This collection of three novellas all take place during the Victorian Era and feature allusions to (and appearances by) the inimitable Mr. Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol. In each story, the protagonist is given a “second-chance coin,” which allows them to redo something they bungled or rekindle a relationship that ended badly.
The first story, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, is the most mysterious of the bunch. Clara Chapman is invited to spend Christmas at a strange country manor, with the promise of a large sum of money if she stays for the entire holiday house party. Once there, she finds an assemblage of other peculiar guests, each hoping for their own reward. To her horror, Clara discovers that her cold-hearted ex-fiance Benjamin Lane is also in attendance. As if being jilted at the altar by the man who stole her family’s fortune wasn’t enough, he is now competing with her for the prize of staying out the twelve days at Bleakly Manor! Thrown together by harrowing circumstances, however, Clara soon discovers that Ben might just have a good explanation for his past behavior…could a second chance be what they need to fall in love all over again? Now, if they can only survive the house party that has eerie parallels with Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None…
In the second story, A Tale of Two Hearts, Mina Scott escapes from her daily duties at her father’s inn by delving into Charles Dickens’ books and daydreaming about handsome customer William Barlow. Although William is far above her in class, he asks her to pose as his wife in order to lend him more respectability as he vies for a place as his uncle’s heir. Mina is concerned about the deception, but she doesn’t have the willpower to refuse him. Soon, she finds herself enjoying Uncle Barlow’s company as a fellow-Dickens-lover and deploring William’s odious cousins who want the inheritance for themselves. The deception increases as William asks her to spend Christmas at his uncle’s estate, gaining her father’s goodwill by pretending to court her in earnest. The truth will out–Mina is sure of it–and when it does, will any of Will’s affection prove to be real?
In the third story, The Old Lace Shop, Bella White decides to make something of herself after the death of her abusive husband and become a woman of business. But when she decides to act as full majority partner at the lace factory she has inherited, she discovers that she must work in sync with Edmund Archer, the very man who deserted her long ago. As she struggles to balance her charitable concerns for the blind women of the town and the necessity of making the factory profitable, Bella must decide whether to give Edmund a second chance. Will his kiss re-ignite the passion they once had or will the whole factory go up in flames because of their nefarious lace-making competitors?
Although I typically enjoy a novel more than a novella, sometimes a short read is just the ticket when there’s only an hour till bedtime. These stories entertained, each an original romance with a load of allusions to Dickens’ works. I had read the middle story, A Tale of Two Hearts, when it was released on its own last year, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how diverse the storylines were of the other two tales included in this collection. This would make a great addition to your Christmas collection.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary of this title from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.