Two Weeks ‘Til Christmas!!

When I started the Twelve Weeks ‘Til Christmas countdown ten weeks ago, it actually seemed as though the holidays were so far away. Now, we are down to TWO weeks, 14 days, until the big celebration. Today, since it’s a Top Whatever Tuesday, I thought I would recap some of my favorite holiday books of 2018.

First and foremost, my very favorite holiday book this year was A Treasury of African-American Christmas Stories. You can read my review HERE. If you haven’t read this compilation yet, I highly encourage you to give it a try. The stories within are some of the best I’ve ever read – as in – ever!

Obviously, over the past few months I’ve read a LOT of holiday books so that I could do this countdown. Some were typical, a few never made it to the blog and one or two I couldn’t even bring myself to finish. The ones shown below, however, definitely were the highlight of the season.

The favorite among you, my blog readers, was Mutts and Mistletoe and I have to admit it was a favorite of mine as well. The story was adorable but the dogs absolutely stole the show! I also just found out that the author, Natalie Cox, has another “mutt” based holiday book, Not Just For Christmas, so I definitely have to find and read that one too!

I previously had read The Fairy in the Kettle and fell in love with writing and the incredible artwork. I was thrilled to discover that there was a Christmas follow-up story: The Fairy in the Kettle’s Christmas Wish. If you have any younger kids in your life, I highly recommend this book above all others. It’s beautifully written and the storyline is marvelous!

I was super excited to discover some new authors through their holiday work, one of whom is Sue Moorcroft. Her writing style is just great and exactly the type of writing that I love to read. I’ve already ordered more of her books and next week will have a review of one of her previous holiday tales.

In the historical genre, I fell head over heels in love with two of the writers in The Christmas Heirloom. The story of a brooch that is passed down from mother to daughter for centuries absolutely stole my heart! And, I think it is safe to say that after three years and three books, Rebecca Boxall’s holiday reads will be on my Must-Read list and I hope they will be on yours as well. I read Christmas on the Coast in January of this year and followed up with her newest, The Christmas Forest, a few weeks ago.

However, aside from the African-American stories, my favorite book this holiday season was Moonlight on the Thames by Lauren Westwood. I simply adored the characters in the story, the setting, but mostly, how they overcame their past to find love once again. I truly enjoy reading about the healing powers of love and the joy of this season.

I hope, if you haven’t read these yet, that you will give at least one or two of them a try. I know you will enjoy them as much as I did.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! 

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The Christmas Heirloom

Over the past few weeks we have been preparing @TheWisteriaHouse for the holidays. There are a lot of rooms and many trees to decorate but it’s worth it when all is finished and the house is glowing. One of my favorite parts of decorating, especially the trees, is looking back through all of the past treasures from years gone by. I have inherited antique and vintage ornaments that have been passed down from generation to generation.

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There also are all of the newer additions that bring back memories of Christmas past. It was while I was reminiscing that I came across The Christmas Heirloom, four short novellas based on a Luckenbooth brooch that has been passed down from mother to daughter through the centuries. It was the perfect holiday read!

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Briefly, there are four complete novellas centered around the heirloom brooch. In the first, Legacy of Love, we are at the beginning of the brooch’s story. Sarah is a companion to a dowager Countess who is dying. It is Sarah’s wish to bring her as much happiness as possible during her final days. Sarah’s story, as she entertains others on the piano and with her very frank talk, is endearing. As she falls for the dowager’s grandson, it would appear that there is no hope of a “happily ever after” ending: a son of a nobleman with a mere companion, but the dowager has other ideas and it is her wish that the two of them find love and happiness together. Her final Christmas gift is bestowing her well-loved Luckenbooth to Sarah. The story is as beautiful as it is uplifting and I enjoyed it tremendously.

