Sinful words, wicked pleasures and a ghost all add up to A Bluestocking Christmas with a Dickens of a twist.
As a young man, Simon, Viscount Wycombe learned the painful truth that a tradesman’s daughter is suitable only for liaisons and nothing more. But Ivy Beecham is a far cry from his preconceived notions, and he’s determined to have her. But when she rejects him, it only increases his determination to seduce her into a world of sin and pleasure.
Ivy Beecham knows first-hand that handsome aristocrats like Simon can’t be trusted. But the intellectual scoundrel is hellbent on making her his mistress, using every means at his seductive disposal. When she refuses to give away her heart on Christmas Eve, a ghostly specter shows her in one night why her surrender can be the greatest gift of all.
If you’re looking for a quick, spicy seasonal read, then A Bluestocking Christmas might fit the bill, but the essence is on the ‘spice’, as the content is very weighted in favour of the sex scenes, of which there are quite a few for a novella. That’s all well and good, because Monica Burns writes them very well, but if you’re looking for something that is more focused on the emotional development of the central romance, then perhaps you might want to look elsewhere.
Ivy Beecham is independently wealthy, courtesy of her tradesman father, but chooses to work at the London Library, simply because she adores books and likes to be among them. Although her mother came from an aristocratic family, Ivy has a massive chip on her shoulder when it comes to the nobility, courtesy of a youthful betrayal and a harsh upbringing by her aunt and uncle who took her in after the death of her parents and treated her like dirt because of her “commoner” blood.
Simon Carleton, Viscount Wycombe found his youthful self on the receiving end of a similar kind of betrayal, but in reverse when he was younger, when the young woman he wanted to marry was shown to be a gold-digger in the worst possible way. His protective instincts are aroused when it seems that his nephew is besotted with Ivy and is about to offer her marriage, and Simon confronts Ivy angrily, telling her he will never allow such a match.
Naturally, Ivy is furious, not only at the viscount’s high-handedness, but at the thought that she could ever want to have anything to do with a member of the peerage. With Simon’s suspicion of commoners and Ivy’s distaste for the nobility, theirs is an unlikely pairing, yet the heat that sparks between them whenever they set eyes on each other is undeniable.
The book opens in media res, with the couple having a massive row and seemingly about to part forever. Paying homage to Charles Dickens, Ms Burns has Ivy meet an oddly familiar spectre who tells her that he can grant her wish to forget all about Simon and their relationship, but before he can do so, she must look back over their time together to see if that is what she truly wishes. The spirit guides Ivy back through her time with Simon, showing how they met, how they became lovers and, she has to admit, how she fell in love with him, something she had not intended to do.
The story is well-constructed and the employment of a mysterious ghost adds to the Christmassy feel of the book, but I found it really difficult to like Ivy a lot of the time because she is just SO biased against a certain strata of society and tends to tar all aristocrats with the same brush. There’s no denying that the gap between rich and poor at this time in history was a massive one, but that didn’t mean that every member of the nobility was cruel and heartless. Simon is a far more attractive, reasonably-minded character in that respect, because while he was undeniably hurt in his youth by a scheming young woman, and he does jump to conclusions about Ivy initially, for the most part he has retained his perspective and tends to take people more on their own merits. He’s an intelligent, sexy hero who realises that Ivy isn’t like any other woman, and the way he woos her with words is nicely done.
But Ivy is so intransigent that I came really close to losing all sympathy for her towards the end of the book. Fortunately, she sees the error of her ways and all ends happily, with much love and forgiveness all round.
A Bluestocking Christmas is entertaining, but ultimately, focuses more on the physical relationship between the protagonists than on the emotional one, and I felt the lack of an emotional connection between them. That’s often the problem with a shorter format – but Ms Burns writes intelligently, and can certainly turn up the heat when needed. I may well seek out one of her full-length novels to see how she incorporates those successful elements into the longer form.