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A Bookshop Christmas–recovering from grief

A Bookshop Christmas

by Rachel Burton

Although Christmas is an important part of the setting for A Bookshop Christmas, the story focuses on Megan, a young widow. When she loses her husband Joe to cancer, she retreats back to the bookshop where she grew up. She’s been hanging on emotionally for over three years with support from her mom and two friends, but the bookshop is floundering and her heart is just not in it. Is it time to reenter the world of publishing, to leave behind the security of York and her bookshop?

Xander, a swoon-worthy author, as emotionally damaged as Megan, is scheduled to introduce his newest book at her bookshop. He is rude and arrogant, but maybe those characteristics are just a coverup for his pain and shyness.

One of my favorite characters is Philomena Bloom, Xander’s agent. She is bigger than life and seems to have connections with everyone in the publishing world. My other favorite character is Gus, a dachshund, whose sweetness is woven all through the book.

Megan and Xander have deep, painful secrets that make it difficult for them to open up to others. All is not sweetness and light in this romance. Although you will want a happily ever after for these two, the road is rocky and there is sadness and misunderstanding as they struggle to get over the past and find a hopeful future.

I enjoyed A Bookshop Christmas for the way the characters support each other. They make mistakes but learn to recognize and admit their mistakes and apologize for them. There is humor sprinkled in the book that helps lighten the tough times Megan and Xander go through. It is a thought provoking book and I recommend it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication: September 2, 2021—Aria

Memorable Lines:

“Reading is completely subjective and most readers read all kinds of different books. Being a snob about genre is like pretending that reading on e-readers or listening to audiobooks is somehow not proper reading. It’s ridiculous.”

Philomena Bloom burst into the bookshop at exactly three o’clock the next afternoon, leaving a wave of expensive perfume in her wake. The handful of customers browsing the shelves all looked up at the same time like meerkats.

The five stages of grief aren’t linear either—they all seem to exist together in one fiery hell ball of emotion that feels as though it will last forever. People will tell you that time heals but, in my experience, time just takes away the intensity.

The Best is Yet to Come–hope for the hurting

The Best is Yet to Come

by Debbie Macomber

When a hurt is so deep, so intense, that it permeates your very soul; when it causes pain that is both physical and mental, is there any way out? Cade survived a firefight after watching his two best friends die. He has a leg injury, PTSD, and a lot of anger. He lost his parents’ support when he chose not to follow the family tradition of becoming a lawyer.

Shadow is a German Shepherd who was abused and neglected; but even in his malnourished state, he is aggressive toward all in the animal shelter until he meets Hope. Hope is a high school teacher and counselor who is determined to win Shadow over with patience and love. Can she do the same for Cade?

Hope has her own past to get over as her twin brother died in Afghanistan. He was her only remaining family member, and they were very close.

Along the journey Cade makes toward wellness, we meet Harry his VA counselor, the other members of his group counseling sessions, and a lot of supportive people.

The Best is Yet to Come is a book with relevant issues facing many who have served in the military and their loved ones. It is a clean romance with emotional impact. A quick read, it provides lots of opportunities to take breaks, but you won’t want to. The story line includes interactions with some of Hope’s students focusing on their struggles, and it climaxes with an action-packed scene.

The author provides satisfying resolution to all the plot threads, and the book leaves you wanting to read another Debbie Macomber novel. Fortunately, there are many you can choose from.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction, Romance

Notes: This is #3 in the series Oceanside, but it read like a standalone to me. I was not aware it was part of a series until I began to write the review.

Publication: July 12, 2022—Balantine (Random House)

Memorable Lines:

The memories of that last battle engagement clawed at him like an eagle’s talons, his sleep peppered with nightmares that his mind insisted on tossing at him like a hundred-mile-an-hour hardball pitch. He drank to forget. To sleep. To escape.

“By being loners, we feel like we’re handling life; we’ve built this fortress around ourselves. Involving others, inviting them into our pain, is hard. We resist. We don’t like it. We feel we can handle it on our own. We’re islands unto ourselves, not needing anyone.”

“An attitude of gratitude,” Harry said. “That, young man, will take you far.”

Pride and Prejudice–courtship in the early 1800’s

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

In preparation for reading Pride, a modern day version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with my book club, I decided to reread the original. I knew I could watch a video of the story, but I decided to aim for authenticity and read the actual book. I was glad I did as there is so much to be appreciated in Austen’s words, style, and depiction of characters. In retrospect, I believe my younger self had seen one of the several videos, but had never actually read the novel. I would still like to view one of the movies for an opportunity to better envision the costumes and settings of this period piece, but there is much value to be gained from the reading experience.

