A Regency Christmas 5 - Gayle Buck, Mary Balogh, Laura Matthews, Emily Hendrickson, Sandra Heath Traditional Regency anthology. Note: Traditional Regency means no sexytimes (well, except Mary Balogh's - see below).

** Under the Kissing Bough by Sandra Heath - 2.5-3 stars. Pretty standard Regency fare. Country gentry down on their luck has to move out of their manor home into a cottage. The new owner is a London gentleman who spots one of the daughters when she sneaks onto the estate to collect some greenery to use as Christmas decorations. He takes an immediate interest in her and asks for her help in decorating the manor home for the holidays. Really, no big surprises, no complex characters. Possibly the most interesting character is the villainess, with whom the H, Sir Philip, was once in love.

** Season of Joy by Gayle Buck - 3 stars. Sweet second chance romance/engagement story. A betrothed couple have a misunderstanding when H spots h hugging her longtime MALE best friend before said best friend heads off to the Peninsula to fight in the war. They have a confrontation, and H storms off and decides to join the fighting on the Peninsula, as well (it's not written as hotheaded as it sounds). He writes a letter to h that essentially gives her the okay to jilt him. Instead, she writes him back, and they thus begin a correspondence over the year. Story picks back up when it's Christmas Eve, and H returns to h's family's estate. I would say 3.5-ish, but the last line is definitely a 1-star hokey *cringe*-worthy mess. I know that sounds judgmental, but seriously, when these stories are so short, every paragraph counts.

** The Viscount and the Hoyden by Laura Matthews - 2 stars. I read this story once, years ago. Came away with a bland and blah feeling that henceforth has made me skip this story every year when I bring this anthology out to reread around the holidays. Viscount's mother used to visit somewhere out in the country every year and would come back to tell him stories of this young hoydenish girl. He was enchanted by these tales and envious of her carefree upbringing (he was an only child, if I remember correctly). He visits the country estate with the idea of wooing her. Pretty meh overall. Definitely skippable, in my eyes.

** The Christmas Mouse by Emily Hendrickson - 4 stars. I really really liked this one. It's a sweet story about a young woman who has unexpectedly inherited a country "cottage." Only when she goes to the cottage, she sees it's actually an estate. With a manor house. And hundreds of acres of land. And tenant cottages. Oh, and a handsome estate manager by the name of Charles Dane. *wiggles eyebrows*

Amanda, who had up til then been living with her brother and his wife as their unofficial (and unpaid) governess/nanny/tutor/poor relation, has always been retiring in her ways and quite shy around men, so she's quite pleased with the ease with which she can converse and keep company with Mr. Dane. Not only does this story present a sweet wallflower/beta romance, but it also is a bit of a coming of age story as Amanda learns to assert herself a bit and go after what she wants. The central conflict arises when Charlie realizes Amanda is quite an heiress, and he doesn't want her to think he's some kind of fortune hunter.

** No Room at the Inn by Mary Balogh - 3.5 stars. A good story with a cast of characters that are stranded at an inn in a snow/ice/winter storm. A poor couple is also seeking shelter at the inn - in the stables, at that. She's pregnant, and the main action revolves around her going into labor.

There are two couples whose romances are featured in this story: (1) an aristocratic married couple on their way to a house party and (2) a rakish marquess on his way to a debaucherous house party and a governess on her way to visit her family. The married couple has been unhappily married for three years, but each loves the other (if only they knew it). He thinks she doesn't need him and is happier with her ton friends than with his own company, while she has tried to be independent all this time because she hasn't wanted to be a burden on him, etc. She knows he keeps a mistress and doesn't understand why he brings his love to another; he keeps said mistress because he doesn't want to subject his wife to his base needs, etc. Basically, false assumptions have nudged them apart over the years until they just can't confront each other or put a finger on what exactly is wrong. I'm not explaining this well, but I really liked this couple. As you'd expect from Mary Balogh, she actually has a love scene in her short story between this couple...it's passionate and emotional. Very well done.

What drags this story down is the second couple - the more traditional Regency-type relationship of a rake and a governess. I just found this couple flat out unbelievable. There's too much going on in the narrative for us to get any handle on either of their POVs for why they would fall in love with each other after being stranded together for two days. I think this story would have been much better served if it only focused on the married couple.