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Book Review and New Release: A Very Scandalous Holiday (A historical holiday anthology)

Title: A Very Scandalous Holiday
Authors: Nancy Fraser, Soophia Garrett, Amber Lin, and Christa McHugh
Genre: holiday-themed historical romance anthology
Will be published: October 14, 2013
Pages: 248
Format read: ebook
Rating: B to A (A- average for collection)

A Very Scandalous Holiday is a fun collection of holiday-themed historical romances, with two British Regency-era-ish stories acting as bookends for a World War II and 1920s era romance in between. There isn’t a bad story in the bunch, but I definitely have favorites!

Letters at Christmas by Amber Lin is the first story in the collection. Sidony Harbeck has to deal with the return of her former lover, Captain Hale Prescott. Three years earlier, he left to make his fortune at sea and she hasn’t heard from him since. Now he’s back, and determined to win her back. She’s just as determined not to let him, though….

This late Regency period romance was a sweet reunited lovers/second chance story. I enjoyed the characters and found their situation to be mostly believable, but it was pretty standard fare. A nice way to spend an hour or so, and I wouldn’t mind re-reading next year if the Christmas-historical mood strikes me, but it didn’t stand out in any major way–though it did feature a cat as a secondary character, which is always fun. B+ rating.

The second story blew me away, both for its unique twist on the traditional holiday story and its location and characters. Christa McHugh’s Eight Tiny Flames is set during the Battle of the Bulge, right at the edge of the action. Lieutenant Ruth Mencher is a nurse in the 64th Medical Evacuation Unit, and she has long been attracted to the unit’s all-business doctor, Captain Joseph Klein. Ruth decides to take a chance, and on the second night of Hanukkah she shows up at his desk with coffee, potato chips, and the inexpensive menorah her family sent in their latest care package.

Ruth wears a Star of David necklace each and every day, and is proud of her heritage. Joseph, on the other hand, learned while growing up in Texas that it was sometimes better to hide his faith away. In Nazi-infested Europe, this seems doubly important. He’s unsure what to make of Ruth’s overtures at first, and fairly certain that getting involved with a nurse is a bad idea all around. As Hanukkah progresses, though, so does their relationship.

I loved that this holiday story wasn’t about Christmas, and I adored the WWII setting. Out of the four stories here, this one was definitely the most fleshed-out; it had a very strong story arc and felt complete despite its short length. I will absolutely be reading more from this author in the future, and re-reading this story again during the holidays. A solid A rating.

I also really enjoyed the third story, Erin’s Gift by Nancy Fraser, as well. It’s set during the Prohibition era, which again was unusual for a historical holiday romance. Erin O’Mara is a shop girl struggling to make it on her own in Chicago–her parents had died several years earlier, ending her dream of becoming a concert violinist. She still hangs out with two friends she made during her single year at the music academy, though, Abby Harrison and Will Packard, even though their social status is now worlds above hers.

An ill-advised trip to a speakeasy with Abby and Will ends Erin in jail, where Abby’s older brother, Seth, a lawyer, bails them out. Representing her in court, Seth is taken with Erin’s quiet beauty, but he has no intention of falling in love again. A widower, he’s decided that his young son Ben and his family are all he needs. But that was before Erin was fired from her job, and moves in to act as Ben’s nanny….

Erin’s Gift was a sweet little story, and I loved the characters of Erin, Seth, and Ben. The relationships between those three characters were nicely done. However, two things kept me from rating this one higher: one, Erin was at times too sweet. She really didn’t seem to have any flaws save extreme innocence and a tendency to undervalue herself. Secondly, there really wasn’t a strong story arc here–a true climax (except for *that* kind of climax. We had several of those here) just never occurred. The biggest barrier between Erin and Seth was all in their heads, and quickly overcome. Absolutely everything comes fairly easily to these characters in the end. Still, it was a pleasant diversion–and I loved Ben and Seth. B+ rating.

The final story, An Enternity of You by Sophia Garrett, was set just after the Regency era in 1833. The new Duke of Sharrington, Andrew Wingate, is returning to his family estate after spending six years away caring for his earldom in Sussex and trying to forget the girl he left behind in Wiltshire. Now a widower, he brings his young daughter Alice with him, determined to make a new life for them both…and perhaps rekindle an old flame at the same time–though he fears it may be too late.

As far as Rebecca Rycroft is concerned, “too late” is just the tip of the iceberg where Andrew Wingate is concerned. She once believed his promises of love and forever, but that was before he left her without a word–and carrying his child. Her six years of letters have gone unanswered, and her circumstances–and those of the town that depends on Andrew’s duchy–are becoming worse every day. Her son Thomas is all she has left. Can Andrew possibly convince her to give them another chance? Or will it take a Christmas miracle?

This story had some pretty heavy issues going on–Rebecca’s situation as the novella opens is really pretty dire, and the town is clearly declining fast. Andrew’s dealing with major amounts of guilt–he left the girl he loved years ago and married one he clearly didn’t, and he ignored the fact that his father wasn’t fit to govern the duchy on his own during his absence, even though he should have known better. The motivations given for his actions really don’t paint him in a favorable light, and for much of the story I wasn’t sure if I liked him all that much. It especially bothered me that he never opened any of the correspondence from the estate manager in all that time. At least the reason why Andrew wouldn’t have known he had a child–which admittedly was unfathomable to me at first–is explained in a fairly credible way eventually.

The two children in the story steal the show, but in the end I felt like Andrew should do even more grovelling–both to the town and to Rebecca. I just wasn’t convinced *he* deserved the HEA yet, though I was definitely rooting for Rebecca, Thomas, and Alice all the way. B rating.

A Very Scandalous Holiday definitely put me in a holiday mood.  Hmmm…maybe it’s time to start thinking about some Christmas quilting? Or should I read some more? Decisions, decisions….

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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