not an idle threat.  But Hetty made this threat for a good reason — she hates seeing all five Sharpe children believe they’re not worth anything merely because their parents died young, and in scandalous circumstances — which means her heart is in the right place.  All the Sharpe children know this, but they also deeply resent being forced to marry at Hetty’s whim.

It’s because of the Sharpe’s parents deaths being due to “scandalous circumstances” that Jackson Pinter, a Bow Street Runner, has come to know the Sharpes.  Oliver, the eldest Sharpe, has asked him to investigate the circumstances of the death of his parents; it was said at the time that it was a murder-suicide, but Oliver doesn’t believe it and neither do any of his siblings.  The youngest of the lot, Celia, especially doesn’t believe it, and has grown close enough to Jackson to ask his help in evaluating her three most-promising suitors (as she does have the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over her head due to her grandmother’s ultimatum).

But Jackson covets Celia for himself, something Hetty really doesn’t like; she’s afraid that Jackson is a fortune hunter, and almost immediately becomes a strong impediment to Celia and Jackson’s happiness.  Hetty doesn’t seem to realize that there is a very strong, very physical connection between Jackson and Celia, mostly because Celia is a chaste, all-but-untouched maiden of twenty-four at the start of this novel, and partly because Celia and Jackson try to conceal it due to Hetty’s past interference with the other four Sharpe siblings.

As Jackson gets closer and closer to solving the murder mystery (something I won’t reveal), he also gets closer to Celia.  The two have so much passion that it’s surprising that Hetty doesn’t see it; sparks seem to fly off them whenever they’re present in the same room, which other characters (including Hetty’s love interest, an elderly retired General) keep pointing out to Hetty’s annoyance.

Here’s a snippet from page 128 to give you an idea just how hot things are, even at the beginning of Jackson and Celia’s physical relationship:

“Now see here,” (Jackson) said, grabbing (Celia’s) shoulders.  “I didn’t kiss you ‘properly’ today because I was afraid if I did I might not stop.”

That seemed to draw her up short.  “Wh-what?”

Sweet God, he shouldn’t have said that, but he couldn’t let her go on thinking that she was some sort of pariah around men.  “I knew that if I got this close and put my mouth on yours . . . . “

But now he was this close.  And she was staring up at him with that mix of bewilderment and hurt pride, and he couldn’t help himself.  Not anymore.

That, my friends, is really good writing.  It sets the scene; it explains what’s going on, and it shows more than it tells, which is a really neat trick when it comes to romance writing.  (Or any writing at all.)

But good writing wouldn’t be enough, not without good characters to go along with them.  And in Jackson Pinter, Bow Street Runner and possible future magistrate (think: policeman and future judge) and Celia Sharpe, we have two winning characters who love each other first in spite of their cultural differences, then learn to delight in their differences — which echoes the way a real relationship tends to go if you’re truly in love.  (Not to mention the minor characters, including Jackson’s tart-tongued Aunt Ada — excellently drawn, all.)

From top to bottom, Ms. Jeffries wrote another very good romance; it’s a fun, fast read that’s also realistic and humane.  There’s great romance, a good story, a long-unsolved murder mystery to resolve, and excellent characterization.  Add charm, wit, and sensuality — really, how can anyone who likes English historical romances dislike A LADY NEVER SURRENDERS?  Because this novel has it all, and in spades.

Grade: A.

– reviewed by Barb

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Sabrina Jeffries “How to Woo a Reluctant Lady” is a Fun, Quick Read

Sabrina Jeffries’s English historical romance HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY features heroine Lady Miranda Sharpe, who writes Gothic romance novels for fun and profit.  Miranda’s novels feature a character that’s based off the one man she’s ever loved, Giles Masters, because Giles kissed her and then made rude and cutting comments afterward when Miranda was only nineteen years old.

Miranda’s now twenty-eight, a successful writer, and an embarrassment to her family because she (gasp!  shudders!  horrors!) writes under her own name.   Her grandmother, Hetty, wants Miranda married ASAP, but Miranda would rather be left alone; considering the only man she’s ever loved doesn’t want her, why should she be bothered?  So she hatches what she believes is a clever scheme to get her grandma to back down — Miranda takes out a personal ad in a magazine, and hopes this latest scandal will get her grandma to write her off for good.

Instead, Hetty decides that Giles Masters should be given a chance, and summons him imperiously to talk with Miranda once he, too, shows up at the appointed time and place.  Giles tells Hetty the truth, but not all of it — he kissed Miranda years ago, never forgot her, but wasn’t in position to marry her then.  But now, he’s a successful barrister with a booming career; he can easily support a wife.  So Hetty gives him her blessing, and the engagement commences, with the wedding held in due course.

While all of what Giles said to Hetty was true, it wasn’t the whole truth; this is because Giles has been a secret agent for the British government for many years.  Now that he’s become such a high-profile person (about to be named as a “King’s Counsel,” which is an incredibly prestigious thing), his career as a spy has ended — yet Miranda, all unknowingly, has just the right knowledge to unwittingly expose him.

So will Miranda do this to gain her freedom, once she learns the whole truth?  Or will Miranda decide that this makes Giles even more fascinating than before, especially considering how Giles loves Miranda’s writing, loves her, and wants to be with her?  (Hint, hint: if you picked option #1, you haven’t read too many British historical romance novels.)

While the outcome of this novel was never in doubt, I enjoyed the “spy stuff,” I really liked the authenticity of the historical background, and I appreciated the fully believable plot.  The writing here was crisp and clean, the romance was deft and light, and I enjoyed every minute I spent reading HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY.  And if you enjoy historical romances as much as I do, you’ll probably enjoy this a great deal, too.

The only thing that annoyed me, and kept me from giving HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY an A, was some of the nature of Miranda’s personal story; she has some shady relatives, and I just didn’t see the point to them being in this novel at all except to perhaps throw her into a bit of danger and make Giles realize a bit quicker how much he truly loves Miranda.  Even there, that whole plot complication smacked of a deus ex machina and was completely unnecessary.

Grade: B-plus.

– Reviewed by Barb

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