Emily’s Christmas Wish
by Sharon Stancavage
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7604-5
Miss Emily Winterhaven is the new owner of an interesting mermaid pendant, a gift from her grandfather. Nigel Manning, Earl of Stratford, is once again given the job of cleaning up after his younger brother Roger, who has pawned some of their mother’s jewels, including a mermaid pendant reputed to carry a curse. Though Nigel believes none of it, he reluctantly agrees to join a house party where Emily will be present, in hopes of convincing her to sell the pendant back to him.

But there’s catch – and a large one. Several years earlier, Roger made a callous bet with his chums, and the victim was Emily. She was humiliated during her one and only Season. Nigel knows she’ll never agree to sell the pendant if she knows who he is, in fact, she might rightly refuse to even speak to him. To that end, he enlists the aid of his Cousin Harriet, the party’s hostess. Things go awry, however, when Nigel and Emily find they are immediately attracted to one another. What will happen when Emily finds out the truth?

To complicate matters, Nigel is being vigorously pursued by Miss Susan Claredon and her mother, who expect him to propose - something Nigel has no intention of doing. These two turn up at the house party and immediately drop nasty hints and innuendoes in Emily’s ears.

Emily’s Christmas Wish desperately needed better editing. The story is lighthearted and charming enough, and both Nigel and Emily are immensely likable characters. Their unexpected attraction is very much a meeting of the minds, as both of them feel somewhat like misfits in polite society.

The prose, however, verges on the juvenile in far too many instances. Characters pout, whine, smirk. They do things like “practically run” and “practically grin”, instead of just running and grinning. Adverb use is heavy, with the effect that the reader is being told how everyone feels, instead of being shown through their words and actions:

“I can’t recall a time I’ve enjoyed a waltz more, he said in a sultry voice, his hazel eyes gazing passionately at her.”

The heavy emphasis on telling carries over into the area of description. In one dinner scene, every person’s clothing is described in detail, and none of it added to the story. The use of the word “dashed” crops up on what feels like every other page, apparently to add some Regency flavor to the story. Things are “dashed warm”, “dashed attractive”, “dashed impertinent”. And Susan, who is a spoiled beauty, apparently wears her hair streaming down around her face, because she’s forever “tucking a long strand behind her ear” or “tossing her long blonde hair”. This isn’t even remotely likely in a young Regency miss.

Major nitpicking, you say? True, but when all of this silliness is piled into the story, it serves as a major distraction. By page fifty, I found myself looking for the next incongruity as much as the next plot development.

This is the author’s debut Regency, which brings me to the question: where was the editor on all this? Isn’t one of the editor’s jobs to help an author polish her writing and create the best possible story? Emily’s Christmas Wish, with its intriguing story and unfortunately clunky writing, felt like nothing so much as a book that wasn’t ready to be published yet. What a shame. With the proper amount of polish, this would have been a recommended read. Let’s hope for better things from Sharon Stancavage next time. I believe the potential is there.

--Cathy Sova

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