Pride and Prejudice is a romance particularly focusing on Jane and Elizabeth Bennet as they navigate the difficult waters of courtship in the early 1800’s in England. Their courses are made more murky by the family’s financial and social status. They are not part of the old monied class that is full of prejudice, but they have standards and they and their suitors are driven at least in part by pride. From a twenty-first century viewpoint, the courtship and rules of engagement seem stilted, but the reader can see in a younger sister’s impetuous disregard for the rules and assumptions of the time, that there are real societal and personal consequences for ignoring the standards of any time period.

I enjoyed the book which is as much about social issues as it is a romance. Pride and prejudice are, of course, themes throughout the book. Most of the characters of the novel grow and develop through the events of the story. Some remain stuck in their ways of thinking, and those continue to be persons the reader won’t like. You may find yourself rereading Pride and Prejudice for love of the characters, the joy of the language, or the journey towards a known ending—happy for some, less so for others.

Rating: 5/5

Notes: Edited by R. W. Chapman. Distributed by Gutenberg Press

Category: General Fiction, Romance

Publication: 1813—T. Egerton Military Library, Whitehall

Memorable Lines:

“Affectation of candor is common enough;—one meets it every where. But to be candid without ostentation or design—to take the good of every body’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad—belongs to you alone.”

Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it.

“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? But I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.”

Suspects–dangerous corruption

Suspects

by Danielle Steel

If you want an entertaining romance mixed with some mystery and spies, Suspects is a good choice. It reads quickly and has sympathetic main characters. Theo is a successful business woman in the fashion industry. She is married to an older, extremely wealthy man. They have a relatively happy marriage with one child. Everything changes instantly as Theo’s husband and son are kidnapped, probably by an angry Russian over a business deal that went sour.

Mike is a career CIA agent, promoted up the ladder but still very hands-on. He is married to his job. His path crosses with Theo’’s as he follows up on Pierre de Vaumont, a slimy character who makes his money by matching rich and shady individuals with corrupt individuals who can fulfill their needs. Mike knows about the kidnapping and is immediately drawn to Theo and wants to keep her safe.

Most of the book deals with efforts to find the kidnappers and keep Theo safe. In the process a mostly long distance romance, New York to Paris, develops between Theo and Mike.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Notes: There is steam in this romance as the couple enjoys a “lovefest of tenderness and passion” whenever they are together. Their sexual encounters are closed door, but that part of the story becomes repetitive and does not move the plot forwards.

Publication: June 28, 2022—Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)

Memorable Lines:

He could feel his good resolutions sliding away, like Jello-O down the drain.

The windows were all tightly closed so tear gas wouldn’t enter the apartment, and they heard the first cannons go off, shooting tear gas into the crowd. Mike was shocked at what was happening, it looked like a war zone in the most civilized city in the world.

“You’re not a normal person. You’re an exceptional, remarkable one that people are jealous of, which makes you a target. And there are dangerous people in the world.”

A Cowboy Thanksgiving–Thanksgiving with Christmas themes thrown in

A Cowboy Thanksgiving

by Melinda Curtis

If you are searching for a good seasonal read, look no further than Melinda Curtis’ final book in The Mountain Monroes Series. Although you might think it would be daunting to start reading the series with the twelfth and last book, I think you would be pleasantly surprised. Characters from previous books are mentioned or have a recurring role, but their connections are either explained or are not critical.

A Cowboy Thanksgiving focuses on Bo Monroe, the last of the Monroes to come to Second Chance, Idaho, to weigh in on the decision he and his cousins would have to make a year after they inherited the town from their beloved Grandpa Harlan. Bo brings along a friend’s cousin, Max, whom because of a bad phone connection, he assumes will be a boy. Instead, he is tasked with providing a good holiday for Maxine. Her survival technique is to erect barriers to avoid being hurt as she has been in the past as “an unwanted orphan” who later in life is “crushed by a disappointing marriage and a calculated divorce.” Max is accompanied by her precious four year old daughter Luna.

To her surprise, Max finds herself warmly embraced by the huge Monroe family who has gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving and compete in the Monroe Holiday Challenge, a week long event of fun and games that the handsome, charming, and competitive Texan Bo has never won.

The challenges combine cowboying, Thanksgiving, and Christmas with a backdrop of snow. Because so many of the Monroes are young, the competitions have been designed with their limitations in mind so the week will be fun for everyone. Contests include scarecrow stuffing, sleigh decorating, gingerbread house decorating, and snow skiing behind a horse with the skier carrying a pumpkin head to top his team’s snowman at the end of the course. Bo, Max, and Luna comprise “Team Bo,” one of five teams, while the rest of the Monroes, spouses, and children gather round to help with preparations and support the teams.

