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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…

Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Cafe–finding the magic in others

Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Cafe

by Jessica Redland

Tara has worked hard to make The Chocolate Pot Cafe a success, but there are lots of heartaches and pain in her story. She has isolated herself on a personal level and focused on her professional life in response to the devastating events of her childhood and the wicked betrayals in her youth, betrayals perpetrated by those she had reason to trust the most. Now she has determined that if she doesn’t let anyone past her barriers, she can’t be hurt again.

In Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Cafe, Jessica Redland has crafted a moving tale of a girl with a Pollyanna type personality, always looking for the good in others and in situations. As a child, she is wrapped in her father’s love and in the black cloak that surrounds her mother who battles depression and mental illness.

When disaster strikes the family, Tara is introduced to the foster care system. After several rough starts, she finds a real home with a loving family. Tara is finally convinced to open up to her friend Carla about her abusive experiences with her foster sister and with her own husband. In three different sessions, Tara manages to relate the trauma. In the telling, it is clear that Tara is a courageous young woman.

Another complication to the story is the return to Whitsborough Bay of Jed, the former owner of her cafe who scammed Tara during the purchase. There are many delightful characters who see Tara for what she is—kind, intelligent, caring, humble, generous, and innovative. A favorite character is Hercules, Tara’s Flemish Giant house rabbit.

Although there are difficult parts of the book that are hard to read, they are important in understanding why Tara is the way she is. Readers will enjoy following Tara’s growth as she learns to open her heart and take a chance on people again.

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: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Publication:   September 8, 2020—Boldwood Books

Memorable Lines:

There was no need for anyone to know anything about me outside of work. I let them see what I wanted them to see: a successful entrepreneur, an excellent chef, and a fair boss who stood for no nonsense. When you let people in—fully in—they have a habit of letting you down, so it’s easier to keep them at arm’s length. That way, they won’t break your heart.

…for the first time ever, I realised that my past had the power to do good. Instead of hiding from it, I could harness it and help others face their future.

“Facebook isn’t real, you know.” “What do you mean?” “It’s all about what people want others to see…most people I know use it to present the shiny side of life…And because it’s accompanied by a fanfare and smiles, we’re all fooled into thinking that everyone has a better life than us.”

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris–charming

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris

by Paul Gallico

A delightful work of fiction set in London and in Paris tells the tale of Ada Harris, a hard working char woman who sets her sights on owning a Christian Dior dress. She doesn’t want to wear it, just to own and look at something so beautiful as one would admire a work of art. How indeed would an honest widow, who is already living with few indulgences, manage to accumulate enough money for a designer dress?

Paul Gallico in Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris takes us on the journey with Mrs. ‘Arris as she struggles with the money issues that crop up all through the book as there are many aspects of a trip to Paris that the poor lady who is clearly not a seasoned traveller could not anticipate. You will quickly come to love Mrs. ‘Arris as everyone does who meets her. She is so genuine and determined and never wishes anyone ill.

Paul Gallico makes his character come to life from her wrinkled face and the twinkle in her eye to her accent (e.g. “lydy” for “lady”), dropping her “h’s,” and her word choices like “lumme” and “blime.”  Her interactions with other characters are key to the story. They have aspirations of their own, and Mrs. ‘Arris is not shy about helping others including Natasha, Dior’s top model, and M. Fauvel, a quiet accountant at the fashion house. She breaks down English/French and class barriers with her inviting charm and practical approach to problems.

This little book brought smiles to my face, and I got teary eyed a few times as I found Mrs. ‘Arris had stolen my heart. The author’s writing style is perfect for this book, moving along quickly with descriptions that can put the reader in a messy bachelor’s flat or on the thick gray carpets of Dior’s. It is a charming novel that has held up well across the years, and that I will no doubt reread just for pleasure in the near future.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: Blogger friend Christopher recommended this book in a “throw back” post. His review was so convincing that I bought it immediately. It’s over a year later, but I finally read it and am so happy I did. Thanks, Christopher! You can find his review here: https://pluckedfromthestacks.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/mrs-arris-goes-to-paris/.

Publication:   1958—Doubleday & Co.

Memorable Lines:

And yet with some chars there was more to it than just that, and particularly with Mrs. Harris—a kind of perpetual house-proudness. And it was a creative effort as well, something in which a person might take pride and satisfaction. She came to these rooms to find them pigsties, she left them neat, clean, sparkling and sweet-smelling.

