Review: Five Golden Rings: A Christmas Collection

Format read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: Mass Market Paperback, ebook
Genre: Historical Romance, Holiday Romance
Length: 100 pages
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Date Released: December 11, 2012
Purchasing Info:Sophie Barnes’ Website, Karen Erickson’s Website, Rena Gregory’s Website, Sandra Jones’ Website, Vivienne Lorret’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance

The holidays are a time for wishes, magic and, of course, love. Celebrate the season with this delightful collection of Christmas tales. What better way for Connor Talbot, Earl of Redfirn, to spend the holidays than convincing Leonora Compton that the only match she needs to make is with him!

The Duke of Ashton has had three years to plan for his perfect Christmas present—the Lady Eleanor Fitzsimmons as his wife. Now, all he has to do is convince the reluctant lady …

Phin Baldwin does not believe in Christmas magic … until the clever and beautiful Ginny Overton gets it into her head to show him how wonderful it can be when wishes come true.

Just returned from the Crusades, marriage is the last thing on Sir Caerwyn’s mind. But will he be able to resist Lady Nia, the thief of his boyhood heart, when she tempts him yet again?

Responsible Ethan Weatherstone is determined to save Penelope Rutledge—and her reputation—from her silly scheme, but can he save himself from the temptation of her lips?

There are five stories in this collection. And I read them all and definitely enjoyed them. But these are the two that stuck with me after I’d turned the last page.

Tempting Mr. Witherspoon by Vivienne Lorret takes the friends into lovers trope, dresses it up in Christmas wrapping paper, and does it proud.

Penelope Rutledge and Ethan Witherspoon have been close friends since childhood. Their families met when Penelope and her father moved in  to the estate next to Ethan and his mother, after both had been widowed. Ethan and Penelope shared the tragedy of losing a parent much too young.

Since then, they have both had a need to maintain order, but Ethan much more assertively so than Penelope. Now Penelope is in her 20s, and other needs are rising to the surface. She wants a family of her own. Her own children. A husband. And she loves Ethan. She always has. But Ethan is unwilling to risk their friendship. It would upset the order of things.

Penelope knows that she must leave if she is ever to get over Ethan and have any chance at happiness. Or even contentment. Ethan is certain that all of her plans for leaving represent a risk to her reputation, that they are all dangerous to the order of things. To the order of his well-ordered life.

But will he see the truth before it is too late?

This was a beautiful family story. And a sweet love story. Escape Rating for Tempting Mr. Witherspoon: B+

War of the Magi by Rena Gregory was simply terrific. This is also a story about a young woman with a widowed father. Ginny is also in her 20s, and also has just a bit of fancifulness in her very well-ordered life.

Ginny helps her father manage the shop in their village, but she does want a life of her own. It’s just that there hasn’t been a man who interested her, and her father does need her.

Her villlage has a tradition about the gifts of the Magi. Not the actual Bible story, but a statue. Each year, the right to keep the statue is won by lottery, and the keeper gets to put three wishes in the statue. Those wishes somehow manage to get granted. Not always, but fairly often.

This year’s winner is Phin Baldwin, a reporter at the local newspaper. Phin is from out of town, and he doesn’t believe in wishes. But he won’t give the statue to someone who does believe.

Phin also makes Ginny’s heart beat faster. Well he did. Now he’s making it beat faster out of sheer exasperation. So Ginny starts stealing the statue from Phin, and letting the villagers have it for a day at a time.

Sharing the wishes. Sparring with Phin. And, it turns out, making his heart beat faster.

Maybe wishes do come true.

The concept behind this story, the Magi, the wishes, and the town, and how Phin and Ginny get together, was more than terrific. Ginny finds a way to share the true meaning of Christmas with the whole village, have fun, and get her man. She makes him a true believer too!

Escape Rating  for War of the Magi: A

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Holiday Kisses

Holiday Kissses from Carina Press is another book in their terrific Christmas anthologies. I say terrific because the formula they use is terrific. They publish the four stories together under one theme, and people have the choice to purchase all four together, or, they’re available separately. This is a terrific solution to the “your mileage may vary” problem usually found in anthologies.

