Thursday, December 06, 2012

Review: What Happens at Christmas by Victoria Alexander

Seriously, I don't know where my week went! I complained about being busy on Tuesday, but I don't know where my time went and what I used it for ^_^; Also I'm really sorry that I haven't blog-hopped a lot recently, although I tried to make the rounds this morning. Hopefully, I'm going to get back on track for that...

At least, I managed to write this review, so I'm happy! Yes, another Christmas-themed book :) It's kind of my Christmas Advent :) So enjoy!

What Happens at Christmas by Victoria Alexander
published by Kensington in October 2012
Camille, Lady Lydingham, knows precisely what she wants for Christmas--an official engagement to a handsome, dashing prince. Her very proper suitor expects a proper English family and the perfect Dickensian Christmas, which leaves the lovely widow with a slight problem. The last thing Camille wants is for the prince to meet her unconventional relatives. But with the aid of a troupe of actors, Camille intends to pull off a Christmas deception of massive proportions.

At least until Grayson Elliot shows up. A dozen years ago, he declared his love on the day before her marriage to another man, then vanished from her life. Now he's back, gate-crashing Camille's already chaotic house party, playing absolute havoc with her scheme--and with her heart. Because for Grayson, losing Camille once was quite bad enough. Losing her twice? Unthinkable. And he'll find a way to show her they belong together--for this season, and every Christmas yet to come...
Genre: Historical romance
Series: Loosely connected to My Wicked Little Lies and The Importance of Being Wicked

The Story: The blurb of the book is actually quite accurate... but let me see if I can give your more details :)

When she made her debut in Society, Camille followed her mother's advice to marry for security rather than love and that is how she ended up as Lady Lydingham. She spent eight content years with Harry before he died and left her with a great fortune. After four years of widowhood, Camille believes she wants to marry the Prince Nikolai Pruzinsky of the ruling family of the Kingdom of Greater Avalonia because he is everything she ever wanted. With the perfect setting, Camille is sure she can secure a proposal from the prince. Thus, she invites him to her mother's country house, Millworth Manor, where she intends for him to experience the perfect Dickensian Christmas with a proper English family. Except her mother, younger sister and uncle are rather unconventional and she'd rather the prince doesn't meet them... and so she has hired a troupe of actors to impersonate them. With the help of her twin sister, Beryl, Camille intends to pull off the deception... that is until Grayson Elliot, the one man she has ever loved, shows up again at Millworth Manor.

Grayson Elliot is the nephew of the Earl of Fairborough and was taken in by his uncle's family after his parents died. As a result, he grew up with Camille as the two country estates are adjacent. Realizing he couldn't lose Camille, Grayson confessed his love the day before her wedding to Lord Lydingham. When Camille rejected him, Grayson took it hard. Believing she did not choose him was his lack of money, he went to America to build his own fortune... and only came back to England twelve years later after his cousin, Lord Stillwell, tricked him. And as soon as Grayson comes back, his cousin sends him to Millworth Manor for a neighborly visit to prove a point. Very quickly, Grayson realizes that something is up at Millworth Manor and it doesn't take him long to get the truth from Camille. And as quickly, Grayson realizes that he still has feelings for Camille and cannot lose her a second time... so despite her protests, Grayson joins the deceit as Lady Lydingham's distant cousin, but his goal is opposite to Camille: to make sure the prince doesn't propose.

