Six years ago, Rebecca Tremaine gave birth to a baby girl out of wedlock. The great-aunt with whom she had lived during her confinement, told her the baby was still born, but in reality had given the child to a very distant family relation. Shortly after the death of her father, Rebecca finds a letter in his things that details what had happened, and knows that she simply must meet her child. Rebecca's brother, Daniel, a wealthy businessman, offers to use his influence to help her locate and gain access to the little girl she had lost.
Cameron Sinclair and his wife had been unable to have a child, so when a distant relative approached them about adopting, they believed that they would be helping out a woman in need while gaining the baby they had always desired. Three years later, Cameron's wife passed away, leaving him a widower raising his daughter, Lily, alone. When Daniel Tremaine approaches him with the tragic story of Lily's true parentage, Cameron is wary of allowing Rebecca to see her. After meeting her though, his heart is moved by her plight, and he invites her to spend Christmas with him and his family at his country estate where she can get to know Lily. With the holiday festivities in full swing, everyone is having great fun, and Rebecca is thrilled to have her daughter back in her life. However, Rebecca and Cameron find themselves at odds over Cameron's overindulgence of Lily which has left her behaving in a rather spoiled manner, while at the same time, they are also being drawn together by an inexplicable attraction to one another. Can two people with such a complicated relationship ever figure out how they can be together, and if they don't, what will become of Rebecca's budding motherly role in Lily's life?
Full-length, Christmas-themed romance novels seem to be rather few and far between. In fact, The Christmas Countess was the first one I read this holiday season, and for that reason alone, I commend the author for her efforts. I enjoyed reading about the celebrations in which the guests at Cameron's country estate participated. The festivities lasted for several weeks and included activities such as collecting greenery and mistletoe (complete with a few stolen kisses) to decorate the manor house, sledding, and putting on a nativity play, among other things. Everything sounded like great fun. I also thought that the overall premise of the story was a rather unique one, with the heroine giving birth to a baby out of wedlock six years before and believing that the baby was stillborn only to find out that she is alive and well and living as the daughter of a widowed Earl. Of course, the shared connection of their little girl, who Rebecca birthed and Cameron raised, provides the necessary impetus for them to meet and fall in love.
I did like both Cameron and Rebecca, but I felt like their characterizations were rather one-dimensional and never progressed much beyond what the reader learns about them from the back cover blurb. Rebecca was a vicar's daughter who became pregnant by her fiancée. Before she even realized that a baby was on the way, he was tragically killed in a freak accident, leaving her in a very difficult predicament. She was sent to live with a great aunt who lied to her about the baby being stillborn and gave the little girl to Cameron and his wife to adopt, because they had been unable to have a child. Rebecca has never forgotten about her baby girl, and when she finds a letter which reveals the truth in her father's things after his death, she knows that she must meet the child. Cameron lost his wife three years ago and the only thing that really kept him going was his little girl, Lily. I thought that he was very generous in his sympathy toward Rebecca's plight and allowing her to spend the Christmas holidays with his family, so that she could get to know Lily. I liked that Cameron was so involved in his daughter's life, and that he seemed to truly enjoy playing, not only with her, but with all the children who were visiting. I also loved his choice to remain celibate since his wife's death. I think that it showed how much he really loved her. In fact, both Cameron and Rebecca were deeply in love with their partners, and I think it's a nice change of pace to not have the dead spouse/lover be villainized. Overall, Cameron and Rebecca were very pleasant characters, but I just never felt like I got to know them well enough for them to stand out to me.