The second story, Gift of the Heart, takes us to Texas where Sarah’s granddaughter, Ruth, has moved to start over after the death of her husband. All that Sarah wishes for is a good life for her daughter. It’s just after the Civil War and there are many poor, out of work people throughout the south but Sarah has found a job in a resort town as a cook at a café. It is there that she fortuitously meets the resort’s owner, a recluse who rarely goes out due to a crippling injury. However, this pair bonds over their love for Ruth’s daughter and soon that bond turns to love. This is a heartwarming tale of romance and hope and one that I’m sure will delight readers who love romance, faith and hope, especially during the holidays.

As we move to the third story, A Shot at Love, I began to feel a slight shift in the narrative. Because each story is written by different authors, it is only natural that the stories reflect those author’s unique writing styles. Fleeta, an unusual name for a rather unusual woman, was orphaned at a young age. Told repeatedly that her mother died of a “broken heart” after Fleeta’s father was killed, Fleeta has no use for love or romance preferring, instead, to spend her days hunting and shooting and occasionally doing wood carvings. When she meets Hank, a fellow gun enthusiast, her thoughts begin to shift. Could she actually fall in love with Hank? This was a very well written story and I easily empathized with these West Virginia characters. I am, however, extremely anti-gun and hunting and the story revolves primarily around both. Despite that, the story was written well enough that I did enjoy following the brooch’s tale down to Fleeta, a woman so clearly not a jewelry type gal.

The final story was one that I, personally, didn’t care for. It is now contemporary times and the brooch was “lost” in the attic until it was discovered by Maddy, a young woman who is gathering items for a garage sale where the proceeds will be used for the family in need whom she is helping. Her partner in the holiday shopping is the widow of Maddy’s best friend and the man she has been secretly in love with for years. Their story is a beautiful one and, of course, they find love in the end. There were multiple reasons that I didn’t connect with this last story. I’m an historian and the fact that the heirloom meant so little to Maddy’s mother, who was quite flippant about it, made me cringe. We had followed the brooch from mother to daughter for years and here was a woman who didn’t care at all. It broke my heart. Also, each of these stories are faith based. It’s been years since I’ve read what is now considered “Christian Lit,” but at one time it was the only type of literature that I did read. The first three stories had faith and hope at the core of their story lines. This message was beautifully incorporated into the story and was a reflection of these women’s lives. By the fourth, however, it became the focal point of the story and was not just about faith but was based on the doctrine of this particular writer. Faith is nearly universal, regardless of your religious ideological beliefs. Doctrine is not. It is specific, not just to Christianity, but to unique beliefs within that Christian faith. Had I not been so involved with the brooch and its story, I would have skipped this last story completely.

Overall, the first three stories are worth purchasing and reading the book. They were incredibly well written and utterly enchanting. If it had just been these stories, I would have given the book a 5 star rating and I still highly recommend the book.

Thank you to #Netgalley and #BethanyHousePublishers for my copy of this beautiful Christmas tale.

 

The Valentine Candy Murder @LeslieMeier

I know, I know, you’re gearing up for Christmas and here I am writing about Valentine’s Day. It’s just one of those days where everything up is down. 😉 Actually, I was looking for an interesting cosy for Valentine’s Day and happened upon The Valentine Candy Murder which will be published in December.

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The Valentine Candy Murder is a compilation of two previously published works by Leslie Meier. She did something similar for Halloween and now we have this, two books in one. The first is Valentine Candy Murder in which a librarian is murdered shortly before a library board meeting. Newly appointed board member, Lucy, searches for answers when she believes the local detective has arrested the wrong person for the murder. The second, Chocolate Covered Murder, revolves around a rather intense rivalry between two chocolate shops in the small town of Tinker’s Cove. Lucy, a freelance reporter for the Pennysaver newspaper, begins her own investigation once again.

If you already are a fan of Meier’s work and/or have followed along the amateur sleuthing of Lucy’s, then having these two holiday themed books under one cover will be delight for you. The characters are vivid and fascinating and the plots themselves lend well to a cosy type read.