There’s the obvious theme in this collection. Okay, there are two obvious themes. It’s a romance anthology. And it’s a collection of romances centered around the Christmas holidays. But I noticed that all the stories had the additional theme of second chances. In every story, either one of the couple is getting a second chance at life or love, or they are taking a second chance on their relationship. Or in one case, it may be a fifth, sixth or tenth chance. You’ll see.

This Time Next Year by Alison Kent is the story of a woman with a plan for her life, and a man who has given up on all of his. Brenna Keating plans to follow in her family’s footsteps. After one last Christmas with her grandmother in the North Carolina mountains, she’s off to take her nursing skills to far-flung outposts, just as her grandmother did and just as her parents currently are. Instead, a blizzard wrecks her car, and she is snowbound for three days with Dillon Craig, an ex-Army doctor with PTSD who has practically become a hermit. Sharing the cabin forces Dillon to confront his self-imposed distance from the world, and his familiarity with Brenda from his conversations with her grandmother help him begin to break down the walls he has built between himself and others. The sexual chemistry between them is impossible to ignore, being as they are snowbound in a small cabin. But when the roads are clear, has Brenda build enough of a bridge for Dillon to take a second chance at living a full and real life?
Escape Rating A: There was a lot packed into this story. All the characters are multi-layered, including Brenda’s grandmother. Brenda’s family history and her need to establish herself also play a big part in this surprisingly meaty tale.

Jaci Burton’s A Rare Gift is about a crazy idea that works. Calliope Andrews needs to build an addition onto her day care center. Of course, she wants to hire the best construction firm in town for the job. There’s this one problem. The man who owns that firm is her ex-brother-in-law, Wyatt Kent. Not only was his divorce from her sister really nasty, but Calliope has had a crush on Wyatt since the first time he walked into her parents’ house. But Calliope’s not sixteen anymore, and she wants Wyatt for herself this time. All she has to do is get him to see that she’s the right sister for him. And figure out a way to deal with family reunions with his hopefully once and future in-laws.
Escape Rating B+: This was just a fun story. Going after your ex-brother-in-law is a little odd, but it works. Calliope’s maneuvering so that everyone gets closure and can move past the very icky past was a tad manipulative, but necessary in context. This one is just good fun.

It’s Not Christmas Without You by HelenKay Dimon is about a young couple with very different dreams. Carrie Anders and Austin Thomas have gotten together and broken up over and over (and over) again. But this time Carrie thinks it’s for good. She took a job at a big museum in Washington, D.C. because that’s her dream. And Austin, well, he just never really listened when she talked about her dreams. He’s always been sure that her dreams of arranging major museum exhibitions are something she’ll outgrow. Where his dream of working at, and eventually taking over his family tree farm are what’s really important. And Austin is certain they are meant to be together. So he rents the corner lot next to her apartment building in DC to sell Christmas Trees and brings a little bit of their West Virginia country to DC to convince her that she’s meant to come home with him. But it takes a major event at her museum, one that she arranged, for him to finally start to listen.
Escape Rating C: This was the weakest story in the collection.  Austin was too smug for too long for any woman with a spine, which Carrie has, to have forgiven him that easily. It just doesn’t quite work.

Mistletoe and Margaritas by Shannon Stacey is a terrific “friends into lovers” story that happens to take place at Christmas. Claire Rutledge has been a widow for two years. She’s held her life together with the help of her best friend, Justin McCormick. What Claire doesn’t know is that Justin has loved her since the very first moment he saw her, but his best friend Brendan got there first, and married her. But for the last few months, Claire’s been having some “extra-friendly” thoughts about Justin, not knowing that Justin would be more than eager to reciprocate. Until, after a holiday party where they both have just enough margaritas to let their drinks do the talking, they cross the boundary from friends to lovers, at least for one night. The question is, can they be be both? And can they build something new and wonderful without Brendan’s ghost getting in the way?
Escape Rating B+:  Anyone who enjoys a good “friends into lovers” story will love this one.

