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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.

Aria’s Travelling Book Shop–trauma of grief

Aria’s Travelling Book Shop

by Rebecca Raisin

This second adventure of the Van Lifers features Aria, Rosie and Max who are the main characters in Aria’s Travelling Book Shop. We follow them to France for the summer where they meet up with new and old friends as is the way with these nomadic souls who travel from festival to festival earning their way as they go by holding pop-up specialty shops.

This story is told from Aria’s point of view. She lost the love of her life to cancer three years ago and is still struggling with grief, guilt, and an inability to move forward in her life. Her friend Rosie is always there to support her, but Rosie has a life surprise that complicates her ever-meticulous plans. Aria tries to re-establish a relationship with her husband’s family who estranged themselves from her after TJ’s death. She receives a journal written by TJ during his last months that reveal his hopes for her future. Jonathan is a successful writer who wants to be friends with the romance book loving Aria.

An interesting technique the author uses is to have Aria step outside herself, as if she were an onlooker announcing the events. For example, in italics we read “Hopeless romantic Aria vowed never to love again after loving her husband, TJ, but fate seems to have other ideas and keeps throwing mysterious Jonathan in her path. Is this a test of her commitment…” Using this approach, we get an up close view of Aria’s working through her issues in an almost humorous way.

In addition to personal matters, Rosie and Aria are confronted with a negative and unhappy “friend” who invites herself along. She is not a nice person, but Rosie and Aria try to understand and help her. Look for a surprise transformation for that character, and enjoy the very bookish nature of this novel.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: #2 in The Travelling Shops series, but can be read as a standalone.

Publication: August 10, 2021—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

Promises that won’t be kept swirl in the air above like the glittery trail of a sparkler extinguished before the word is written. I smile sadly, wishing things didn’t have to end but knowing that they do.

“According to my translation app you just told him: You’re a wet chicken!” She bites down on her lip before laughter gets the better of her.

I duly sit and wait for Rosie as she hurries to make tea and serves me a slice of cake so large it has its own postcode.

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop–home and business in a van

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop

by Rebecca Raisin

Personal Note: Fall is bringing glorious temps in my area along with some hints of winter to come. Days are too short and dark is uncomfortably extended. It’s the perfect time to mix up my stringent standards of reading books, excepting book club tomes, in the order in which they were published. It’s also a good time to again acknowledge that I am fearfully behind in my reading queue, but I am gradually catching up, mainly because I am requesting about half the number of Advanced Reader Copies that I did when I lived in Mexico. What does my sudden free-spiritedness have to do with this review?

I just finished reading Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop, a fun romance and the first in a series that focuses on some nomadic souls. I’m going to jump into the next one tomorrow, soon to be followed by the third, which has a Christmas theme—perfect!

My Review: It’s Rosie’s birthday and she just turned 32. Her husband Callum has a surprise for her, but it is not a pleasant one. As the sous chef at a famous London restaurant, she works long hours, has almost total independence in creative decisions, but gets no credit for her contributions to the restaurant’s fame.

Can she be successful personally and financially as a Van Lifer, someone who lives out of a van, travelling with no schedule, following fairs and special events or his or her personal whim? Does she have what it takes to strike out on her own, preparing and selling special teas and comfort food in her tiny kitchen at these events? Can she recover from Callum’s betrayal and find love with either sensitive Ollie whom she met on the Internet or with hunky nomadic Max who draws her outside her cocoon of contentment with adventures?

I obviously enjoyed this book. Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop has romantic themes, but it also addresses the serious events that the main characters have experienced that make them the way they are. Rosie is a really nice person and all through the book I wanted only the best for her, although life doesn’t always work out that way. Rosie is a planner with OCD tendencies. She has not had much time for friendships so interacting with romance book loving, free-spirited, kind hearted Aria is a challenge. I can’t forget to mention Poppy, Rosie’s fuchsia pink van; Poppy is as important to Rosie and to the plot as any flesh and bones character! The next book in the series will focus on Aria and her Travelling Bookshop; I’m hoping for a very bookish romance with some adventure and fun thrown in as Rosie and Aria continue their Van Life travels.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. #1 in The Travelling Shops Series 2. When I posted my review on Amazon on 12/6/2021, the Kindle version of this book was on sale for $.99.

