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Christmas at the Amish Market–finding the right mate

Christmas at the Amish Market

by Shelley Shepard Gray

Sometimes we forget how stressful being a shopkeeper in the month of December can be. There is no exception for Amish merchants as many customers seek out their wares for unique, special gifts. Wesley Raber has been working at his family’s large Amish market since he was a boy. As a young man he gradually took over most of the operation, but he had never tried to handle it alone until his father had a heart attack.

Jenny, who has a month-long break from her job as a nanny, is called in to help at the market. She stays with Liesl who is actually her niece although they are close to the same age. Wesley has been courting a frustrated Liesl for many years but has never proposed. Liesl is an expert seamstress and through her work has met the widower Roland and his four year old daughter Lilly.

Since Christmas at the Amish Market is a Hallmark book, you can guess where the plot is headed, but as always it is fun to learn more about the characters and their struggles, experience the ups and downs of their lives, and watch as romance develops in a very proper Amish way. The Pinery is a Christmas event center that plays an important role in the story. It attracts tourists and locals to view the magical light displays, sample delicious food and drinks, and get lost in a tree maze.

“For sure and for certain,” Christmas at the Amish Market is a fun holiday read with a quiet Amish background showing people trusting God and seeking his guidance.

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, Religion, Christian

Notes: The book includes a recipe for Cincinnati-style chili. It is served in an unexpected way, and the reason it is a Christmas Eve tradition for Liesl’s family is shared in the story.

Publication: November 8, 2022—Hallmark Publishing

Memorable Lines:

…while Wesley was kind and sweet to her, he didn’t exactly have as much passion for life—or for her—as she might have imagined. He was more the steady, plow horse type of man. He clip-clopped along at a steady pace but never exactly did anything flashy.

He was currently in between a rock and a hard place with a side of torrential rain added into the mix. It was the holiday season, and he had a slew of customers needing to be served and two parents who were depending on him to not let them down.

“You know as well as I do that our Lord is in charge. Everything happens in His own way and in the right time. Doesn’t do any good to second-guess accidents and whatnots.”

The Post Box at the North Pole–falling in love with Christmas

The Post Box at the North Pole

by Jaimie Admans

With less than a month until Christmas, Sasha is replaced in her job as an assistant to a dog groomer and gets a phone call from her adventurer father Percy informing her that he is recuperating from a heart attack. When her mother died, her father became an absentee parent traveling the world and never able to make it home for Christmas.

Sasha jumps at the chance to be with her father, to be needed by him. He says he is running a reindeer sanctuary in Norway. When she arrives, she discovers Percy is “Santa” at the North Pole Forest two hundred miles north of the actual North Pole. He and the mysterious, tall, quite independent and capable Tav are trying to bring the decaying Christmas attraction back to life.

Sasha resists all things Christmas because of her many disappointments over the years. Percy and Tav (also a part of the North Pole Forest enterprise) want to engage her again in the magic of Christmas.

It would be impossible to imagine a tale with more of the Santa Christmas spirit. The setting is an incredibly cold land with lots of snow. The North Pole Forest is decorated with white lights, and Santa’s house is the perfect cozy refuge where you can always find a mug of hot chocolate. Santa greets children in a grotto, and the onsite post office is overwhelmed with 500,000 letters to Santa each year. There are Christmas themed cabins and glass igloos for viewing the Northern Lights.

Unfortunately, the center is in disrepair because tourists are not flocking in. Percy had to let go his workers which continued the downward spiral. Tav is a reindeer whisperer with skills at managing and healing reindeer, but he has emotional wounds of his own and physical scarring that is usually covered in layers of clothes.

We don’t get to know Percy as well as Sasha and Tav, but all three are important to the story and will speak to your heart as you learn their motivations. If you are looking for some Christmas magic, you will find it in The Post Box at the North Pole.

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, Women’s Fiction

Notes: I love Christmas decorations, music, and celebrations as much as anyone, and I do find the season magical, full of wonder. This book, which I highly recommend, emphasizes the “true meaning of Christmas” as the belief that anything is possible at Christmas. With all the focus on Santa, elves, and presents, the book skirts over the real “reason for the season:” to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born as a human to be like one of us. One of His names, Emmanuel, means God with us. He taught love of God and others, died an unjust and painful death, and was resurrected—all to take on himself our sins so that we can live forever. All we have to do is believe in Him. (John 3:16). Regardless of your beliefs about the season, I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Publication: October 18, 2021—HQ

Memorable Lines:

The excitement of sitting down to compose a letter, maybe drawing a picture with it, decorating the envelope, and then posting it…That’s magic to a child. The whole world has gone digital, but Santa is one person who should always uphold tradition.

Every star in the universe must be out tonight, twinkling down on us, the movement of the curtains of green gives the illusion that the stars are dancing in time with the lights. Shades of pink creep into each green splash and turn yellow before fading away completely, only to be replaced with more flowing streaks of light, and just watching them makes me emotional.

“If you can’t be a big kid at Christmas, when can you?” “I’m glad you’re coming round to my way of thinking.” He tilts his head to the side. “Too many people absorbed the lie that when you grow up you have to stop liking fun things and start liking adult things but the happiest people are those who embrace things they love without shame.”

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.”

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

This week, as the holiday weeks in the U.S. come to an end, I will be putting away my Christmas decorations. May 2022 be a year of blessings, peace, and good health for you and those you love and pray for. Happy New Year!

A Room With a Roux–all-round, feel-good, Christmas mystery

A Room With a Roux

by Sarah Fox

For anyone still enjoying the lingering spirit of Christmas, I heartily recommend Sarah Fox’s A Room with a Roux. Although nothing about the cover or title suggest a holiday tale, it emits wintery, Christmas vibes from its beginning. The scene is set as our main characters Marley and Brett travel from their beach home to Holly Lodge nestled in the mountains. It is a small, quiet, isolated, snowy retreat that makes the perfect backdrop for a Christmas murder mystery.

Marley, owner of the Flip Side restaurant, and Brett, summer landscaper and winter construction worker, have only been married three months so there is a lot of sweet romance in their interactions. Their weekend getaway gets cut short by a murder. They leave as soon as they can, but Marley’s penchant for getting to the truth is activated when other Holly Lodge guests retreat to her town of Wildwood Cove. Then most of them return to Holly Lodge for a memorial service where they are snowed in for a “locked room” type of scenario.

Marley works hard to uncover the murderer before she or someone else becomes a second victim. There are many possibilities, but none seem to have a strong enough motivation to provoke murder.

Along the way, we get to know the characters. Brett and Marley are nice, generous, and community minded. There is a side story that demonstrates this spirit well when a mini-mystery emerges as ornaments disappear repeatedly at the Festival of Trees. Join Marley and Brett as they enjoy each other’s company along with lots of cups of hot chocolate in a wintry atmosphere. The author has a talented touch in stopping the chapters at just the right point to make the reader shout “one more chapter.”

Read a few days after Christmas, A Room With a Roux, is probably my favorite read of this Christmas season—likable characters, wonderful atmosphere, just the right touch of adventure, and a well-plotted mystery. This cozy mystery is a winner!

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #7 in the Pancake House Mystery Series, but you would have absolutely no problems reading it as a standalone!
2. Tempting recipes end the book: Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze, Cinnamon Pancakes, and Gingerbread Muffins.

Publication: January 12, 2021—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

I suspected he enjoyed stirring up trouble for his own amusement, and I couldn’t help but dislike him for it.

I tore off the paper, already knowing that the best present was having the company of my husband and two closest friends.

Time seemed to pass at an excruciatingly slow pace. At first I watched everyone by the light of the fire and candles, searching their faces for any sign of guilt, even as I pretended not to be studying them. After a while, it became more and more difficult to keep my eyes open, despite my worries about a killer being among us.

Sleigh Bell Tower–multifaceted plot

Sleigh Bell Tower

by James J. Cudney

Amateur sleuth and college professor, Kellan Ayrwick, and his girlfriend, Sheriff April Montague, are joined by his daughter Emma, his ward and cousin Ulan, and April’s brother Augie to become a unified household despite the slight disapproval of Kellan’s spunky grandmother Nana D. If you choose to read Sleigh Bell Tower, be prepared for one of the most complicated plots and web of characters you could hope for in a cozy mystery. Perhaps, more importantly, author James J. Cudney never misses a beat. He tosses the reader into a whirlwind of complications, but manages to sort it all out in the end with nary a mistake, an omission, or a crossing of clues. I never would have guessed the culprit.

As always with the Braxton Campus Mysteries, there is a lot of sarcasm and humor. The scene where the extended family drives around looking at Christmas lights is superbly funny; Nana D’s interactions with her grandson unfailingly provide a good time.

Another attraction in this particular book is the way April and Kellan work at combining Jewish and Christian holiday traditions. As a couple, they devise a gifting game of sorts. They work off of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” alternating the giver and tying each gift into the song. I enjoyed reading what each one devised and how they competed to find the best gifts for each other. I did have to wonder how they found the time and energy to select and purchase these creative gifts while managing their new family, the holidays and this intense murder investigation. It probably could work because Kellan is on a work hiatus between semesters AND they bought a lot of restaurant food!

Cudney sent my head spinning with characters and conflicts for most of the book. Then he delighted me with a conclusion in which Kellan took a page from Agatha Christie’s playbook with great success. The ending has some warm fuzzies that made me smile, and as always, the author concludes with a hook that will surely draw the reader into the next book in the series.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: I recommend Sleigh Bell Tower which is #8 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series, but not as a standalone. There is so much rich character background that plays into each book in the series that it would be hard to thoroughly appreciate this book on its own.

Publication: December 20, 2021—Next Chapter

Memorable Lines:

My grandmother, on the other hand, continued to run a profitable organic farm, serve as the mayor of our fine county, and make it her business to know everyone else’s business. Where she found the energy baffled us all.

“Mm… the cusp of nineteen is definitely elderly. We should look into long-term-care facilities soon, huh?”

I had a mystery to solve. A killer to capture. Agatha Christie would be proud of me this year!

Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop–spreading the Christmas spirit

Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop

by Rebecca Raisin

When you are Festive Flora, you have your almost dream job of assistant-cashier at Deck the Halls Christmas Emporium, you are dating adventurous poet Luke, and you are living in your best friend Livvie’s spare room, what could possibly go wrong? Well, for Flora, everything—all at once!

Flora is accused by various boyfriends of being eccentric, and she is. She’s passionate about the Christmas spirit and wants everyone to feel the same way. She is also kind and generous with a tendency to speak and act before she thinks. Flora is never “good enough” according to her parents’ standards. She and Livvie, who also had a difficult home life, received love and support as children from Flora’s Nan. At her house they created wonderful Christmas memories.

Livvie decides that the solution to some of Flora’s problems is “a Christmas van, like a pop-up shop.” Thus Flora becomes a Van Lifer and heads to Lapland, “the home of Santa Claus,” to sell all things Christmasy with Hallmark movies being the blueprint for her future: a meet-cute with a good looking young man, conflict between the two, followed by romance and a “happy ever after.”

The story pretty much follows that pattern as she meets some nice, helpful people along the way, but also has to deal with a group of jealous “mean girls” who apparently never developed emotionally past high school. The love interest is Collom, the handsome manager of the Christmas market, a never smiling loner who is passionate about ecology, not Christmas. Flora takes on the task of turning Collom from a Grinch to a believer in the Christmas spirit. She has to complete this goal before the Christmas market closes down for the season and they all go their separate ways.

Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop is told from Flora’s point of view with dialogue interspersed with Flora’s thoughts which she sometimes wonders if she has spoken aloud. Whoops! Author Rebecca Raisin succeeds with another romantic comedy, sure to have you turning the pages to see if Flora’s next zany idea will win Collom over—to love Christmas and maybe Flora too. Along the way she has some embarrassing moments that will keep you in stitches, ranging from stage fright to being a naked Britisher in a Finnish sauna.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins (HQ) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: 1. This is the third in a series about Van Lifers, but stands completely alone from the first two.

2. Despite the Christmasy, festive atmosphere of this book, there is a surprising amount of foul language used casually throughout the book.

Publication: October 28, 2021—Harper Collins (HQ)

Memorable Lines:

It’s not just about holding down a job, it’s that my whole life keeps imploding at every turn. My parents think I’m on a desolate road to nowheresville.

“I probably sound unhinged, but what if we all lived as though our life were a Hallmark movie? What if we took chances, and said what we thought, and believed that true love would find a way, no matter what? What if we were honest about our feelings, knowing that it would all work out in the end? Then the world would be a better place!”

They give me those polite smiles that mange to convey they have absolutely no idea what I’ve said but they’ll tolerate me talking to them in halting Finnish because at least I’m giving it a go.

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