Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Wallflower Christmas

Yes, its that wonderful time of year when everything is set in place to fall in love. Family gatherings with new people to meet, check. Fancy clothes and parties, check,  exasperating relatives who let you know you've never quite lived up to their expectations, check.

Oh, and don't forget the mistletoe!  That's the magical little plant that inspires romance simply by being hung in the doorway.

My favorite Christmas story of a historical flavor is, if you haven't guessed by the title of the post: A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas.

The prologue of the story reads like the opening of Charlie's Angels:
"Once, there were four young ladies who sat at the side of every ball, soiree, and party during the London season. Waiting night after night in a row of chairs, the wallflowers eventually struck up a conversation. They realized that although they were in competition for the same group of gentlemen, there was more to be gained from being friends rather than adversaries. And even more than that, they liked each other. They decided to ban together to find husbands . . . "
           Excerpt from A Wallflowers Christmas by Lisa Kleypas

Okay, so if you aren't intrigued by the intro, and the subsequent list of the four friends and their attempts to find husbands together, then you don't love witty and engaging historical romance.  Not much.

This lovely gem is the fifth and crowning jewel in The Wallflowers series by Lisa Kleypas. Each of the four young women mentioned in the prologue has found a husband through the help of her new friends, and now the four of them are trying to help another wallflower emerge from the shadows at Christmastime to find her true love.

The four women are all fabulous in their own right, and each one is featured in her own book.

There is Annabelle, a poor but beautiful woman who is being forced to marry someone against her will to save her family. Her story is told in the first book of the series: Secrets of a Summer Night. She meets Simon in the book, a very witty and handsome fellow who is more than happy to help her out of her dilemma. I laughed so much when reading this, as Simon's witty quips are half the fun.

And then we have Lillian, the tall, outrageous and outspoken American from New York, who was brought to England to find a husband by her wealthy parents because she is so well . . . outspoken and wild, that no one in polite society in NYC will have her. Lillian is my favorite wallflower. She's full of pluck and sass, just the delightful creature to challenge the stiff as starches Lord Westcliffe. Their love story is in It Happened One Autumn. This book kept me entertained as Lillian's off the wall antics and her continual miss step's in proper English society get her in trouble again and again. In this one, we have four women out in a ball field, in their knickers, playing knickball with the stable hands. Prim and proper Lord Westcliffe happens upon them and flummoxes Lillian, adding to the fun.

Next in the lineup is the beautiful redhead who is shy and stutters, Evie. She has a speech impediment, mostly due to shyness and a little social anxiety disorder, and even though she's wealthy, her father's money came from owning a very scandalous gambling club. Enter the notorious rake, Sebastian, and you have a recipe for love and seduction, and not necessarily in that order. Sebastian is the man you wish you knew, a sort of Mark Sloan (for Grey's Anatomy Fans) of the 19th century, a man whore. Their story is told in The Devil in Winter. Sebastian is so bad that its said that just being alone with him in the same room would ruin a girl's reputation. Ah, but he's so charming. . . . you honestly can't resist falling in love with him.

 Last of the for wallflowers is Daisy Bowman. She's Lillian's younger sister. Daisy is the opposite of the bold outspoken Lillian. Daisy is quiet, bookish, prone to fantasy and daydreaming, sort of ethereal. Her match is Matthew Swift, an American man who works for her father. Matthew is not the knight in shining armor she dreams about, but he's in love with her. Their tale is told Secrets of a Summer Night. This story, as in It Happened One Autumn and A WallFlowers Christmas, takes place at Lord Westcliffe's manor house, Stony Cross Park.

Now then, getting back to the De-lish Christmas story that is sure to dazzle you this Christmas season. A Wallflowers Christmas:

The heroine,  Miss Hannah Appleton, is a lady's companion in the employ of her cousin, the lovely society darling, Natalie Blandford.  Hannah is a poor relation and must stand in the shadows as Natalie's chaperone at balls and wait on her more glamorous single cousin at home. Hannah is summoned to Lady Lillian Westcliffe's rooms for tea, where she meets the hero of the story, Lillian's brother from America. Lady Lillian has summoned the paid companion of Miss Blandford there to find out how her brother, Rafe, might win the hand of her charge. Rafe Bowman is a rake, a wall street 'pirate', if you will. He's made his fortune pushing speculative stocks to ill advised patrons and making money off them. Thus, his personality is one of being unconventional and quite capable of scandal and wild behavior.

Rafe Bowman has grown up with a heavy burden on his shoulders as the oldest and the heir to his father's soap manufacturing company. He was beaten often, and treated with cold disdain and disapproval by his father all his life. He's learned to go his own way and be independent, to train himself not to care about others as a sort of protection. In adherence to his father's wishes he agrees to come to England and meet the woman his father has chosen for him to marry--not Hannah, of course--but Hannah's cousin, Natalie.  He's prepared to commit to a loveless marriage with a boring society woman who will make his life conventional. But then he meets Hannah. He finds he doesn't want to marry the society darling everyone is pushing at him, no, he wants her paid companion!

The story takes place at Rafe's sister's country mansion. It's Christmas, so the four former wallflowers are together again (it's fun to see each of them in their married lives), and they are plotting again, plotting to get Rafe and Hannah together. Rafe is quite a charmer, and he's very impudent and saucy at the same time, a little like Greg House with his caustic and deadpan wit in pointing out others faults, but not quite as vicious as House. It's a fun romp with plenty of the things we love about Christmas, the parties, the annoying family members, the mistletoe kisses, and the unlikely couple falling in love during the magic season. You'll not be disappointed with this offering by Kleypas.

Here's a delightful excerpt, an exchange between the hero Rafe and the heroine, Hannah. It is their first meeting: 

Hannah: "Lady Natalie is a delight. Her disposition is amiable and affectionate, and she has every grace of character one could wish for. A more intelligent and charming girl could not be found."

Rafe: "A paragon. Unfortunately, I've heard other young women advertised in equally rapturous terms. But when you meet them, there is always a flaw." 

Hannah: "Some people will insist on finding flaws in others even when there are none."

Rafe: "Everyone has flaws, Miss Appleton." 

Hannah thought he was too provoking to be endured. She met his keen dark gaze and asked, "What are your flaws, Mr. Bowman?" 

Rafe:  "Oh, I'm a scoundrel, I take advantage of others. I care nothing for propriety, and I have an unfortunate habit of saying exactly what I think. What are yours?" He smiled, "Or are you by chance as perfect as Lady Natalie?" 

Hannah was struck speechless by his boldness. No man had ever spoken to her in such a manner. 

Lillian (Rafe's sister); "Rafe, I'm sure our guest doesn't wish to be subject to an inquisition before we've even brought out the scones." 
Copyright Lisa Kleypas,  A Wallflower's Christmas.

As an avid historical romance reader, I cannot say enough about Kleypas historical romances. She's my go to girl for a good read with fun, witty, and unconventional characters. She has two series on my desert island keeper shelf, The Wallflowers, and a spin off featuring the gypsy Cam Rohan we met in the Wallflowers series as the hero in the first book of The Hathaways Series.

Together, that's ten, count them, ten wonderful books to keep you entertained throughout the winter.

And since it's Christmas, I'm feeling very, very generous. I'd like to gift one lucky person who reads this blog and leaves a comment with a complimentary e-book copy of A Wallflowers Christmas. Just leave me a comment here (with your email address so I can contact you if you win) telling me what your favorite historical romance Christmas story is, if you have one. If not, then share a special Christmas memory of romance with me. Last day to leave a comment is December 24th, Christmas Eve!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Get Caught Under the Mistletoe

Close up of my Historical Christmas Short Story Cover

Hey, it's Christmas time.
My most absolute favorite types of stories to read are Christmas themed  Romances. I start Thanksgiving weekend and go straight on through to New Years, reading perennial favorites and picking up new books each year to add to my collection.  I absolutely love the old Regency Christmas stories, with the manor house, the snow, the Christmas ball, the sleigh rides and that special scene where the hero and heroine inevitably end up kissing under the mistletoe.

The most romantic element of the Christmas season is the mistletoe kissing. We've forgotten all about that magical little plant that used to be hung in doorways in an earlier era, an excuse for stealing a kiss.
But Christmas Romance is special even in this era. While I prefer historical romance most of the year, during this time I widen my horizons by reading contemporary romances as well. So, for the coming weeks I'm going to be sharing some of my all time favorites with you. 

This time, I'd like to feature an author who has delivered for me every time, and I can say that because I have read many of her books in the past few years. So if you are looking for a great contemporary Christmas series romance, my top pick is the series called Mistletoe Rules, by Stacey Joy Netzel. I have had this series for a few years in print form. Isn't this cover lovely? I will treasure it for years to come.

2009 Print Copy Cover

I'm happy to say that Ms. Netzel recently published the series in ebook form as short stories you can buy individually. They are listed as part of her new Romancing Wisconsin imprint as holiday stories. You won't want to miss this series as they bring the magic of the Christmas season to life in contemporary times. Each story is a stand alone, but they tie in together as each story is about one of three Riley siblings. And you can't miss meeting Santa Butch! He appears in all three stories, starting in the summer as he appears in Hawaiian Santa mode. With each couple, he has gives a little help when things go awry.

And with Ms. Netzel's generosity, there is no reason to miss this series as she's giving away the first story free!  I love finding authors with heart, and authors who really want to treat readers and give them a satisfying romantic read. Ms. Netzel does both. I think she might be related to Santa, or at least Santa Butch.  ;)

Mistletoe Rules:  Christmas recipe for love—combine a matchmaking Santa, lots of mistletoe, one iron-clad rule, fated hearts; mix and stir. The Riley siblings don't stand a chance.

 Mistletoe Mischief, the first story in the series, is Free on Amazon.

Christmas in July at the zoo is the last place single parents Eric Riley and Marissa Wilder expect to find love. Thanks to some mistletoe mischief in the form of their two young daughters and Santa, they discover mistletoe rules were not made to be broken.
Mistletoe Mischief on Amazon

MISTLETOE MAGIC is book two in the series
This  one was my favorite, as it featured a woman running an animal refuge!
Major Mark Riley plays Court Jester to Janelle Walsh's Snow Queen at the Christmas Parade and is instantly captivated by the cute redhead whose grandpa just happens to be Santa. When Mark learns she's the tenant he evicted from his newly purchased property, it's going to take a little bit of Santa's mistletoe magic to save their romance.
 Mistletoe Magic on Amazon

 Mistletoe Match-up is the third book of the series

When Lisa Riley comes home for her brother Mark's Christmas Eve wedding, her high school rivalry with his wife Janelle's cousin, Derek Walsh, picks up right where it left off, only this time Derek has the upper hand. Santa bides his time as they battle it out because he's waited a whole year for this mistletoe match-up.

Mistletoe Match-up on Amazon

So, go ahead, treat yourself to a wonderful short Christmas anthology that's sure to become on of your annual favorites.

If you want to buy the new boxed set, check the link here. Romancing Wisconsin Holiday Pack
 Stacey has added a fourth short in the boxed set, so it's an awesome deal, even if you are not on Santa's  "NICE" list!

Stop in later this week when I'll be sharing my favorite historical romance Christmas stories.