Reading Fanatic ReviewsAll Holiday
Christmas Bliss by A. S. Fenischel
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, 24 Symbols, Thalia, Angus & Robertson, and Bol.de
A Christmas Delight
What a delightful surprise this book was! It seems like lately I have read so many books that have broken what I call to cardinal rules of storytelling that it is a great pleasure to read an author who not only doesn’t flout sensible rules but actually knows how to spin a good yarn and create wonderful, believable characters.
The book is from the dual perspectives of the hero and heroine. I particularly enjoyed those parts of the story told from the hero’s perspective. He is definitely an unreliable narrator, but we learn so much about him as we read his musings and view the world through his eyes. He is very well drawn. The author doesn’t just tell us about his social awkwardness, as we would call it; she shows us vividly where he is stumped and his frustration with himself. He beats himself up about it quite a bit. This is done in a clever and endearing way. You can’t help but love this poor hero who is clearly a decent man—and a powerful one in the House of Lords—but is clearly socially inept with others he doesn’t know, particularly women.
There is definitely an instant love going on here, but he is so adorable that it seems plausible—and you want it to be true for his sake. Novellas in particular seem to fall victim to several cardinal sins, namely data dumps and trying to squeeze in too big a story into the short format. Luckily, this book suffered from neither. We are dropped right into the action of the story, the meet-cute of the hero and heroine, and the backstory of both characters weaves naturally through the opening part of the book. The scope of the book was precisely right for a novella. It also had well-drawn secondary characters as well. I love the Dowager Countess (both her personality and her relationship with the hero) and the heroine’s younger brother whom she is trying so desperately to protect; he is the perfect little gentleman, well trained by his adoring sister. I heartily recommend this quick Christmas read.
Mince Pies and Murder by Carly Reid
Mince Pies and Murder*
Murder and Christmas in Small-Town Scotland
I have read every book in this series, including the prequel. The series, where a young American woman goes to a small town in Scotland to stay with her aunt, immediately charmed me. Each book has felt infused with such a Scottish flavor and quirky characters like we love in any cozy mystery. This book, in particular, felt steeped in Scottish tradition—it is Christmas, after all—what fun! Who murdered Santa Claus after a big Yule festival? Dalkinchie, despite its small size, always seems to have an adequate pool of suspects! I feel like each of these books is getting better and better, though I did enjoy the first one. The author has a way of building a community of fascinating characters, throwing in blind turns and red herrings, and still making it all seem realistic. My hats off to the author, and I sincerely look forward to the next book of the series.
A Snowflake at Midnight by Anne Renwick
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Thalia, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, Indigo, Bol.de
A Snowflake at Midnight*
Christmas Steampunk Romance
I don’t read as much steampunk as I might like, but I do find it a very fascinating sub-sub-genre. This book had all the steampunk elements I enjoy, like all the science, airships, clockwork, a focus on industry, and harkening back to ancient traditions. I know once I read the description that it would be a book I’d like. I love the fact that the heroine is a librarian and the hero a botanist. I am intrigued by ancient texts myself, so I loved that that was an element in the mix. I absolutely adored the fact that the key to possibly finding a cure for her father had to do with a special type of mistletoe! Perfect for a Christmas story. I found both the main characters to be believable and relatable, and I loved that they were willing to sacrifice in the hopes of saving her father.
Miracle on Main Street by Lisa Hughey
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, 24 Symbols, Thalia, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, Indigo, and Bol.de
Miracle on Main Street*
Didn’t Like the Hero for Most of the Book
This is the first book I have read by this author. I thought the writing itself was well done, with good turns of phrase, dialogue, and descriptions. I had a hard time with the characters, though. The hero, and I’m tempted to put air quotes around that, is a bit of a jerk for a long time. I didn’t like the way he sometimes treated the heroine. The heroine herself seemed almost too good and noble to be believable. Something just didn’t sit right with me from the get-go, and I couldn’t really get into the book.