Publication: February 16, 2021—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“The right person is out there, you just have to take the leap and find him. But first you need to figure out what makes you happy, and then have it in spades.”

“Anomaly is just another word for extraordinary, and who wants to be ordinary, anyway? To me you’re a shining light in a crowd of beige.”

And now I see with such life-altering clarity, that all those material things did the exact opposite of fulfilling me, they held me back, kept me in debt, kept me working to maintain a lifestyle that didn’t satisfy me at all.

A Royal Christmas Fairy Tale–traditions to fairy tale

A Royal Christmas Fairy Tale

by Karen Schaler

A Royal Christmas Fairy Tale is perfect for readers who enjoy a book infused with:

*the spirit of Christmas
*beautiful snowy backdrops
*Christmas traditions
*the importance of family
*magical, romantic possibilities
*a belief that wishes can come true
*a kinder, gentler way of interacting with others
*royalty who love and respect the citizens of their kingdom

The story centers on:
Alexander—handsome, widowed prince
Isabella—perceptive and generous queen
Anna—precocious princess, enthusiastic, but respectful
Blixen—charming Vizsla dog
Kaylie—investigative reporter

What happens if you are expecting a promotion, but discover at Christmas that the company is making cuts? You accept any job, even if it is a mystery assignment, if it might lead to greater things.

What do you do if your wife dies, and the paparazzi are ruthless in their hounding? You escape to the Caribbean.

With a little royal manipulation, the two are thrown together, with a comfort zone nowhere in sight.

My favorite character is the princess, mature in manners and understanding of the grownup world of royalty, but young in her enjoyment of life. My favorite scene is Kaylie’s arrival in Tolvania, unaware she will be working in a real castle inhabited by royalty. She is greeted by the princess, but thinks it is all pretend and plays along with what she thinks is an imaginary scenario. Confusing and embarrassing for Kaylie. Amusing for the reader.

Along the way I could tell that Kaylie had stepped over a boundary, a law actually. That decision was complicated by a mistake that I knew was coming and which added tension to several chapters as I waited for the issue to explode. If you want a true Christmasy, romantic escape, A Royal Christmas Fairy Tale was written just for you.

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

Rating: 4/5

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

Notes: This standalone includes three recipes and two activities in a bonus section.

Publication: October 5, 2021—HawkTale Publishing

Memorable Lines:

She wondered, if she’d had an inspiring art teacher who had encouraged her, instead of telling her all the things she was doing wrong, maybe she would have liked art more.

Kaylie was once again impressed by how many of the royal family’s Christmas traditions included the entire village of Tolvania and focused on giving back and bringing people together.

“Christmas spirit is the heart and soul of Christmas because it celebrates family, faith, friends, community, hope, and love,” the queen said. “You can tell a lot about someone by the way they celebrate and honor Christmas.”

Christmas Wishes–love crosses the Channel

Christmas Wishes

by Sue Moorcroft

Good personal character is something that is often taken for granted, but in moments of crisis it can rise to the forefront to shine. That is what happens to Nico Pettersson when he takes his eight-year old daughter Josie to her mother Lauren’s home for a planned visit only to discover an alcohol and drug mess. Lauren is in no condition for a visit or to take care of her two-year old Maria. This precious little one is not Nico’s child. In fact, her conception had resulted in divorce. As a single parent, Nico has his own set of problems, but can he leave his daughter’s sister in a filthy, hungry, and thirsty state?

Throughout Sue Moorcroft’s Christmas Wishes, Nico has many decisive moments of conscience. Meanwhile, he reconnects with Hannah, a childhood friend who is his former hockey teammate’s little sister. She is confronted with a break in her relationship with Albin, a cold, wealthy, supercilious boyfriend who controls her shop and her residence in Sweden. The setting bounces back and forth between Stockholm, Sweden, and Middledip, England, with Hannah and Nico having ties in both countries.

