Skip to main content

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year--Christmas in September

The day after Labor Day I woke up to an email from my contacts at St. Martin’s Press, inviting me to review six of their upcoming Christmas books, all of which have release dates in early October. For most people, this would probably be a problem — who wants to think about Christmas before Halloween — but for me, I’ve always had a soft spot for the man in the red suit. Even after I stopped believing in the Christ-Myth, I still loved that one holiday. To me, Christmas represents everything that Thanksgiving is supposed to be, but with better music and no obligatory turkey. Some of my favorite books have a Christmas theme and so I jumped at the chance to review those six books (well, five of them because the sixth has to do with cowboys and if there is one sub-genre I just cannot do is cowboys). I read the first two, With This Christmas Ring by Manda Collins and Deck the Halls by Donna Alward, fairly quickly, especially since they’re both novellas. Both are being released in a little over a week, so it seemed like the time to review them.

Miss Merry Parks makes a deathbed promise to a schoolfriend that her infant daughter will be taken to her absent father. There’s only one problem — to find the baby’s father, she’ll have to consult his cousin, Viscount Wrotham, the man she jilted five years ago. The man she couldn’t forget.
Alex Ponsonby, Viscount Wrotham, is stunned to find Merry Parks — looking more lovely than ever — on his doorstep with an infant in her arms. His shock soon turns to dismay when he learns his own cousin William is the man who abandoned his wife and child. As head of the family he’s duty bound to see right is done. But he can’t let this opportunity pass. He’ll take Merry and the baby to his cousin, but he’ll woo her back in the process.
Merry agrees to travel with Alex and the baby to Wrotham Castle, where the entire Ponsonby family has gathered for Christmas, but her plans to see the baby settled then leave are ruined by a snowstorm. After five years apart, Alex and Merry will spend the week getting reacquainted. Perhaps it’s the spirit of the holiday, or the magic of the season, but there could be something else in the air this Yuletide…A Christmas Reunion.
I really enjoyed With This Christmas Ring, which was the first book I was able to get into after a month-long book slump. Ms. Collins’s writing style pulled me in from the first page and held onto me until the very last sentence. Her characters were fun, and I especially liked the female friendship that sprouted up about half-way into the book. I also enjoyed the interactions with both the hero and the heroine, and I was glad that for the most part, it did not fall prey to the novella-curse — the idea that a book would work better as a full-length novel because the themes are too heavy or the conflict too complicated to be worked out in a shorter form. However, there were some minor issues that keep this from being a five-star narrative.
The first issue I had was the heroine’s name, Merry. One of the things that always bothers me in Christmas themed romances is when the author insists on giving their characters cutesy Christmas names. I would probably be okay with Merry being the heroine’s name if this took place in the US, but it doesn’t. People in the UK don’t even say Merry Christmas — they go with Happy Christmas instead, so calling the heroine Merry in a UK-based story doesn’t even make sense. Obviously, this is a personal issue and won’t bother other people as it does me, but I really needed to get that off of my chest.
The other main criticism I have with this book is that one of the characters suddenly becomes a sociopath about 70% of the way through the story. This development and the subsequent conflict it causes felt out of place with the rest of the plot and was simply a deus-ex-machina used to get the rest of the characters on the same page. It felt as if Ms. Collins had written herself into a corner and couldn’t figure out any other way to get out of it. Plainly speaking, this was lazy writing at its worst. I’m sure she could have figured out another way to wrap things up, but for some reason this is what she chose to do. Sigh.
I do have to hand it to Ms. Collins for including what I like to call a Christmas Deep-Cut — Lo How a Rose E’re Blooming. I don’t think I’ve heard that song in close to 20 years (my school choir used to sing it during Advent), so I got a real kick out of seeing it here.
3.5 Stars

In the last year, George’s life has drastically changed. The formerly homeless veteran now has a job he likes, a family in the residents of Darling, VT, and for the first time in years, a home. But while his present is good, he’s still haunted by the past, a past that appears shortly before Christmas when the older sister of his brother-in-arms hunts him down and finds him in Darling, working at the Ladybug Garden Center.
Amy’s looking for closure for her family after her brother’s death in the Middle East, but the serious man she finds working in Vermont doesn’t resemble the soldier she remembers from years before. This man is hardened and yet somehow fragile, too, and in her desire to find out what really happened to her brother, she learns more about George than she ever expected.
With a little Christmas magic and the whole town supporting them, can these two bruised hearts make a future together?
This is the second Donna Alward book I have tried to read this year and the second one that was a total failure, although considering its short length, I did manage to finish this one. To make things worse, I was actually really looking forward to reading this, mostly because the Netgalley page for it compared it to It’s a Wonderful Life, which is one of my favorite Christmas movies. Aside from the hero’s name being George and the heroine staying in Bedford Cottage this book had nothing in common with the Capra Christmas Classic.
The biggest issue this book has is that it is boring. I wasn’t interested in anything that happened to either George or Amy. I didn’t care if he dealt with his PTSD or if he ever got over his survivor’s guilt. I didn’t care about her divorce or her need for answers regarding her brother’s death. The last time I read something this boring it was the summer of 1999 and I’d been assigned A Separate Peace by my 8th Grade teacher. I’m honestly not sure why I finished reading it.
Why was it so boring? The characters had no chemistry whatsoever. We’re led to believe that George and Amy had explosive chemistry and shared a soul-rocking kiss 15 years earlier when they first met, but from what we’re presented, I don’t see it. There was seriously no ‘there’ there. The one good thing about this book is that I now know not to request another one of her books.
1.5 Stars

I wish I could say that the first two Christmas books I’ve read this year left a better taste in my mouth, but I can’t. With This Christmas Ring wasn’t bad and had it not been for that ridiculous deus-ex-machina it would have received a much higher rating. I’m going to look for more of Ms. Collins’s books and hope that longer titles might have a better resolution. On the other hand, Deck the Halls was like cherry flavored medicine — deceptively bad. Here’s hoping the other three books are better.


