The Last Chance Christmas Ball

Written by Jo Beverley Mary Jo Putney
Review by Ray Thompson

This is a compilation of novellas by a group of writers collectively known as The Word Wenches. The frame is a Christmas ball at which Lady Holly plans to give some not-so-young but deserving women a last chance to find true love. In the spirit of the season (and Regency romance), all succeed. Some are reunited with childhood friends or former suitors from their youth, others meet strangers, and one even manages to straighten out a misunderstanding with her husband. The weather co-operatively maroons some couples in snow storms, providing a unique opportunity to spend time together and learn more about each other.

As in all novellas, limited space means that the couples fall in love rather precipitously, given the restraints of the age. But those who have shared an attraction for some time need only the chance for an honest avowal of feelings. Nor is there room to do more than touch upon wider social issues, though the precarious situation of women and wounded soldiers returned from war are recurrent motifs. As different characters take center stage, they provide valuable insights into the feelings behind the social façade they erect, as well as their reaction to the façades of others.

The tales are rather sentimental, a box of chocolates with sweet, soft centers inside a dark covering, a pleasant confection for the holiday season. My personal favorites are Anne Gracie’s “Mistletoe Kisses,” a charming variant on the Cinderella story, and Susan King’s “A Scottish Carol,” whose lovers must struggle to find healing for the wounds of self-doubt and past failures; but there is ample variety here for other tastes. Recommended for lovers of Regency romances.