Reading Fanatic Reviews

Christmas Romance

Cocoa & Carols by Marianne Rice

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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

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Mistletoe Magic*

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.

Ugh.

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

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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.

Josie by Beth Gildersleeve

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Josie*

Info Dumps and Distance

This is the first book that I have read by this author. I had some issues with it. Even though the book is of decent length, the author chose to do several information dumps in the beginning, both on the hero’s side and on the heroine’s side. One of the heroine’s actually happened while she and the hero were in the midst of their initial conversation in the book! It just seemed odd to have her thinking about her troubled romantic past in great detail while she is supposedly sitting and chatting with the hero, who happens to be her brother’s boss. I didn’t like the blackmail aspect of the story. After their marriage of convenience, they didn’t spend enough time together for it to truly feel like a romance. How can the relationship change and grow if they aren’t together? And, no, the texts don’t cut it. I know that work and distance were supposed to be at the crux of their conflict, but to me, the hero and the heroine have to be together more to make it a romance. So, I find myself a little disappointed in this book.

Coming Home to Glendale Hall by Victoria Walters

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Coming Home to Glendale Hall*

Story of Forgiveness, Family, Hope and Community

This is a complex story about multiple generations and multiple secrets that require multiple plot lines. As I often see in contemporary British literature, the story was slow to unwind. But if you understand this and just go along with it, you might just feel yourself pulled into the complex web of the story like I did. I kept this book off to the side near my computer, and when my computer slowed to a crawl at certain websites, I would just pull this book out and keep reading. I sometimes found that when the site came in, I wanted to continue reading anyway. I often did and even stayed up later than I should have on certain nights so that I could read more.

I thought that the book was perhaps not as cohesive in structure as it could have been. It could have been tighter. I had recently read a similar multi-generation book that had a very controlled structure, and I did like that better.

The book is told solely from their perspective of a daughter who is coming home after ten years away. There were problems at that time that caused her to essentially run away from her family, which I will let you discover for yourself, but her grandmother is dying, so her father asks her to come back for her grandma’s last Christmas. So she and her young daughter return to the family home in Scotland. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are plot lines that have to do with just about everyone in the story: the main hero and heroine of the romance (of course) as well as a side romance, the dissolution of a long-standing relationship, the bringing together of a community that seems to be in its own death throes, and the revelation of several secrets that have a significant impact on several of the relationships. The author definitely put these characters into some tricky circumstances, but she made the characters seem very realistic and relatable. Most of the characters are inherently good people who might have made bad decisions in the past but are trying during the holiday season to make amends and make things right. I think stories of hope, forgiveness, family, and community are perfect for holiday stories, as these themes are such essential elements for the Christmas season itself. If you would enjoy meandering contemporary British literature as I do and heartfelt family stories that are complex and feel so genuine, you may very well enjoy this book.

Give Me a Christmas by Zoe Ann Wood

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Give Me a Christmas*

Too Much Emphasis on Heroine’s Side Story

WARNING: Some spoilers

I am not quite sure what I think about this book. I liked the hero and the heroine as characters. But the romantic story felt disjointed and rushed to me, almost as if it were two or more different stories that weren’t quite interwoven as well as they should have been. This is a second-chance-at-romance book. I didn’t feel like the romantic aspect was given enough time to grow and evolve in a natural fashion. I also had a hard time buying the heroine’s choice at about the two-thirds mark; she had worked so hard to have Christmas away from her toxic parents, why wouldn’t she try to convince Finn to stay on in Switzerland rather than them both go back because he had a plane to catch? Given all that we had learned about her family dynamic, I found it to be a surprising and nonsensical choice. and she didn’t even discuss options with Finn. Then, of course, once they were back Stateside, the story shifted to being more about the parents than the romance. The story just did not gel for me.

A Royal Christmas Wish by Lizzie Shane

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Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Scribd, Thalia, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, Indigo (Chapters), and Bol.de

A Royal Christmas Wish*

A Surprisingly Lovely Fairy Tale Romance

If you are one who enjoys those Christmas TV romances that involve fake royalty but are just delightfully sweet, this book from an imprint that puts out those kinds of movies may very well pull you away from the TV and into a book. I found this novel to be that kind of sweet and charming. You do have to accept, especially at the beginning, that there is perhaps a little more melodrama in this story compared to more realistic Christmas romances. This has a strong Cinderella fairy tale vibe all over it, yet it also does speak to some of the concepts that are buzzwords these days in the self-help field, like confidence and empowerment.

The heroine, who sometimes calls herself Just Jenny, is a klutzy, directionless, but good-hearted young woman who has issues with valuing herself. A chance, head-on crash into a man in a park while walking a dog changes her life forever. In their first conversations at that meeting, she reveals much about herself, and he is intrigued by her candor and other qualities. She finds out later that he is a prince of a small European nation. Then things get even more fairytale-like when a fairy godmother of sorts grants her one wish that will expire at the end of the holiday season. Just Jenny becomes a princess.

So will these two stay married beyond the wish’s allotted time? It was interesting to watch Jenny transform into a princess, to watch her confidence and self-awareness blossom. It is certainly not a perfect or easy transformation. Dom, the hero, is perfectly swoon-worthy. He sees Jenny’s value far earlier than she does. He not only transforms her life; she has an effect on him and his outlook as well. They are both better versions of themselves because of the other. It is all very sweet and magical. So long as you’re able to suspend disbelief about something so fantastical, you may find yourself as charmed by this sweet little tale as I was.

