Under The Mistletoe - Mary Balogh

This collection is comprised of 5 Christmas novellas. Like everything by this author, each novella is a historical romance, set in England in the 19th century.

 

A Family Christmas, 2003

Elizabeth, a young aristocratic woman, is painfully shy. She had grown up under the influence of her arrogant, domineering mother. When her family fell on hard times, they married her off to a rich merchant to recoup their finances. It happened a year ago, and she welcomed the marriage as a way out of her joyless home, even though her parents despised her husband. 

Sadly, things didn’t work out the way she imagined. As soon as she got pregnant, her husband left her with her mother and returned to London to take care of his business. Now, a year later, he came back for Christmas. Hopefully, things will change between them. Hopefully, their marriage could still work. 

The story is charming but a little didactic, with a vaguely religious slant. With such a low page count, the author can’t develop her characters fully, but the sketches of the protagonists are there, although they strike me as possibilities rather than living people. The resolution of their conflict was a tad idealistic too, but despite those problems, I enjoyed reading this story. Some moments of it were truly inspiring. 

 

The Star of Bethlehem, 1989

I didn’t like this story. It’s old, the oldest in the collection. A married couple love each other but are afraid to tell each other about their love because neither wishes to become vulnerable. Instead, they quarrel all the time. She is vivacious and flirty. He is taciturn and jealous. They drive each other crazy, until one Christmas, they finally talk and confess their love. And lived happily ever after.

I didn’t believe it. Although the conflict seemed plausible, the resolution was not. 

 

The Best Gift, 1994

I adored this touching story a lot. An orphan child, a young woman, and a man – all alone in the world for various reasons – find themselves together one Christmas. Love triumphs, as it always does in this author’s stories. Of course, it would be all highly improbable in real life, but in a fairy tale set during Christmas times, miracles should be expected.

 

Playing House, 1990

This novella has an interesting collection of characters, unusual for a romance. There are our requisite pair of lovers – a cynical, disillusioned aristocrat and an impoverished but proud young woman – and three young children. Lots of snow play too. I liked it. 

 

No Room at the Inn, 1993

No, not for me. Too pushy a message of Christmas, almost a sermon.

 

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In several stories of this collection, the conflict and the misunderstandings come from people not talking to each other, not expressing their feelings. It’s almost a theme of this anthology, and I wanted to scream at the characters: Talk, people! Tell each other what you feel and what you think. Don’t be afraid to open up. On the other hand, if they did talk, their stories wouldn’t have been written, because there would be no conflict and no need for a resolution. But there would be many more happy families.

 

Christmas is another common thread for all the stories in this book, and that includes too much Jesus for my taste. Of course, I’m an atheist, and this book is about Christmas, but I could’ve done with a less blatant message of Christianity. Subtlety would’ve worked better in this case.