She had an exquisite figure and clever tiny feet that never once had tripped upon the corpses she had climbed over on her way up the ladder of success.

Mrs. Harris simply felt that if one owned a dress so beautiful that it cost four hundred fifty pounds there was then nothing left upon earth to be desired.

Death at Sycamore House–cozy mystery/police procedural

Death at Sycamore House

by Betty Rowlands

Death at Sycamore HouseJust when Sukey Reynolds begins to feel work as a Detective Constable has slowed to a snail’s pace, her team gets called in on a murder investigation in the quiet area known as Sycamore House. In a case that initially appears to Sukey to be easily solved, a number of secrets surface along with an increase in suspects and a second murder. The team has to try to sort through multiple red herrings to arrive at the truth.

Sukey cooperates with her newspaper reporter boyfriend, but she shares a limited amount of research results, always taking care not to leak information. The characters in Betty Rowlands’ Death at Sycamore House are interesting, and the plot is engaging. The outcome is an enjoyable, police procedural.

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: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: This book is #12 in the Sukey Reynolds Mystery Series. I started into the series late and have only read a few, but I find that I don’t need to have background on the characters to enjoy or understand the individual books. The focus is on solving the crime.

Publication:  October 28, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

“She’s probably regretting not having made an effort at reconciliation and now it’s too late.”

“She must have spent most of her life desperately seeking the love she never got from her own mother.”

“Now and again you pick up a piece that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere, almost as if it belongs to another puzzle and has somehow got into the wrong box. Then you suddenly see its connection with another piece that you haven’t noticed before.”

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.

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.

It Won’t Be Christmas Without You–white Christmas in England

It Won’t Be Christmas Without You

by Beth Reekles

It Won't Be Christmas Without YouCara and Eloise are twins in Beth Reekles’ It Won’t Be Christmas Without You. The author never tells if they are identical twins or not, but they are certainly different in personality. Cara is a workaholic, driven to earn an early promotion. She feels she has always had to work extra hard to achieve grades and jobs. Eloise is a teacher and success in school and in finding her first job comes easier for her. She, however, always feels lacking in the friendship department.

This year Eloise’s world is turned upside down as their parents announce that they will take a beach vacation on what is Eloise’s favorite holiday, Christmas. Cara decides she may opt out of their traditional celebration also in favor of working. The conflict in the book revolves around the tension between the siblings as they move closer to December 25. Both of the twins become involved in romantic relationships with likable young men. 

The chapters move along a timeline which is a countdown to Christmas. It was a quick read, but I never felt fully invested in the characters. I was more of an outsider looking in on the action. I enjoyed learning about some mentioned British foods: roasties, bacon sarnies, and the sweet treats of individual, packaged mince pies, Celebrations, and Roses.

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: 3/5

Category: General Fiction (A), Romance

Notes: Contains a lot of British Vulgarisms

Publication:   August 30, 2019—HarperCollins (One More Chapter)

Memorable Lines:

Wow. She’d actually done it. She’d gone for the blackmail card. Guilting her twin with her own broken heart.

But it did mean she was lacking in experience when it came to relationship problems. Like what to do when you think your boyfriend is lying to you. (Google wasn’t very helpful, when she asked it.)

The burn on the back of her forearm she’d got an hour ago was still red and angry, so she slapped a little Savlon on it. Salon would cure everything that a good cup of tea couldn’t, she was convinced.

Except Christmas.

Nothing could fix this Christmas.

Treacherous is the Night–once a spy, always a spy?

Treacherous is the Night

by Anna Lee Huber

Treacherous is the NightAlthough the Great War is over, no one is over the Great War in Anna Lee Huber’s Treacherous is the Night. Every family has been affected by the huge number of fatalities and the return of badly wounded soldiers. Civilians carry the memories of deprivation and on the continent all live daily in the midst of destruction and rebuilding.  For Verity Kent, the end of the war means reunion with a husband long thought dead and the end of her dangerous stint as a spy. Verity is dragged back into the aftermath of the war when she is an unwilling participant in a séance that is an obvious hoax. 

Verity and her husband are trying to sort out their difficult relationship, but manage to put their struggle aside to solve the mystery, decipher codes, and discover who is lying. Huber does an excellent job of putting the reader in the timeframe right after the end of the war, and she reveals the horrors of war without being graphic. She portrays Verity as a woman restricted by the times she lives in, but capable and competent to achieve so much more than is expected from a woman in that period.

