"Countess by Christmas" by Annie BurrowsI’ve been determined to write up at least quick reviews or comments on the books I’ve read. For one thing, it’s going to help me keep track of what I am reading, especially since I’m trying to do a book a week. For another, since I’m doing the TBR 2011 Challenge, it’s good practice is writing reviews that don’t take me two days to prep. And, yes, if I’m doing a book a week, that means I expect to have 52 books listed on my Books Read page by the end of 2011. Scary thought.xLet me say right off the bat that I’m a big sucker for Christmas books and films. I eagerly await the first winter-themed books appearing in the bookstores around October and I can buy them by the bushel-full. I don’t read with a critical here; I curl up on the couch and just indulge.

For that type of reading, A Countess by Christmas by Annie Burrows is an absolutely perfect type of book. It has a good pace, it’s charming, and everything is wrapped up in a neat bow at the end. The basics of the story are that Helen Forrest and her Aunt Bella have come to Alvaney Hall for Christmas because Bella needs to ask a favor of her relative, the Earl of Bridgemere. Bridgemere is reputedly a very brooding, unpleasant man since the death of his wife and only opens his home to his family for the Christmas season. At that time, they descend like the veritable plague of locust to beg favors and/or money. Bella has been estranged from the family since she adopted Helen years ago, and is only coming back now because the bank in which all her funds were place has failed. Things are bad enough that Helen has found a position as a governess which she is to take up after Christmas and Aunt Bella will be forced to live on the charity of her extended family (Bridgemere is some sort of cousin, close enough to claim kinship, but not so close that they know one enough well.)

Not surprisingly, when Helen and Bridgemere meet, sparks fly and we proceed from there. There are the nasty relatives one gets at any large family gathering, charming children, and chances for misunderstandings and our hero and heroine to show one another their first impressions were mistaken. All of it is sweet, light, and frothy, exactly what I want at this time of year. My only quibble is that a number of the roadblocks to romance in the book are based on misunderstandings and not saying what one means. In a longer book, or one that wasn’t so otherwise light, I might have well given up on these two. But froth shouldn’t have deep emotional conflict; look at one of my favorite films, Singin’ in the Rain. The Black Moment there last about a minute and mostly consists of Debbie Reynolds saying, “I never want to speak to you again,” followed by Gene Kelley singing to her and we fade out on a happy ending. I wasn’t looking for deep conflict here and the fact everything could easy be resolved once the characters actually said what they meant fit the tone quite nice. It’s a lovely little Christmas bon-bon that won’t add inches to your hips.