A Very Merry Match
by Melinda Curtis
What a book I chose to read on Christmas week! Melinda Curtis’ A Very Merry Match is a romance that involves serious threads. Mary Margaret, widowed last year at Christmas, is trying to survive the memories of the season. As a Kindergarten teacher with a strong sense of honor, she has been very disciplined with her finances to try to repay her husband’s debt accrued through shopping therapy at the end of his life. Just when the mountain of debts have been conquered, two unsavory characters show up on her doorstep wanting an obscene amount of money.
You’ll like Mary Margaret. She’s a dedicated and loving teacher always wanting to do the right thing. Sadly, she carries around the physical and emotional scars of childhood abuse. Kevin, the mayor of the little town of Sunshine, has a son in Mary Margaret’s class. His initial dilemma is a decision regarding a development project that has potential positive and negative impacts on the town and is thus quite controversial. He also develops an interest in his son’s teacher. Along the way we meet Barb, Kevin’s ex-wife, and Edith, Mary Margaret’s supportive and fun-loving grandmother along with the local Widow’s Club whose members are always interested in matching up lonely hearts.
Mary Margaret has, out of financial necessity and a love of dance, a second career as a burlesque dancer, and Kevin is being considered for political office at the state level. Although they are attracted to each other, a serious relationship seems unlikely. Christmas is the backdrop for the fun, romance, and conflict that permeate the plot. This is a clean romance you can enjoy at Christmas…or any time of the year!
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #2 in the Sunshine Valley Series, but I had not read the first book in the series and had no problem jumping right into this book.
Publication: September 29, 2020—Forever (Grand Central Publishing)
Dancing always loosened up the stress, shook it off, made her feel free, moved her beyond her worries and fears. How could this be wrong?
“I’ll tell you a secret I learned growing up.” Her smile was tentative, as if her secret was sad. “Preacher’s kid wisdom. There’s always someone in a worse situation than you are.”
Doubt crept between his shoulders on spiked cleats.
Dash Away All
by Christina Freeburn
I was close to frustration with Merry Winters, the main character in Dash Away All by Christina Freeman, when she became frustrated with herself. Finally! Merry has been contracted to create craft items for the backdrop of a Christmas movie featuring a crafter. The job becomes bigger than originally planned when a shed holding many Christmas decorations burns down and Merry is expected to create or round up from the tiny town of Carol Lake, Indiana, the necessary items to fill out the various scenes. For someone so overwhelmingly concerned about the quantity of crafts she is supposed to make, Merry spends a lot of time going down rabbit holes. Some of the trails she follows are legitimate ones to pursue a criminal, but others are self-indulgent like her visit to a toy store. Sometimes she is just plain nosy and involves herself in things that are truly none of her business.
This Christmas movie is being filmed in a hot and humid July, so if you are looking for a Christmassy read, this is not for you. If you want a cozy mystery with red herrings, a plot with twists and turns, some danger, and a tiny splash of romance, you would probably enjoy Dash Away All. An aging and domineering Christmas movie star is making a comeback at the same time she is trying to resolve some personal issues from her past. They happen to coincide with Merry’s current crisis in terms of family. Merry’s long distance business partner Bright is somewhat helpful, but it seems we will never meet her as she, for family reasons, is not able to join Merry in her time of need. I, unfortunately, felt little fondness for the characters in this mystery, and that hampered my enjoyment of the book. Even the role of Ebenezer the Guinea pig seemed contrived.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #3 in the Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mystery Series
Publication: July 7, 2020—Henery Press
“Luna’s three loves in life are acting, trouble, and men, and which takes the top spot changes from day to day.”
A woman who loved to feel needed and felt lost when those who had needed her most—children and mom—either no longer did as they’re venturing out on their own, or because they couldn’t remember her.
It was a simple solution. Why hadn’t I thought of it? I knew exactly why I hadn’t; complicating matters was becoming a new hobby. I was turning back into a teenage girl and morphing everything into a drama of the century.
by Amanda Flower
From a chunk of burnt hair to drunken accusations to murder on the doorstep of the church, disasters just keep happening on Juliet Brody’s wedding day, and she is depending on her “possible” future daughter-in-law, Bailey, to help her out. Bailey is a chocolatier who is working in her grandmother’s candy shop in the Amish/Englisch town of Harvest. She is also dating Juliet’s son, Sheriff Deputy Aiden Brody.
