Heat Factor: Fade to black
Character Chemistry: She’s jaded after years of being the most sought-after courtesan in London, but he makes her feel sparks
Plot: Two lonely souls are traveling to Oxfordshire. Their coachmen intervene to keep them together as long as possible.
Overall: Moderately heartwarming, but no butterflies
The first thing to know about Respect for Christmas is the correct title emphasis. See, I went into this novella thinking that it was about respecting the magic of the holiday.
That is not what this book is about.
Instead, Respect for Christmas is about two lonely people who would like to receive the gift of respect.
Maybe not quite like that. Let’s go with this instead:
Henrietta Whitlow has worked as a courtesan for the past dozen years, ever since she was seduced by an unscrupulous lord. She is much sought after, but now she’s decided to retire. Every year, she goes to her family’s home for Christmas, in the hope that this year will be different, and she’ll be welcomed back into the family fold.
Michael, a freshly minted Baron, accidentally on purpose runs into Henrietta on her journey – the same unscrupulous lord has hired him to retrieve a journal recounting the seduction for some unimportant reason. He happens to have a newly acquired estate near her family’s home, but his sisters haven’t come to visit yet, which hurts his feelings.
Their coachmen decide that Michael and Henrietta are lonely and would do well together, so they finagle things (You know: “Oh dear, our horses are so tired.”) so that the two of them end up traveling together.
What follows is a calm story, as Michael and Henrietta slowly open up to each other about their past hurts and future desires. It helps that Michael doesn’t treat Henrietta like a thing to be acquired, but rather like a person. There is a moment of high drama, when the fact that Michael initially misrepresented himself and his goals comes to light, but mostly the characters talk and eat and drink and ride in carriages. And there is a thread of melancholy that runs through the tale – Henrietta’s story is sad, though she doesn’t dwell on it.
In the end, Michael and Henrietta don’t just find each other. They also each help the other make amends with estranged family members. As one would expect with a Christmas novella, we do end with a heart-warming scene of family togetherness. However, in this case, the love and joy comes not from the Magic of the Season, but rather from people putting in the effort to make life a little better for those they care about.
Look, was this book outstanding? No. Is it particularly memorable? Nah, not really. But it has a nice message without being treacly, which is all I really want out of a Christmas novella.
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