While all this is happening, Max and Bo get to know each other better. Max does not fit neatly into Bo’s list of the ideal woman’ characteristics. Will Bo discover that the heart is stronger than the head? Will Max overcome her trust issues? It is fun to watch the journey of these two. All of the Monroe clan can see the attraction and the reader watches the relationship develop along with the Monroe cousins.

The author ends the book and series with an epilogue that explains the status of the various Monroes, tying up any loose ends. She also chimes in with what Grandpa Harlan would think about his grandchildren and the legacy he passed on to them as he took the silver spoons from their mouths and gave them the opportunity to develop strength of character and discover their individual paths in life.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #12 in The Mountain Monroes Series. This is a family saga, but each book focuses on a different one of the twelve cousins. Melinda Curtis says she enjoyed “the challenge of making each book connected yet stand-alone.”

Publication: August 23, 2022—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

“Luna will never know what it’s like to be an afterthought. I don’t want her to learn how to hold back her tears because she’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. She should’t have to walk on eggshells wondering when the next moving day will come.” She shouldn’t have to store important possessions in her suitcase for fear she’d leave something dear to her behind in the next move.

“As a fellow engineer, I know it’s habit to follow a logical plan. There’s safety in blueprints and standard processes. But sometimes you have to embrace the unknown and trust that your ability to creatively problem-solve will lead you to a more satisfying result.”

There were more Monroes swarming about the log cabin looking for clues about who had lived there than there were ants on a potato chip dropped at a summer picnic. They all wanted to know if their grandfather had stayed here during his visits.

Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop: A Tale of Two Christmases

Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop

by Jessica Redland

Charlee was raised by her grandparents. When they both passed away and her beloved mentor at the chocolate shop moved back to France, Charlee is encouraged by her live-in boyfriend Ricky to move to the city where he has just found a new job. She decides to open her own chocolate shop. Meanwhile, she continues to pay all of Ricky’s expenses because he is trying so hard to pay off his credit card debt and he puts in a lot of overtime. If you are less naive than I or Charlee, for that matter, red flags are probably fluttering high.

Charlee has one really good friend Jodie who moves to Charlee’s new town soon after Charlee and works in Charlee’s shop. Through their hard work and the friendship of other small business owners on lovely Castle Street, her new business prospers. Charlee meets the very kind, handsome, and engaged Matt who saves her shop from a plumbing disaster. She also takes the plunge to find her biological mother who abandoned her when she was a baby. It is not a step she is sure she wants to take nor does she know if she wants a relationship with this secretive woman.

In Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop, the setting is very Christmasy including decorations, snow, and tree lightings. A major theme is the difference between Charlee’s first Christmas and the second in her new home of Whitsborough Bay.

There are many questions Charlee has to work through. The journey she takes is fascinating, and the reader will be rooting for Charlee to succeed both personally and professionally. As the book draws to a close, there are many surprises. You will be hoping for a happy ending for (almost) all of the characters.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Romance

Notes: I am not generally a huge fan of the romance genre, but I occasionally like to mix in a few, especially when they are Christmas themed. As happens frequently in modern romances, in the beginning of this book, lust gets confused with love. So the first part has a lot of “steam,” but not graphic descriptions. Later in the book, the characters have for the most part worked out what love is, and the focus switches to relationships and making honorable choices.

Publication: August 3, 2021—Boldwood Books

Memorable Lines:

“And now my best mate in the whole wide world, the only person who I care about spending time with, has bogged off to live at the seaside, leaving Billy No Mates here with nothing to do except gorge on Spam sandwiches and watch the soaps every evening.”

Matt and I were obviously destined only to be friends and I was going to have to hope that I’d wake up one day and be over him. Was that a pig flying past my window?

Castle Street was the perfect setting for that magical Christmas feeling. Full of Victorian character buildings and old-fashioned lamps there was almost a Dickensian feel to the place.

Snowflakes Over the Starfish Café–a lost dog brings hope

Snowflakes Over the Starfish Café

by Jessica Redland

In the first part of Snowflakes Over the Starfish Café, the reader really gets to know the characters in this book and the story behind each one of them. Hollie and Jake are the main characters; both of them have pasts immersed in tragedies. Those two tell the story in their points of view. The timeframe bounces around between the present and various times in their pasts slowly revealing the details of the personal disasters that they don’t seem to be able to overcome. The changes in timeframes and narrators are clearly delineated and never confusing. There are a lot of supportive friends and a few you would like to kick to the curb. “Mr. Pickles” is a tiny homeless shih tzu who plays a huge role in this romance, but will he be big enough to bring Hollie and Jake together and help overcome their issues?

