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A Dog’s Perfect Christmas–meeting life’s challenges

A Dog’s Perfect Christmas

by W. Bruce Cameron

I have discovered an author I was unfamiliar with, but now I want to read more of his works. W. Bruce Cameron specializes in dog/people stories and knows how to combine some humor with tough reality. His A Dog’s Perfect Christmas could be labeled as a “feel-good Christmas story,” but it is so much more.

This is the tale of an imperfect family doing their best to survive the everyday struggles and big disasters. By the conclusion of this book, you’ll like all of the characters. Hunter loves his family but devotes himself to his job. His wife Juliana gave up her job to raise their children but struggles with inner conflict about her role. Ello (short for Eloise) is their thirteen year old daughter caught in a hurricane of hormones and middle school relationships. Her two younger brothers are three year old twins who excel in wreaking havoc and rely on Ello to be their translator to the rest of the world. Grandpa Sander is a widower whose beloved wife passed away from cancer. Her care drained their financial resources requiring Sander to move in with his son’s family. Completing the family is Sander’s faithful canine retainer Winstead. 

I devote so much of my review to the characters because the characters and how they interact with each other and meet life’s challenges is the focus of A Dog’s Perfect Christmas. Everyone in this book has specific needs to be met. The family undergoes a major crisis that could have thrown them all into despair, but as they work to stand strong together through the big problem confronting them, there is healing and a renewing of family and spirit.

Dogs play a part in this story that dog lovers will enjoy, especially the thinking process in Winstead’s brain as he reacts to his “daddy” Sander’s moods and actions. If only there were a puppy, this would be a perfect Christmas story…

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction

Publication:   October 10, 2020—Forge

Memorable Lines:

He saw the tidal forces of rage fighting for control of Ello’s face. As a little girl, she had been able to charm her grandfather into reading her one book after another after another. Now, though, she’d morphed into this hideously unpleasant creature, spitting acidic venom.

Winstead and Ruby had already incorporated park visits into their bill of rights, and now gazed at Sander expectantly whenever he stood up out of his chair. They tracked him with eager intensity as he fetched their leashes, then bounded joyfully into the minivan, wrestling all the way to the park.

When Hunter released her, Ruby darted off with crazed energy, racing around the room in celebration, because puppies know how to celebrate everything.

A Very Merry Match–romance with the kindergarten teacher

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.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

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)

Memorable Lines:

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–dangerous drama on the movie set

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.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mystery Series

Publication:   July 7, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

“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.

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. 

The Study of Secrets–literary mystery

The Study of Secrets

by Cynthia Kuhn

Lila Maclean has devoted her professional career as an English professor to the study of the mysteries of a practically unknown author, Isabella Dare. Taking a sabbatical to finish the books she is writing and with high hopes of achieving tenure, Lila is staying in the guest cottage of the revered author who is known to her childhood chums as Bibi. As Lila’s time in Larkston draws to an end, a murder occurs and Bibi and her friends are implicated in the crime, especially as their past secrets unravel along with the disappearance of an early unpublished manuscript. A cold case is also woven into the current story.

Lila, a likable character, is called on to help discover the identity of the murderer. Although she irritates the local detective with her inquiries and suggestions, she does not step over any legal lines. As she works on the case, several of her friends from her college arrive as well as some surprise visitors. She also finds herself caught between the presidents of two colleges who both want to purchase Bibi’s property. Lila handles everything that arises with aplomb. She even conquers one tricky situation successfully with her “stone-cold teacher stare.”

If you like mysteries, education, and all things bookish, I think you’ll enjoy Cynthia Kuhn’s The Study of Secrets. Although it is not a holiday themed book, it focuses on an annual Christmas event so there are references to the large Victorian house beautifully decorated and set in a backdrop of snow.

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.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #5 in the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery Series, but works as a standalone. As the setting is not at Lila’s university, most of the characters are new to the reader anyway. Any crossover characters are introduced and integrated quite well.

Publication:   May 26, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

“I enjoy learning new things.”  “I do too. Especially when it involves reading. There is nothing like being plunged into unexpected action, thrilled by a beautiful sentence, or confronted by a new idea that changes your understanding of the the world.”

“…snow was nature’s way of decorating for the season.”

Perhaps it wasn’t that she was uncommonly capable of handling problems. Perhaps she was just gifted at seeming as though they didn’t bother her.”

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.

Notting Hill in the Snow–chance encounter

Notting Hill in the Snow

by Jules Wake

Notting Hill in the SnowLooking for a romance on the clean side? Enjoy Britishisms? Does a story in which the main characters put the well-being of a sweet, people-pleasing seven year old ahead of their own happiness appeal to you? How about a Christmas in Notting Hill with snow and hot chocolate? If you find these enticing, then Jules Wakes’ Notting Hill in the Snow is a perfect read for you.

Viola, who plays the viola for the London Metropolitan Opera Company, is such a likable character, always trying to help others. Unfortunately, she had a mixed childhood with parents who just weren’t very supportive. When she is asked to help with a local school’s nativity play, she meets little Gracie who has a loving, successful, and quite handsome dad. Viola empathizes with Gracie whose mother is removed both physically and emotionally.

