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Christmas Shopaholic–Becky “needs” it all

Christmas Shopaholic

by Sophie Kinsella

Christmas ShopaholicIf you have enjoyed any other Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic books, then be prepared for a treat with Becky’s antics in Christmas Shopaholic. Becky’s  husband Luke has a profitable business. This is a fortunate circumstance for the couple because Becky, who has a good heart, just really has no sense when it comes to finances. She fights a losing battle with her desires to shop. Her version of economizing is buying things she doesn’t need in order to get free shipping. Another of Becky’s cost-saving strategies is to  buy a lifetime supply of a product because it is on sale.

In Christmas Shopaholic, Becky is asked to take over her extended family’s traditional Christmas Day dinner and activities at her own house. As she tries to make everyone happy, Becky becomes quite stressed and keeps getting distracted from her original shopping goals. To complicate matters, her vegan, organic-loving, eco-friendly half sister is back from Chile with monosyllabic responses to everything. Becky’s parents are experiencing life changes, and Becky has to face up to encounters with an ex-boyfriend who has morphed into an alluring rocker.

Christmas Shopaholic is an all-round fun and funny Christmas read with no tissues required. To add to the humor, Kinsella inserts texts and emails that represent Becky’s personality perfectly.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: There are eight other Shopaholic books, but each can be read as a standalone.

Publication:   October 15, 2019— Random House (Dial Press)

Memorable Lines:

I should shop ethically. We all should! So I started a little habit—when I’ve been on a shopping spree I try to buy something ethical too. Like those people who buy trees to make up for flying on planes.

Online ordering isn’t really shopping, it’s “procuring.” You procure stuff online. But you don’t get the buzz of actually stepping into a shop and seeing all the gorgeous stuff, feeling it, stroking it, being seduced by it.

In desperation, I’ve been watching one Christmas movie after another and feeling genuine withdrawal symptoms in between. They’re like Valium—not that I know what Valium is like, but I’m guessing. They make me feel calm and happy and hopeful, because in all of them, without fail, Christmas spirit brings everyone together.

The Christmas Calendar Girls–an advent calendar that helps others

The Christmas Calendar Girls

by Samantha Tonge

The Christmas Calendar GirlsFern, Davina, and Cara bond over children who attend the same school in Birchwood Estate. With different personalities and strengths they value each other rather than hold jealousies. In The Christmas Calendar Girls by Samantha Tonge, the ladies work together to save the food bank that is a lifeline for so many in the community, from the addict to the unemployed parent struggling to provide.

It’s the busy Christmas season and late to begin a project to raise money, but Fern has an idea to save the food bank and engender community spirit and good will. Her friends jump on board to help.

All is not smooth sailing, however, with the project and its changing deadlines or in the “calendar girls’ ” personal lives. Fern is a widowed journalist trying to find a new normal for herself and her daughter Lily. Perhaps she is ready to have a relationship again. Kit, a former client of the food bank, stirs her heart, but is he ready for romance? Davina has always been close to her twin boys, but the more sensitive of the two begins pulling away and the pair get into a fight at school. Cara is fantastic with food, very creative, and a doting, stay-at-home mom. Suddenly she seems to have lost it all as she burns foods, uses the wrong ingredients, and  forgets school notices and weather appropriate clothing for her kids. She fears the onset of early dementia.

Watching these characters grow as they lean on each other and gradually reveal their secrets and rooting for them as they try to help those less fortunate, makes for a gentle, interesting, and inspiring story. Birchwood Estate will never be the same.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   October 3, 2019—Aria

Memorable Lines:

That’s what Cara’s homely place was like…If it was a person it would have been a welcoming aunt, who always had your favorite biscuits in and never forgot to send birthday money.

“Bringing everyone together, friends and family, over food and drink, with the purpose of helping people facing difficult times…your idea really does encapsulate everything that the festive season should be about.”

Sometimes I worried I’d never meet another man. I didn’t need one to look after myself and Lily. But I wanted the company. The closeness. I missed that.

The Mountain Monroes–series summary

The Mountain Monroes

A Heartwarming Harlequin Series by Melinda Curtis

Series Summary:

Grandpa Harlan left the Monroe grandchildren out in the cold by stipulating in his will that their parents, in order to inherit, must fire the grandchildren  from their current jobs.In addition, the cousins must all agree on the disposition of Second Chance, the mountain town they inherited. Meanwhile, the residents of the remote town, who hold leases for one dollar per year, are held to non-disclosure agreements for one year after Harlan’s death. A shrewd multi-millionaire, he has managed to remain in control even after his death.