Popular posts from this blog

Review of "The Other Miss Bridgerton" by Julia Quinn

Title: The Other Miss Bridgerton
Author: Julia Quinn
Series: Rokesby #3
Publisher: Avon
Price: $6.99 (e-book) $5.77 (mass market paperback) $21.55 (Audible)
Rating:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 I love Julia Quinn.  A few years ago, I stumbled upon Just Like Heaven in the Howard Beach library; I'd heard of Ms. Quinn before, but hadn't actually read one of her books.  Immediately after finishing the book, Marcus and Honoria became one of my favorite hero/heroine pairings ever.  I'm probably going to be diving back into the Smythe-Smith books again soon because despite reading all of the Bridgerton books, the Smythe-Smith series is still my absolute favorite Quinn series.  The Rokesby series is giving it a run for its money, though (I've read Because of Miss Bridgerton at least four times since it was published in 2016).  Is it wrong that I want another book already?  Sure, The Other Miss Bridgerton came out just last week, but one is never enough, right? From the Publisher:
She was in the wrong p…

Fifteen Years Later: Review of "His Sinful Touch" by Candace Camp

Title: His Sinful Touch
Author: Candace Camp
ISBN: 0373789963
Publisher: HQN
Series: Mad Morelands #5
Price: $5.98 (Paperback) $5.99 (e-book) $19.96(Audible)

Most readers remember their first, the first book of their particular genre that they read, whether they enjoyed the book or not.  I have two firsts--the first romance I ever read was a Harlequin Intrigue written by Amanda Stevens.  If you've read my blog before you probably already know this.  The first historical romance I read was Mesmerized by Candace Camp, which was also the first book in her Mad Morelands series.  

I was a senior in high school when this series began and I remember seeing the paperback version of Mesmerized on the shelf at the Target on Queens Blvd (yes, I spent a lot of time on Queens Blvd as a teenager), and was pulled in by the gorgeous cover.  Apparently, that book has had several covers over the last 15 years, but this is the one I remember:

Isn't it pretty?  Of course from the cover I…

It's Not Me; It's You--A Review of "Shelter in Place" by Nora Roberts

Title: Shelter in Place
Author: Nora Roberts
ISBN: 1250161592
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Price: $14.99 (e-book) $16.49 (hardcover) $23.95 (Audible)

Over the last few years, I have found myself reading fewer Nora Roberts novels.  In the past, she was my go-to author, an auto-buy, someone I knew whose work would never disappoint me.  Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.  While her prose is still beautiful and effortlessly depicts all manner of situations, her stories have become stale (recycling plots from other books is a big part of my problem with her) and it seems that she is less inclined to writing actual romances.  I was actually really excited about Shelter in Place because it wasn't like anything else I've read by her--and that sounded like a good thing.  What I got was a book that wasn't really sure what it was or what it wanted to be.

From the Publisher:
From Nora Roberts, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Year One (December 2017), comes…

Happy Bookaversary! A Review of "Edge of Darkness" by Karen Rose

Title: Edge of Darkness
Author: Karen Rose
ISBN: 9780399583087
Publisher: Berkeley
Series: Cincinnati Series
Price: $5.98 (Paperback) $7.99 (e-book) $28.28(Audible)

It seems like I've been reading Karen Rose novels my entire life.  I remember the day I came across Count to Ten in the Duane Reade on Queens Blvd.  I'd finished the paperback I brought with me to school that day while sitting in the Dining Hall eating lunch and needed something for the long bus ride home.  I almost didn't buy it because it was $9.99 and I hadn't gotten my financial aid money yet, but the cover copy called to me.  Not even the 500+ page count could scare me away.

I recently learned that Edge of Darkness is Ms. Rose's 20th book and in a strange way, I feel like a proud mama watching her child cross the stage to get their diploma.  I'm just a big ball of happy nostalgia, thinking back to all of the other books I've read by her and hopeful about the ones to come, so befor…

Blog Tour: Excerpt and Review of "Kiss Me At Christmas" by Valerie Bowman

Title: Kiss Me At Christmas Author: Valerie Bowman
Series: Playful Brides #10
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Price: $7.99 (e-book) $5.98 (mass market paperback)
Christmas Rating: 🎅🎅 1/2

I guess it is that time of year again--it is finally acceptable to listen to Christmas music on repeat!  Yes!  Unfortunately, I read this book in October and was getting a lot of weird looks when people heard snippets of Shake Up Christmas.  Honestly, this wasn't the earliest I've listened to Christmas music.  That honor goes to my review of Snowfall on Haven Point for the Smart Bitches, which I wrote in the middle of one of the worst heat waves in Northern California back in June of 2017.  But you're not here for a recitation of my Christmas music woes, so let's do this thing.

London, December 1818
Lady Regina Haversham’s thirtieth birthday was precisely one month away, which didn’t leave her much time to lose her virginity. Not that she wanted it lost. S…