The Secret by Elizabeth A. Lance
This book was just odd. There were a number of issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage, so much so that it was distracting. There was even trouble with word choice. I can’t quite put my finger on what precisely is wrong with it, but the writing seemed almost juvenile in places in terms of word choice and sentence construction. Some legal issues brought up, too, didn’t seem quite right, even though I am not, of course, a scholar of Regency England law. It seems strange that after the heroine’s father’s death, the earldom would go to his uncle. Usually, inheritances don’t go back up the food chain, so to speak. And then this great-uncle’s solicitor suggests that he marry his great-niece in order to get the fortune that her father gave her that was not part of the entail. Could that have even happened legally? I hope not! If so, ewwww. Of course, the uncle’s suggestion was worse. I liked part of the concept of this book, introducing an American hero into the mix as I don’t think that is done often enough in Regency romance, but the setup left me completely cold.
Candle’s Christmas Chair by Jude Knight
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, Thalia, Smashwords, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, Indigo (Chapters), Bol.de
Candle's Christmas Chair*
Bizarre Little Story
I have read several of Jude Knight’s books by now, and I find them to be of variable quality. I found this book to be somewhat strange and was put off by it within the first few paragraphs. In that opening scene, the hero sees the heroine from behind as she is on a ladder reaching for something and makes not one, but two comments about her “delightful posterior.” Seriously. It gives the book kind of an ick factor that continued throughout the rest of the novella; the hero seems to be led more than most historical heroes by his nether regions. Even though this is supposed to take place in the early 1800s, the heroine seems to act and think more like a modern woman. That is definitely one of the dangers of writing a historical romance: giving modern sensibilities, thoughts, and actions to someone who lived centuries ago.
Christmas on Hope Street, a collection by Four Authors
Christmas on Hope Street*
Some I Enjoyed, Others Not as Much
This is a collection of four stories by four different authors that are based in the same small town. I particularly enjoyed the first two stories. I thought that the story based around a holiday film festival was a fun idea. I appreciated that the author kept this story tight and focused, and I felt that the main characters were believable and relatable. In the second story, I like that the community itself almost seemed like the character. I wasn’t wild about the heroines in the last two books, so I had a much harder time getting into the stories. So, like all anthologies, there were hits and misses. But if you enjoy small-town romance and like that anthologies can expose you to different authors and stories with little financial risk as you’re bound to like at least one, you may very well enjoy this collection.
Cocoa & Carols by Marianne Rice
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, 24 Symbols, Thalia, Angus & Robertson, Indigo (Chapters), and Bol.de
Cocoa & Carols*
Finding a Family and Love
This is an unusual contemporary romance. It is meant to be a relatively light holiday romance, or at least you get that impression from the cover. (Although I would say that the heroine would have never been dressed like that, especially at the beginning of the book.) Instead, the heroine is actually homeless after a series of stressful events. On Thanksgiving night, a local police officer discovers her car at a closed-for-the-season vegetable stand and eventually figures out that she is homeless and sleeping in her car. On a whim, he invites her to his family’s house for Thanksgiving. As one would expect of the romance, there is an attraction between them pretty much right from the start.
I think what I enjoyed most about this novel are all the characters in the hero’s family. We get to know each of them, and what a wonderfully diverse crew. For one thing, they are loving and accepting of anyone to their circle. While the heroine felt awkward about just showing up, she was literally embraced by each family member, though they did mistakenly think that she and the police officer son were a romantic item. Neither of them let them know anything different. I so enjoy romances where large families take a role, especially with all the different types of personalities that are so distinct and the complex web of inter-relationships. I especially enjoyed all the sibling interaction. That family is just a lot of fun. If you enjoy contemporary romances that are just a little off of the typical with a whole lot of heart, you will most likely enjoy this book.
Mistletoe Magic by Rose Pearson
Could Have Been a 5-Star Read
I have read a few books by this author, and I have mostly enjoyed them, so I was looking forward to this holiday offering. Honestly, this could have been a five-star read, but unfortunately, the story went sideways pretty fast when the heroine suddenly became Mary Milquetoast when she hadn’t truly been like that earlier in the book.
Let me back up a little. The heroine, Lady Georgiana, is a young woman who has had a few seasons but has not yet garnered an offer of marriage. Her older brother, a relative newlywed, wants the family to go to London for the little season in hopes that she will snag a husband. She doesn’t really want to go but then decides that it would be okay. Later, her brother gets the bright idea that he should just arrange a marriage for her. He promises that he will consider all the essential things. Let’s just say this doesn’t go too well. He brings forth the initial two candidates, and his American wife puts the kibosh on one of them immediately. The other man’s character is revealed to both the heroine and her brother. He agrees that the man would not suit. In all this, the heroine had been polite but forthright with her brother about his poor attempts to make these matches for her. She didn’t hesitate to state her displeasure.
