Monday, February 13, 2017

It Happened One Season

Reviewed by Ambrea

It Happened One Season is a collection of short stories—or, more accurately, novellas—written by Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Alessandro, and Candice Hern.  When collaborating on this project, Laurens, Balogh, D’Alessandro, and Hern asked their readers what they would most like to see in a novel.  Their readers answered:  a handsome soldier returning home from the Napoleonic Wars, a young lady sick of enduring another season, a proposed marriage of convenience—and a love that blossoms unexpectedly.  In It Happened One Season, each author writes her own novella, following these basic plot points, and creates a wholly unique love that’s sure to make readers swoon.

Full disclosure before I continue discussing It Happened One Season:  I did not read the entire book.  I read “Only Love” by Mary Balogh and “Fate Strikes a Bargain” by Candice Hern, and I basically skimmed “The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor” by Stephanie Laurens and “Hope Springs Eternal” by Jacquie D’Alessandro.  So, I’ve decided I won’t make any judgements on the stories I didn’t read; rather, I’ll talk about the ones I did.

I started with Mary Balogh’s novella, “Only Love.”  It was a sweet little romance, but, sadly, it was…well, it was forgettable.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it while I was reading; however, I find I can’t even remember the names of the characters anymore, let alone the full story.  I found it to be fun, and I even remember thinking how I loved the budding affection between the protagonists.  It was a good story, but it wasn’t seared-into-my-memory kind of good.

“Fate Strikes a Bargain,” on the other hand, made more of an impact.

Like the other three short stories in this book, Candice Hern’s novella features a female protagonist facing another unbearable season without a suitor and a weary, battle-hardened hero who must somehow convince her to accept a marriage proposal to satisfy familial obligation.  (All the stories literally have the same plot points, so no surprises here.)  However, “Fate Strikes a Bargain” was strangely compelling.

As I sank into the story, I found absolutely loved reading it.  I mean, it hit all the right notes for me:  wonderful character development (for such a short story), satisfying plot pace, historical accuracy.  Granted, it’s a bit predictable, but it quickly had me smiling and laughing by turns.  I loved watching how Philippa and Nathaniel interacted, and I loved watching their relationship develop.  And I really liked that the author wasn’t afraid to create characters with flaws, like Philippa with her physical infirmity and Nathaniel with his PTSD.

They’re not perfect people.  Nathaniel can’t stand getting caught in a crowd; Philippa struggles to dance.  Nathaniel suffers from night terrors regularly, struggling with his memories of the war; Philippa fights to fend off even the best intentions of her family, trying to establish her independence.  They’re not perfect, but they manage to find happiness in each other—and I appreciated that.  I know when I finished reading “Fate Strikes a Bargain,” I had to sit back and sigh with contentment, pleased with my book and, somehow, pleased with the world at large.

I found all sorts of warm, fuzzy feelings in this book on a cold winter day.

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