I recently had the opportunity to read books 2-4 in the series and couldn’t have been more delighted.

The first book in the series is Kissed by the Country Doc and my review can be read here. 

Reviews on books 2-4 will be posted sequentially in individual reviews. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did. They are, indeed, “heartwarming” and clean in terms of language, violence, and sex.

Let It Snow–love, snow, and family

Let It Snow

by Sue Moorcroft

Let It SnowCome along for a peek at a British view of Christmas and snow with side trips to Switzerland where Lily and the Middletones, a motley crew of adults and teens, really experience snow with accumulated depth. They embark on a trip that displays the musical talents of the informal singing group as well as Lily’s work as an exhibition artist at a Swiss Christmas Market in Sue Moorcroft’s Let It Snow.

There are lots of complex relationships to watch develop. The back story is critical as Lily and Zinnia are sisters with two “mums,” Patsie and Roma, a situation that caused them grief from classmates as children and later from other adults. Zinnia’s biological father was an anonymous sperm donor, but Lily discovers as an adult that her conception was the result of a heterosexual affair between her mother and a much older man. Her desire to meet her other family upsets both her mothers and her sister, and she is fearful of how her brothers will respond to meeting her. Lily’s family situation gets tied into the pub she works at part time and her business endeavors in Switzerland. Lily has a romantic entanglement with Isaac, the temporary manager of the pub. Their relationship gets complicated when Isaac’s ex re-enters the picture.

I enjoyed watching the intermingling of lives and surprising conflicts that prove to make the story even more interesting. Moorcroft is a master of enticement with setting and mood. I really wanted to be at that Swiss Christmas Market with expensive cuckoo clocks and chocolates. I had visions of hot chocolate, bratwurst, and fondue (but not all at the same time) transferring to my tastebuds. When Lily stood up for herself, I was proud. When she was in physical or emotional pain, I felt for her. Lots of good outcomes make for a happy conclusion, but this tale is close enough to life that not everyone experiences a fairytale ending.

An added bonus to this story is the inclusion of some excitable kids—it is Christmas, after all. An equally enthusiastic Dalmatian named Doggo  accompanies his humans to Switzerland and is quite accommodating to whatever adventures come his way.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Avon Books (U.K.) 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:   September 26, 2019—Avon Books (U.K.)

Memorable Lines:

Feelings don’t always take account of right or logic or justice. They come from inside and sometimes they’re all that matter.

As they reached the car park, fresh flakes of snow began, stinging skin like love bites from the Snow Queen.

‘Pretty,’ Lily breathed, eyes reflecting the thousand lights suspended like stars in the night sky above rows of stalls like little red chalets with snow on the roofs. Each stall glittered with stars and lanterns so the entire market seemed luminous.

The Empty Nesters–friends pulling together

The Empty Nesters

by Carolyn Brown

BrownCarolineEmptyNesters-27584-CV-FL-v1.inddHaving just finished a nonfiction book about the empty nest season of life, I enjoyed reading a fictional take on it. Carolyn Brown’s The Empty Nesters is a smiling, wipe a few tears kind of book. Four neighboring military families provide support for each other with retired and childless Tootsie and Smokey taking on a grandparenting role. The three other men are part of a team that frequently leaves for extended secret missions so the wives are left behind to raise their daughters.

Life is not always easy. We join their story with each of the four women at a different stage of the empty nest. A road trip in a mobile home to Tootsie’s old family home helps the women sort through various problems. The younger women have all just sent their daughters away to basic training. One mother is divorced and still has trust issues. Tootsie is recently widowed and still grieving, and the other two fear for their own family dynamics. Luke, Tootsie’s nephew, drives on the trip. He is handsome, single, rich but down to earth, and kind. These characters are people you would like to get to know from Diana who has decided love is not in the cards for her to Carmen who takes out her fury over a cheating, scumbag husband by splitting logs for hours.

You’ll enjoy the meetings of the Empty Nesters as they share with each other and support each other. Watching them work through calamities and successes makes you feel like you are a part of the group. We don’t get to know the daughters very well, but they reflect well on their mothers who worked hard to raise them right under difficult circumstances.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Montlake Romance for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating:  5/5

Category: General Fiction (A), Romance

Notes: Includes some mild swearing

Publication: August 20, 2019—Montlake Romance

Memorable Lines:

It might have seemed strange to someone else, but with all the recent events, his comment was a life preserver in the midst of an ocean—a simple  compliment to hang on to when the stormy waters of life were sweeping over her.

