I know, it’s early to be thinking about Christmas when the leaves are only just turning, but in the world of publishing what can you do? This anthology of four interconnected novellas by Eloisa James, Christi Caldwell, Janna MacGregor and Erica Ridley is the perfect cosy Christmas read for historical romance lovers!
Book: Mistletoe Christmas by Eloisa James, Christi Caldwell, Janna MacGregor, and Erica Ridley
Publication date: 28th September 2021
Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge via NetGalley. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Brief mentions of sexual assault; family neglect/emotional abuse.
I’ve enjoyed books from all four of these authors in the past, so I couldn’t resist this collection when it popped up on NetGalley, even though I don’t usually read Christmas books before the winter’s actually here! All four stories take place at the Duke of Greystoke’s final Christmas Revelry, a house party that’s legendary for its scandals and life-changing events. A house party is always one of my favourite historical romance settings, and this one is particularly fun, with its dramatic scale and reputation. Although each story could be read alone without losing any of the main plot, I really enjoyed putting together the glimpses of the party’s workings to get the whole picture, and the shared setting definitely helped lend depth to the characters that’s tricky to achieve with a novella on its own. I’m going to address each of the stories individually:
Eloisa James’s story, ‘A Mistletoe Kiss’ is a very sweet one. It focuses on the Duke of Greystoke’s daughter, Cressida, who has felt dowdy and worthless all her life – largely due to her father’s veiled insults. She’s the brilliant mind behind much of the workings of the annual party, but refuses to believe she’s the kind of woman an eligible gentleman could want, and is resigned to a lonely spinsterhood, which causes some problems when the handsome Elias makes it very clear he finds her terribly attractive. I had great fun with this one, and it’s a great introduction to the collection, as Cressie’s behind-the-scenes view of the party lets you see right to the heart of it. The romance itself is adorable, with a hero who’s devoted to making sure the heroine finds some self-worth. I could have read a whole book of this one, with the awkward courtship drawn out for much longer! As it is, it’s a lovely bitesized treat.
Christi Caldwell’s story, ‘Wishing Under the Mistletoe’ was my least favourite of the four. It’s a second chance romance between playwright Isabelle and her workaholic former fiancé Cyrus, who broke off their engagement ten years before because their life goals didn’t seem compatible. Now forced to work together on a pantomime for the Revelry, their passion rekindles, but I didn’t think that very much had changed between them in ten years, and found it hard to believe they would have a particularly happy marriage after the end of the story. The issues that split them still exist, and the change that allows them to be together seems to be Isabelle accepting that she has to play second fiddle to his work, which I didn’t love as a moral – Cyrus doesn’t really make any accommodations for her, and I ended up not liking him much at all. Add to that a heaping dose of class difference issues, which is never my favourite trope in historical romance, and although it’s a nice read, this didn’t end up as one I loved.
I really liked ‘Compromise Under the Mistletoe’ by Janna MacGregor, which is a romance between a couple who are already married, but who never learned to communicate with each other very well. Caroline’s inheritance contract means that the Duke of Greystoke can withold her money until he’s satisfied she and her husband are truly in love, which is a bit of a strange set-up, but forces the two spouses to pretend to be besotted with each other… until maybe not much pretence is needed anymore. I love a fake courtship plot and this is a really cute one with a very emotionally literate hero, and a lovely use of the ‘trapped overnight in a hunting lodge’ trope.
I was most looking forward to Erica Ridley’s story, ‘Mischief & Mistletoe’, and it didn’t disappoint. Ridley writes wonderfully feisty and independent heroines, and Louisa fits right into the mould – I loved the way she put on a ‘proper’ persona when she needed to and reserved her wilder self for those she could trust. Her relationship with Ewan is really well drawn and their friendship is as strong as their passion, but as enjoyable as the romance is, I was just as invested in Louisa’s personal development as she tries to shake off her overbearing mother, and Ewan’s secret, which I won’t spoil but was genuinely something I’ve never seen in historical romance before.
This is a lovely collection, and one that’s perfect to dip into for some wintry warmth – and it’s well worth picking up whether you’re a fan of these authors or new to them. My only tiny complaint is that I was hoping for one of the stories to feature Valentine Snowe, the heir to Greystoke, as a hero so that I could see some of his arrogant edges knocked off – he’s certainly the most prominent side character and I’d love to see him get some development into less of an ass! Perhaps in the future one of these authors will return to the Revelry for another story… Four out of five cats.