"Lady Whistledown" was a Regency gossip columnist featured in the Bridgerton romance series, particularly this one. Even though Lady W did hang up her pen by the end of that book, the author and some of her friends didn't want to let her go. So this book is a collection of four novellas revolving around the thin plot device of Lady Neeley's bracelet disappearing during a dinner, and Lady W. starts out every chapter with some gossipy snark.
The four novellas are:
- "The First Kiss" by Julia Quinn. Kicking off the bracelet plot, Tillie Howard is an attendee at the infamous dinner. She's still mourning her dead brother Harry, who has apparently blabbed to every one of his friends about her ginormous dowry. She meets Peter Thompson, a particularly nice friend, and hits it off with him. But Peter is, technically speaking, a fortune hunter. Which is to say, he doesn't like his second-son job options of the military or ministry, so he'd quietly like to marry a girl with some land that he could steward. However, he wasn't shooting THAT HIGH for Tillie's dowry, and he's excruciatingly embarrassed at having to "fortune hunt" in the first place. Much less being called out for it by Lady W. But as a plot device, it's not a terribly interesting one, and it seems likely that the Howard parents would be just fine with Tillie marrying a friend of their son's anyway. As a romance, it was sweet enough to read, but I am having a hard time remembering it after the fact. By itself, three stars.
- "The Last Temptation" by Mia Ryan. This one features Bella Martin, spinster companion and party planner to Lady Neeley. She's two weeks away from turning thirty and has never had a prospect or a kiss, which bums her out. Lord Roxbury is one of the (many, many, many) local rogues with a reputation and zero interest in marrying anyone. But his father (who's always had a thing for Lady N., but she won't marry him) is insisting that Anthony throw a party to find some eligible women. Lady N. offers him the use of her party planner, who Anthony ah...mistakes from behind for one of his various flings. That's the kiss out of the way! Actually, Bella takes it all ridiculously well and in a good humor, thinking, "Hey, that checks it off the list!" Anthony enjoys Bella's humor and attitude--and she's got a very good way of managing the guest list--and within two weeks, Bella's about to go out on her own with her own party planning business and has a suitor. You know how it goes. I'd give it three and a half stars.
- "The Best Of Both Worlds" by Suzanne Enoch. I think this one's the longest novella in the bunch--and this is a first for me in saying maybe it could have been a little shorter. Anyway, this story pretty much has little or nothing to do with The Bracelet (something everyone wanders off from as quickly as possible, but especially this book) since the featured couple in it wasn't even there. Charlotte Birling's cousin Sophia (see below) ended up in a scandalous marriage, and her parents are ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED at the idea of scandal. They don't find Charlotte to be particularly attractive or interesting, and she has one suitor, the dull Herbert Beetly. Then she ends up piquing the interest of (yet another of the many, many, many) local rogue Earl Matson, when he overhears her defense of Lord Easterly. He thinks she's a smarter chick than the usual bunch out there, and decides to pitch woo at her. But her parents are totally resistant to the point of ridiculousity. This gets a bit much after awhile, but the romance itself works. Again, three and a half stars.
- "The Only One For Me" by Karen Hawkins is the best of the lot. 12 years ago, Sophia Throckmorton and Max, Lord Easterly, were madly in love. Then two months into the marriage, there was a gambling problem and a scandal, and Max fled for Italy, totally abandoning his wife thereafter and never so much as answering her letters. Fairly recently, Sophia and her brother John found out that the real card cheater was their ne'er-do-well younger brother and Max just kept his mouth shut for Sophia's sake. After 12 years, Sophia's fed up with the whole situation and decides to use blackmail (by digging up an old family journal of scandalous sexual hijinks) to finally force her husband into an annulment. Little does Sophia know that Max is already receiving letters from his brother-in-law AND the guy who's interested in marrying Sophia, and all of this motivates Max to finally return to England and see if he can win his wife back. And then naturally he walks into Lady N's party with a gambling reputation, which gets a finger pointed at him as an accused thief. This was the most fun of the four and also the most memorable, as Max and Sophia and John are all spicy, entertaining, snarky people to get to hang out with. The best line in the story is this one: "You should read some of the missives she sent me. My favorite was when she traced my family roots from myself all the way back to a worm. She used colored ink, too. I had that one framed." While the original conflict isn't covered very well and I was still kind of confused with that, the rest of the story is good enough to give it four stars alone.
Overall, I'd give this three and a half stars. Not bad, but mostly frothy.