Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: What Happens at Christmas by Victoria Alexander (ARC)

Camille, Lady Lydingham has a plan, a brilliant one (in her opinion) which involves staging the perfect Christmas for a visiting prince and accepting his marriage proposal (she's very confident about this) on Christmas eve.

And she means "staging" literally.

Camille and her twin sister Beryl have an eccentric family who are, fortunately for Camille, away for the Christmas season. Camille's clever plan is to hire actors to play (the normal version of) her family and to create a Christmas scene reminiscent of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Nothing is going according to plan, and, to make matters worse, an unexpected guest arrives and knocks everything off kilter.

The last time Grayson Elliott spoke to Camille was to declare his love for her on the night before her wedding eleven years ago. Youthful pride and surprise over the stunning revelation led to his heart being broken (and hers as well). He left England soon after that and had planned never to come back ... until now.

Both of them believed that eleven years would be enough time to forget but, now, standing face to face, Grayson and Camille remember everything they thought they've forgotten. And both of them are determined not to make the same mistake again: Grayson wants Camille and now he has the means to win her heart. Camille doesn't want to have her heart broken again and is resolved not to trust Grayson with it ever.

Christmas is coming; a troupe of actors is running a household; a prince is pretending to be a count, and lots of surprise guests show up -- this might just be a Christmas no one will ever forget.

The story begins with Camille trying to justify her elaborate scheme to her twin sister, Beryl (and also to the readers). It's an over-the-top plan designed to get a visiting prince to come up to scratch and propose marriage to Camille. The sisters go back and forth, looking at all possible scenarios and, ultimately, Camille begs her sister to trust her.

I was skeptical going into the first chapter but I decided to trust Camille, suspend my disbelief and proceed with the story.

Christmas Romances have long been part of the historical romance tradition and there are rules/tropes that are unique to this sub-genre, foremost is the idea of a Christmas miracle -- that, despite the chaos that ensues before Christmas, everything, everything will be resolved on Christmas. This one follows that line of development -- add to that, Victoria Alexander has identified this from the start as a farce.

The humor is expected, as are all the "improbable situations" (see Farce in Wikipedia) that happen as the story progresses.

This is a fun story with a most unusual cast of supporting characters. I love Mr. Fortesque and his incredible passion for his craft:

"You may rest assured, Lady Lydingham, this shall be our greatest performance ever."

Camille cast him a grateful smile. "Thank you, Mr. Fortesque."

"It is I who should thank you." He hesitated. "I should confess that we are not, as yet, a very accomplished troupe. We have only recently formed, in fact, and, indeed, some of us are as yet lacking in ... extensive experience on stage. We are most grateful for the opportunity you have provided us to hone our skills, as well as spend Christmas in as magnificent a house as Millworth Manor."

Camille stared. "How recent?"

"Specifically?" Concern flashed across the actor's face.
- loc 421

The love story of Grayson and Camille is also very sweet -- though it isn't delved into (I wish the author tackled their backstory more), it's obvious that they were very good friends before their falling out. Even after an eleven year separation, the camaraderie (and chemistry) remains.

"What is going on here, Camille?"


His brow rose.
- loc 612

* * *

"All is fair in love and war, you know."

"And what is this?" His smile remained, but his tone was abruptly sober. "Love or war?"

"Both," she said without thinking; then she realized what she had said, turned and skated off. Whatever possessed her to say that? Perhaps it had been love once, but now ... now it was ... what?
- loc 2115

I admire Grayson's steadfastness -- and his willingness to help out a friend. He arrived in England fully expecting to put his past behind him but, upon seeing Camille again, he isn't afraid to admit that he still has feelings for her.

He and Camille were a play without a last act, and it was past time to see how it would end. The moment he saw her again, he knew the final curtain hadn't fallen, not for him.
- loc 737

As Christmas stories go, this one fulfills the necessary conditions. Fans of Victoria Alexander's wit and lighthearted stories will enjoy this.

I do have one question -- What happened in Brighton? It's mentioned several times in the story but never expounded on.

What Happens at Christmas will be released in Hardcover this October 16.

Disclosure: I received the ARC through Netgalley. (Thank you to Kensington Books for accepting my request.)


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