All of the action occurs in or near Whitsborough Bay on the North Yorkshire coast. The book is filled with Britishisms that I enjoyed immensely such as references to wearing their “waterproofs” or shops displaying bags of “candyfloss.” I also learned a lot about the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) with its amazing volunteers.

As frequently occurs in romance novels, Jake and Hollie inch towards resolution and a happily ever after. Then suddenly there is a twist that neither Jake, Hollie, nor the reader could have predicted. It seems they may be forced to retreat into isolation abandoning what they had together.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction, Romance

Publication: August 31, 2021—Boldwood Books

Memorable Lines:

Angry waves snatched at the deserted beach, spitting spray over the railings, while ominous grey clouds threatened rain.

“People can still be in love but not like each other very much and sometimes they can like each other but not be in love.”

“Then he’s not right for you, but one day you’ll meet someone who is. Someone who makes you laugh every day, hugs you simply because it’s Tuesday, holds you when you cry, and dances in the rain with you.”

This Time Around–second chance romances

This Time Around

by Denise Hunter, Melissa Ferguson, and Kathleen Fuller

This Time Around is a collation of three second chance romances by three popular romance authors. I am posting my notes on each one. If you are interested in novella length romances to mix up your reading from some other genre, this would be the perfect book for you.

Denise Hunter has written a sweet second chance romance entitled A Summer Detour. Allie is free spirited and in her late twenties. She is painfully aware that her parents view her as irresponsible. Sadly, her boyfriend Luke ditched her right before the senior prom in her high school days, and the two have not connected since. When Allie makes a commitment to drive her grandparents’ 50th anniversary gift, a refurbished classic car to their party, she encounters a major hurdle and doesn’t know anyone to call on except Luke. It looks like a reconciliation could be in their future when a totally unpredicted hurdle throws everything off course. This is a short, enjoyable read with all the loose ends tied up nicely.

Told in the third person, Pining for You by Melissa Ferguson varies its focus from chapter to chapter between the two main characters, childhood friends Theo and Skye. When Theo went off to college, it was hard to maintain their blossoming romance. Fourteen years and a few misunderstandings later, can the successful financial advisor and established artist find their way back to each other?

In Kathleen Fuller’s He Loves Me; He Loves Me Not, Sophie Morgan at age 35 finally has her floral business well established and is ready to start dating. There are only two bachelors in Maple Falls. What are the chances they would both show up on her doorstep on the same afternoon inviting her on a date? Landon is a good looking lawyer, but seems a little slick. She has known Joe since Kindergarten, but has never really noticed those football coach biceps. Is it too late for Sophie to find love?

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Notes: Includes discussion questions

Publication: July 13, 2021—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Who would choose to cocoon themselves into sleeping bags like saucy enchiladas for every Lyme-disease bearing tick, leg-amputating brown recluse, rattlesnake, mountain lion, bear, or serial killing maniac to discover? Someone needed to write that condition in the book of psychological disorders.

“I once left you unattended in Dad’s toolshed and came back to find you’d reorganized the whole thing alphabetically.” “So? I like organization. Everybody like organization.” “Yeah, well, we were six,” Skye replied.

The man deathly afraid of snakes had stepped into striking distance to save her. Was willing to put himself in front of his greatest fear in order to help her escape. It was touching. Absolutely crazy and ridiculous and paranoid, but also…touching.

I Capture the Castle–class structure in mid-20th century England

I Capture the Castle

by Dodie Smith

To label I Capture the Castle as a “coming of age” story is true, but the novel is so much more. It is related in her journal by Cassandra who lives in poverty under the leaky roof of a crumbling castle. Her father Mortmain is a writer with one successful book to his credit before he hit a writing desert. He secured a forty-year lease on the castle on a whim. The other residents are his son, another daughter, a boy taken in when his servant mother passed, and Topaz, the children’s stepmother. All in the family realize that the only way out of their financial straits is for at least one of the girls to marry into a rich family.

Author Dodie Smith has gifted us with a book full of nonconventional characters, a beautiful romantic background, and moral dilemmas. The plot begins with touches reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice but deviates fairly quickly. There is a similar theme of class differences, but without Austen’s use of satire. Two of the potential romantic interests grew up in America, one in the East and one in the West. Their backgrounds add another layer of social and cultural differences. Cassandra’s family is caught in the middle. They clearly had money in the past, but they have sold off most of their belongings and are reduced to very meager meals and one or two threadbare outfits per person. They have to be very creative to be acceptable in the social milieu to which they aspire.

