Thursday, November 10, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: A Regency Christmas Carol by Christine Merrill

Harlequin Historical Christine Merrill

October 18 2011 288 pages


Born into poverty, Joseph Stratford's clever mind has made him a rich mill owner, but he has earned himself a wicked reputation among the villagers of Fiddleton. Only firebrand Barbara Lampett can see beyond the cold heart of this gentleman in disguise.
When visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future Joseph is brought down to earth with three thumps! But as the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Eve, has Joseph left it too late to claim the beautiful Barbara and enjoy learning the most delicious Christmas lesson of all?


This is a delightful mix of Charles Dicken's 'A Christmas Carol' and Elizabeth Gaskell's 'North and South' all rolled into one wonderful fantasy/holiday read.

Picture Richard Armitage from the BBC series of North and South (2004) and you have the hero Joseph Stratford. He makes quite an entrance at a gathering of some of the villagers who are grumbling about the mill that is about to open. A mill owned and operated by Joseph. One of his more vocal critics is Bernard Lampett, who holds protests in the village square voicing his concerns over the new mill. His daughter Barbara is in the square as she worries over her father who has 'episodes' of confusion.

It is here Barbara gets her first glimpse of Joseph Stratford. He is commanding, handsome and arrogant. So much so Barbara speaks out and accuses him of having clockworks instead of a heart. Joseph is a Regency Scrooge, out for profit not caring the affects on his fellow man or any carnage he leaves in his wake. While is he intrigued and attracted to the lovely Barbara, he is determined to plow ahead with his scheme of marrying the prominent daughter Anne Clairemont to achieve his goals.

Joseph is visited by the ghost of his father who warns of impending visits from three other spirits. Joseph is more interested in buying and selling, not the craft or the workers.His father explains while Joseph has invented a new loom for weaving, he has lost sight of a more meaningful future. Joseph scoffs this visit as a nightmare of epic proportions.

Barbara is a lovely heroine. She is not afraid to stand up for what she thinks and speaks her mind and voice her feelings. Joseph finds this very appealing as his possible future bride-to-be Anna is too quiet and pliable. As they run into each other a few more times, the attraction is obvious between Barbara and Joseph. He begins to scheme on how he can use Barbara to silence her outspoken father, and set her up as his mistress as well.

The story kicks into 'Scrooge' gear when between the flirtations with Barbara he is indeed visited from three spirits. The first is from his past, the second the present, the third, his future. I found the future visit particularly poignant. Christine Merrill hits all the right notes emotionally and dramatically with this bleak vision of Joseph's future, of which I will give nothing away.

In between his visits from the present and the future, Barbara attends Joseph's big Christmas house party, where he pulls out all the stops to ensnare and impress rich investors from London. Joseph is drawn to Barbara and pays a late night visit to her room where passion ignites and Barbara tells him she loves him. She believes under all that cold business like demeanor is a decent, loving man. Is she correct in her assumption?

You can guess the ending, and it parallels Dicken's tale wonderfully. Heartwarming and bursting with holiday good cheer with a crackling romance thrown in for good measure, you will thoroughly enjoy 'A Regency Christmas Carol'.

3.5 out of 4

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