Thursday, May 19, 2011

REVIEW: It Happened One Season by Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'Alessandro and Candice Hern

Once upon a time there were four authors who each contributed a novella with similar plot elements to the historical romance anthology titled It Happened One Night, published in 2008. The authors had so much fun collaborating their stories that they decided to do it again. Only this time, the recurring theme of the anthology would be determined by a reader and so a contest was announced to the world in search of such a winning theme. Over a thousand entries were submitted by readers and carefully narrowed down to a mere handful of candidates, the winning plotline then decided by public vote. The ballots were cast and counted and lo and behold, the winner of the contest was Phyl, who just so happens to be my friend and fellow blogger who blogs at Phyl's Books and Quilts. Isn't that so cool? Congratulations, Phyl. :)

I enjoy reading historical romances and discovering new authors, but I admit that I probably wouldn't have otherwise been compelled to pick up this anthology had I not known that it was Phyl's winning plot ideas that drove these stories. I have this silly notion stuck in my head that anthologies are a gamble of sorts. I generally feel this way especially about romance because I think it's very challenging to write a well developed, realistic and compelling love story in only a hundred pages. I need to shake this notion, though, because I have read several romance anthologies over the last few years and have enjoyed most of them very much--including this one!

I was thrilled by Phyl's win of the plotline contest and had been anticipating the release of It Happened One Season since its inception. Phyl's plot lines were really fantastic--well thought out, creative and truly the foundation for some great short story romances. Turns out there was no gamble whatsoever reading It Happened One Season. 

The recurring plot elements for each story in the It Happened One Season anthology are that (1) the hero is a younger brother of a titled lord, had a career in the army, but has lived as a recluse since returning from the war with France; (2) the heroine is shy or unattractive and after many Seasons has never had a suitor; and (3) The hero's brother has only daughters and asks his brother to marry to try to ensure succession.
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"The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor" by Stephanie Laurens

This sweet, fun story is a little mix of both romance and mystery. The story starts with a ball at which Sebastian Trantor is supposed to be seeking a wife from the lot of eligible women in order to fulfill is familial duty to marry and provide a family heir. In a desperate desire to escape the ball, he slips away and finds refuge in the library. While Sebastian sits in the dark enjoying the solitude, a young woman picks the lock of the library and begins rummaging through the desk, muttering to herself as she searches for whatever it is she's so desperate to find. Sebastian finds himself both amused and curious by this woman--Tabitha Makepeace, and her task at hand. He finally reveals himself to her and after some amusing exchange of words, they introduce themselves and explain what each is really secretly doing in the private library of their host. When they are discovered alone in the library together, Tabitha is compromised and Sebastian makes up the story that they have just become betrothed in order to protect her reputation. The couple proceeds to elude everyone with their fake betrothal as Sebastian helps Tabitha uncover a blackmailer and they fall in love for real.

"The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor" was fun and sweet. It was clear that Sebastian started falling for Tabitha right away and amusing how he would kiss her to disguise them or make their story look convincing, when really, he was trying to convince Tabitha that they had something between them. It was a lot of fun watching these two turn their farce into a reality all the while trying to catch a blackmailer.
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"Only Love" by Mary Balogh

In this story, Cleo Pritchard was married by arrangement at the young age of seventeen to the much older Colonel Aubrey Pritchard who died five years ago during the war. Now at twenty-seven, Cleo has given up hope of ever remarrying or even having a lover. Then she sees Major Jack Gilcrest at a ball, a dashing young man with whom she was acquainted during the war as he served in her late husband's regime. Jack is at the ball in search of a suitable bride per his older brother's request to produce an heir. Pleased to see someone he knows, Jack asks Cleo to dance and while they are a bit nervous and awkward, it is very clear that they drawn to each other. Jack realizes pretty quickly that that he and Cleo should marry. They have a slew of practical reasons between them why they indeed should marry. Jack just needs to convince Cleo that the only reason they should marry is for love.
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"Hope Springs Eternal" by Jacquie D'Alessandro

Captain Alec Trentwell leaves the comfortable solitude of his country cottage for two reasons. One is to seek a bride and produce an heir to satisfy his familial obligation. The second is to seek Penelope Markham, the beloved sister of his friend and fellow soldier Edward Markham who died at Waterloo at Alec's side. Alec feels tremendous guilt surrounding Edward's death and consequently feels a responsibility towards Penelope. Alec plans to tell Penelope the details surrounding her brother's death and offer her financial assistance which is so desperately needs. Alec becomes enthralled with Penelope as soon as he sees her, however, so delays telling her the truth. There is mutual interest and heat between them and soon they marry, but the secret of Edward's death threatens to destroy a happy marriage.

"Hope Springs Eternal" is a romantic and sexy love story. There is sweet romance between strong, believable characters who shared a passion for each other that was romantic and sexy. Penelope Markham is a strong and intelligent woman and I admired how she was unapologetic and unashamed of her dire financial situation or her ruined reputation as an art instructor just for creating a piece of sculpture that the ton deemed scandalous. Plus Penelope wears glasses! I found that little detail so refreshing. Alec was truly haunted by his guilt for the death of Penelope's brother. His grief and guilt made sense and while I knew all along that Penelope would not blame him for Edward's death when she finally learned the truth, the whole process of Alec telling her the truth of what happened, her reaction, his reaction, the resolution... it was dramatic without being too over the top. The story felt very genuine and I enjoyed it very much.
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"Fate Strikes a Bargain" by Candice Hern

This story features two unique and unapologetic characters who enter a marriage of convenience who truly deserved their happily ever after. Captain Nathaniel Beckwith is still emotionally disturbed by the war, leaving him surly, moody and stern, yet he has agreed to do his duty and provide the family with an heir. He is seeking a suitable wife at the latest ball, but in an attempt to avoid the ladies and the dancing, Nathaniel finds reprieve behind a large potted orange tree, where he meets a simple but pretty and gregarious woman who also happens to be hiding.