Amanda Flower’s Marshmallow Malice is a fun cozy mystery with new problems arising from all directions as Bailey is encouraged by locals to help solve the murder case and act as a go-between for the Amish with the Englisch law enforcement. The humor comes into play with Jethro, Juliet’s adored and adorable polka-dotted pig that gets into lots of mischief. There is also light-hearted teasing between Bailey and her visiting New York friend Cass. At times the plot turns to danger as Bailey advances on moonshiners in Harvest Woods. Serious themes take the forefront with alcoholism, secrets from the past, and hints of domestic violence.
Marshmallow Malice is filled with likable characters. Bailey’s grandmother Clara whom she calls Maami is Amish to her roots and in her everyday living. Although she follows her bishop’s rulings precisely, she is practical and accepting of Bailey’s activities as an Englischer. Cousin Charlotte works with Bailey in the shop, and her life gives the reader insight into the dilemma of the young Amish as they decide whether to join the church or not. Shunning is also explored as the method the Amish use to try to get a member to abandon sin. Flower’s depiction of characters from both cultures is fair in that criminals and those with personal problems are drawn from both Amish and Englisch societies. This is a cozy mystery series with an Englisch main character; it is not an Amish romance. As such, it adds both humor and complications to what might be the basis for a typical Amish story. Don’t label this story as a sweet Amish tale. It is not dark, but it does have depth. It is well-written and leaves me eager for more in the series.
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.
Notes: 1. #5 in the Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series. The author throws you right into the storyline, so it would probably be best (and also a delight) to read the first books in sequence.
2. Recipe included for Charlotte’s Easy Marshmallow Sticks
Publication: May 26, 2020—Kensington Books
“She looks like a cotton candy machine exploded, doesn’t she?”…”Well…” Aiden trailed off as if he was dumbstruck by my appearance. Then he said, “It’s the kind of outfit that makes you believe there just might be unicorns out there.”
“The celebration will be a hit,” I said. “I know it will be,” Margot said. “I won’t allow anything less.” With that, she patted her curls and bustled out the door.
“The Amish look down on pride, but at the heart of it, we are a very proud culture. Our pride doesn’t come from material things. We take pride in how gut we are.”
Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes
by Jessica Redland
A sweet holiday tale with some sibling troubles, an upcoming wedding, PTSD, and friends who could be so much more. Those are the threads found in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes by Jessica Redland, Carly started a cupcake business four years ago. Her much younger sister Bethany has been working for her, but she is klutzy and prone to mistakes that are costly. Carly and Bethany are both wondering if the cupcake shop is a good place for Bethany, but Carly is driven to take care of her sister who is also second-guessing her upcoming marriage. Meanwhile, Carly starts to realize that her very long-term best friend, Liam, on a tour in Afghanistan, is possibly the love she has been denying herself.
There are several unexpected twists as the countdown to the wedding and Christmas draw closer. You’ll enjoy watching the tangled threads unravel as you read this charming story and root for the likable characters to solve their problems.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Boldwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Publication: August 13, 2020—Boldwood Books
And there it was—the exact moment I realised I’d been in love with my best friend for years. Nobody else I’d met had held my interest because Liam already held my heart and I’d never even realised it.
As I stepped out of the front door, I inhaled the delicious aroma of chimney smoke. I loved that smell. There was something about real fires that was so intrinsically Christmassy. I paused for a moment to look up at the white lights strung between the shops, like stars in the inky sky. It was the beautiful simplicity that made them so enchanting to look at.
I felt a pang of guilt again that I’d worked beside her for months and had been too busy to notice when the laughter had ceased until it became too late.
by Denise Hunter
When an innkeeper desperate to fulfill his promise to his father to take care of his sisters is introduced to the world of glamorous movie stars and paparazzi, his own world is turned upside down. Levi Bennett tries to fix everything for everybody, but he takes on more than he can handle when he meets the gorgeous Mia Emerson retreating from heartbreak and a scandal.