I came into these books fresh having never read about Tinker’s Cove or Lucy before now. The first, originally published long ago, felt a bit dated to me. If I had known that the action was taking place in, say, the 80s then I would have better understood perhaps. As it was, there are multiple references to the computer and searching for things online that came across as very antiquated – appropriate for the 80s but not for today. Because there were so many of these references, I found them a bit distracting. The second book skips ahead considerably on Lucy’s timeline so I found myself, once again, rather confused. The toddler in the first book is now a teen and the son is grown and married. I just don’t think that putting these two books together was wise given their vast time difference – at least not for new readers.

If you already are a fan then I’m quite sure you will enjoy these two books together. For the rest of us, I would suggest starting at the beginning of the series and read each individually. The writing is good and cozy and the characters are interesting.

Thank you to #Netgalley and #Kensington Press for my advanced copy.

The Christmas Forest #RebeccaBoxall

SIX WEEKS UNTIL CHRISTMAS!!

The countdown continues with the Twelve Books of Christmas started in October. We now are down to SIX, just SIX, weeks until the big day!!  I absolutely love all of the terrific holiday books that are out there this year and I hope you are too! Last year, which really was the first year that I actually read a lot of holiday books, I came across author Rebecca Boxall. I fell in love with her 2017 book, Christmas on the Coast, and immediately had to go back and read her previous year’s offerings, Christmas at the Vicarage and Home for Winter. All of these were well told, beautiful stories set during the holidays but heartwarming tales for all year. This year, Boxall is back with her newest novella, The Christmas Forest.

Enid lives in a charming coastal town next door to her sister, Bess, in matching “Christmas” cottages where they have lived, side by side, since their parent’s tragic death. Enid has Asperger’s Syndrome which interferes with a person’s ability to “socialize” in a neuro-typical manner but, otherwise, they generally are quite brilliant and nearly always talented in some fashion or another. Through a holiday card exchange, Enid has met Fred who lives in Australia. Fred also has recently lost her mother, for whom he was the sole care-giver as she battled Multiple Sclerosis. Through writing and talking on the phone, the two have formed a bond that they believe is ready for the next step – Enid travelling to Australia to meet Fred in person. However, it is extremely difficult for someone with Asperger’s to trust – people, airplanes, strangers in general – and it is even more difficult for them to be “trapped” in a plane. But Enid believes that she is ready – until everything goes to hell in a hand-basket at the airport! Will these two ever be able to overcome the obstacles to be together?

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I admit that I loved the story from start to finish and, because it is a novella, that only took an afternoon! While the writing itself is not as taut as with her previous novels, I found the characters to more than make up for that. Perhaps it is because I am part of a  family that has lived with MS and other auto-immune diseases and have a son with Asperger’s, I totally and completely related to Enid and a young boy, Dan, as well as Fred, who cared for his mother. They charmed me with their humor, had me crying with their set-backs and made me grin like a Cheshire cat in the end. And that is exactly what a good cozy novel is supposed to do! I loved this story and I hope will too!

I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy of The Christmas Forest from #Netgalley, especially since I have been anxiously waiting for this book since last Christmas! Thanks also to #RebeccaBoxall and @AmazonPublishingUK !

Moonlight on the Thames @lwestwoodwriter

SundayWhat a marvelous Serendipity Sunday! The weather is perfect, chilly and gorgeous and I discovered a new author whose book is as delightful as my Midwestern weather!

I admit that when I first looked at Moonlight on the Thames, I assumed it would be another cozy holiday story – and it is that – except there is far more to this book than first impressions would lead you to believe!

51A4XdE0tNLMoonlight on the Thames by Lauren Westwood is an intriguing tale of two star crossed strangers who meet by chance at Waterloo Station. Dimitri, formerly of Russia, is leading a “pop up choir” in a round of carols to entertain the passengers as they change trains. Nicola is a corporate star who in the middle of a bit of a romantic crisis with a co-worker and has no time to waste on the holidays, much less carolers in the middle of the station. As she makes a scene in front of everyone, she comes face to face with Dimitri and she is, at once, enchanted – as is he. But this pair brings with them a lifetime of baggage overflowing with abuse that neither has been able to entirely cope with. It’s the holidays and it will take a holiday miracle to bring these two together.

