It might be heating up where you live, but it’s Christmas every day when it comes to a great story. I don’t reserve these wonderful traditional Christmas Regency stories for those few special weeks in December; in fact, whenever life is too much with me, whenever I need a reminder of the strength and tenacity of love and family, these are the stories to which I turn—even if it’s 80 degrees outside.
Here are my top five holiday stories…which I offer up on the understanding that the list might be different next month.
Mary Balogh, “The Wassail Bowl,” A Regency Christmas Feast, 1996
In this story, Mary Balogh tells of lost love found when a betrayed beauty and a jealous lord learn just how hard it is to resist each other. Balogh often alludes to the story of Joseph and Mary in her Christmas novellas. And in “The Wassail Bowl,” a father is desperately anxious to see his son, currently living with his estranged wife…and “her” daughter accompanies her mother and brother to the earl’s estate at Christmas. Things are not as they seem, although the book does not get off to a good start when the countess flings the contents of the Wassail Bowl in her husband’s face (Balogh kindly provides the recipe so we know exactly how sticky and icky it feels to have trickles of sugary port wine wassail dripping down your neck). Christmas and children and a lost love regained make for a perfect tale.
Jo Beverley, “A Gift of Light,” The Christmas Cat, 1996.
When a tenacious tom courts a fiery feline at Christmas, his master and his mistress follow suit. Christmas and cats, spinsters and cats, only your cat loves you: trust Jo Beverley to turn these clichés upside down in this whimsical tale. A mistress and her maid and her heated cat meet a man and a valet and a Tom on the prowl. Our hero does not believe in the magic of Christmas and our heroine is still mourning her loving parents and looks forward to a lonely, albeit financially comfortable, future. All three couples move through the delightful movements of a Christmas dance of love. As is so often the case with Jo Beverley, Christmastime heals wounds from long ago, allowing strangers to meet, fall in love, and create their own special holiday memories,
Edith Layton, “The Gingerbread Man,” A Regency Christmas Feast, 1996.
Edith Layton leads a divinely handsome duke, strangely bedeviled by his taste buds, to a woman he does not suspect he hungers for. One of the most important triggers of memory is the sense of smell; one of the most ubiquitous smells of Chrismas is gingerbread. And in this story, the duke is convinced he’s smelling gingerbread everywhere, and is he really, or is he just dreaming? He asks everyone what their memories of Christmas gingerbread conjure, including a poignant conversation with his soon-to-be ex-mistress (he can’t continue their relationship once he sees how sad her memories are). Just a touch of woo-woo in this one. A perfect story for those who love the childhood friends to lovers trope.
Diane Farr, “The Reckless Miss Ripley,” A Regency Christmas Eve, 2000.
Set on Christmas Eve, capturing the season’s true spirit of charity and goodwill—and proving time and again why love is the greatest gift of all. What would Regencies be without a snowy road trip and “how conveeeenient” as they say, since marriage is so often the consequence of an enforced stay together due to the inclement elements. This delightful tale evokes memories of Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion and it reminds us that Christmas is the season of redemption and forgiveness. He’s a young man who never really was a rake but he lost a lot of his family’s money chasing after a woman no better than she should b …but he met someone fresh and lovely, who makes him believe in love again. The heroine is a delightful hoyden with a plan to get to Bath willy-nilly and nothing but true love will change her journey’s destination.
Edith Layton, “The Rake’s Christmas,” A Regency Christmas, 1995. Edith Layton shows us how love can reform a rake who sets out to save a needy girl from the likes of a rogue far more devilish than he. The deux a machina plot is often used at Christmas time, the ’life’s a stage and we are merely players’ trope. Never more so than in this story of a poor girl from a loving home, a man, disillusioned and sad from the war and a cynical all-knowing rake. How will this three-way dance end? Unusually, the heroine’s choices are presented in stark relief: she can don a spinster’s cap next Christmas and fade into the woodwork or she can become a rake’s mistress. The specter of poverty is drawn with poignant strokes but not to worry. The gentle reader is presented with a very swoon-worthy ending.
Can you share five favourites of your own?
Janet Webb, Book Lovers Resource