Published by HQN Books on Sept. 2, 2009
Genres: Christmas, Historical Romance
Also by this author: The Proposal, The Arrangement, The Escape, Only Enchanting, Christmas Gifts, Christmas Miracles, Only a Promise, Someone To Love, Someone to Hold
A Handful of Gold by Mary Balogh
Not only is Julian Dare dashing and wealthy, but he's the heir to an earldom. So what do you get a man who has everything? Innocent and comely Verity Ewing plans on giving Julian her heart—the most precious gift of all.
The Season for Suitors by Nicola Cornick
After some close encounters with rakes in which she was nearly compromised, heiress Clara Davenport realizes that she needs some expert advice. And who better for the job than Sebastian Fleet, the most notorious rake in town? But the tutelage doesn't go quite as planned, as both Sebastian and Clara find it difficult to remain objective when it comes to lessons of the heart!
This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan
Lavinia Spencer has been saving her hard-earned pennies to provide her family with Christmas dinner. Days before the holiday, her brother is swindled, leaving them owing more than they can ever repay. Until a mysterious benefactor offers to settle the debt. Innocent Lavinia is stunned by what the dashing William White wants in return. Will she exchange a wicked gift for her family's fortune?
The Heart of Christmas is a collection of three novellas or long stories, all taking place during the Christmas season.
I enjoyed “A Handful of Gold” (Mary Balogh) well enough but it isn’t one of her strongest stories; it’s a little too cliched, and I found it difficult to suspend belief in several spots. Verity Ewing is secretly working as an opera dancer. When Julian Dare, Viscount Folingsby, suggests a week at a friend’s hunting lodge over Christmas, she agrees only because of her sister’s desperate need for expensive medical care. For his part, Julian doesn’t realize Verity is actually a gently-reared young lady. Things take a surprising turn first when he realizes she’s never been a mistress before, and again when a vicar and his family are forced to take shelter with them on Christmas Eve. Balogh handles Julian’s redemption well, but the obliviousness of the vicar and his wife to the irregularity of the situation (in particular the speech and behavior of Julian’s friend’s mistress) really stretches credulity.
Nicola Cornick’s “The Season for Suitors” was stronger; I would have liked to see it developed into a novel, because the characters were quite well-developed for a short story. Clara asks her brother’s friend Sebastian for help in learning to guard against rakes and fortune hunters. But her request and his eventual agreement are complicated by the fact that she was (and remains) in love with him, and he turned her down a year and a half ago. Cornick negotiates the resultant tensions with skill, leaving the reader almost unsure whether the conflict will be resolved in the end.
I’m rather on the fence about “This Wicked Gift” (Courtney Milan.) On the one hand, huzzah for a story that focuses on a hero and heroine who are essentially lower-middle-class — educated, but barely scraping by financially. And huzzah for letting that fact affect both their outlook and their decisions. On the other hand, I was a bit uncomfortable with the hero’s actions in essentially letting the heroine prostitute herself to him. To be fair, in the end, so was he, and she didn’t see it that way herself. (It’s hard to be clear without spoilers, but her decision has more to do with her feelings than any financial obligation.)
Only Balogh’s story really feels like a Christmas romance, though the other two certainly take place around that time. I think it’s because Cornick and Milan’s stories could have taken place anytime, while the Christmas setting of Balogh’s story is important to the plot as well as to the characters’ development.
Bottom line: The Heart of Christmas is fine if you’re looking for a few short historical romances, but look elsewhere for real Christmas spirit — and for examples of Balogh’s best writing.
CHALLENGES: HoHoHo Readathon
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Historical Romance Reading Challenge 2015
- Ho-Ho-Ho Holiday Read-a-thon 2014