by Mary Balogh

ISBN: 0-451-20978-8
Reviewer Graphic Button New American Library
Trade Paperback

Let me preface this review by saying that I am a sucker for sentimentality. I laugh and weep along with characters in books and movies, and have been known to cry during a well-done commercial. All of those holiday ads showing servicemen coming home, families joining hands at the table and the laughter of innocent children, fill my heart to overflowing. Christmas is, and always has been, one of my triggers for sappy, happy tears.

I was pleased to learn that one of my favorite historical romance authors, Mary Balogh, had brought together five of her short stories, both old and new, into a new anthology this year. I eagerly awaited my copy, and looked forward to going back in time, when yuletide festivities were gaily celebrated around roaring fires, amid the glow of candles and fresh-cut greenery. I have not been disappointed.

Under the Mistletoe is a wonderful collection of Christmas stories. Some are reminiscent of other familiar tales, like The Gift of the Magi, and all of them are heart-warming. There is a Nativity story, a story of lost love found, a marriage saved by a thief, and a family Christmas made all the more special by a touch of “common” celebrations. My favorite, however, is called The Best Gift.

Jane Craggs has never celebrated Christmas with a family. When her mother died, the illegitimate child of an un-named nobleman was sent to an exclusive school until she reached maturity. Having nowhere else to go, she has remained on as a teacher and spends the holidays alone. Hovering on the fringes of society, she has only her dreams to sustain her.

When one of her charges suddenly needs a companion for Christmas, Jane is pleased to go. She has never traveled in a carriage and may never have this opportunity again. Her host, an unmarried nobleman, is wondering how to entertain his teenage niece, when another guest arrives. All of Jane’s skills are required to help Viscount Buckley adjust to having his four-year old daughter in his care.

This collection of stories shows that a skillful writer can have a fully crafted tale in a short format. Each one is well developed with layers of plot and strong characterization. Anyone who loves the holidays or historical romance will appreciate this volume.

Reviewed in October 2003 by Paula.

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