For vacation this summer, my family spent two weeks in the mountains of North Carolina, about an hour west of Asheville. I was able to go down for nine days, one of them being a trip into Asheville to see the Biltmore, an 8,000-acre estate that once housed George Vanderbilt and his family.
After we’d toured the mansion and the grounds, my mom picked up a novel titled “A Biltmore Christmas,” composed of four stories from different authors. Each focuses on one of the four Bradford sisters — orphans who find employment and the potential for true love at the Biltmore.
I discovered after the fact that it’s part of a series called “Romancing America” — Amazon’s “Customers who bought this item also bought” section shows one for Christmas belles of Georgia and Christmas at Barncastle Inn, in Vermont. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. The stories are formulaic, and frankly, ridiculous.
So, of course, I loved them.
In the interests of full disclosure, I haven’t yet finished the fourth story. But I expect it will follow the same storyline as the first three — woman between the ages of 19 and 25 finds employment at the Biltmore as a chambermaid/pastry cook/general servant, and within the first 48 hours, just happens to cross paths with the most handsome of men.
Both know immediately that they’ve fallen madly in love, but it’s the late 1890s and there are rules about proper behavior. So there’s plenty of opportunity for prime romance-novel inner monologues as each sorts out his or her feelings.
Insert a very troublesome problem — the beau who implied he was also a servant is really a rich cousin of George Vanderbilt; the beau truthfully admitted to being a rich cousin of George Vanderbilt but it’s still a problem because, well, he’s not a servant; or — my favorite thus far — the beau is a servant, but is a beekeeper, and poor old Peggy Bradford is deathly allergic to beestings.
I should also mention, for what it’s worth, that the stories (and perhaps all Romancing America novels, although I don’t know for sure) are written by Christian authors, and thereby have a heavy dose of asides on what God might want for this couple or what God intends to do with one’s life.
Overall, it’s not a literary classic. But even as someone who admittedly does not enjoy romance novels, I will say this was a lighthearted collection that went over the top on goofiness in a way that made me laugh, not cringe. And I enjoyed reading the stories so soon after visiting the Biltmore — it made it easy to imagine the characters inside the mansion or around the grounds.
If you’re looking for a silly, quick Christmas read, this might be right up your alley.