I hope you are all well. So much time has passed since my last blog post. We had a nice Thanksgiving with just our immediate family and my mom. There was a whirlwind of activity surrounding The Nutcracker Ballet and Winter Showcase performances--last minute preparations, dress rehearsals and the shows themselves--all wrapped up in excitement and stress with a whole lot of "thank goodness it's over" after we took our final bows on stage after the last performance. As the usual after show exhaustion set in, we all ended up developing nasty colds (not COVID, thankfully) from which we are still recovering. It's work as usual and Mouse is on winter break. As of now the holiday shopping is done, and while the house may never get cleaned at this rate, the in-laws will be arriving in a couple more days to spend Christmas with us.
The indoor public places mask mandate has been reinstated, although you would not know it when out and about, sad to say. We continue to wear ours wherever we go (not that we actually go out that much, especially now that the show is over). I hope you are all staying safe this holiday season.
I often find myself turning toward holiday-themed reads this time of year and this year was no different. Perhaps it is the coziness or the often feel good cheer that can be found in these types of books that I am drawn to. Whatever the reason, my four recent holiday-themed reads were a mix of mystery and romance--okay, so maybe a lot of romance.
Source: I received all four of the below books from the publishers/authors via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
This wintry tale takes place in the rush before Christmas, as the elves and Nick prepare for the upcoming holiday. Crime is rare in the North Pole, although not entirely unheard of. Liz Ireland has created a world that on one hand appears to be just as you might imagine it would be--all jolly and cheer--and yet, underneath the surface, it is not so perfect. There is an interesting class/species dynamic that is at play between the Claus family and the elves, not to mention the internal family conflicts among the Claus family themselves. It is a world in which humans, elves, reindeer, and snowman live together--and probably some other fantastical creatures I have yet to meet as well.
April is an interesting character, ever tenacious even if I did not always agree with her approach. She clearly loves her husband Nick, but I found his dismissal of her annoying at times. I can chalk it up to his being preoccupied with Christmas business--so I guess he can be forgiven for that. The detective Jack Frost is the character that most intrigues me though, and I would definitely like to know more about him.
Although I suspected the who and the why before I got there (I often do--so not the books fault), I felt like the path to get there was well laid out. Overall, I enjoyed the mystery itself. I did not warm up to Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings quite as much as I hoped I would, but I did find it entertaining and and am interested in reading the next book in the series.
Meg Julliard returns to Chicago after her father's death to take over managing his apartment building, giving up her own dreams to make a name for herself in the fashion business. She walks into a host of problems, including the fact that more repairs are needed than she can likely afford. Somehow though, she cannot bring herself to give up on the place, especially after getting to know the elderly tenants and that handsome handyman who seems to always appear at the most embarrassing moments.
There is one tenant in particular with whom Meg develops a special bond and that is Ellie Wade. Ellie's daughter wants her to move into an assisted living home, worried her mother will get hurt living on her own, especially given all the problems that seem to crop up in the apartment building. As Ellie goes through her belongings in an effort to downsize, she comes across a vintage dress that holds a special place in her heart--one of love and loss. She offers the dress to Meg, hoping it will bring her better luck. Meg must promise to wear it at the building's Christmas party.
I read this book with a smile on my face nearly the entire time and often could be heard laughing as I read. I loved all the characters and enjoyed seeing the romance unfold between Meg and Logan. They both bring a bit of baggage into their relationship, and I appreciated the way they worked through the issues that did come up for them.
I liked how the author used the Christmas dress to shape the events in the novel. Any magic it may hold is subtle, left for the reader to decide. This is a wonderful and heartwarming Christmas story--a mix of romance, the power of the strength of community, and making dreams come true. I would not mind spending more time with Meg and the tenants in her building.
Carmen is down on her luck, having just lost her job. Moving in with her too perfect sister with her too perfect life is not exactly what Carmen wants to do, but she does not have many other options to choose from. Her sister, Sofia, is not exactly thrilled to have her younger sister move in either. She has enough on her plate with another baby on the way, her job and a husband away on business.
Thanks to Sofia, Carmen gets a job working at an old bookshop in need of serious inspiration. Mr. McCredie will lose the shop if he is not able to raise enough money by the end of the Christmas holidays. Carmen is hoping her design skills will help bring new life to the bookshop, but will Mr. McCredie, who is set in his ways, be willing to give her the chance?