My Opinion: I'm a huge fan of Ms Alexander and as such, I was really looking forward to What Happens at Christmas. There's just something about her writing, her characters and her stories that work for me... and What Happens at Christmas was no exception :)

I have to admit that at first, I had my doubts about  What Happens at Christmas especially after Camille was introduced ^_^; At first glance, Camille appears very shallow and calculative - wanting to marry the prince to become a princess, hiring actors to impersonate her family because she doesn't think they are proper enough and hence, could hurt her chance of becoming a princess and rejecting Grayson's love declaration to marry an older man. That last one actually had the potential to ruin the book for me, but in the end, Ms Alexander pulled it off first by presenting both characters' POV of what happened and second, by well developing the characters. Also, what I found refreshing is that Camille was not perfect, there was indeed a bit of shallowness in her personality and she did not apologize for it. I liked that she did not make excuses for the fact that she married Harry partly for his money, that there weren't extenuating circumstances such as family debts or that for some ludicrous reasons, the marriage was never consummated. Camille wasn't a self-sacrificing heroine, her husband wasn't villainous either and their marriage was real. Refreshing right? :) But what really elevated Camille in my eyes is that she came to the conclusion that she did not want to marry the prince in the end on her own, before he proposed. It sounds like very little, but I think it shows that Camille was honest with herself and her feelings. In contrast, Grayson's character was simpler, more straightforward and therefore, easier to like. Also, at first, he appears like the victim and as such, you can't help but sympathize with him and what he went through. However, I think that Grayson clung to the feelings a bit long ^_^; and I'm glad that his cousin finally shook him out from being the victim and showed him Camille's perspective. I also liked that Grayson's purpose in the book was not about revenge and that he didn't lie to himself about his feelings for Camille. All in all, I liked the characters and really appreciated that they were flawed, it added to their likability and the story.

As for the romance, it was okay. It worked that Camille and Grayson had a past, but I think there was too much focus on the past and not enough on the present. I would have liked for the two to get to know their current selves. I mean, twelve years have gone by... something must have changed. As for what happened in the past, I think Ms Alexander did an excellent job. Camille did not marry Harry for love, she married him for security. Yet, Ms Alexander managed to not make Camille's rejection be simply about mercenary intent. There was a lot more to Grayson's love declaration and Camille's rejection than meet the eye, especially given the timing, and in the end, I thought that the outcome was quite heart-breaking... and not only one of them can be blamed for it, I think to some extent, both of them were at fault and circumstances could be blamed as well. So I was glad that they finally got their HEA ending... Two persons that love each other and can be together should :)

What about the rest of What Happens at Christmas? Well I did enjoy the Christmas elements of the book - the Carrolls for Christmas was really quite inspired LOL. While I was glad it wasn't overdone, I do think a few more traditions or depictions of Christmas wouldn't have hurt. But really, the highlight of What Happens at Christmas were the secondary characters! It was nice to see Lady Beryl Dunwell again - she was introduced previously in My Wicked Little Lies. What was even better was to see yet another side of her and I have to say, Ms Alexander really have to continue with these unlikely likable characters! As you can expect, Camille's other relatives also do show up and they were quite fun as well... but really, the one who steals the spotlight has to be Grayson's cousin, Winfield the Viscount of Stillwell. Oh, I loved, loved, loved Win!!! He was so much fun LOL. I loved his wittiness and charm, his loyalty and his love for his family. LOL, that part where he learns of Camille's deception and asks to join as another cousin or even being away, he can stir things up such as sending the Carroll boys to Millworth Manor :) But what I liked most about Win was he made Grayson realized that he was not the only victim and that to a certain extent, he was wrong. It showed that Win was clever, clear-minded and fair and that he understood other's feelings. Lucky for me, Win is getting his own book in February 2013, The Importance of Being Wicked, and also had a little e-novella, Lord Stillwell's Excellent Engagements. I hope that his character is as great in his own story that he is What Happens at Christmas :)

Finally, my only real complaint about the book is Camille's deception. This big farce had a lot of potential to be funny and it was to some extent... but I think it could have been more. The actors were a nice touch, but they got old quickly. I don't know how Ms Alexander could have made this farce funnier, but I do feel like she missed an opportunity here.

My Grade: B-. What Happens at Christmas turned out to be quite an enjoyable book, but it did have some flaws. Still, I liked it better than last year's Christmas book by Ms Alexander, His Mistress by Christmas. And now, I'm eagerly awaiting The Importance of Being Wicked :)