I love this formula of Carina’s, I hope they do this again next Christmas.

Reviewer’s note. A much shorter version of this review was posted on Library Journal’s Xpress Reviews on December 16, 2011.

A Clockwork Christmas

A Clockwork Christmas is a really neat anthology of Christmas-themed steampunk romances from Carina Press. The individual novellas are not only available separately, but they each have their own absolutely gorgeous cover art. Since the big issue with anthologies is that you might like one story and another not so much, I feel compelled to review each one individually. And this way I get to show ALL the covers.


Stacy Gail’s Crime Wave in a Corset is the story that contains the most true steampunk elements. It’s also the one that stuck with me. Cornelia Peabody is a thief. A very, very excellent thief, in a Boston that is just different enough from the historic version that airships are commonplace and women learning engineering and technology, while rare, are far from unheard of. Cornelia never steals from people, only institutions. But she made one mistake. She stole a Faberge egg from Beth Coddington, thinking that it belonged to Rodney Coddington’s museum. The egg was the last light in Beth’s eyes, and without it, she lost her battle with a long-standing illness and died.  Rodney Coddington trapped the beautiful thief in revenge for taking away his Beth’s egg, and gave Cornelia seven days to steal it back. A lot can happen in a week, especially the week before Christmas.
Escape Rating: A

This Winter Heart by PG Forte is a story about a Christmas miracle. Ophelia Leonides is not a real woman. Her father made her out of mechanical parts with human skin and a steel skeleton. The woman her father had loved and lost contributed to her genetic makeup. When her father revealed the secret of her origins to her husband, Dario threw them out of his house, and out of his life. Eight years later, Ophelia returns to Santa Fe, bringing with her the news of her father’s death, and the one thing that her husband never believed possible–their seven-year-old and very much human son. Can Dario find his love for her again? Can he believe in this miracle?
Escape Rating: B

Jenny Schwartz’ story of the early days of the development of the Australian republic reminded me of Colleen McCullough’s The Ladies of Missalonghi because of its setting and its take charge heroine. Wanted: One Scoundrel is a fun story about a woman who is the beloved queen of her small community, and thinks she is looking for someone to take her orders, but instead, finds someone to be her match. The subplot involving Australian political shenigans helped the love story along nicely.
Escape Rating: A

Far From Broken by JK Coi was the story with the most loose ends. A spy for the War Office comes home to find that his ballerina wife has been brutally tortured. The only way to save her life is to allow that same office to replace her missing legs, arm and eye with clockwork replacements. She is so traumatized by the torture she endured, the surgery, the pain, and the changes in her life, that she turns everyone away, especially her husband. While she endures all the necessary surgery, he hunts down her torturers. When he returns to the hospital to rejoin her, they face one last battle against the “inside man” who nearly killed her, and to save their marriage.
Escape Rating B: This story left too many loose ends. What was the war about? Who is fighting who? And why? Also, it could easily have been cyberpunk instead of steampunk.

I want to applaud Carina Press for this concept. They also released two other Christmas anthologies like this, Holiday Kisses and Men Under the Mistletoe. I reviewed Holiday Kisses for Library Journal, and I’m highly tempted to get Men under the Mistletoe just to complete the set.


A Vampire for Christmas

Who would have thought that a vampire might be a good thing to find in your Christmas stocking? Or even better, helping you out of your Christmas stockings! In the new anthology, A Vampire for Christmas, with novellas from Laurie London, Michele Hauf, Caridad Piñeiro and Alexia Morgan, sometimes a vampire is just what a girl wants Santa to bring her for the holidays.

Like all collections, the stories vary in appeal.

Laurie London’s “Enchanted by Blood” is for those who prefer their vamps to come complete with political machinations. Trace Westfalen has already given up his human lover Charlotte Grant once. And wiped her memories. All in the service of preserving the secret that vampires live among us. And in the interests of preserving his possible seat on the ruling council. Not to mention the secret of his nasty cousin’s even nastier habits. However, when he finds Charlotte in trouble, he can’t resist coming to her rescue. When he sticks around long enough to let her fall in love with him again in spite of her memory wipe (he never fell out) their troubles begin all over again. Will Trace decide that love is worth the cost?