I Capture the Castle has the depth necessary for a book to stand the test of time and appeal to a wide audience. It includes topics like women’s roles, art and sexuality, depression, literary criticism, and the laws of inheritance in Great Britain. While it addresses these issues, it remains an interesting and well-told tale with an ending that does not tie everything up neatly. Instead, it gives the reader the opportunity to speculate on the characters’ future decisions and actions which is a good way for this novel to conclude.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, General Fiction

Notes: 1. There are discussion questions at the end.
2. The book has been made into a movie.

Publication: 1948—St. Martin’s Press

Memorable Lines:

I am writing this journal partly to practice my newly acquired speed-writing and partly to teach myself how to write a novel—I intend to capture all our characters and put in conversations. It ought to be good for my style to dash along without much thought, as up to now my stories have been very stiff and self-conscious.

The taxi drew up at a wonderful shop—the sort of shop I would never dare to walk through without a reason. We went in by way of the glove and stocking department, but there were things from other departments just dotted about; bottles of scent and a little glass tree with cherries on it and a piece of white branched coral on a sea-green chiffon scarf. Oh, it was an artful place—it must make people who have money want to spend it madly!

In the end, Topaz got Stephen to take the hen-house door off its hinges and make some rough trestles to put it on, and we pushed it close to the window-seat, which saved us three chairs. We used the grey brocade curtains from the hall as a table-cloth—they looked magnificent though the join showed a bit and they got in the way of our feet. All our silver and good china and glass went long ago, but the Vicar lent us his, including his silver candelabra.

Return to the Big Valley–three novellas

Return to the Big Valley

by Wanda Brunstetter

Consisting of three novellas written by three generations of Brunstetters, Return to the Big Valley is refreshingly gentle fiction set in Amish country. In this case “gentle” does not mean boring or humdrum.

Wilma’s Wish by Wanda Brunstetter is the story of Wilma Hostetler, a twenty-five year old former school teacher currently making quilted items to sell in her friend’s store. She is very much in love with her fiancée Isaac who works construction. Their lives are upended when Isaac’s widowed sister dies leaving five rambunctious children who don’t know how to respond to suddenly being orphaned. Will a single young man be able to take on these children without losing his beloved Wilma? This is a very sweet story; it addresses important themes of commitment, trust, and grieving.

Martha’s Miracle by Jean Brunstetter focuses on a different young couple in Pennsylvania. Martha Yoder’s family moved from Lancaster to Belleville, a smaller Amish community. They own a modest B&B that appeals to tourists. Glen Swarey’s family is also Amish. Neither Martha nor Glen has joined the church yet. Although they are courting, their lives seem to be taking them in different directions. It would take a miracle to remove the obstacles on the pathway to a happy marriage. Martha’s Miracle points out the advantages and disadvantages of both the English and Amish worlds. Its themes include trusting God and seeking His plan for your life, the importance of family, and staying true to your own character and beliefs.

Alma’s Acceptance by Richelle Brunstetter is a story of personal tragedy. Married for almost a year, Alma’s world is shattered when her husband Michael passes away. Devastated, she clears out their house and moves back home. Unable to either settle in or grieve properly, Alma goes from Kentucky to her former hometown in Pennsylvania to get away and to help her friend in her card shop. She quickly reconnects with her childhood friend, Elias. When Alma moved with her parents, neither Elias nor Alma had confessed their romantic feelings to each other. Now they have a second chance, but there are many obstacles including the short amount of time since Michael’s passing, the concerns of their parents, and the necessity of their Amish bishop’s approval. But there is one more challenge that arises that may be the one that separates them forever.

I am not usually fond of novellas because there is just not enough time in that format for character development. All three of these authors did an outstanding job of creating characters with depth and developing interesting plots. I rarely judge novellas to be worthy of five stars, especially when all three are written by different authors, but these ladies have earned the accolades.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, General Fiction, Romance

Notes: Three recipes are included which tie into the respective stories.

Publication: June 1, 2021—Barbour Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Wilma didn’t appreciate the reminder that she’d let her pride get in the way of telling Israel the truth. But her fear of rejection held her back more than pride, and she saw no way of getting past that.

“I’m sure in the English world you wouldn’t have to worry much about being a lady whose hobby is hunting…. there aren’t any set rules about women caring for their homes and family as there are in the Amish community.” Lori chimed in. “I would have to say in the Mennonite groups it isn’t as big of a deal either. If a lady hunts, that’s okay. Each of us has different hobbies.”

His eyes were like ocean waves cascading the shoreline as tears threatened to spill over.

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