Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 16, 2012 by Kensington Books
Genre: historical romance novel, Victorian England, holiday, Christmas
Rating: 4.5 stars
Young widow Camille, Lady Lydingham, had grown up thinking that there wasn’t much use for true love in a practical world. Grayson Elliott, her first and only genuine love, had come forward with an ill-timed declaration, right on the eve of her arranged marriage to an older and much wealthier man. After revealing his feelings, Grayson had vanished, disappointing Camille’s hope to be rescued at the altar from a loveless marriage. He had fled to America bringing his broken heart and wounded pride with him, spurred by the sheer determination to prove himself to Camille by making his way into the world and building a fortune. Eleven years later, Grayson is back in England and ready to fight for the woman who never abandoned his thoughts: for too long they had been like “a play without a last act”, and the now outrageously wealthy Grayson is ready to pull the final curtain on his unrequited love for Camille. His timing seems to be wrong once again, though: the young widow has recently met Nicolai Pruzinsky, prince of as small as unheard-of kingdom of Avalonia. The charming royalty, who’s traveling incognito across Europe in the hope of fully and freely enjoying foreign Christmas traditions, represents everything Camille has ever wanted, handsome and perfect as if he had just popped out of one of those fairy tales she devoured as a young girl. Maybe too perfect to be real.
Animated by her childish dreams more than true feelings of love, she sets her heart on Pruzinsky. So, when she learns that he is a fan of Mr. Dickens and that he is quite eager to experience the winter holidays the way they are portrayed in the novelist’s books, she decides to provide him with that proper English Christmas experience as well as a proper English family to go along with it. Afraid that her extravagant relatives will embarrass her in front of a royalty, and taking advantage of a temporary permanence abroad of her flamboyant mother, in fact, Camille hires a troupe of actors to fill her country house and pose as her family. To add complications to her preposterous plan, her long-lost love shows up at her manor, but when it seems that the farce can only end up in disaster and escalate in a huge scandal, the sweet memories of a distant past and her unquenched love for Grayson will remind Camille that, far from being shallow and mercenary, her heart is capable of true love.
This historical romance novel by #1 New York Times best-selling author Victoria Alexander was quite a delightful read, reminiscent of a farcical comedy a la Shakespeare, twins, mistaken identity and all. I particularly appreciated Alexander's use of the classical unities (events unfold along one unique plot line, in one location and in a limited span of time), and her ability to get her well-paced narration flowing almost entirely with the use of dialogues. I found Camille’s character to be an original and unconventional female lead, a more practical sort of woman than your usual Victorian romance novel heroine.
Fraught with witty dialogues and lively lines delivered by Alexander with the elegance and the perfection of a string of pearls, What Happens At Christmas features an entertaining holiday pageant brightened by the breezy tones of a light-hearted comedy.
*Complimentary copy graciously offered by the publisher in return of an unbiased review