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Source: Review copy from Ulysses Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

Elizabeth came to a sudden halt.  “Is everyone obsessed with my mental stability?”

Mr. Bennet started their walking again.  “Your husband and your parents are naturally sensitive to your changed temperament.  Even you must admit, Lizzy, that you’ve not been yourself of late.”

“I suppose,” she said reluctantly.

“We all love you,” he assured.

Elizabeth accepted his compassion.  “I never meant to worry you.”

“We know.”  He patted her hand.  “Just come back to us, Lizzy.  We all depend on your good sense.”

(from Christmas at Pemberley, page 269)

Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers is a charming and quiet novel that brings all of the characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and a few new ones together in one place, creating both tension and amusement.  Although the Afterword indicates that Christmas wasn’t a major event in Regency England, it was nice to join Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and their family and friends for a holiday celebration.

Darcy and Elizabeth are on their way back to Pemberley when icy roads force them to take shelter in a crowded inn.  Elizabeth isn’t her usual witty self, having lost two babies and now scared to acknowledge her current pregnancy, and Darcy is anxious to bring her home.  He has invited the Bennet and Bingley families to Pemberley for Christmas, hoping the presence of Elizabeth’s family will snap her out of her funk.

Elizabeth feels isolated at the inn, being the only woman, until the Josephs arrive.  Mary Joseph is far along in her pregnancy but traveling with her husband to his sick mother’s bedside.  As in the story of Jesus, there is no room at the inn for the Josephs, but Elizabeth refuses to let a pregnant woman sleep in the barn, so she and Darcy offer to share their room.  A friendship develops between Elizabeth and Mary that will help both women through some tough times.

Meanwhile, back at Pemberley, Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, is playing hostess to the Bennets and the Bingleys.  Complications arise when several uninvited guests seek shelter at the estate, particularly her formidable aunt, Lady Catherine (who still isn’t on speaking terms with Darcy because of his marriage to Elizabeth), but Georgiana navigates the choppy waters with ease, thanks to Elizabeth’s sister, Kitty, and her cousin and guardian, Colonel Edward Fitzwilliam.

There’s not much action in Christmas at Pemberley, and the slow pace at the beginning made it difficult for me to become invested in the story.  However, about a quarter of the way through the book, I started really enjoying it, particularly when Jeffers focused on the crowd of guests at Pemberley.  Much of the story revolves around pairing up the unmarried characters.  The flirtations were sweet and the pairings predictable, but I was in the mood for a romantic tale and wasn’t disappointed.

Jeffers inserts a tale of intrigue with the character of Beauford Manneville, a plantation owner from South Carolina who boasts of his wealth and isn’t keeping it a secret that he’s in search of a wife.  Of course, Mrs. Bennet, having already secured a husband for Mary, throws Kitty at him, but Kitty has other plans.  Colonel Fitzwilliam is unsure why he was ordered to bring Manneville back to England, but he smells something fishy.  Meanwhile, Manneville strikes up a friendship with Caroline Bingley, who hasn’t changed a bit.

I liked Jeffers’ take on Austen’s characters.  It’s easy to understand how Elizabeth would be grieving her miscarriages and scared about losing a third baby, but a little of the Lizzy I love peeked through.  I really enjoyed her quarrelling with Darcy over Kitty’s future, and watching Georgiana and Kitty blossom was delightful.  Jane, Bingley, Mary, and the Collinses remained in the background, but I was so wrapped up in Georgiana and Kitty’s stories that I didn’t realize they were missing.

Christmas at Pemberley is a fun continuation of Pride and Prejudice, and a perfect book for fans of Austenesque novels to curl up and read with a cup of hot cocoa.  It’s not filled with action or drama, but it’s like a calm, heartwarming visit with old friends.

Disclosure: I received Christmas at Pemberley from Ulysses Press for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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