Under The Mistletoe is a book containing two historical Christmas romance novellas written by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott. Each novella can be read as a stand-alone, but they are also connected to series by the authors, individually.
Both stories are set just after the Crimean War and feature couples who met whilst working there, although the individuals involved never expected to see each other again once the war ended. Each story features strong independent female characters who are an inspiration to their peers. I’m not going to say any more as I don’t wish to spoil the reading experience.
The stories have a festive feel-good theme with endings to leave you smiling. They are quick to read and have the added advantage of being offshoots of series for those who already know one or both of these authors.
In The Lady’s Yuletide Wish by Marguerite Kaye, war nurse Isabella has never forgotten the night she spent in reporter Eugene’s arms. Years later, she’s surprised when Eugene, now an earl, asks for her help uncovering a family mystery—and that the attraction is still there… In Dr. Peverett’s Christmas Miracle by Bronwyn Scott, war doctor William is reunited with nurse Honoria, and he invites her to spend the festivities at Haberstock Hall. Is it reckless folly…or the miracle he didn’t know he needed.
Olga has been reading A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews
I have read many great reviews for Mimi Matthews’ novels before, but I hadn’t read any yet, and when I got a copy of this novella very close to Christmas, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to put that to rights.
This is a pretty short book (for those who get hold of the e-book version, the actual novella ends at around the 90% mark, and readers get a teaser of another one of the author’s books, The Matrimonial Advertisement, which I confess I found quite enticing).
This is a historical romance novella, set in the Victorian era, as the title indicates, in 1861, shortly before Christmas, a period of mourning for Queen Victoria and the whole country, following Prince Albert’s death. The story is full of wonderful historical titbits and vivid descriptions and details of everyday life in the era, which help create a picture in the readers’ minds and make them feel as if they were also living in that period, especially because of the focus on the social mores and accepted behaviours of the time. This is not surprising as the author also writes non-fiction historical books, articles, and publishes a blog on the subject, and she evidently has a talent for immersing herself and those who read her in the past.
The central romance (because there are two couples who fall in love in this novella) concerns two characters, Sophie and Ned, with a strong sense of duty and propriety, to the point that they almost ruin the chances of their relationship ever working. Ned, who in this case is wealthy (a self-made man) but of a lower-class than Sophie, tries to behave as he thinks is expected of him, according to the rules of etiquette. Of course, he knows nothing of Sophie, other than he liked her at first sight and thought they would be well suited. Sophie, on the other hand, knows his money would help with the financial difficulties her father has got them into (he is obsessed by making improvements to their Derbyshire state, including the gaslight of the title, and he is prepared to sacrifice his daughters’ dowry and anything else to achieve his goal), but finds it impossible to connect with Ned at a meaningful level. She thinks he is cold and does not feel anything for her. After a big scene at home, she goes to his office and discovers that there are depths of feeling hiding there, and that makes her invite him, his family, and his best-friend and business partner, Walter, to spend the Christmas holiday at their estate.
As readers might imagine, the course of true love does not run smoothly, and there are difficulties all around, from Sophie’s sister, Emily, who is spoilt and selfish (pretty much her father’s daughter), to Ned’s mother, a rather strict, hard, and undemonstrative woman, with little patience for new ideas, and anything she sees as frivolous or light-hearted. Sophie’s father and his madcap plans for Appersett House don’t help matters, but she is determined to try to evolve and adapt to the changing times and circumstances (she has been reading Charles Darwin and finds merit in his ideas). And Ned has a few things to learn about her and about himself in the process too.
Although I don’t want to go into a lot of detail to avoid spoilers, I can reassure readers of the genre, that yes, there are no big surprises when it comes to the ending, at least for the main couple. Some readers felt disappointed because, as I have mentioned, there is another romance that also develops during the novella, and it might seem as if it takes the shine out of the protagonists’ own story. Personally, I think that side-story, or at least its consequences, help make the love story between Sophie and Ned more rounded, as it removes some extra pressures from their shoulders, but this being a pretty short book, it might appear as quite a sudden development and not fully explained.