Viola has lots of balancing acts to maintain as she tries to keep her family happy, contain her growing desire for Gracie’s dad, put on a stellar Christmas show, and complete her obligations to herself and the opera company as a professional musician.

This is the kind of book that you don’t want to end because you are enjoying it so much. At the same time, you long for that final, feel-good closure—if, in fact, it comes for Gracie, her dad, and Viola.

I find most Christmas romances I read to be good, but not excellent—usually too sweet. Notting Hill in the Snow is a step above, however. I admit I am partial to stories that include children; but, for that reason, as well as the theatre and music backdrop, and interesting characters, this book is a Christmas romance I enjoyed and highly recommend.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to HarperCollins (One More Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Publication:   October 11, 2019—One More Chapter (HarperCollins Publishers)

Memorable Lines:

“Good. Morning. Miss Smith,” intoned the class in a deadened robotic rhythm that threatened to suck all of the life out of me. Honestly, it was like facing a crowd of Dementors.

Lifting her chin, she regarded me with, from a seven-year-old, terrifying lofty superiority. “You can never see Frozen too many times.”

Kensington Park Road was almost bereft of traffic, the few cars driving at a snail’s pace in the heavy slush and the gorgeous stylish shops were for once sluggish and quiet, some still closed, as if the snow had spread its calming influence and decreed that today was worth taking things slow and easy.

Elaine held all the cards and I was clueless as to what the game was.

Snowflakes over Holly Cove–reconciliation

Snowflakes over Holly Cove

by Lucy Coleman

Snowflakes over Holly CoveTia is facing her first Christmas without her mother. She also has a painful distancing from her brother Will and his family. She is returning to her job as a journalist after a breakdown, but as we see her take on a feature assignment in isolated Holly Cove, she is depicted as a strong and resilient woman.

As Lucy Coleman’s Snowflakes over Holly Cove unfolds, Tia finds herself in the middle of other familial dysfunctional relationships that include Clarissa, her successful but manipulative boss, and Nic, the owner of the house she is renting. She also meets Max, a reticent retired Navy officer who is her temporary neighbor. Everyone has secrets, and some of those secrets might tie the characters together.

There are many interesting, vying, plot threads as Tia interviews couples for her feature articles and tries to sort through what makes a relationship sustainable. The story ends with some surprising action scenes and lots of genuine moments of compassion and reconciliation. This is a novel that rises above the typical Christmas feel-good story; readers will appreciate its depth.

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:   September 18, 2018—Aria

Memorable Lines:

Strangely, I find myself repeatedly drawn to the window to marvel at the hostility of the sea. It’s a top to bottom, wall-to-wall steely greyness, that is like a blanket and it’s hard to see where the water ends and the sky begins.

“Money and possessions, I came to appreciate, create mistrust and envy. They bring out the worst in people.”

I truly believe that the spirit of Christmas is embodied in this room, today. It’s not about the gifts, or the amount of money you have to lavish on the occasion. It’s about the desire to make it special for other people and in doing so, it makes it special for you, too.

Finding Christmas–a holiday romance

Finding Christmas

by Karen Schaler

Finding ChristmasThe beginning of this Christmas romance is overly sugar sweet—or I was a tad “Grinchy” at that particular time. It isn’t long, however, before the conflict is presented and the interest level ramps up. Emma Sanders (aka Miss Christmas) loves Christmas as did her parents whose memory she tries to honor in her devotion to all things Christmas. The other thing she is devoted to is the community center she runs and the people it serves. The story centers around Emmie, her boyfriend Grant who is a lawyer, and Sam, a writer who mistakenly follows clues for a scavenger hunt intended to inspire Grant with the Christmas spirit.

Although the reader can quickly predict the outcome, the rest of the story is quite engaging as you watch the conflicts and misunderstandings of the romance play out. All of the characters are altruistic, but you’ll soon pick your favorites. Yours might even be Dasher, a border collie mix who adds fun to the story.

Finding Christmas has a beautiful Christmasy setting. Author Karen Schaler will lead you through a wonderland of snow, twinkling white lights, and evergreen decorations to a satisfying conclusion as the characters find Christmas. 

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Publication:   October 15, 2019—HarperCollins (William Morrow)

Memorable Lines:

Grant gave her a look. “Emmie, this is where I work. I don’t need…decorations.” Emmie’s eyes grew huge, and she looked at him like he’d just said he didn’t like puppies.

She loved seeing firsthand how even the smallest gift of kindness could make such a difference in someone’s life. She had seen over and over again the power of reaching out to someone, offering comfort when they needed it the most—how even the simplest gesture could connect people and give them hope.

After her parents passed away, Emmie had promised herself never to put off doing the things she really wanted to do, knowing tomorrows are never guaranteed. She had learned that saving something to do “someday” meant you were risking never having that special experience happen at all.

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.

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