Review

Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler

book coverPublished: William Morrow
Date: 16th October 2018
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 368
Genre: Contemporary Christmas
Source: Publicist  via Edelweiss

Rating
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Haley Hanson’s idea of the perfect Christmas is escaping to the Caribbean to work so she can avoid all the traditional Christmas distractions. Over the years, she’s sacrificed her personal life to climb the corporate ladder at a prestigious Boston advertising agency. Now she just needs to land a coveted Christmas toy company account to make partner. But first, her boss, Larry, thinks she needs a holiday attitude adjustment, so he ships her off to a Christmas Camp at Holly Peak Inn to help her find her Christmas spirit.

Arriving at the charming mountainside inn, Haley meets the owner’s handsome son, Jeff, and feels an instant spark, but resists the attraction, refusing to be distracted from her goal of doing all the required Christmas tasks as fast as possible so she can get back to work.

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What a delightful, fresh, original Christmas season story. I wanted to resist it at first, but bit by bit it hooked my in and kept me reading on. I loved the characters and their stories, I loved the persistence of Max ( a dog) and his insight into the human heart!  I found myself wishing I was their at the Christmas Camp along with all the participants. I might be a little bit easily led I know, but I just couldn’t resist the feel good message in this story.

Haley is a sort of Grinch. But… she doesn’t really have all that much in common with that character, when you examine her life and her heart. Really that is in the right place. She has just become obsessed  with work and her eye is forever on that goal. But thanks to her boss she gets a call to step outside her life and experience something different. I found myself on her side, wanting her to love her respite in this wonder filled place, but also to be successful in her ultimate goal.

I loved the activities, the friendships and relationships that were begun or strengthened. Mmmm all the feels of the Christmas season plus. I believe this just may have a follow up. I’m all for it!

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Review

Deck the Halls by Donna Alward

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Published: St Martin’s Press
Date: 3rd October 2017
Format: e-ARC
Pages: Novella
Genre:Romance
Source:Publisher via NetGalley

Rating
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With shades of It’s a Wonderful Life, one man must face his past to find his future this Christmas.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?

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When I read Somebody Like You – #1 in the Darling VT series earlier in the year, I wrote a very brief review of it, stating the character George really appealed to me. And… I wanted his story. A little comment then showed underneath, Donna saying I should watch out for October because his story was on the way. And so it is.

George is a returned service man who for a long time was down on himself and was living on the street until a few people in Darling VT really saw him and offered him a helping hand. Which to his credit he took. Yet he is still riddled by regret and no small amount of survivor guilt.

Into the mix arrives his best friend’s twin sister – Amy. She has come looking for answers to what went down that day when her brother was killed in war.

What follows is a heart warming Christmas story of reaching out, giving, hope and love. Things move along for George, he has already come a long way but there is more ways to travel. Towards the end it tugged on my heart strings.

There is no quick fix, but there is promise of good things to follow. George and Amy are just beginning. If the Darling VT series continues… well I hope Amy and George poke their noses into other peoples stories and update us.

Review

The Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson

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Published: Berkley
Date: September 26th 2017
Format: e-ARC
Pages:
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Rating
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Widow Maddie McLendon has uprooted her life to move to Rustlers Gulch with her son and grandson. But as a brutal Montana winter looms on the horizon, contractors have yet to break ground on their new house, leaving them to live in a makeshift camp of trailers, tents, and sheds….

Since his wife died six years earlier, millionaire rancher Sam Conacher has been content to wallow in his grief alone, while keeping a tight rein on his twenty-six-year-old daughter. But now the girl has gone and fallen in love with his foolish new neighbor’s no-good son….

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Cam, his son Caleb and mother Maddie have arrived in a town in Montana and set up on a parcel of land where they intend to build. In the meantime home is a tent and caravan as they begin this stage of their journey.

Not so far away is Sam and his daughter Kirstin, they have a huge ranch but not many workers. Sam has scared them all away with his grumpiness, think Scrooge and the Grinch rolled into one plus some. He has been really mean spirited since his wife Annie died about five years ago. He is very protective of his daughter Kirstin and runs off any man who looks at her. So… when Cam shows some interest it is a real challenge to Sam. He is downright rude and before long there is a war going on between Sam and Maddie, who resents his attack on her son Cam. A wall is built, no trespassing notices are put up.

