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Monday, April 23, 2012

Christmas at Hartford Hall by Fenella J Miller

Christmas at Hartford Hall by Fenella J Miller
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Historical, Holiday
Heat: Sensual
Length: Short Story (73 pgs)
Rated: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

A Regency Cinderella story complete with handsome ‘Prince Charming’, two nasty sisters and a wicked female relative.

When Elizabeth’s grandfather died there was no sign of a will and she, to her consternation, discovered she was now dependent on his heir. The new Lord and Lady Hartford and their twin daughters arrive and reduce her status to that of a servant. Elizabeth is determined to leave Hartford Hall in the New Year and work as a governess. However the arrival of Sir James Worthington to make an offer for Lady Eleanor only adds to her difficulties…

Elizabeth Baverstock meets dashing young James Worthington in the midst of a snowy lane, in a way that scarcely bodes well for their future acquaintance.

Elizabeth – of Hartford Hall – is hardly treated as befits her station, but determinedly carries on, making the best of things and planning a future. James, Sir James in fact, does not figure into that future at all. Though of course we suspect something might develop between them, their awkward early conversations certainly make us doubt it.

Readers will love the unabashed toughness of Elizabeth; whatever happens, she makes the best of it. Her young man, we are more ambivalent about – one moment charmer, the next, cad. Who is he really? He seems like he could be the one…and certainly at times we see him as the ‘steady gentleman.’ Yet, he himself seems to reject that appearance.

Other characters are equally well developed, and I was especially drawn to the very believable (and gossipy) servants. All are clearly on Elizabeth’s side! The class folks – and the twins, are a different story. This story, and Elizabeth’s plight, make us want a handy, all-rotten character to blame! And there is one, but she's not entirely responsible for all the bad events. Amelia is so nasty, you spend a good deal of time hoping she’ll be the one run over in a lane.

Throughout, and on a number of small points, there is splendid attention to detail – like noting that James drives a high-perch phaeton. Later his valet comments on him handling the reins, using the old fashioned term, ‘ribbons.’ The backdrop of snow and cold remains consistent, and so nice and timely, too. Details are subtly included and only add to the aura. Such points allow us to see this clearly as a mid-nineteenth century England, without ever having to out and out say so. I was quite prepared to like this story from its wonderful start and am pleased to share that I simply loved it.

Christmas at Hartford Hall earns one of its five stars.  You won’t want to wait for Christmas to read this one.