I have mentioned the historical details and the Victorian Christmas atmosphere which are some of my favourite things in the novella. I also like the main characters, especially when we get to learn a bit more about their circumstances and backgrounds (not in too much detail, but enough to give them some depth). Although Sophie is interesting, independent and strong-minded, she does not behave in a way out of character to the period, especially as this was a time of major industrial, scientific and social changes in society. Ned’s behaviour is also in keeping with the time the story is set in. The writing flows well, with some sparks of humour and great dialogue, chapters told from the two main characters’ points of view (clearly differentiated and narrated in the third person), and the author’s research extends to the language used as well. I am not a big reader of romance (I tend to read it occasionally when I need a break from heavier subjects or a story particularly rings with me), and I am not too keen on over the top sweeter than sweet romantic characters, so this story, especially the main protagonists, hit the right note for me. I am also not a fan of explicit sexual scenes, and there aren’t any here. I would class it as a “clean” romance but I’ve seen some reviews complaining about profanities, so although I didn’t find anything particularly offensive, be warned some people did.
I am not sure there was anything I disliked. I wasn’t a fan of the secondary characters, some because we don’t get to know them enough, and others, because what we know of them seems to be mostly negative, but I must admit that I have loved novels where I didn’t particularly like many of the characters (or they were terribly flawed), and I kept thinking of Jane Austen, despite the different time-period. Matthews explains in her author’s note at the end (another one I recommend reading) that she was inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and its admirers can find some references to it, so that would be another recommendation. This novella works well, but I think it had the scope to become a longer novel if other characters and aspects of the story had been developed in more detail. This is the perfect read for somebody looking for a short clean romantic story, set in Christmas during the Victorian period. There are no big surprises, huge dramatic events, or an overemphasis in unrealistic romantic notions, but there is plenty of atmosphere, two main protagonists who are genuine and likeable, and a great sense of place and time. My interest in the author’s work has increased, and I am sure this won’t be the last of her stories I read. I am eager to try one of her full-length novels next.
A Courtship of Convenience
Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion—or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things.
A Last Chance for Love
But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there’s Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What’s a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there’ll be no false formality. This time they’ll get to know each other for who they really are.
Cathy has been reading Gentleman Jim by Mimi Matthews
Maggie Honeywell, the only child of Squire Honeywell and raised more as his son and eventual heir than an indulged daughter, had a happy childhood spending most of her time with Nicholas Seaton, the illegitimate son of scullery maid, Jenny Seaton. Now a groom in Squire Honeywell’s stables, Nicholas had incurred the wrath of Frederick Burton-Smythe, whose estate borders the Honeywell’s and the man her father wants Maggie to marry. Their fathers had agreed years ago the two would marry, thereby joining the two estates. Maggie had other ideas. Nicholas was the only man for her and the feeling was mutual.
Determined to get rid of Nicholas, cowardly bully Frederick accuses him of stealing pieces of Maggie’s jewellery, beats him and locks him in a loose box to await his fate when Frederick returns with the magistrate.
‘Beaten and bloody, Nicholas Seaton sat on the straw-covered floor of the loose box, his legs drawn up against his chest and his forehead resting on his knees. There was no possibility of escape. The doors of the loose box had been bolted shut and the wooden walls were made strong and thick, built to hold the most powerful of Squire Honeywell’s blooded stallions.’
Thanks to Maggie, Nicholas is able to escape, vowing to try and find the man he believes to be his father and return for Maggie. Ten years on and Maggie has all but given up hope and suffers lingering symptoms from a bout of influenza. Her father had passed away and the terms of his will stipulate she has to marry someone Frederick approves of in order to keep her beloved Beasley Park, or after two years the entire estate passes to Frederick. As he also controls the purse strings and wants to control Maggie, she has to ask his permission for anything she needs. A visit to an old friend in London opens up new opportunities for Maggie and she soon recovers her spirit and the will to fight for her right to be happy, although her physical recovery takes longer.
I’m a recent convert to Mimi Matthews’ books, having only read two previously. Gentleman Jim is actually my favourite so far. It’s a tale of romance, drama, revenge, overcoming obstacles and much more. Lots of wonderfully described detail, in keeping with the culture and etiquette of the period. Maggie and St Clare are charismatic protagonists who develop and adjust as the story unfolds, with the secondary characters adding much to the story. Highly recommended for those who like a good Victorian romance, with elements of danger, secrecy and daring.
