Friday, December 3, 2021

Gaming Hell Christmas, by Amanda McCabe & Kathy L. Wheeler

Chisel Imprint, December 2021

This is the first volume of Gaming Hell Christmas, stories about six women who attended Miss Greensley's School as young women, now older, out in society, and making decisions about the rest of their lives. It includes two novellas, the first featuring Miss Alexandra Blessing, beloved but illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Winsome, and the second about her dear friend, Annabelle, the widowed Lady Ranstruther. 

Alexandra has lived with her father and his family since she was nine, and has six younger siblings. The two sisters still at home give her little peace, including happily disregarding the privacy of her own bedchamber. At 28, she doesn't expect to marry, but does want a home of her own.

Annabelle, after a year of widowhood following the death of her elderly and perhaps not very kind husband, Annabelle is ready for love and a happier life.

The stories take place over the same period of time, the Christmas season of 1796. These are Georgian stories, not Regencies, and while the legal status of women isn't any different, socially, they have just a little bit more freedom than they will in the Regency era. Thus, the ladies can, if discreet and careful, visit the exclusive gaming hell, la Sous Rose. And of course they do.

Alexandra's story focuses on the one hand, on Alexandra's desire, not to marry, but to have her own, quiet home. The Duke finds this shocking, but he does love her and want her to be happy. Yet intertwined with this is the death of the duke's first wife, assaulted and murdered, and whether or not the man hanged for the crime was actually the man guilty of it. At la Sous Rose, Alexandra meets Mr. Theodore Milburn, who has been raised by his uncle to believe the duke ruthlessly framed Theodore's innocent father, and that it's his duty to get revenge. The plan is to compromise one of the duke's daughters, to ruin her or force a marriage. It's too bad that Alexandra and Theodore Milburn find each other so attractive; surely this can't end well, right?

Annabelle's story follows her desire to find real love, and the determination of her stepson--years older than her--to take from her the dower inheritance she has from her husband, his father. He insists she and her father defrauded his father. Meanwhile, she meets again with a neighbor with property near her late husband's country property--William, Lord Deansley. Will Peter manage to ruin and impoverish her before she has a chance to find real happiness?

They're both enjoyable, Christmas season, historical romances, and the recurring characters helps build a sense of texture and reality--even if I'm not sure the intertwined timeline really works quite right. Regardless, I enjoyed both stories, and recommend them. There's also, of course, more coming in future volumes.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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