The Cornish Village School: Christmas Wishes by Kitty Wilson

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Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, and Indigo (Chapters)

The Cornish Village School: Christmas Wishes*

Delightful English Christmas Romance

What a charming and well-done Christmas romance! This is the fourth book of the series, but the first book that I have read by this author. It’s a delight to find a writer who knows how to compose both very funny scenes and extremely poignant ones. That’s all too rare to find an author who does both well, unfortunately. The first scene, when we discover what is in octogenarian Ethel’s basement, had me laughing out loud. The scene near the end—where Granny Annie helps Dan, the hero, put his life into perspective in the way that only a loving relative with long experience in life can—definitely brought the feels. If only we were all so blessed to have someone like her in our lives. I really enjoyed the dialogue in this book, and the book had a lot of dialogue. I particularly liked the conversations between Dan and Alice. They were so humorous at the beginning but became so much more complex and character revealing as the novel went on. Let’s just say that both Alice and Dan have issues to be resolved if they are to become a couple, moving beyond their obvious friendship. They do have a chemistry that comes off the page. They are definitely a romance couple you can root for. I enjoyed the other community members in the story. I usually associate good, quirky, and believable characters with cozy mysteries, so it is lovely to see that in a small-town romance. If you’re looking for a good and immersive Christmas romance read, this one may do the trick.

Twelve Dates of Christmas by M. T. Knights

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Twelve Dates of Christmas*

Second Chance During the Holiday Season

I have been reading quite a few Christmas romances lately because, as soon as the weather gets colder, I like to dig into holiday books! Unfortunately, so many have fallen shy of the mark of the types that I like. I want a Christmas romance to actually reflect the holiday season. Surprisingly, quite a few don’t integrate Christmas well enough into the storyline to make it feel like a true holiday romance. I also don’t really like ones that are too heavy. They can be a little serious if needed, but that Christmas spirit should lift a slightly serious story into something that is heartwarming. And yes, I do like a holiday romance that tugs just a little (or more) at the heartstrings.

Luckily, this book filled all of my requirements for what a good Christmas romance should be. It is written in the alternating perspectives of the hero and heroine, Derick and Ivy, who are six months into their trial separation. We first meet Ivy as she is scrambling to start her morning after waking up too late after not setting her alarms. On top of getting the kids to school, her best friend calls in a panic because the party planning firm in charge of the big town holiday events, starting with that night’s Christmas tree lighting and parade, has quit at the last moment. She desperately wants Ivy’s help to pull it off. Ivy is a party planner who wasn’t chosen by the city to organize the events. The author did an excellent job writing this initial scene, showing how frantic Ivy was and how she was struggling to keep it together on all fronts. I also loved the breakfast meeting scene, as the author slowly doled out bits of information that let us in on some of the reasons why Ivy and Derick had separated.

The main impetus for the plot is that Ivy’s estranged husband wants a second chance. He proposes to use the time before Christmas Eve to show her that he’s changed and that they can start again. I thought the author did a good job showing how the couple had problems in the past; it seemed believable and realistic. Both have grown and changed during their separation so that they could both better appreciate each other and bring more to their marriage—if only they can forgive the past and find their way back to each other. The way the children were written was excellent as well. Mallory in particular, the oldest, definitely acted realistically–both in her reactions and taking on more responsibility with her younger siblings—for a child in such a difficult situation with her parent’s marriage.

This book definitely brought the holiday romance feels with such nuanced, believable, and decent people at its heart. I particularly enjoyed the setup for all that this small town did during the Christmas holidays. Ten years ago, I lived in just such a small town that kicked off its Christmas season with a tree lighting and lighted truck parade, quite similar to what happened in this book. If you’re looking for an enjoyable holiday romance, this one fills the bill.

An Unforgettable Christmas by Ginny Baird

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An Unforgettable Christmas*

It’s a Not So Wonderful Life . . . Unless You’re Willing to Change

This is a sweet and sometimes poignant Christmas tale that feels in parts like a spin on both A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. The hero, Sam, is a near Scrooge-like businessman who demands as much from his employees as he does from himself, not taking into account that they have lives and families outside of work. A freak accident where he hits his head hard on icy ground gives him retrograde amnesia; at first, he can only remember fragments of his childhood. Angie, the heroine, is surprised at the new way her boss is acting. She had always suspected that somewhere buried deep inside was a decent, caring man; the accident rendered him more compassionate, kind, and even funny at times. Because Sam is estranged from his only living relative, Angie agrees to let him live in her home while he recovers and hopefully gets his memory back. Sam finds Angie’s home, which holds four generations of her Cuban and Puerto Rican family, to be a haven of belonging as he recuperates.

I absolutely adored all the characters in this story, especially Angie’s son and grandmother. I loved the sense of family provided by the interactions between the four generations; I do enjoy romances where a strong family element is a part of the story, and in this book, this is incorporated on several levels. All the characters were very well written. Sam definitely grapples with his memories and his sense of self as he recovers. That’s where the twist on It’s a Wonderful Life comes in. As Sam’s life is slowly revealed to him, unlike George Bailey, he doesn’t like the man he gradually learns about. Which Sam will he end up being if he recovers from the amnesia: the new Sam, the old Sam, or perhaps a blend of the two? And we can’t forget the romance, of course. The new Sam seems to fall for Angie pretty quickly; maybe old Sam had a crush he hadn’t acknowledged. Aside from this rather quick attraction, the rest of the romance is a slow build as the other elements of the story interweave and sometimes take precedence. All in all, I thought this was a charming, heartfelt Christmas romance.

Disclosure

The asterisks (*) by the book title denote the source of the book copy.

One star = I received it as a free advance/review copy or directly from the author.

Two stars = I borrowed it through my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Three stars = I purchased the book outright (sometimes for free).

The Amazon book links on this site are affiliate links, which means I make a tiny percentage if you choose to buy a book linked from this site.

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