Caridad Piñeiro’s entry, “When Herald Angels Sing”, is a Christmas redemption story with a twist. A guardian angel’s assignment is to redeem the soul of a vampire. Little does she know that the vampire’s task is to redeem her heart.

On the other hand, “All I Want for Christmas”, by Alexis Morgan, has a very pronounced urban fantasy flavor. Everyone who frequents Della’s Diner, from the fry cook to the customers to the punks who try to rip her off, seems to be some sort of supernatural creature. Including the cop investigating drugs and disappearances and finding himself wanting to sink his fangs into purely human Della.

My favorite story of the bunch was Michele Hauf’s “Monsters Don’t Do Christmas” for its terrific characters and very unusual take on who is and who isn’t a real monster. Daniel Harrison is a vampire, but he’s not the real monster of the story. The real monster is a purely mortal woman, who just so happens to be a superstar. I loved this story.

Escape Rating B: Collections are always mixed. Some of the stories work for me, and some don’t. But that’s the point, you discover someone or something new. For me it was Hauf’s story. Her take, that the superstar machine creates a person who feels more of a monster than an actual monster, made the entire book.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Jane Austen made me do it. Made me do what? Mostly made me have a lot of fun reading this collection of short stories inspired by her works!

Jane Austen Made Me Do It, the book, is a collection of short stories inspired by the life and works of Jane Austen. Of course. The collection was edited by Laurel Ann Nattress, and features stories by a host of writers from Stephanie Barron to Lauren Willig.

I read most of the Jane Austen oeuvre during my interminably long commuting days, which means I listened to it on audio. I enjoyed them immensely, but I’m not obsessive. I say this because the stories in JAMMDI fall into two categories, the ones that require detailed knowledge of particular Austen works, and the ones that use Austen’s life and works as jumping-off points.

The stories that used Austen as inspiration were ones I particularly enjoyed. You might even say I found a couple of them, well, inspiring.

In “The Ghostwriter,” by Elizabeth Aston, Jane’s ghost comes to the aid of a 21st century author who has spent much too much time admiring Mr. Darcy and not nearly enough energy on her own love life or on her sagging book sales. Jane’s apparition leads Sara to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, an unpublished manuscript by one of Jane’s contemporaries that will be a shot in the arm for her dying career. While Sara copy-edits the found manuscript, Jane fixes up her love-life for her.

“The Chase,” by Carrie Bebris, is about how Jane’s brother Francis received his commission as Post-Captain, based on Francis own logbooks. This story was as vivid a recreation of a naval battle as any of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series.

My favorite was the story by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway titled “What Would Austen Do?” A high school student whose mother is a Jane Austen aficionado has saddled him with the name James Austen. Mom may even have married Dad just so she could snag the Austen last name! The story starts with poor James getting hauled into the school principal’s office and being accused of becoming a drug user. Why? Because he’s been exhibiting unusual behavior. What unusual behavior? He’s become polite and mannerly to his teachers. He wears khakis and button-down shirts to school. And he has strange paperwork in his locker. With numbers on it, and weird words like “arming” and “inside hand” and “ECD”.

If you want to find out what “ECD” stands for, you have to read the story. It’s worth it.

Escape Rating B: Because this is an anthology, it’s a mixed bag. There were a couple of stories I absolutely adored. “What Would Austen Do?” being at the top of the list. The ones that required really deep knowledge of Jane Austen’s works were not as much fun for me. Collections like this are classic instances of the principle “your mileage may vary”.

The stories that used Jane Austen as a springboard were the best ones. The attempts to out-do or re-do her work fell a little flat. The stories that took flight from her, most of those were terrific.

A Midwinter Fantasy

A Midwinter Fantasy is a collection of three novellas that take place at, of course, Midwinter. In all three of the stories, it is the festival of giving, but because all of the stories are fantasy romances, the holiday celebrated is not always or not exactly Christmas.