Philippa Reynolds enjoys the lively balls but has grown tired of the Seasons without a suitor and is resigned to a life without marriage. When she reveals to Nathaniel that she doesn't fit in because of a severe limp due to a displaced hip she's had since birth, he is open and honest about the severity of her condition, but also disgusted with the ton's narrow-mindedness regarding her health and potential as a marriageable woman. Nearly straightaway Nathaniel sees that a marriage between them is the answer to both their problems.

Both Cleo and Nathaniel are misfits of sorts. While Nathaniel's imperfections are the emotional scars he acquired from war and Philippa's imperfections are a physical disability she's had since birth, their experiences with their flaws are enough for them to be honest, understanding and empathetic to each other without pity. Add a spark of mutual attraction and these two are a perfect and loving match.

"Fate Strikes a Bargain" is a well wrought story about two characters with obvious imperfections who are honest, open and willing to work through their issues together. It was nice to read a story in which an author is willing to write about characters with real disabilities, be sensitive to those issues and show how important honesty and a positive attitude are to a person's character. And that romance, love, passion and happily ever after are truly deserved by all.

I think it's challenging enough to pull off a realistic, compelling love story in a full length novel when the author has enough page time to develop the characters, conflicts and resolutions while convincing the reader of true love. In an anthology, the author has to successfully do all of that in only a hundred pages or so and I think all four authors did a fine job of accomplishing just that in It Happened One Season. Reading this anthology also gave me the opportunity to discover three new-to-me authors in one book. Previously, I had only read one work by any of the authors and that was A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh. I would definitely consider reading novels by all four of these authors again.

Have you read any other works by the authors of It Happened One Season?
If so, what do you recommend? 

Do you have a favorite anthology? (any genre) 


  1. Oh, this sounds cute! I think I read the first anthology - It Happened One Night -and thought it was OK.

    I've read both Balogh and D'Alessandro before, of Balogh I like many of her books, but they are kind of guilty pleasures for me. LOL

    As for D'Alessandro, I really enjoyed her Mayhem in Mayfair series.

  2. Fantastic review! I will admitt that I'm very apprehensive about anthologies. Not only do they not always have enough time to really develope their characters but the one I chose to read had 2 of the 3 stories trying to set you up for a series. I know that's not a bad thing but I must say that sometimes I just want a story that is short and sweet and isn't trying to advertise for more! If the novella is good enough on it's own then I will seek out more work by that author. I hope that all makes sense.

    I am so happy to hear that you enjoyed this book and I think it's awesome that your friend's suggestion was chosen to mirror the stories after! This seems like a great read and one that I need to check out! Great review, you have convinced me to give it a try. :-)

  3. Oh you enjoyed it! I really liked the first two stories by Laurens and Balogh best in this anthology. I read Mary Balogh's works and believe I've recommended some of her books before? The Secret Pearl and A Summer to Remember are two favorite reads for me.

    I enjoyed Stephanie Laurens original Cynster novels: Devils Bride, A Rake's Vow, Scandal's Bride, A Secret Love, A Rogue's Proposal.... hmmm... help, I think there's one/two more? I can't remember because I gave the whole set away while cleaning up my bookshelves. :(

  4. Hey there! I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. I keep saying this, but the whole process was such fun. I've been re-reading it so I can do a blog post of my own. I am dreadfully behind!

  5. I don't usually read historicals, but these sound cute! And Congratulations to your friend Phyl!

    Hope you have a good weekend!

  6. Ohhh, lovely review Christine - thank you. And fantastic premise Phyl!

    I've read both Stephanie Laurens and Mary Balogh. I'm quite tempted to try this - I would like to see what Stephanie Laurens can do with a non-pretty heroine - all her heroines in the Cynster series (apart from the first) were drop-dead gorgeous.

    When she reveals to Nathaniel that she doesn't fit in because of a severe limp due to a displaced hip she's had since birth, he is open and honest about the severity of her condition, but also disgusted with the ton's narrow-mindedness regarding her health and potential as a marriageable woman.

    Ohhh, this reminds me of a character from Patricia Veryan's The Jewelled Men series. Gwendolyn appears in all the beooks in the series, but it is her story in the final book - The Mandarin of Mayfair ( And the hero, August Falcon, is part Chinese! Sorry, I love this series. I should so re-read it (I bought all the books 10 years ago from various US secondhand stores.)

  7. This is going to sound weird but here it goes: I hardly ever read an anthology but I always mean to. In fact, I have countless anthologies on my TBR list but have yet to read any of them. And I'll probably add this one to my list as well..LOL!

  8. Nothing to recommend, but am definitely glad for the recommendation. Teehee. :)

  9. Glad you enjoyed it :) I usually buy anthologies based on the authors in it. There must be one of my absolute favorite authors for me to get it... and that wasn't the case with this one, so I didn't pick it up. I'm also not crazy about the recluse war hero theme, although I do enjoy the two other story tropes.

    Maybe I'll reconsider this one :) thanks for the review!


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