Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day eight, I’m sharing a sweet historical romance set at a grand country house.
Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He's grim and silent. A man of little emotion--or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she's ready to put an end to things.
But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn't as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there's Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What's a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there'll be no false formality. This time they'll get to know each other for who they really are.
If you breakdown the historical romances I love to read, there really are two kinds. The first are high concept, super fast-moving romps with scandal and sex and big emotions. The second kind, however, is much, much quieter. The hero and heroine might dance around each other in courtship, but I never once think they might be caught kissing behind the library drapes because they would never find themselves in a position where they would slip behind said drapes. Instead, all of their tension comes from the very fact that they are still strictly following society’s rules despite—if they were being completely honest—wanting each other very, very badly.
A Holiday by Gaslight is one of the latter kinds of novels. Meticulous in its research and lovely in its sweetness, it follows two characters who have gotten off on the wrong foot. It’s a second chance romance without dramatic breakups and deeply guarded secrets of the past. The more time they spend together, the more Edward and Sophie realize that their original assessments of each other were shallow at best. Their coming together felt real and sweet and perfectly appropriate for the time period and their class status. You can see a young lady of the gentility and a man who has pulled himself up from humble beginnings actually having these conversations and misunderstandings and finally standing in front of one another at their most vulnerable.
The historical detail Mimi Matthews weaves into this book—short though it is—make it all the more pleasurable to read. It’s a quick read that will find a good audience with readers who like their historical romances accurate and sweet.
Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.