Miracle on the Thames is beautifully written, whose characters are fully dimensional and enchanting. Dimitri has suffered so much abuse in his lifetime that it appears impossible for him to love again or faith in people. As a former rising star in the music world, Nicola melts his hardened exterior to allow the music to flow from scarred hands once more. Nicola, through Dimitri’s kindness for his fellow man, his hope and his music, feels herself beginning to have emotions that she thought she never would experience again. All of this is told with such  incredible empathy that I literally cried with pain and joy throughout its telling. Through the use of a Russian fable, Firebird, and through the music – which you can listen to via a special link, Dimitri and Nicola’s story unfolds in beautiful, lyrical prose. It an astonishing read, especially for someone who was expecting a “cosy romance.”

I highly recommend Moonlight on the Thames and hope you will make time for it this season.

Thank you so much to Lauren Westwood for my copy of Moonlight on the Thames. This was my first book by Westwood, it will not be my last!

I love serendipitous discoveries! Is there something in your world that has been a pleasant discovery this week – a book, a song, something of a surprise? I’d love to hear about it!

SEVEN WEEKS ‘TIL CHRISTMAS!

While it seems so far away, when you are counting down the weeks by reading holiday books, you suddenly realize that there are more holiday books on the bookshelf than there are weeks left to read them! YIKES!! Perhaps a book a day would help alleviate the panic attacks. 🙂

cover148567-mediumThis appears to be the week for “café” books. If holiday stories aren’t set in cafes, then they are set in bookstores. Regardless of the setting, however, The Christmas Café at Seashell Cove is a delightful, humorous holiday tale. Seashell Cove is a series by Karen Clarke that features a different resident in each book, although past and future featured characters all make at least a cameo appearance in the current storyline.

Tilly is a free spirit who loves to work wherever her heart leads. Currently she is doing interior design work but she refuses to take it too seriously or even call it a “job.” She likes getting paid to do what she loves without the strings of a “business” attached. This Christmas, however, her friends and the café owners, are putting a great deal of pressure on her to turn the new addition to the café into something spectacular, each wanting to use the grand opening holiday celebration as a very special occasion to reveal big surprises. In addition, there is a new man in town with a young son who may, or may not, hire Tilly to redecorate his new home. The man, Seth, unfortunately comes with a very overbearing mother who has ideas of her own.

There are all of the usual holiday read must-haves: a bit of intrigue, encouraging friends, a colorful character or two and, most importantly, romance with missed cues and crossed signals that can keep the reading enjoyable and interesting. The folks of Seashell Cove always are a delight to catch up with and Tilly’s character is one of the best and most interesting to date.

If you are a fan of cozy books – mystery or romance – and like a good holiday tale that is not too over-the-top Christmassy, then The Christmas Café at Seashell Cove is a must read for you. Once you’ve read this one, I encourage you to catch up with the other folks from Seashell Cove. You will be glad that you did.

Much appreciation to #Netgalley, @Bookouture, and the author, @KarenClarke123 for my copy of this humorous tale!

 

Murder With All the Trimmings by Shawn Reilly Simmons

Murder With All the Trimmings is quick, fun, holiday cozy mystery.

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I want to reiterate that, for my reviews, a 5 or 6 is not a bad book, it merely is in the middle ground for all of the books of that genre that I have read.

The story revolves around a murder that occurs in a Broadway theatre. There is confusion over the actual identity of victim, who was a dancer with a troupe similar to the Rockettes. The cop who is investigating the murder is also the boyfriend of the main character who happened to discover the body. She is the chef for her dearest friend who is filming a documentary on the theatre and the troupe.

Everything about this book was interesting – the setting of the old theatre, the dancers, the holiday season and the life of a famous chef. However, none of it actually ever clicked for me, I never connected to the story’s characters. I’m unsure if it the manner in which they were drawn, or if I’m simply not into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. I suspect that there many other readers who will find this to be a very enjoyable, delightful read. I, however, was left wanting more.

My advanced copy was furnished by #Edelweiss and #HenryPress