“When we get old, the biggest blessing in the world is simply to be needed”

Tootsie brought out a bottle of wine from her secret stash on the top shelf of her closet and piled sugar cookies high on a platter. Meetings weren’t held in the South, especially Texas, without food and something to drink, so it was only right that the first official meeting of the empty nesters should at least have something.

Goodness, Grace, and Me–it’s complicated

Goodness, Grace, and Me

by Julie Houston

Goodness, Grace, and MeComplicated relationships are at the center of Julie Houston’s Goodness, Grace, and Me. Harriet (Hat) has been best friends with Grace since they were eleven, and they both idolized Amanda who along the way picked up the title “Little Miss Goodness.” Twenty years later, Grace and Harriet  assume they are rid of her influence when she suddenly re-enters their lives. Despite all warnings, Harriet’s husband Nick becomes involved in business with Amanda’s husband and thus Amanda. Grace’s brother continues to be under Amanda’s spell.

Life is not easy for Harriet, mother of three, who had to return to teaching because of economic problems. Also Nick’s mother has come to live with them. Although her situation is complicated, Harriet pushes hard for stability for her family.

This is my second Julie Houston book to read and I like it much better than the first. The main character is strong, likable, and has moral character. There is a subplot involving Harriet’s mother, possible dementia, and a secret. I wasn’t sure how the plot would sort itself out, but it did and I enjoyed watching it happen.

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

Rating: 4.5/5

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

Notes: Includes some British vulgarisms but they are not terribly offensive compared to those found in Julie Houston’s Coming Home to Holly Close Farm.

Publication:   February 19, 2019—Aria

Memorable Lines:

I can only ever sulk for a maximum of five minutes, by which time I’ve usually had enough of giving the cold shoulder treatment and need to start talking again. Life is just too short to spend it in silence.

Admittedly, I did most of the hard graft but I lightened the proceedings by blasting out T.Rex’s “I Love to Boogie”, so that even Kit forgot he was a fully paid up member of the moody brigade and jitterbugged round the furniture with the Hoover.

…wrapping a duvet around her against the almost damp cold which had settled in the sitting room like a melancholic maiden aunt who has outstayed her welcome, I went back through the hall to ring the doctor’s surgery.

The Secrets of Paper and Ink–God’s working it out

The Secrets of Paper and Ink

by Lindsay Harrell

The Secrets of Paper and InkThe lives of three women cross in Lindsay Harrell’s novel The Secrets of Paper and Ink. Sophia is a women’s therapist in Arizona who finds herself in the need of therapy. Ginny is a formerly rich American who abandoned that life to follow her husband to Cornwall, England, to open a bookstore. Their lives cross when Sophia, who needs more healing time, answers Ginny’s ad for a vacation rental. They find a notebook with the story of Emily Fairfax, a woman who lived in the mid 1800’s. Sophia becomes obsessed with learning more about Emily.

Each of the three main characters has to deal with a problem particular to women—abuse, abandonment, and discrimination. The author handles all of these issues with respect. The plot pops back and forth with each chapter focusing on one character, but with Ginny and Sophia’s stories overlapping in real time. Both ladies are impacted by Emily’s story, and there is a delightful surprise ending. Readers who delight in all things bookish will particularly relish this book as it includes a wonderful bookstore, journaling, and a female author in a time period when that was unacceptable. Readers who enjoy a good Christian romance will take pleasure in the gentle ways in which the characters’ interest in God is reawakened. Lastly, historical fiction buffs will appreciate the inclusion of Emily’s story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction

Publication:   February 26, 2019—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

But no matter what she felt, she knew deep down that her story did matter. She had to fight against the lie that it didn’t. And if she didn’t protect her own story or have the courage to write it down, no one else would. No one else could.

My senses rang with the cacophony of the muffin man’s bell, the clamor of the clarinet player on the corner, and the clickety-clack of the pattens on ladies’ feet.

Someone had finally noticed me drowning and offered to point me in the direction of the shore. Now it was up to me to keep stroking through the water until I reached the sandy beach beyond.