What better setting for a Christmas novel than a bookstore in Edinburgh? I wish I could step into the pages of the book and visit the historic street where the bookshop is located. Carmen realizes right away she is in over her head but is determined to make it work. I really liked both she and Mr. McCredie. While they did not always see eye to eye, they do make a good team. Mr. McCredie has long held himself back from getting too involved in the community around him for fear of his secrets getting out. That changes when Carmen comes into the picture though. The neighboring shop owners are all very supportive of each other and do not hesitate to welcome Carmen and Mr. McCredie into the fold. Among the interesting cast of characters in Jenny Colgan's novel are Blair, a rather self-absorbed self-help author who takes to Carmen right away--she's someone he can be himself with rather than always playing the part of who his adoring fans expect him to be--and the kind and quiet university student and lecturer, Oke, who frequents the bookshop.
The relationship between Carmen and her sister plays a significant role in the novel as the two face the conflict between them head on after years in the making. I loved the relationship Carmen builds with her nieces, and, boy, did I dislike that nanny! The sister dynamics that exist between Carmen and Sofia are similar to those between the two nieces, which I thought was a nice touch on the author's part.
Carmen grows quite a bit over the course of the novel and I appreciated the depth of the characters and that everything did not always come easy to any of them in terms of resolution. At times charming and definitely heartwarming, I found The Christmas Bookshop to be a great holiday-themed book to read.
If you are in the mood for steamy romance of the supernatural variety, than this short story collection might be just for you! The stories made a nice change of pace when I needed a break from the more academic nonfiction reading I have been doing over the past months. It was hard not to want to read this book straight through though.
This collection of stories was a mixed bag for me, but overall I enjoyed my brief time with the Savoie sisters. I love the world building in the series and how different the sisters are from one another, personality and skill wise--and yet how they are so loyal to each other.
In the first story, "Bewitch You a Merry Christmas", someone seeks Evie out for help breaking a hex his neighbor put on him while Evie's boyfriend Mateo strategizes how he and Evie can spend some much needed quality time together. I always enjoy Mateo and Evie but admit I wished the hex breaking storyline had been a bit more fleshed out than it was.
"Rockin' Around the Hexmas Tree" was a lot of fun--and very steamy. Devraj and Isadora are my favorite so far of the couples in the series and so any extra time spent with them is a plus. This story centers around a hex that has been put on a gift, particularly the fallout and the resolution.
I was happy to come across "Jingle Bell Jock", featuring Charlie and JJ. Finally! The chemistry has been there for awhile in the full length novels and it is good to see them finally find their way to each other. I enjoyed getting a closer glimpse into the lives of these two side characters.
I have been wanting to read a story involving one of the grim reapers since the first novel in the series came out and so excitedly read "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grim", featuring Gareth Blackwater and Livvy Savoie. I have to say, compared to the other stories in this collection, this one was such a tease! I enjoy a good enemy to lover romance and the sparks certainly fly between Gareth and Livvy in more ways than one. Their rivalry during the competition made quite the entertaining read. This was one of those short stories that I found myself wishing for more at the end.
In "Jingle Spells", Nico and Violet share their first babysitting experience. I really enjoyed this light hearted story about Nico, Violet, and their nephews and niece. Mateo is quite the protective father. I think many parents would be able to relate to his frequent check ins and long list of instructions. Usually that role is cast on the mother and so I appreciated that Juliette Cross put the dad in that position. Nico and Violet will make great parents someday. Their interaction with the triplets and the joy they took in even those more frustrating moments had me chuckling and brought back memories of my own. It was also nice to get a peek into the magic the triplets may possess!
There's a lot of heat in each of these short stories and so you may need to have a fan nearby or avoid reading them in a public place if you blush easily. The author gives the readers an idea of where in timeline each of the stories falls in the series, which was a nice touch. There were a few "Aha! So that's why . . . " moments as I recalled scenes from the novels in which some of these stories could easily be placed, which enhanced my enjoyment of the stories.
I hope to be back next week with my list of top ten books and then hopefully will posting more regularly in the New Year. Have a wonderful holiday and stay safe out there.