I enjoyed Treacherous is the Night and would like to read the first book in the series for more background and to experience Verity’s previous adventures.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Verity Kent Series, but acceptable as a standalone.

Publication:   September 25, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

We might be incapable as of late at discussing anything of importance, but as well-educated upperclass Brits, we could always rely upon our proficiency at inane small talk. After all, we’d been drilled in it since the cradle.

But in my estimation, he was naught but an officious pig, no offense to the swine.

“…the truth is war is hell on everyone who falls near its angry maw. The actions you take thinking to spare the innocent or inexperienced can just as easily cause their destruction, simply because the world is turned so bloody upside down.”

Kindred Spirits–stolen art with deadly consequences

Kindred Spirits

by Jo Bannister

Kindred SpiritsGabriel Ash, formerly a security analyst with the British government, has recently been released from mental health care. He has opened a second hand book shop, Rambles with Books. He has also been reunited with his two sons after a four year separation as a result of his wife’s illegally taking the boys.  All should be relatively smooth sailing in the Ash household, but that is not the case. Ash’s good friend, Constable Hazel Best, drives to school to pick up the boys, and she sees them and their nanny being accosted in what appears to be a kidnapping attempt.

The plot of Kindred Spirits rapidly becomes complicated as the older boy, Gilbert, insists that only the nanny was being forced into the van. This fast-moving police procedural by Jo Bannister puts on display not only how the police investigate crimes, but also the behind-the-scenes politics. Neither Hazel nor Detective Inspector Dave Gorman are armchair detectives. The same can be said about Ash when those he cares about are personally threatened. All three are motivated by doing what is right. When an old case clashes with the events of a new case, they refuse to turn a blind eye. The results are dangerous, and you won’t want to stop reading until the mystery is resolved.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Police Procedural

Notes: #5 in the Hazel Best and Gabriel Ash Mystery Series. This was the first book in the series for me to read, and I had no problem catching up with the background.

Publication:   September 1, 2018—Severn House

Memorable Lines:

Perhaps he was the last man in England—the last man in the civilized world—to enjoy the sensation, both sensual and intellectual, of paper pages curling away under his fingers. Of words, and the ideas they encoded, waiting for him to find them—and staying close at hand after he’d read them, in case he needed to flick back a page or two to check something.

She had less and less patience with hard feelings and petty jealousies. She did her job, and did it well; being liked was an optional extra. It wasn’t something that she’d ever struggled with before, but if it came to a choice between being popular and doing what she believed to be right, she had broad shoulders.

Gorman knew that Jerome Harbinger was sixty-eight. If he hadn’t known, he’d have thought he was ten years older than that. His craggy face was savaged by deep lines that had nothing to do with laughter and everything to do with bitter unhappiness.

Upstaged by Murder–mystery play with deadly consequences

Upstaged by Murder

by C.S. Challinor

Upstaged by MurderUpstaged by Murder turned out to be more interesting and complex than I had imagined. I was treated to a theatre setting embedded in an English setting. The main character is a Scottish barrister with quite a reputation as a private detective. Full of Britishisms such as “gone for a burton” and “you finally twigged,” the production’s actors have diverse backgrounds as the cozy mystery’s focus is on a community theatre play.  Thus they have their own natural personas in addition to the roles they play on stage where fictional detectives are assembled to solve a fictional crime.

Rex Graves is attending the play Peril at Pinegrove Hall written by his new wife’s friend when Cassie, the actress with the lead in the play, is killed. Rex is invited to assist the investigation in an informal capacity, and the reader gets to watch his efforts to discover not only who committed the crime and why, but also how it could possibly have been done.

I stayed engaged in the story as I followed Rex through his investigative efforts, interviewing the cast and crew and assembling a worthy timeline that eventually, along with other clues, leads him to discover the identity of the murderer. Join Rex as he pursues his passion and talent in detecting in C.S. Challinor’s latest mystery.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery

Notes: #10 in the Rex Graves Mystery Series, but I enjoyed it as a standalone.

Publication:   July 8, 2018—Midnight Ink

Memorable Lines:

A decorative wind chime on the door tinkled as he entered the shop, and he was immediately assailed by the heady scent of cut flowers, which abounded everywhere in an explosion of colour, tinted rows of almost every variety arranged in transparent plastic buckets.

Often a coincidence spelt a clue.

…that was the nature of investigations; they rarely took the course of a straight line.

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