The setting is beautiful and Moorcroft has a talent for descriptions. Christmas is not just a backdrop, but an integral part of the story. The plot and relationships are complex. The ups and downs of romance weave through the story and provide a few surprises. A well-behaved Josie and cute-as-a-button Maria are a wonderful pair of children, and my heart went out to them in their respective situations. Hannah’s grandmother, Nan Heather, is a wise and delightful ninety year old who rounds out the cast beautifully. Christmas Wishes is a Christmas gift to readers who want a good storyline coupled with romance in a Christmas setting.

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

Rating: 4/5

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

Notes: 1. This book is part of the Middledip Series which seems to be loosely connected by a Middledip, England, setting and by an emphasis on seasons. My impression is that the books in this series do not need to be read in any particular order and that they make excellent standalones.
2. There is one place in the book where the description of a sexual encounter borders on too much detail for my taste, but it is not enough to make me wish I hadn’t read the book. Skim and move on!

Publication: October 29, 2020—HarperCollins (Avon)

Memorable Lines:

The butterflies that journeyed home with her fluttered wings of ice…

Anders rocked a mixed retro look with a Seventies mustache but a Sixties short-back-and-sides. His wide-lapelled suits teamed with busy floral ties were a fashion mystery.

Autumn seemed to have decided not to bother this year and winter had swept in as if from Narnia. Iron-hard frosts stripped the color from the landscape, bleak but beautiful…

Love Your Life–another fun Kinsella main character

Love Your Life

by Sophie Kinsella

Ava is the latest in the line of Sophie Kinsella’s over the top lovable main characters. She rescues almost everything—from her mischievous beagle Harold to books no one else would want to buy. She is passionate about her ever-changing interests but never seems to achieve any of her goals. Her conversations with herself and others can best be described as stream of consciousness. The word “tidy” is not in her vocabulary.

Ava’s support group from university choir days is a cadre of unlike souls who nevertheless get along fabulously. Ava goes to Italy at their urging for a writer’s retreat where she meets Matt whose family business is all consuming. He has a sterile apartment, weird taste in art, and two odd roommates. Their dynamic is amusing in a male supportive kind of way.

The rules at the writer’s retreat keep everyone anonymous and focused on their writing—in theory. Ava and Matt quickly focus on each other and reveal their identities to continue their relationship when they return home. Watching Ava and Matt interact is like watching the proverbial train wreck. You know disaster will happen, yet you can’t look away. Although much of the book is pleasantly predictable, there are some stunning surprises along the way. Love Your Life is a fun foray into chick lit: twenty-first century romance featuring online dating and What’s App and wacky but lovable characters. It is a humorous look at the glue that hold friendships together and the ties that bind hearts in love.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: Some foul language

Publication: October 27, 2020—Random House (Dial)

Memorable Lines:

Maud’s basic conundrum in life is that she has three children but only two hands.

Nell doesn’t normally do hope. Not since she got ill. She describes her life philosophy as “managed pessimism.”

For a few minutes we’re both silent as rain starts to thunder down on the car roof. Hurt is crackling around the car like a lightning storm.

Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes–Christmas wedding

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.

Rating: 4/5

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

Publication:   August 13, 2020—Boldwood Books

Memorable Lines:

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. 

Montana Wedding–great finale

Montana Wedding

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.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

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

Memorable Lines:

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.

Of Literature and Lattes–reconciliation

Of Literature and Lattes

by Katherine Reay

I enjoyed Katherine Reay’s The Printed Letter Bookshop and was excited at the opportunity to read another book by this author—Of Literature and Lattes. This book is also a clean read dealing with real problems and is, in fact, a follow-up to the first book. I liked both novels, but I didn’t feel the second was as well organized or flowed as well as the first. In The Printed Letter Bookshop, the bookstore is almost another character as is Maddie, its former owner whose funeral initiates the action in the book. We depart from a focus on Maddie and her bookstore in Of Literature and Lattes where some characters continue with the focus on Janet who works at the bookshop and is rediscovering her artistic talent as well as trying to reconnect with her ex-husband, her daughter Alyssa, and her mother. That is a lot of reconciliation to accomplish! 

