Judith’s review of It Happened One Seasonby Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Allesandro & Candice Hern
Let me first state that I am NOT a fan of anthologies in any way. My experience has been checkered at best–I like a couple of the stories usually, then can’t get interested in the others and ultimately do not finish them. Always seemed a waste of money. But this time I was having to wait for some prescriptions to be filled at the pharmacy and I found myself without my eReader of a book to read (which almost never happens) and I picked this one up, saw it had a 2011 publication date, and decided to take a chance since the first two authors are two of my favorites. Much to my surprise, I liked all four novellas and read every word. Go figure . . .
The blurb stated above is the plot that was the winner in a contest put on by this publisher. Each of the four authors had this to work with and the rest was pure imagination and story crafting on their part. I have never had the privilege of being exposed to that kind of writing challenge before and it was delightful, to say the least. I also realize that this same book has been reviewed recently here by another review, so let me just give you my thoughts on these four stories.
Stephanie Laurens wrote a story about Sebastian and Tabitha who are set on a mission to uncover a person who is blackmailing young women newly engaged and who each had some sort of unsavory occurrence in their past that, were it known, would upend the betrothal. Their investigative efforts were enhanced because as they were searching for information about the blackmailer in a mansion library, they were discovered and in order to cover their search, Sebastian took Cleo into a compromising, close embrace and declared to the shocked view of those standing at the door of the library: “We have just become engaged.” But what started out as a sham engagement became totally desirable to Sebastian before too long, and the romantic pursuit was on. Sebastian was the loner military man who was in no market for a bride, but something about Cleo began to capture his attention, and since he must marry for the title’s sake, he wondered if she was indeed his best choice. This was a mystery/suspense tale mixed in with the romance–a mixture I particularly like. Add in the fact that Cleo was really one of those women who lived with social concerns that just didn’t jibe with Regency society. That is probably one of the major things that attracted Sebastian. Such a nice love story.
Mary Balogh gave us her take on this plot with the story of a war widow who had been married to an unkind and selfish colonel–he married because he was too fastidious to use whores to meet his urges–and who had been killed. Cleo Pritchard was not necessarily happy with her life but she was comfortable and come to accept her life and he lack of marriage prospects. Yet there had been one man who had awakened her heart–Jack Gilchrist, who had come to her on the Continent with the news of her husband’s death and had given her the only kiss she had ever had. Now Major Gilchrist has returned to London as a war hero and she was aware that her regard for him, successfully buried for five years, was as alive as ever. He, too, had been deeply moved by that one kiss–what started out as a kindness and a gesture of comfort for a grieving woman and became a deeply moving, sexual embrace–and when he saw Cleo at the ball, also became aware that the feelings he had buried were surging to the surface. Their story, their not-quite-a-courtship and one night of passion together is the substance of this second story. Both these characters struck an interesting note with me–both were older, both had come through daunting experiences related to the war, and both were now facing significant change in their lives. It is the stuff of pure and heartwarming romance.
Jacquie D”Alessandro, an author with whom I was unfamiliar, writes Penelope and Alex’s story. She was an artist who had been disgraced by her love of classic statuary, one who was deemed a disgrace and an immoral person. Alec had been her brother’s commanding officer and companion in the war and had been present when her brother had died, but that was a big problem for him, believing as he did that he had been responsible for the man’s death. Yet his meeting with Penelope, while fueled by his need to reveal his so-called guilt, was now taking on a different hue–he was deeply and urgently attracted to her and he would brook no objection to marrying her–right away. This romance is warm and erotic in its characters and their urgent continued physical intimacies, yet there is also the shadow of Alec’s sense of deep failure and guilt toward Penelope’s brother. As he grew to love her, Alec then bore the burden of a secret long held and fear it would drive her away. So there is a tension in this story that is greater than in the two previous tales. Such a good piece of writing!! I almost got the feeling that both these characters almost held their breath, hoping that somehow the feelings that had come alive five years earlier could finally be consummated. My kind of romance.
Candice Hern completes this quartet of authors who have used their creativity to flesh out this plot. Nathaniel Beckwith was a military man who resigned his commission in order to comply with his brother’s request that he seek a bride and provide an heir for the estate. He was a gruff and somewhat unpolished man, good manners but his social graces had suffered during the years of his military service. He was very very uncomfortable in the ballrooms and parlors of the ton and when seeking a niche hidden behind a large orange tree, he discovered it already had an occupant–Miss Phillipa Reynolds, a not-real-attractive young lady who had an additional disability of a displaced hit–a congenital defect that caused her to limp in a most ungainly fashion, at least that is what she thought. Contrary to social etiquette, Nathaniel and Phillipa introduced themselves and proceeded to become acquaintances. It was during this 30-minute conversation that they each revealed their discomfort: he with being out in society after so many years spent almost exclusively with soldiers, and she with her disability that made her the silent if sometimes open object of scorn by the society gossips. It was then that Beckwith decided that he really liked Phillpa–she was witty and smart, she made him feel comfortable, unlike the twittering misses seeking husbands, and by asking for her hand in marriage, he spared himself the pain of courting young women who bored him to tears. Phillipa also found Nathaniel to be a fine companion and she genuinely liked him. That she was shocked and amazed at his proposal goes without saying, but she accepted, largely because he treated her like a whole person and not some freak that needed to special attention. I really liked these two people–both were very open about their dislike of society and they really liked each other.
All in all, I found this book an extremely pleasant read, one that never got pedantic or boring, and fascinating in the way each of these authors met the challenge of the plot. This is a rare experience for me and one that made me realize that all anthologies are not created equal. Each must be judged on its own merits. And I judged this one to be well-worth my time and effort.
I give this book a rating of 4 out of 5.
You can read more from Judith at Dr. J’s Book Place.