Beautiful Bluebell, N.C., is the perfect place for Mia to recover with the sympathetic and discreet Bennett siblings taking up her cause. Romance is in the air for Levi and Mia as well as for Levi’s sister Molly who was the focus of the first book in the series. Just when things start to look up, there are realistic twists and turns that shake things up for the characters. But disasters and surprises can be part of God’s plan, and He can bring good out of them as the characters in Carolina Breeze by Denise Hunter, a clean romance with a bit of mystery, soon discover.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Notes: #2 in the Bluebell Inn Series, but works well as a standalone.
Publication: May 19, 2020—Thomas Nelson
Using people is wrong. Using their feelings against them is even worse.
It was time to get serious about her faith again. She was learning to let down her walls with people, but she needed to let God in too. Him, most of all.
The movie had been going on for a while, but her mind was on other things…All of it was tangled up in her head like last year’s Christmas lights.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
by Barbara Robinson
Most people enjoy a good Christmas story. For example, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is emblematic for many of the Christmas spirit of generosity that we would like to see year round. Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is another story that has captured the imagination of readers of all ages. A humorous children’s chapter book, the story tells of the year the Herdmans, “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” decide they want to be a part of a church’s annual Christmas pageant.
The narrator’s mother directs the pageant for the first time, and we experience her determination, kindness, and patience as she explains the story of Jesus to the unchurched Herdmans. We are also treated to a new, unsanitized view of the nativity story. One of the Herdman clan indignantly wants to know why Joseph didn’t tell the innkeeper who Jesus is. Another finds it strange that they tie the baby up in wadded up clothes and put him in a food trough. The Herdmans plot revenge on the wicked Herod; the Angel of the Lord, as played by Gladys, the youngest Herdman, comes down from above like a superhero from a comic book.
Appealing to children and adults alike, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever might well become a Christmas tradition in your family. Parts of it are laugh out loud funny, and other parts will give you pause. It has been made into a movie and a play, but I can’t imagine anything better than cozying up with the family and sharing the book together.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Interest Level—all ages
Intended Reading Level—Grades 3-7; Ages 8-12 years
Publication: 1972—Scholastic Inc. (Harper Collins)
Most of us spent all week in school being pounded and poked and pushed around by Herdmans, and we looked forward to Sunday as a real day of rest.
Mother said…“Why, it’s going to be the best Christmas pageant we’ve ever had!” Of all the lies she’d told so far, that was the biggest, but you had to admire her. It was like General Custer saying, “Bring on the Indians!”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. It may be the first Christmas pageant in history where Joseph and the Wise Men get in a fight, and Mary runs away with the baby.”
The Cat Who Played Post Office
by Lilian Jackson Braun
In an effort to mix things up a bit, my book club chose to read a quick and easy mystery written by Lilian Jackson Braun, famous for her popular The Cat Who series. We rather randomly selected The Cat Who Played Post Office. The choice didn’t matter to me because I had read one in the series decades ago and had not not enjoyed it. After reading our selection, I can only say that clearly my tastes have changed, or I previously chose the one book in the series that was not a good match for me.
I found The Cat Who Played Post Office delightful. The main character Jim Qwilleran has just inherited a lot of money and a large estate. He formerly was a newspaper journalist with a talent for criminal investigations. Equally important to the story are Koko and Yum Yum, his Siamese cats. The book begins in the middle of the tale drawing the reader into who Qwill is and why he is in the hospital. Then the author takes us back and later forward in time—in this case a very effective technique.
As a journalist, Qwill has an extensive vocabulary which Braun puts on full display in a way that doesn’t seem pretentious at all. Qwill uses words like ailurophobe, postprandial, and sybaritic in his conversations and descriptions. Logophiles will enjoy his use of language.
Yum Yum is a typical Siamese, but Koko is extraordinary. He uses his sixth sense to lead Qwill to clues that warn of danger or alert him to important facts. Qwill is honest and good hearted. He has a love interest in this book in the practical Dr. Melinda Goodwinter, and he makes friends easily in his new town where he immediately becomes involved in civic and charitable interests. Koko brings the mysterious disappearance, five years prior, of the free spirited Daisy to Qwill’s attention. As he begins to ask questions about this young lady, dangerous things happen. When mail arrives through the door slot, the cats attack the fluttering envelopes, and Koko selects particular letters to bring to Qwill’s attention which might help him learn more about Daisy and her fate. The characters and setting in this book are interesting, but the mystery remains central.
Notes: #6 in The Cat Who series, but I had no problem reading it as a standalone.
Publication: 1987—Penguin (Jove Books)
Koko, as he grew older, was developing a more expressive voice with a gamut of clarion yowling, guttural growling, tenor yodeling, and musical yikking.
They could talk freely. Their booth was an island of privacy in a maelstrom of ear-splitting noise. The animated conversation of happy diners and the excited shrieks of children bounced off the steel girders and concrete walls, and the din was augmented by the Tasty Eats custom of pounding the table with knife handles to express satisfaction with the food.
Qwilleran wondered whether she was listening. He had spent enough time at cocktail parties to know the rhythm of social drinking, and Penelope was exceeding the speed limit. She was also sliding farther down on the slippery sofa.
When is a series more than a series? When each book in the series is written by collaborating authors who have already worked together on another successful series. In this case, Melinda Curtis, Amy Vastine, Anna J. Stewart, Carol Ross, and Cari Lynn Webb have teamed up to create The Blackwell Sisters, a series set in Montana and centered around the Harrison sisters who have discovered that the man who raised them is not their biological father. He is the mysteriously missing Thomas Blackwell. This group of authors’ first series is The Return of the Blackwell Brothers in which the manipulating grandfather of the cousins in both series interferes in his grandchildren’s lives in what turns out to be a positive way. The books differ in that the Blackwell brothers are returning to their roots whereas the sisters are discovering a family heritage they never knew they had. The two series share characters that you will enjoy meeting. Both series make for a clean, heartwarming read, and either or both would be a fun present under the Christmas tree!
You can read my reviews for these books by clicking on the titles below:
by Cari Lynn Webb
Georgie Harrison has always been singularly focused. She has a plan to honor her mother’s memory by discovering a cure so that other families would not have to experience premature loss of a parent as she and her sisters had. As a medical doctor she has turned her talents to research and has landed the job of her dreams in London. Now she just has to convince her dad and four sisters that this is a positive move. She convinces a friend and work colleague, Colin, to be her pretend date for her sister’s wedding at the Blackwell Ranch. Unfortunately, Colin doesn’t make the flight. Seated next to her on the plane, however, is handsome rodeo star Zach. He would fit right in with the Blackwells, the cousins she is about to meet, but what could possibly motivate Zach to assume the role of boyfriend?
Zach has his own family issues and dreams, but he loyally supports Georgie as promised. Since this is a Harlequin Heartwarming romance, you can be sure the couple will fall in love. The journey down the path to love is what is interesting, and the plot has several surprising twists, as in “I didn’t see that coming!” Author Cari Lynn Webb gives the viewpoint of both Zach and Georgie as they battle their growing attraction, giving the reader empathy for them in a situation neither sought out. The Blackwells are wonderful people who stand by each other with integrity, love, and quite a bit of teasing. They are the family Zach always dreamed of. Montana Wedding’sbackdrop of a Christmas wedding at a Montana working guest ranch will put you in a holiday mood regardless of the season. It is the perfect finish to The Blackwell Sisters series as it includes all the major characters from that series and from The Return of the Blackwell Brothers. It will leave you with that pleasing feeling of closure for the series and a satisfied smile on your face.
I would like to extend my thanks to Cari Lynn Webb and to Harlequin Heartwarming for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #5 in The Blackwell Sisters series. It could be read as a standalone, but I recommend reading the whole series.
Publication: December 6, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming
His mother had offered disregard and indifference as naturally as other mothers offered their children support and reassurance….His mother’s accusations had always been followed by those same two words, given in the same dull, detached tone: Go. Away.
He’d learned the truth during Cody’s final battle. Time refused to slow. There was no freeze button. And minutes were wasted wishing for impossible things. Life had to be enjoyed in the now.
“Hope is a powerful thing.” Every patient, every family member of a sick loved one relied on hope. Hope the medicine would work. Hope the doctors found the right treatment. Hope the surgeons removed every last cancer cell. Hope the damage wouldn’t be permanent. Hope that tomorrow would be brighter, better, pain free.