Alyssa struggles when she discovers the success of her employer and his company are based on fraud, and she finds her only alternative is to return home. There she meets Jeremy, a new character who is also trying to start over both with a coffee shop he purchased and in his relationship with his seven-year-old daughter.

There are a lot of twists and turns as Alyssa tries to find employment. To her credit, she will take any job offered when she discovers no one in her field will hire her because she is under investigation by the FBI. Alyssa and Janet want to repair the long-term fracture in their mother-daughter relationship, but it is not simple. Meanwhile, Jeremy has difficulties with his ex-wife and his employees.

The storyline jumps around among the various characters and themes. The characters have to deal with ethical, moral, and legal issues and rely on the help of kind neighbors, family, and friends.

Although I found the first of the book to be a little disjointed, it came together as the story progressed. My favorite character is Becca, Jeremy’s young daughter. I enjoyed the novel, but did not make an emotional attachment to any of the characters. I assume there will be more books making it a series. Reay has written a number of fiction books based on her love of literature and especially the works of Jane Austin.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction

Notes: 1. This book could be read as a standalone, but some of the characters’ relationships would be clearer if you read The Printed Letter Bookshop first.

  2. I included this in the Christian Fiction category because the characters’ relationship to Christ is a background theme providing moral and relationship structure.

Publication:   May 12, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

What before she had regarded as instances of Alyssa’s ingratitude, obstinance, and petulance were recast in light of her own issues of control, manipulation, and anger.

Father Luke had been telling her for months that her problem was no longer asking others for forgiveness, but accepting it herself. “It’s an odd form of pride, you know,” he had said over coffee one day. “You decide you know better than God and make your own ruling.”

Yes, the “bad” in life bumped down the generations with discord and pain, causing breaks and tumult as well, but it could be healed. It could be made new and, perhaps, made stronger.

Fearless–stalkers in the land of bluebonnets

Fearless

by Fern Michaels

Anna Campbell, who pieced her life together after the unexpected death of her husband, is a busy and successful blogger able to support herself and her teenage daughter. Rich, famous, and kindheartedly generous, she is also a target for stalkers and scammers. Her business manager and best friend Mandy convinces her to go on a singles cruise. What should have been a fun adventure rapidly leads her down paths she will regret.

The main characters in Fern Michaels’ Fearless are well-developed, and the plot is interesting. I liked the Lubbock, Texas, setting and touring Anna’s large suite on the cruise ship and her expansive gated home with vlogging  studio.I enjoyed the mix of romance with mystery. When I had to put the book away, I was always eager to return. Fearless includes criminal activities that require the characters and the reader to puzzle out events, identities, and motivations. The resolution of this story is disappointing. It is too rushed without enough explanation of the characters’ motivations many of which reach way back in time and others that are current. For example, there are two instances of the use of a date-rape drug. The usage is clear, but the motivation of the second attempt is unclear. This hurried ending resulted in less enjoyment for me. I will try another book by this prolific author in the future for comparative analysis.

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: 4/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. Includes a recipe for Anna’s Rib Rub.

  2. Has a sprinkling of mild swearing

Publication:  March 31, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

She looked out through the gates at the sweeping fields of bluebonnets that surrounded her house. Nothing made her feel more at home than those bluish purple flowers stretching out for miles. A uniquely Texan sight.

As she was standing eye to eye with him, she saw someone else. A man who was quick to anger, quick to judge. Not the man she thought she knew. Ryan had a temper, she realized. He’d shown it on multiple occasions, so why she was just now realizing it was beyond her comprehension…

“…he seemed cold to me, like his eyes were empty. Does that sound crazy or what?”

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