I bounced over to an ebook vendor to get an electronic copy of One Good Turn, and while browsing found that several other favorites have also been digitized. Although other readers find Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand to be Kelly’s best, it is one of my least favorite Regencies in her backlist. I much prefer With This Ring (not available as an ebook yet), The Lady’s Companion, and Reforming Lord Ragsdale. Actually, I think I may have reviewed a couple of those.
[Searches archives, which are not very organized at all. ]
Apparently, no, I haven’t reviewed any of my favorite Kelly trads from Signet, I’ve only reviewed Summer Campaign. I’ve also reviewed a couple of Kelly’s Harlequin Historicals (Marrying the Captain and Beau Crusoe), but none of her other Signet Regencies? That can’t be correct, I’m sure I’ve reviewed Marian’s Christmas Wish.
Oh, wait, maybe I reviewed it over at the now defunct group blog I used to participate in, Readers Gab? It’s going to drive me crazy now. Okay, no, it wasn’t a review per se, but I wrote about MCW as a favorite holiday story. The blog is gone now, so I’ll re-post here the Word version I found on my computer (originally written 12/14/2009 and published at RG at about the same time).
Sharing a holiday favorite (12/09)
Last year, my favorite holiday-themed “find” was Astrid Amara’s Holiday Outing, a m/m romance centered around a family snowed in for Hanukkah. This year I’ve read two holiday-themed novellas, K.A. Mitchell’s Regency-set An Improper Holiday and Josh Lanyon’s The Dickens With Love, a contemporary. Both were charming; we’ll see if they stand the test of time and become holiday re-reads.
One particular holiday read that I pull off the shelf every December is Carla Kelly’s Marian’s Christmas Wish. While MCW is not my favorite Kelly book, it is the one book that I do reread every year; others may be reread as the mood strikes, but this one’s holiday setting makes it mandatory reading for me. It is an early book of Ms. Kelly’s, and has some rough spots, but she writes beautifully and draws such flawed yet charming heroines and heroes that I fall a little bit in love with them as I read.
A Vow Not to Love
Miss Marian Wynswich had not been raised to be a proper young lady. Instead she had been educated to be as good as any man in everything from reading Greek to playing chess.
Thus it was with dismay that she saw what falling in love could do to the most sensible of females, as she watched her sister Ariadne turn giddy when a gentleman captured her heart. Never, Marian vowed, would she ever commit that feminine folly.
Then the dashing Lord Gilbert Ingraham came to pay a Christmas visit. And the question was not only if this worldly lord would make Marian break her vow…it was also if this man who could have any woman he wanted would also break her heart…
Frankly, that blurb is not very accurate. Marian reads Greek, but not because she was educated to be as good as a man; her mother is a flibbertigibbet who paid no attention to her education and her father was an eccentric drunkard who was entertained to have a daughter who could read Greek. Her sister did not turn giddy when she fell in love, and Marian’s opinion of marriage as a state of being was much more complex than the blurb presents. And that’s just the beginning of it. A more accurate summary might be:
Marian Wynswich, perpetual optimist and doer of good deads, is stretched thin. Her loveable wastrel of a father has died, leaving her Mrs. Bennett-like mother, lovestruck older sister, and ramshackle younger brother in Marian’s hands. Her older brother, Percy, is staggered by the debts left behind and struggling with his own diplomatic career; he can see only one source of financing for the estate – marriage to a wealthy family. Bringing a potential suitor for Ariadne, Marian’s sister, Percy comes home for the holidays, bringing along another diplomat as a guest, Lord Gilbert Ingraham. Seriously scarred, Lord Gilbert is avoiding his own home and family. When a prank goes awry, Marian ends up travelling with Lord Gilbert to Bath, and becomes entangled in a diplomatic intrigue that threatens to break her heart.
The book opens at the end of what was a fairly dreadful year for the Wynswich family. Bertram Wynswich has died, leaving the estate in debt and a family in disarray. The familial disarray has as much to do with his death as it does with his life – neither he nor his wife appear to have considered the proper upbringing of their children, or the future of the family. This holiday will be the last at Covenden Hall for the Wynswiches, and Marian is determined to make the best of it if only her family would cooperate. Unfortunately, things do not go well. The suitor her brother brought home is stuffy and priggish; her younger brother continually plays pranks that get progressively less entertaining and more dangerous; her older brother is made too old too soon by the burdens of the family and its reputation. The only good thing about the holiday is Lord Gilbert, who seems to appreciate Marian as she is. The problem with that is that Lord Gilbert is not exactly who he appears to be on the surface.
Adventuring to Bath with Lord Gilbert and Alastair, her younger brother, Marian finds a world and society completely unlike her family’s, one where she isn’t sure she fits and where she feels awkward and out of place. Lord Gilbert, a staunch companion through their travels, suddenly becomes someone else entirely: elegant, tonnish, and engaged to a fashionable lady. How did that happen? What happened to down to earth fellow who helped her make Christmas pudding? And where on earth did the engagement spring from when Lord Gilbert had previously said that he was unattached. Oh, the intrigue! The heartache! The sacrifice!
When I think about the plot objectively, there are parts that are ridiculously outlandish. Yet as I read, they hang together cohesively and are consistent with the characters drawn by Ms. Kelly. However melodramatic some of the scenes are – drugged and stuck in a coach? a speech that essentially says “I love you but I cannot live like this!” – they work in context. That’s the beauty of Ms. Kelly’s writing and characterization, I find. And through the entire book, the themes of families, second chances, and redemption are threaded deftly.
While MCW is not my favorite Kelly book, it is the one book that I do reread every year; others may be reread as the mood strikes, but this one’s holiday setting makes it mandatory reading for me.
Marian’s Christmas Wish was OOP and fairly spendy for a print edition at the time this was originally written but is now reissued as an ebook at a very reasonable price. (Also in print but at a less reasonable $8.99 price for a standard length trad IMO.) Ms. Kelly has also written novellas for various Regency Christmas anthologies, which have been republished or reissued in recent years and are available for purchase or swap, I’m sure.