But when her brother tells her he has found another one and says that the paperwork is just about set up for an official betrothal, without giving her any choice, the heroine goes along with it without batting an eyelash. Even when she meets him and finds him cold and exceedingly self-centered, she doesn’t speak to her brother about it. She had no trouble doing so for the other two. Why would she have trouble with this one? The answer is: the author thought it was necessary for the plot—although I would argue that she could have actually just talked honestly with her brother at many different points and perhaps to keep the tension twisting, he could not have listened or been insistent or just stay on the path until it was evident how ill-suited this man was for a marriage to a sister he proclaims he cares about.
Instead, this heroine turned into Mary Milquetoast. I just felt continually frustrated with her as she was just seeming to meekly accept that she would have to marry this man even though she grew increasingly aware that she would have a truly miserable existence if married to him. He made it clear that they would lead very separate lives (even within the walls of his estate), and he would have a mistress right away; she would only be required to interact with him quickly to provide what he wants, with no consideration for her besides giving a home, creature comforts, and a family. Seriously! The point where I just about gave up on the book was when he slapped her hard across the face while they were taking a walk, and still all she thinks about is that she must follow through with the plan no matter what, no matter how bleak her existence would be for the next 50 years of her life. Displeasing her brother and getting a reputation as a jilt was somehow far worse to her than decades of abject misery.
The shining light in this book was Oliver Lowell, the hero. He is newly arrived from America and cannot help but bumble his way through this very foreign society, causing his English relations no end of mortification. But he is gentle, kind, and forthright. He literally accidentally bumps into Lady Georgiana, the heroine, and not knowing all the rules, introduces himself to her, and they have a conversation. He gets to know Lady Georgianna’s American sister-in-law, happy to find another American who has adjusted (but is still adjusting) to life in the ton. There’s something so innocent and about him that makes him very sweet.
I think it is Oliver who kept me reading. He is just such a fantastic hero. But the heroine acting out of character (and to her own detriment) was just too much for me. Oh, and one other little quibble. I found it strange that Oliver, who is a Bostonian, would speak using English forms of words like “whilst.” Now, I don’t know if back in the Regency Era Bostonians used such English terms. But no American that I know now uses some of the words that the author had Oliver say. For me, it always jolted me out of the confines of the story because no current American would ever use those terms. All in all, because of the issues with the heroine and the utter sameness of her mental lamentations repeated over and over (but an unwillingness to do anything about them), I cannot recommend this book.
I went back and forth between 2 and 3 stars on Amazon. For Oliver’s sake, I wanted to give it a 3, but I just had so much of an issue with the heroine that I couldn’t do it.
Alice’s Arranged Marriage by Joyce Alec
Alice's Arranged Marriage*
Terrible Hero and Family Makes for Bad Read
I have read a fair number of “18th century” romances written by Joyce Alec, and unfortunately, I have found them to be of variable quality. I think this one, though, is perhaps one of the worst.
Why is that? The heroine seemed to go from a bad situation in America to an even worse one in England. The hero was absolutely abominable. He needs her money because he was stupid and gave enough money to his ne’er-do-well brother that the hero now is on the brink of financial ruin. His brother has done so poorly that he has ruined his own reputation and has begun to drag Charles’s down as well. But the hero and his hideous aunt place excessive demands on the heroine. She is expected to be a proper Englishwoman even though she is American and has, of course, no clue what is truly expected by English society.
(BTW, it’s a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard moment for me when this author refuses to be more specific about the time frame in her books. Why bother to give a whole CENTURY as the timeframe. Pin it down, girl!)
I feel so frustrated with this book right now. It was just awful, awful. Yet I kept reading it, hoping for some redemption of the hero or some bit of kindness toward the heroine from the hero’s family (including him) but it came too little, too late. What he wanted for most of the book was a silent lapdog—proper women should, like children, be seen and not heard—only desired for her wealth… and treated shabbily just because she is naïve. Disgusting. Seriously, he just would have been happy with the money… and she might have been happy if she just left. I so wanted her to. I can’t get behind a book where the hero treats the heroine so badly for most of the book. Just awful, awful. Cannot recommend.