I also didn't really feel the romantic connection between Cameron and Rebecca. In addition to them still being in love with their former partners, they also had an extremely complicated relationship to overcome. It seemed that the majority of their interactions centered around Lily, both their individual relationships with her and how they both could fit into her life. Even when they were alone together, their conversations still tended to revolve around Lily, and only rarely delved into more personal territory. There is also a certain distance between them because Cameron is wary of Rebecca trying to overstep her bounds in dealing with Lily and/or possibly tell her the truth about her parentage, while Rebecca feels that Cameron has been overindulgent of Lily who behaves rudely sometimes. I felt that their sexual tension was a case of the author telling more than showing, and even in their passionate moments, they still didn't seem to be fully giving themselves to one another. I think perhaps this was because their relationship was rather ill-defined, leaving them and the reader rather uncertain about what they really are to each other. They mainly seemed to be acting out of a sense of loneliness instead of any sort of commitment or deep feelings for each other.
Cameron and Rebecca may have dropped the romance ball for me, but a pair of secondary characters picked it up and ran with it, really added to my enjoyment of the story. There was a little side romance between Rebecca's brother, Daniel, and Cameron's sister, Charlotte, that I absolutely loved. I thought that Daniel was a great brother to support Rebecca and use his wealth to help her gain access to her daughter. He had spent a lot of time in the States and had become somewhat Americanized and disdainful of the English aristocracy. Daniel is just a really nice guy who is a perfect gentleman but tends to march to the beat of his own drum. Charlotte is a very sweet, intelligent woman who is quite plain and also has a birth defect which has left her with a very pronounced limp. Both things have made her quite shy and have caused her to avoid much social interaction. When Daniel takes notice of her, she simply blossoms, and I found a very honest vulnerability in their interactions. I loved that Daniel wasn't the least bit bothered by Charlotte's disability, and that he encouraged her to explore the part of herself that she had been neglecting due to her overprotective family. Even though their scenes take up only a small portion of the book, I felt that they connected on a very deep intimate level. Theirs was a tender love rooted in mutual respect, admiration, and friendship, a union of both the intellectual and spiritual. I adored these two from the moment they appeared within the pages of the story, and couldn't have been happier to see them with each other. In all honesty, Daniel and Charlotte's romance overshadowed Cameron and Rebecca's for me, and I couldn't hardly wait to get back to their scenes. In fact, I felt a tad bit cheated that I didn't get a wedding or consummation, but with them being supporting players, I suppose I can understand why.
There were a couple of other secondary characters who stood out to me. Of course Lily plays a big part in the story. I typically love child characters, but I ended up having mixed feelings about her. Sometime, Lily acts pretty rude, spoiled and manipulative, but then other times, she is quick to apologize and behave sweetly again. She is an incredibly spirited child who tends to keep everyone on their toes. Lily has Cameron wrapped around her little finger, but considering that she was his lifeline after the death of his beloved wife, I could in some ways understand his overindulgence of her. Another stand-out character was Cameron's cousin, Marion. She is a free-spirited woman who could be rather bossy but in an endearing way. Having been lucky enough to find a loving husband and have a wonderful marriage of her own, she can't seem to resist doing a little matchmaking. Marion and her husband's relationship was another romance that was great fun to read, even though their scenes were even fewer than Daniel and Charlotte's and never from their own point of view.
In my opinion, Ms. Basso's writing style could have used a bit more polish. I spotted several words and phrases that I believe were anachronistic. They just sounded far too modern to have been in use in the Victorian era and tended to make this more of a wallpaper historical. There were also some poor or incorrect word choices. All of these things occasionally pulled me out of the story, and should have been caught by a good editor. I also found the prose and the dialog to be a bit uneven with some passages being too poetic and wordy. There are only a couple of love scenes and although they were fairly steamy, I didn't feel that they had the sensuous flow of many other authors I've read. I'm certainly not looking for purple prose, but the blunt anatomical terms that were often used just didn't work well for me. Overall, I did mostly enjoy The Christmas Countess, in spite of any issues I might have had, but a lot of that was owing to the outstanding supporting cast. This was my first read by Adrienne Basso, and I found it to be likable enough, that I will likely try more of her works in the future. I'm thinking that perhaps her other full-length Christmas novel, The Christmas Heiress (which is not, to my knowledge, connected to The Christmas Countess), might be a good choice for the next holiday season.
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