She couldn’t forget…
Wealthy squire’s daughter Margaret Honeywell was always meant to marry her neighbor, Frederick Burton-Smythe, but it’s bastard-born Nicholas Seaton who has her heart. Raised alongside her on her father’s estate, Nicholas is the rumored son of notorious highwayman Gentleman Jim. When Fred frames him for theft, Nicholas escapes into the night, vowing to find his legendary sire. But Nicholas never returns. A decade later, he’s long been presumed dead.
He wouldn’t forgive…
After years spent on the continent, John Beresford, Viscount St. Clare has finally come home to England. Tall, blond, and dangerous, he’s on a mission to restore his family’s honor. If he can mete out a bit of revenge along the way, so much the better. But he hasn’t reckoned for Maggie Honeywell. She’s bold and beautiful—and entirely convinced he’s someone else.
As danger closes in, St. Clare is torn between love and vengeance. Will he sacrifice one to gain the other? Or with a little luck—and a lot of daring—will he find a way to have them both?
Cathy has been reading Fair As A Star by Mimi Matthews
It’s a long time since I read a Victorian romance so this proved to be a nice change. The story opens as Beryl Burnham and her Aunt Hortensia arrive home after spending the past year in Paris. The reason for the trip isn’t revealed until later in the story and creates much empathy for Beryl. The first thing Beryl does on reaching Shepton Worthy is to pay her respects to the curate, Mark Rivenhall, when she notices the church doors are open, signalling Mark was there.
He was soon to become her brother-in-law as Beryl was betrothed to Sir Henry Rivenhall.
Beryl was putting off going home and resuming her life. Somehow her restlessness and inability to fully embrace the happiness she believes she should feel, but can’t quite seem to grasp, overshadows everything else. She doesn’t understand why she feels this way but her friendship with Mark and his sympathetic awareness and sensitivity helps.
“Mark had a knack for lifting her spirits. For making her smile, whether in person, or through the many letters he’d written to her during her absence.”
Mimi Matthews explores the topic of ‘melancholy’ and the shocking way it was dealt with in Victorian times. Unusual as it is to have the heroine of a period romance suffering from what amounts to clinical depression and anxiety, it gives the story a deeper dimension and a different slant and brings into focus what was a taboo subject.
It’s very easy to feel empathy with Beryl as she struggles with low spirits while trying to hide how she feels from others. Henry is too pragmatic, sometimes patronising and aloof, which doesn’t invite confidences of any kind. Not the type of person to waste much time on sympathy. Being able to talk to Mark is a huge relief for Beryl. I can understand how the restrictions placed on the women of the time could have a detrimental effect, not that that would apply to Beryl’s spirited sister, Winnie.
Although it’s clear from the start Mark has strong feelings for Beryl which are reciprocated, neither acknowledge the fact due to the fact Beryl is betrothed. Mark, a man of honour, doesn’t want to betray his brother and treats Beryl with compassion and respect.
The journey to the conclusion makes for a satisfying read. The characters are well defined and one in particular redeems themselves towards the end. Mark’s friend, the forward thinking Dr Simon Black, and Winnie are both interesting and would make good protagonists if, as the title suggests, there are to be more books. A lovely, easy to read story, well written with a serious theme. I’ll have to check out more of this author’s books.
A Secret Burden…
After a mysterious sojourn in Paris, Beryl Burnham has returned home to the village of Shepton Worthy ready to resume the life she left behind. Betrothed to the wealthy Sir Henry Rivenhall, she has no reason to be unhappy—or so people keep reminding her. But Beryl’s life isn’t as perfect as everyone believes.
A Longstanding Love…
As village curate, Mark Rivenhall is known for his compassionate understanding. When his older brother’s intended needs a shoulder to lean on, Mark’s more than willing to provide one. There’s no danger of losing his heart. He already lost that to Beryl a long time ago.
During an idyllic Victorian summer, friends and family gather in anticipation of Beryl and Sir Henry’s wedding. But in her darkest moment, it’s Mark who comes to Beryl’s aid. Can he help her without revealing his feelings—or betraying his brother?
Liz has been reading A Modest Independence: Parish Orphans of Devon #2 by Mimi Matthews
This unusual Victorian romance tells the story of two people who do not plan marriage with anyone. At 28, Jenny Holloway is a spinster “past her prime” and after life as a drudge caring for her ungrateful father, her ambition is for independence and the opportunity to travel. Tom Finchley is a successful, London attorney whose lonely childhood has given him the drive to work long hours, with little time for pleasure. But as Jenny sets out to travel to British India with her legacy and two trustworthy servants, Tom finds himself compelled to accompany her. Soon, despite antagonism, they draw closer and begin an intimate friendship not normally possible for respectable single men and women.
