Saturday, 11 February 2012

Marian's Christmas Wish - Carla Kelly

I won this book in a giveaway back in early December. I meant to read it as soon as it was delivered but I’d just read another Christmas-themed historical romance and it felt a bit like an overload when I started this one so I put it on the backburner for a while.

Right now I seem to be alternating between e-reads and physical copies. When I spotted this one sitting on my shelf in the living room (there are only a handful of books on this shelf as most of the books are kept in the book room), I realised that I needed to either read it now before the Christmas season is well and truly over or put it away until the end of the year. I chose the former. Ironically enough, it is now much colder than it was in December and we actually have snow so it feels much more seasonal now than it did two months ago!

Title: Marian’s Christmas Wish
Author: Carla Kelly
Publisher: Sweetwater Books
Target Audience: (Older Young) Adult
Pages: 298
PoV: 3rd person
Tense: Past tense

Story: Christmas threatens to be bleak. Papa has been dead for a year, and his estate is heavily in debt. Marian Wynswich is determined her family will enjoy the season because there might not be another in their ancestral home. Watching her sensible sister turn giddy when she falls in love, Marian vows not to complicate matters by committing that feminine folly. Not her.

Easy to say, but what’s a young lady to do when a dashing diplomat arrives unexpectedly, a guest of her brother? Gallant Lord Ingraham couldn’t possibly be interested in unconventional Marian, who reads Greek, plays chess, doctors strays, and is too smart to fall in love. She knows her heart is safe, but does he?

(from Goodreads)

Thoughts and impressions: As mentioned, before I attempted this book, I read The Captain’s Christmas Family by Deborah Hale. That book focused a lot on the religious side of Christmas to the point where it got preachy at times. At the time I had been watching a lot of The Atheist Experience online and was feeling a bit grouchy about religion after having had quite a bit of it shoved down my throat. Really, I think that I was a bit worried that I’d get the same sort of message about God’s love and his intervention in this book too…

But this book does not push a religious message! It focuses on the idea of bringing families back together, of reuniting with loved ones rather than revering a religious deity. There are, of course, some religious elements but considering the period when it’s set, this is hardly surprising. I found that I was much more comfortable with this story than I was with The Captain’s Christmas Family.

It took me a little while to slip into the style as it is made to reflect the style of the period as much as possible. As soon as I was there, though, I was completely drawn into the story.

Marian’s family seems to be caught up in a rough spot. Bertrand Wynswich, her father, died the previous Christmas, leaving the family with a mountain of debts; her mother spends most of her time cooped up in her room; her younger brother has been expelled from school; her older sister is being used as a pawn, married off to an older rich man despite her obvious attachment to another man; and her older brother is under enormous stress trying to keep the family afloat. Marian decides that it’s time for her to fix things.

Percy, the older brother, returns from his diplomatic mission with two men: one is the older gentleman in search of a wife with no long courtship involved. He is a truly odious character but because he is potentially the family’s salvation, everyone has to be polite to him. The other gent is Lord Ingraham, a man whose many diplomatic ventures have left him scarred in such a way that he is unwilling to present himself before his mother. He takes an immediate shine to Marian, though.

The first part of the novel focuses mainly on the firm friendship which blossoms between Marian and Ingraham - Gil. I really enjoyed this part – the older man’s fascination with this energetic, out-spoken girl. May only problem with it was that often Marian would come across as younger than her 16 years and Gil tended to treat her as a child. He also takes a lot of liberties touching her, nothing intimate but often enough in books from or set in that era, there will be no contact between the hero and the heroine… certainly not frequent little touches.

As soon as Marian learns that Gil is avoiding his family because of the disfiguring scar, she is determined that he should return home to his mother. She confesses this wish to her younger brother, Alistair, and he takes the first steps to get the scheme rolling, leading to many laugh-out-loud moments.

The last part of the novel is completely at odds with the first part, though. We go from a cosy, family-oriented lot to a diplomatic threat of a thriller. These two plot halves didn’t mesh that well, unfortunately. I didn’t know quite what to make of it but it felt like I’d suddenly started reading a completely different novel. I much preferred the first part and based on that only this could easily have been a 5-star read. As it is, the diplomatic threat didn’t work for me very well, especially as it all didn’t even really make sense to me. What a shame.

Style: A joy to read once I’d disconnected myself from the more modern styles I’ve been reading lately. One thing stuck out, though. The author would often use the verb “to twinkle” as a descriptive verb of what the characters were doing with their eyes.

“She twinkled her eyes at him.”

This phrasing really bugged me.

Final verdict: A very strong first three quarters let down by a mediocre last quarter. 4 stars

Extra notes: No swearing. No sex. I think that this is aimed more at adult readers who like clean romance but I’m sure that it would appeal to mature teen readers who like regency romances.


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