I Owe You One–the power of guilt

I Owe You One

by Sophie Kinsella

I Owe You OneI have read and enjoyed a number of books by Sophie Kinsella who is perhaps most famous for her Shopaholic series. Then I read one that just didn’t have the same zing and humor, so I entered I Owe You One with some trepidation. I am pleased to report that Kinsella’s latest book lives up to her standards and my expectations. At first I was a little concerned there would be too much predictability. The main character’s name is Fixie, derived from her penchant for fixing things ranging from the placement of objects to personal relationships. OCD is definitely in play as she struggles not to rearrange things or declare her every thought. As Fixie’s high school heartthrob reenters her life, the reader is watching a foreseeable train wreck: “No, Fixie, don’t do it!”

The plot leaves the anticipated pathway soon after with lots of surprises in store. It does not focus solely on Fixie’s love life. Fixie also struggles with family relationships which are closely tied with the family business. You will like Fixie if for no other reason than she tries so hard in everything she does. She feels like a failure, is loaded with unwarranted guilt, and carries the torch for making everything turn out right and keeping everyone happy—a big burden for one person.

There are many other interesting major and minor characters you will meet, but not all of them are likable, of course. The setting is West London where the denizens range from scruffy to posh. The book flows nicely with lots of humor and is a fast and enjoyable read.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Dial Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Publication:   February 19, 2019—Dial Press

Memorable Lines:

When I think how I believed his version of everything, how I rationalized everything he said and did, I feel warm with stupidity. But he was so convincing.

Ryan’s pathological, I’ve realized. He says anything to anyone to get out of whatever situation he’s in. Truth doesn’t count, integrity doesn’t count, love doesn’t even figure. Yelling at him would be like yelling at a rock. It’s never going to change.

I learned that failing doesn’t mean you are a failure; it just means you’re a human being.

October Kiss–Love Amongst the Pumpkins

October Kiss

by Kristen Ethridge

October KissSeriously, you can’t start a book made from a Hallmark movie without knowing how it is going to end. October Kiss has all the requisites: a smart, attractive twenty-nine year old woman who has commitment issues in work, relationships, and most other areas of her life. She becomes a temporary nanny for a handsome, workaholic widower with two kids. It’s no spoiler to predict a happy ending, but like a good motorcycle ride, reading this book is not about the destination, but the journey. Even though you know what the conclusion will bring, it is just so much fun watching the story of Poppy, Ryan, and the children, Zoe and Zack, play out.

Kristen Ethridge, the author, reveals the worst faults of the four main characters in the beginning of the book, but pretty soon their true and more positive characteristics shine. They are all likable, and you will be rooting for that inevitable successful ending. A quick read with a beautiful fall setting will convince even the most adamant naysayer of Halloween that fun and whimsy can still be found through the eyes of children.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: The movie October Kiss premiered in 2015.

Publication:  August 2, 2019—Hallmark Publishing

Memorable Lines:

These kids weren’t complicated. They just needed a little undivided attention and unconditional love.

The mere acknowledgement of the other woman tasted like black licorice on Poppy’s tongue as she spoke. Poppy hated black licorice.

The truth hurt like rug burn on her soul.

The Year of Starting Over: A Feel-Good Novel about Second Chances and Finding Yourself. 

The Year of Starting Over

by Karen King

The Year of Starting OverI don’t know any honest person who won’t admit, at least to themselves, that there is something that they wish they had done differently. Since there are no “do-overs” in life, I am grateful for second chances and that is what The Year of Starting Over is all about. Its subtitle is A Feel-Good Novel about Second Chances and Finding Yourself. 

In Karen King’s novel, Holly is confronted with both the need and opportunity to hit the reset button on her life when it becomes apparent her relationship with boyfriend Scott will never lead to the type of loving marriage her Nanna and Pops enjoyed. Her job as a care assistant for the elderly is not the path to fulfillment for Holly as an artist. Holly is left money by her Pops giving her a chance to change those circumstances and begin living for herself. 

Holly has to sort through relationships as she reinvents herself in this gentle romance. She travels from England to Spain to help her friends, Fiona and Pedro, establish an artists’ retreat. With an adventure in another country, the interesting characters, and a female lead who steps out of her comfort zone, you may well be pleasantly reminded of Under the Tuscan Sun. The plots play out differently, but the feel-good aura is present in both.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   February 7, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

Although her family had always praised her designs, Scott had dismissed it as her “hobby” and had never taken much interest.

Holly felt frustrated as she listened to them, wishing she knew the language better. She’d improved since she’d started taking lessons with Felipe, but not enough to understand conversations, especially when they spoke so quickly.

Her family had been pretty poor, he knew that from what she’d told him, but they’d been happy. His family were rich by comparison, but there was no closeness between them.

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