Mimi Matthews has the ability to reveal her characters inner most thoughts even when they are deeply confused. The frank conversations between Tom and Jenny show that although they are strongly attracted to one another they are equally determined to keep their independence. The plot takes us on trains, ships and gharries to Egypt and on to India. The intense heat and tense atmosphere following the Indian mutiny is clearly described and the unfortunate early lives of Jenny’s Indian servants tells us much of the unfairness of colonial rule. This accurate picture of society’s expectations helps the reader to feel Jenny’s frustration at the entrapment of women within marriage, paralleled by the tight rigidity of her corseted costume. And the addition of passion and love, results in an irresistible tale I did not want to stop reading.
He Needed Peace…
Solicitor Tom Finchley has spent his life using his devious intellect to solve the problems of others. As for his own problems, they’re nothing that a bit of calculated vengeance can’t remedy. But that’s all over now. He’s finally ready to put the past behind him and settle down to a quiet, uncomplicated life. If only he could find an equally uncomplicated woman.
She Wanted Adventure…
Former lady’s companion Jenny Holloway has just been given a modest independence. Now, all she wants is a bit of adventure. A chance to see the world and experience life far outside the restrictive limits of Victorian England. If she can discover the fate of the missing Earl of Castleton while she’s at it, so much the better.
From the gaslit streets of London to the lush tea gardens of colonial India, Jenny and Tom embark on an epic quest—and an equally epic romance. But even at the farthest edges of the British Empire, the past has a way of catching up with you…
Liz has been reading The Lost Letter by Mimi Matthews
The Lost Letter by Mimi Matthews #NewRelease
Here is a classic tale of love lost and ensuing misfortune. Paralleling the situation in the tale of Beauty and the Beast, the heroine, Sylvia Stafford finds herself in a stately manor house where the Earl of Radcliffe, badly injured in the Indian rebellion, hides himself away from society so no-one can see his facial scars.
But Miss Stafford had originally met the Earl 3 years earlier in London, when he was Colonel Sebastian Conrad. There had been flirtation, the exchange of kisses and he had taken a lock of her hair as a keepsake. Since then, her circumstances had changed dramatically. Her father, losing all his money at the gaming tables, committed suicide. Penniless and alone, Sylvia had accepted a position as Governess with a family in Cheapside and Sebastian had not contacted her.
Sylvia Stafford is a determined, proud, young lady of 25. She carries out her teaching duties enthusiastically and will not demean herself for the sake of money. Sebastian now believes that she is a fortune hunter, despite the efforts of his sister, Lady Julia Harker, to bring the two together.
Mimi Matthews writing reflects her deep academic knowledge of Victorian social history, subtly making every action and speech believable. Much of the story is told through conversations between the two protagonists and this engages the reader with their personalities and a wish for their happiness. The essence of this thwarted romance was deceit and misunderstanding and they extricate themselves from this in a credible way. I found myself rooting for Sylvia and enjoying every moment of this delightful novel.
A Proud Beauty
Society beauty Sylvia Stafford is far too pragmatic to pine. When the tragic death of her gamester father leaves her destitute and alone, she finds work as a governess in a merchant’s household in Cheapside. Isolated from the fashionable acquaintance of her youth, she resigns herself to lonely spinsterhood…until a mysterious visitor convinces her to temporarily return to her former life—and her former love.
A Scarred Beast
Colonel Sebastian Conrad is no longer the dashing cavalry officer Sylvia once fell in love with. Badly scarred during the Sepoy Rebellion, he has withdrawn to his estate in rural Hertfordshire where he lives in near complete seclusion. Brooding and tormented, he cares nothing for the earldom he has inherited—and even less for the faithless beauty who rejected him three years before.
A Second Chance
A week together in the remote Victorian countryside is the last thing either of them ever wanted. But when fate intervenes to reunite them, will a beastly earl and an impoverished beauty finally find their happily ever after? Or are some fairy-tale endings simply not meant to be?
About the author
Mimi Matthews writes both historical non-fiction and traditional historical romances set in Victorian England. Her articles on nineteenth century history have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture, and are also syndicated weekly at Bust Magazine, New York. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She resides in California with her family, which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats.