Book Reviews

20 Books For Christmas Review # 11: Fool Me Twice at Christmas by Camilla Isley

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My Interest

Once again, I needed an audio. This one was available, was new, and was only 5 hours long–great for me drives on errands. I had a big errand day, so just listened to the last 1/4 at home while having dinner alone. Plus, #20BooksForChristmas–though I had thought I’d only do 10 Christmas books. Whatever! They’ve been the perfect thing for unemployment.

The Story

Kate and Chuck come from families joined at the hip…well, more or less joined. The two parent-couples are business partners in a chocolate company. Kate and Chuck grew up in the chocolate factory playing together while their parents worked. They’ve had the holidays together all their lives. Their parents hoped and prayed the two would grow up to marry–in fact, they thought that really was the plan.

Now, however, the couple have broken up, but can’t bear to tell the parents. When the chocolate company’s new visual marketing guru wants to use Kate and Chuck’s “authentic” love story in the promotion of a new chocolate, the pair must fake it. But, will the fakery work? Will fake pre-marital counseling with a pastor make it all into bliss or continue the bust?

My Thoughts

While I’ve rarely if ever heard an American says someone is “rubbish at X” or use “cheeky” in the British way–so what! It’s fiction! This is a fun, light, rom-com perfect for the often over-stressed days of the Christmas season Enjoy laughing along with Kate and Chuck’s predicament and enjoy it. Enjoy the very real emotions it generates for love, family, and the season. This was as sweet a holiday rom-com as you can hope to find!

My Verdict

Fool Me Twice at Christmas by Camilla Isley is on sale for only 99 cents on Kindle right now, too!

More Christmas Fun from author Camilla Isley

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Fool Me Twice at Christmas is one of three books in Camilla Isley’s Christmas Romantic Comedy series of stand-alone novels.

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A Christmas Caroline by Camilla Isley

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Home For Christmas by Camilla Isley is the third book in the series, releases in the USA on February 22, 2022. Click the link to pre-order for only $3.99 for Kindle.

Book Reviews

20 Books of Christmas Review #10: The Matzah Ball: A Novel by Jean Meltzer

My Interest

A Hanukkah -Christmas book? Sure! I spent the last few years of college enjoying the celebration of most Jewish holidays with a friend, her husband, and her parents. Her mother adopted me and bought me groceries when she shopped for her wonderful son-in-law, the scholar! LOL. I’ve eaten matzo cubes–because round matzo balls are too ordinary. I became a lifelong latkes addict and make them most years. Plus my great aunt and her second husband ran a summer camp in northern Wisconsin that provided a de-stressing time for high-pressure Jewish kids from Chicago’s suburbs in the late 50’s and 60’s (much like the camp Rachael and Jacob attended in the book). My kids and I have lox and bagels for Christmas breakfast. And, so what if Hanukkah ended last week–it’s all good. So yeah, bring on the Christmas-Hanukkah book!

The Story

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is the daughter of a world famous Rabbi and a doctor. So why, oh why, did she become a best-selling author of Christmas novels? And why, oh why, doesn’t she ever get the happily ever after that she writes in her books. Enter party planning mogul Jacob Greenberg, her long-ago summer camp nemesis and first kiss recipient. When Rachel’s publisher decides it’s time for a change–a Hanukkah Romance to compete with the Christmas romances, she finds herself needing Jacob’s upcoming Matzah Ball, a live-music, glam and glitz, celebration for the nights of Hanukkah for her research. But that’s when things start to go awry as opposed to “on rye.” A ten-foot tall menorah, pink fuzzy socks, a baseball mascot-cum Matzah Ball costume, a sweet and wise Bubbe, the now seemingly obligatory gay guy bestie, and more go into the story.

My Thoughts

This book was so much fun! Yes, I did wonder why her folks didn’t just say “and an ticket for Rachel, too?” when the tickets were handed out for the great night of the Matzah Ball, but heck, what fun would that be? Rachel and Jacob are a matchmaker’s dream couple. They complete each other. They each make the other better. I loved this. I loved the rather Trump-like investor too! LOL Fun without bringing politics into it.

This book was just plain fun. Pick up some jelly doughnuts or rugelach or even chicken soup with matzo balls and just nosh away while you read or listen. You won’t be sorry.

One small note to the editor of this book. How could you allow the phrase “her truth” to be used in a story line about a Holocaust survivor? Unthinkable. Trendy isn’t always best. Still, I loved the book.

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Book Reviews

20 Books For Christmas Review #9: We’ll Have Have a Wonderful Cornish Christmas by C.P. Ward

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My Interest

This audiobook was on sale on Chirp. What’s not to love about a Christmas Extravaganza?

The Story

Lucy Drake, born Frances (as in Sir Francis Drake, the explorer) normally spends Christmas away on a solitary walking vacation. She has a social problem. It’s not farting like I thought, it’s simply her laugh. Anyway, it has always put men off. Her parents, a good natured, decent couple who live a dull, normal life with blessedly ordinary careers (I get tired of everyone being some high-flying hedge fund manager or actress) have decided to go to Cornwall and “glamp” while her father’s carpet company sponsors the first Christmas Extravaganza.

Along the way Lucy meets orthodontist Dan, his gay brother Tarquin (the name started as a joke in school), and Dan’s ex–a ruthlessly ambitious woman much like the wife of the redheaded royal. Dan is also an expert on Brussels Sprouts–not something you read in most novels today, let alone in a Christmas story. Dan finds Lucy’s social problem endearing–you can guess the rest. I’m sure.

My Thoughts

I liked this story–it was full of decent, everyday people and a baddie anyone on social media much could totally understand. Plus, what’s wrong with Santa in a sleigh pulled by female reindeer named Mike and Don? Or Santa being assisted by Robin Hood’s Merry Men? What kid doesn’t dream of winning a new lounge carpet for his family or of receiving a bathmat from Santa. And then there is the fudge…yes, fabulous fudge made with locally sourced Cornish sugar grown in a greenhouse!

My Verdict

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Book Reviews

20 Books For Christmas Review #8: One Night on Ice by Mandy Baggott

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My Interest

For once I forgot to not who’s blog I saw this one on–someone doing the same Christmas book challenges. Anyway, it sounded cute and best of all, I could stand the reader.

The Story

Samantha has worked in the Civic Hall box office forever–or so it seems. It’s her “niche,” her comfort zone. She feels safe there. It’s predictable. Samantha loves predictable, craves routine. She has panic attacks over the unexpected things in life. Her sister Cleo, with whom she shares a house, is the opposite–she lives life to the full, sleeps with the guys she dates, cycles through jobs, goes clubbing–the works. One day Samantha is faced with the Civic Hall hosting a big ice show on a temporary rink. Ice skating is something she is somewhat comfortable with–she learned to skate as a child and loved it. When big name skater Jimmy Lloyd speaks to her…..[no spoilers, but you can see the cover of the book at the top of this post, right?]

Meanwhile the Burrough Council has a budget squeeze and suddenly Samatha’s world is rocked in a bad way. The Hall may be closed! What will happen to her co-workers many of whom earn the biggest or only paycheck in their family? What about Samantha herself? What about beloved stray cat, Gobi????

My Thoughts

Some intern blurbbed this one “Laugh out loud romantic comedy” on Amazon. Well….no, not that. “Fun” yes, lol–no. I liked this one a lot. Of course, the story line is ridiculous, but like winning the lottery it COULD happen.  I thought Samantha needed to slapped out of one or two of her panic attacks [NO, I am not picking on folks with panic attacks–my late Dad had them they are real and serious, but this is a cozy novel, not real life] but I could also understand a lot of her–especially the way she loved being in her niche and her talking to the cat. I didn’t find anything very Christmas-y in this, but it is billed as a Christmas book so that counts. And, it was fun. Plus, Gobi the cat was wonderful.

My Verdict

Book Reviews

20 Books for Christmas Review # 7 Christmas at Harmony Hill

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My Interest

My Mom first told me about the Shakers–well, their furniture and crafts, years ago. I’ve wanted to visit Pleasant Hill in Kentucky for years. Over the years I have watched a few documentaries and read the novel linked at the bottom of this post, as well. So, when I saw this story on Kindle Unlimited’s offerings, I grabbed it.

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The Story

In the last year of the Civil War, to accompany husband, Gideon, a Union soldier, Heather Worth works as one of his company of soldiers’ washerwomen. When she becomes pregnant, though, Gideon sends Heather home to her parents to await the baby’s birth. Unfortunately, being from Kentucky, a boarder state (and home of the then First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln’s equally divided family) Heather’s father’s sympathies lie with the Confederates. Arriving home to a very different family life [No Spoilers!] Heather instead goes to stay with her mother’s Aunt Sophrena at Harmony Hill, a Shaker community not far from her family’s home. 

Heather is not interested in being a Shaker, who disavow marriage and children for the life of “brothers and sisters,” but she is welcomed by them as they minister to those in need. She discovers her Aunt is enduring a crisis of faith–faith in the Shaker’s beliefs. Meanwhile, on the battlefield, Gideon, is discovering faith thanks to his dearly missed wife and thanks to his comrade in arms, Jake.

My Thoughts

I rarely read Christian fiction for a variety of reasons–most related to the quality of the writing. I was happily surprised at how good this book was. The story was interesting and told a good deal about Shaker life–all of which matched what I knew of it. The crisis Sophrena is enduring was made more real to me because she was 50 and I could relate much more to it than to such a situation in a younger (or even newer) Shaker. 

This book does talk a lot about Christian faith, but it does not preach and it does not take Bible verses out of context–two pet peeves of mine. The faith is presented with a light touch and in keeping with the nature of the story.

Christmas at Harmony Hill by Ann H. Gabhart

My Verdict

For the other Shaker novels by Ann H.Gabhart see her author page.

For another fictional look at Kentucky Shaker life see:

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The Believers by Janice Holt Giles. Sadly, this book is not available in Kindle format. Older editions have a different cover.

For a documentary on The Shakers see this:

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The Shakers [Ken Burns]

Book Reviews

20 Books For Christmas Review #6: Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop by Rebecca Raisin

My Interest

A Christmas book with a VW Bus on the cover? Since I LOVE those vehicles, and collect VW Bus things, I’d say, “Yes, please” to reading it.

“I probably need to love to a small town and fall in love with a geeky librarian who is surprisingly hot when he takes his glasses off and parts his hair on the other side.”

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Image credit

The Story

Flora just can’t help messing up! A Christmas freak, she even gets fired from a Christmas store. She also can’t keep a man, but then who could when she demands they recite the names of Santa’s reindeer on the first date? When he best friend and roommate moves to L.A. to finally launch her skincare line, she helps Flora re-launch herself in the guise of a Hallmark Christmas movie heroine! (Well, they use that as a model for the re-launch, no actual filming takes place).

Flora decides to try van life–in Lapland, which is where Father Christmas lives as opposed to the North Pole where American kids KNOW Santa lives. She finds a great van and then meets a Norse God named…Conor? Hmmm….. Somehow she doesn’t know that’s an Irish name. Norse God runs the Christmas market where Flora is setting up her shop from her van.

Given the Hallmark movie theme, you can probably predict the rest, right?

My Thoughts

I loved this one from start to predictable finish. Just like the real Hallmark Christmas movies it is wonderfully sappy, totally predictable and so wonderful I wanted to hug people. I might even have been persuaded to wear reindeer antlers or something silly like that–I was THAT into the Christmas spirit.

My Scrooge-self did love this line though:

“…forcing families to be together when they are better off apart.”

Lots of wisdom in that line. I also agreed with much of Connor’s Christmas thoughts [no spoilers]. But after the sauna scene I really wish they’d put Connor on the cover in his hospital-visit costume [No spoilers]!!!

Never mind my liking of bah-humbug-ish lines, just go grab this one and read it and enjoy it!

 

Book Reviews

Novellas in November Review # 2 and 20 Books For Christmas Review # 5: The Walnut Tree: A Holiday Tale by Charles Todd

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My Interest

A World War I “holiday” tale featuring a titled English lady? Sure, why not!

The Story

Lady Elspeth Douglas is in Paris with a heavily pregnant friend as war is declared. She thinks she may be in love with her friend’s brother, too. After staying on to help the friend deliver her baby, Elspeth set off on one of the more unlikely journeys of the war. Through amazing coincidences she runs into most of her former dance partners and her male cousins–all serving in highland regiments. She speaks Gaelic with the piper and French  with port authorities. Along the way she ends up, briefly, at the front. She helps with the wounded. Eventually she lands back in ole Blighty to be a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Services–but “forgets” to include her courtesy title on the application. She’s a fabulous nurse (Of course she! She has pluck! She’s the daughter of an Earl, of course she gets her way!).

Along the way she has doubts about the Frenchman she’s all but agreed to marry when she runs into a neighboring well-born chap who knows her cousins from their public school (American Prep School–like Bush and the Roosevelts and JFK attended). But then, yes, Then! Somehow–but HOW? Her guardian, whom she at least acknowledges is not evil, pulls the plug on her free-spirited life. And, somehow, yes SOMEHOW, she goes back to France and miraculously the Frenchman has survived injury, being taken as a Prisoner of War and being exchanged (well it COULD all happen, right?). But she is so conflicted! Which man is right for her?

My Thoughts

Ok, I’m having a little fun with this review. It’s the sort of book where you must accept that people CAN run into each other at the Battle of Ypres, ok? And that no one, NO ONE, realized an Aristocrat who’d never uttered a word in any but the poshest of posh accents, could suddenly “pass” as a mere middle class girl of good family-the people she encountered were so dim they couldn’t tell her origins form her accent at a time when accent was everything.

What I liked was: Elspeth had no modern ideas of hiding away “living in sin.” She knew she’d be ruined. She played as fast and loose with the “rules” of her world as far as she could. She knew her limits. She mostly respected the authority of her Guardian, even loved him (he was her uncle) and adored her cousins. Yes she had “pluck” and even “spunk,” a quality that I’m in complete agreement with Mr. Lou Grant on (remember that scene in the Mary Tyler Moore Show? See the bottom of this post).

Miss Georgina Worsley with Major James Bellamy (left), Princess Mary (center), and Lady Sibyl Crawley (right)

I loved Elspeth’s romance with Peter–it was sweet and honorable. He was a good chap. She was a good girl. They did not hop into be ala 2021 but acted like folks pushing the outside of the envelope in 1915. I found it odd though that her Guardian looked down on nursing when the King’s only daughter trained as a nurse at this time and the King’s own mother founded the nursing service. Princess Mary, later the Princess Royal, was kept in London and only nursed mothers and children, but….in the two great period dramas, Upstairs, Downstairs (the real one–from the ’70s) and Downton Abbey, posh aristo’s Miss Georgina Worsley, ward of the Hon Richard Bellamy, M.P. and step-granddaughter of the Dowager Countess of Southwald and Lady Sybil Crawley were nursing sisters. Dear Georgina even went to France where, she naturally, just happened to stumble upon wounded cousin “Jumbo” aka Major James Bellamy. Of course she did! See? It had to be acceptable to nurse! Georgina, like Lady Edith Crawly in Downton ended up a Marchioness!!! Of course poor Sybil….

My only true complain with this book wasn’t titles–they were fine. It was a stupid mystery worked in. It was really more like it had been started in the first draft and forgotten. No one remembered to edit it out. It was awful, but mercifully it only took up a few lines. When pulling the cover for this post I discovered this was another “between the numbers” sort of tale in the Bess Crawford mystery series. Lady Elspeth was a colleague of Bess’s in Queen Alix’s nursing service. I don’t have any interest in Bess, but I’d love a sequel on Lady Elspeth.

I’ve poked fun at this story, but the truth is I really enjoyed it! The stupid mystery cost it some in my rating. A final comment, there is Christmas in this story but I would not really call this a “Christmas” book. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying it though.

Note: This is a little longer than Novellas in November’s suggested Novella length–308 pages in all, but it is a very light read.

My Verdict

Book Reviews

Novellas In November & 20 Books For Christmas Review #4: A Christmas Beginning by Anne Perry

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My Interest

Aside from my participation in 20 Books For Christmas (albeit for a goal of 10) and Novellas in November, I have been a fan of Anne Perry’s William Monk series for a long time. I admit that one book (I won’t say which) was “too much” for me in terms of grisliness, but I love Monk and Hester and the others. I do not normally review series books due to spoilers. This is a Christmas book–another “between the numbers” and does not feature any of the major characters, so it is a safe one to review. It works well as a stand-alone, too.

Anglesey is right by the map’s legend.

The Story

“Runcorn was second fiddle, never first, but he had played the more beautiful tune.”

Americans who have actually heard of the island of Anglsey today, know it as where Prince William was a helicopter search/rescue pilot in the RAF early in his marriage to Catherine, before Prince George was born. Until listening to this story, I had no idea that William flew over part of his “destiny” i.e Carnarvon Castle where his father and his great-great uncle David were both invested as Prince of Wales.

But that’s not part of the story…..

Back in the time of the previous longest-reigning Queen (Victoria, David’s Gan-Gan, and Williams Gr-Gr-Gr-Grandmother, Victoria) Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Runcorn, well know to Monk fans, is having Christmas mas on the island. While out for a walk he finds the recently dead body of a young woman, the sister of the vicar. The local police can go no further than to call it the work of a “madman.” Runcorn, with his training, knows better. The victim was a young woman with a penchant for turning down suitors and for living her own life. So who did kill Olivia?

My Thoughts

Keeping in mind that I listened to part of this on my way in to clean out my office after my job, and those of 7% of my division, were cut, I thought this one “draggy” places in it–strange for a novella. Anne Perry’s books rarely drag. It picked up speed, or Perry found her pacing, (I’m not sure which) at about the middle of the story. From there I was hooked. And, OH THAT ENDING! [No spoilers].

My Verdict

Book Reviews

20 Books For Christmas Review #3: A Cherry Cola Christmas by Ashton Lee

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My Interest

I read the earlier books in this series and enjoyed them. Author Ashton Lee used to sell to libraries and actually knows what librarians do!

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Map showing Mississipi

The Story

In Book 4 of The Cherry Cola Book Club series we learn that our beloved Cherico, Mississippi is hitting the skids. Crime is up! The construction on the longed-for new library is slow, and businesses are fixin to leave! Is Councilman Durden Sparks having a change of heart? Can Maura Beth believe him? What does a Country Western Star eating at the Twinkle have to do with it all? Best of all, will Cherico get the Christmas miracle it needs to survive?

My Thoughts

My one negative thought is that Christmas was an afterthought. There is very little that is really Christmas-y here, except the idea of the rebirth and salvation of the town (thought his is not a Christian book series).

It is very hard to review a series without spoiling it for newcomers. You can read this as a stand-alone, but it would be best to read at least the first book to really get to know the characters. Thankfully, the author does not overburden readers with reminders of all that has gone on in previous books.

I enjoy this series because I am a librarian and because I live in a small town. The wiley (aka crooked) councilman and his henchmen are intentionally “over-the-top” to proivde a little giggle here and there, but Maura Beth faces the real world strugge of keeping the library open and making people see that libaries are not an anachronism. She uses the library to build Community while helping the community. The members of the Cherry Cola Book Club who meet at the library and have the literay food extravaganzas are a wonderful crew. The books they read in each installment of the series may be ones that are very familiar, but the fun they have with them adds to the enjoyment of reading this seires

A Cherry Cola Christmas by Ashton Lee

 

My Reviews of the Previous Cherry Cola Book Club Books

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The Wedding Circle (Cherry Cola Book Club book 3)

The Reading Circle (Cherry Cola Book Club book 2) by Ashton Lee.

The Cherry Cola Book Club (Cherry Cola Book Club book 1) by Ashton Lee

If You’d Like Another Cozy Series….

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If you like The Cherry Cola Book Club, check out Waltzing at the Piggly-Wiggly by Robert Dalby

Book Reviews

20 Books for Christmas Review #2: A Vicarage Christmas by Kate Hewitt

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My Interest

I’m trying to holly-jolly myself into the Christmas spirit, so I decided I’d read some nice Christmas stories. Plus, a “vicarage” sounds so classy, so “Escape to the Country.” An Aga-saga! (There is an Aga–of course there is? Where would Charlie’s basket go. The has to be an Aga). And Charlie? He has to a Lab.

Map showing Cumbria. Aga photo from Aga twitter

The Story

The Holley sisters (don’t go there, just don’t–it’s a Christmas novel, ignore it) all have Biblical names (well, of course they do! Their father is a Vicar! Ignore it). The four sisters are all done with school and in their early to late twenties. Anna is a “legal librarian” (in all my years as a real life law librarian in real life law firms, I was never called a “legal librarian” since it connotes there being an “illegal librarian,” but what do I know?) back home in Manchester. Now she is home to the village of Thornthwait for Christmas for the first time in about a decade. Her parents promise “big announcements.” 

While escaping most of the parishgathered in her parents living room busy Hoovering up the minced pies (which I’ve never tasted) and the mulled wine (so wildly different than so many American churches –especially those who gave us Prohibition back in the 1920s) she meats a decent guy when she seeks refuge in a local pub (ditto–very different from some of the American clergy families who’d be run out of town for that). He “gets” her and her whole social anxiety thing. He gets it. In fact, he likes her. You couldn’t say “love at first sight,” but maybe, just maybe there’s a chance??? [No spoliers]. Even more remarkable, she likes him, too. His lopsided smile. (But, why does she keep biting her lip? I picture a blood bath, but I think it’s supposedly endearing?)

The next day Anna learns this great guy, Simon is his name, is the new Curate (aka Assistant Pastor) in her father’s parish (aka Church). What should she do?

My Thoughts

I loved this little book! Not only was religion treated with decency and belief not scoffed at, but becoming an Anglican Priest (minister who can be married–not a Catholic Priest) was treated as the respectful, decent, helping profession the clergy truly is. Not one red state-ish joke or GOP-reference (of course the book IS set in Cumbria in the UK (“England” to Americans) but still. I’ve grown so used to Christianity being seen as evil and phobic that it was a joy to read this.

I liked Anna’s very real-world personality, too. In her late 20’s she does not have double-digit “intimate” partners or 5 former live-in boyfriends, but nor is she a prude, a Judger, or anything else. Not a falunted purity ring to be found. She’s a wonderfully normal woman with a career and, of course, some secrets. Simon, too, has not spent his 20’s hopping in and out of bed with strangers or near-strangers. He even owns his privilidge appologizes for going to a public school (i.e. private prep school) reassuring Anna it was a day school. He, too, has secrets beyond just being her Dad’s new youth group wrangler (or whatever curates are stuck doing in the UK).

I loved that her Mom loved what she did all those years as a clergy wife. I loved the sister’s confession, I loved Charlies lazy woofs and thumping tale! I’d love to know this family. Thank goodness it is a series! I will be tuning in for more.

My Verdict

My other #20BooksForChristmas reviews:

Book # 1 A Mackenzie Yuletide by Jennifer Ashley