The first story in the collection is A Christmas Carroll by Leanna Renee Hieber, and the story is set in the same storyline as her Strangely Beautiful series. In fact, the action of this Christmas tale takes place directly after the events of The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker.

Not being familiar with the previous tale, I felt like I had been dropped into the middle of a story, only because I had been. Once I caught up, things got a lot more interesting.

The title of the story is a play on both Dickens’ classic and the name of one of the characters. The author’s world is a close parallel to our Victorian era, except that the Victorian fascination with spiritualism represents concern about a real, and sometimes dangerous threat. But the spirits of Hieber’s “Whisper-World”, can also help the living, just as Marley’s Ghost arranges in Dickens’ famous Christmas Carol.

The “Carroll” in Hieber’s story is Michael Carroll, and the spirits help both him and Rebecca Thompson to discover not the true meaning of Christmas, but the true meanings of both friendship and love in this wrap-up of her series.

Although enough of Michael and Rebecca’s story was told in flashbacks for me to empathize with them, I would have enjoyed this more if I had read the entire series. But I enjoyed it enough, and I was intrigued enough, that I plan on going back and reading everything!

The Worth of a Sylph by L.J. McDonald is the second piece in the book. Lily Blackwell is an elderly woman who raises orphans in a remote house in Sylph Valley. She is also the human Master of a Battle Sylph named Mace. Mastery can be an equitable, loving arrangement, and in this case it is, although it is not always so. Sylphs provide the different types of magic that keep the Valley heated, the crops irrigated, provide water for washing, and protection, among other things. Linking to a master provides a Sylph with nourishment, including emotional sustenance, and a way of remaining in the world.

When the last of Lily’s orphans runs away, out of the Valley, she tasks Mace with retrieving the boy, no matter where he has gone. She also charges him with finding himself a new master before she dies, one that she can approve of. On Mace’s quest, he finds, not just the boy he was sent for, but a woman he can truly love and spend a life with, and not just one son, but two.

The story takes place during the Winter Festival, which is supposed to be celebrated with family. There is a message in the story that the family you create with love can be much stronger that the one you are born to.

Although Worth of a Sylph is also a part of a continuing series that begins with The Battle Sylph, it was much less obvious about it. I was able to jump right into the story and be involved with the characters right away. The story was complete in and of itself.

Last, but not least, the final story in this anthology is The Crystal Crib, by Helen Scott Taylor. I said not least, because the story deals with some larger than life figures, the Norse gods. Odin is the bad guy, having kept a father from his daughter for over 2,000 years, and enslaving his sons for the same length of time, all for crimes that other people committed.  Odin is someone who really knows how to hold a grudge!

Sonja thinks she has come to Iceland to convince the owner of “Santa’s Magical Wonderland” to allow her Aunt’s travel company to arrange tours to his resort. Little does she know that the owner of the resort is Vidar, the son of Odin, and, is also the “Guardian Angel” who has been protecting her all of her life. And, that her life has been considerably longer than the scant decades she remembers.

Her unexpected presence in Odin’s backyard forces a confrontation among the gods, monsters and angels who have protected her for her entire existence, and brings surprising dangers and rewards to everyone in her path.  This was a story about love truly conquering all.

This story is set in the same universe as Taylor’s The Magic Knot, but it reads as a stand-alone. I read it as someone playing tricks on Odin, which, considering the story, and considering other stories about Odin, seemed perfectly fair to me. However, this was also the least satisfying of the three stories. I wanted a lot more explanation for a 2,000 year old grudge than I got. And the heroine took the fact that she had been in suspended animation for those same two millennia a bit too much in stride, especially factoring in that her lover had been watching over her the entire time! Oh, and she might not die, ever. There was a bit too much fantasy in this fantasy.

Out of three stories, I vote Sylph very satisfying and complete, Carroll good and intriguing enough to make me want more, and Crystal not satisfying enough to make me go back for a return visit to the author’s world. YMMV.

Escape Ratings:  Christmas Carroll B+, Worth of a Sylph, A and, The Crystal Crib, C.