Maddie though is hiding a secret that she is keeping from her son Cam and grandson Caleb. Caleb is having a difficult time settling into a new school and so far has no friends.  Cam is finding it hard to sell land, all in all things are not going well. However there is romance blossoming between Cam and Kristin.  And even though its war for Sam and Maddie, perhaps there is going to be a second chance romance there too.

The story was a load of fun. It moved along at a good pace with something happening all the time. I loved Caleb, the young teen who had a heart of gold trying to fit in with his peers. He was thoughtful and so caring especially of his grandmother.

While the story does come together at Christmas and is totally heart warming, most of the story takes place before Christmas, so don’t feel you are getting too Christmasy to read this now. It’s a perfect pre Christmas read, that will put you in the spirit for that season when it arrives.

Review

Miracle on 5th Avenue. Sarah Morgan

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Published:HQN
Date: November 29th 2016
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Source:Publisher via NetGalley
Rating:
4 stars                  Add to Goodreads

Hopeless romantic Eva Jordan loves everything about Christmas. She might be spending the holidays alone this year, but when she’s given an opportunity to house-sit a spectacular penthouse on Fifth Avenue, she leaps at the chance. What better place to celebrate than in snow-kissed Manhattan? What she didn’t expect was to find the penthouse still occupied by its gorgeous—and mysterious—owner.

Bestselling crime writer Lucas Blade is having the nightmare before Christmas. With a deadline and the anniversary of his wife’s death looming, he’s isolated himself in his penthouse with only his grief for company. He wants no interruptions, no decorations and he certainly doesn’t appreciate being distracted by his beautiful, bubbly new housekeeper. But when the blizzard of the century leaves Eva snowbound in his apartment, Lucas starts to open up to the magic she brings…This Christmas, is Lucas finally ready to trust that happily-ever-afters do exist?

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With Miracle on 5th Avenue – we have #3 in the From Manhattan with Love series. It’s a story I have been anticipating with relish for awhile now, and so it was a pleasure to read about Eva and Lucas Blade. We’d met Eva before and knew her pretty well but Lucas was a treat in store for us. 
They’re both suffering loss, yet Eva has no one – no family at all, although what she hasn’t taken time to realise is that family doesn’t always have to be blood based. Her many close and not so close friends both adore and love her.
Lucas is trying to escape his interfering family (as he sees it). So while he is pretending to be in Vermont he is actually at home.  He is a writer with writer’s block, the book is due and there is not a word on the page, until enter Eva – sent by his Grandmother to decorate and cook so the place is all welcoming when he returns for Vermont. 
So this book is a slightly different version of meeting and being snowed in, because of course Lucas was home when Eva turned up, but it was too icy and snowy to leave. 
Eva is a romantic, she believes in love and living happily, even ever after. Lucas has past experience that tells him differently. Eva doesn’t like the dark thrillers that Lucas writes and would love to see a little love in there  to lighten things a little.   That horrifies Lucas! 
So there is a fun clash between the two, some tension and heat, and possibly coming up a love story and a happily ever after.
I enjoyed Eva and Lucas’ story and it ends deliciously. Can’t ask for more.
Review

A Lowcountry Christmas. Mary Alice Monroe

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Published: Gallery Books
Date: 25th October 2016
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating:
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As far as ten-year-old Miller McClellan is concerned, it’s the worst Christmas ever. His father’s shrimp boat is docked, his mother is working two jobs, and with finances strained, Miller is told they can’t afford the dog he desperately wants. “Your brother’s return from war is our family’s gift,” his parents tell him. But when Taylor returns with PTSD, family strains darken the holidays.

Then Taylor’s service dog arrives—a large black Labrador/Great Dane named Thor. His brother even got the dog! When Miller goes out on Christmas Eve with his father’s axe, determined to get his family the tree they can’t afford, he takes the dog for company—but accidentally winds up lost in the wild forest. The splintered family must come together to rediscover their strengths, family bond, and the true meaning of Christmas.

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I’ve loved the Lowcountry Summer series by Mary Alice Monroe, and what a wonderful early Christmas surprise to be presented with a #5 in the series – A Lowcountry Christmas.

It was everything I love in a story and it was just so good to go back in Taylor’s life to when he first was discharged from the Marines, after experiencing a terrible explosion that left him shattered and suffering from PTSD. He can’t cope with returning to his family for Christmas, finds crowds threatening, and his family are bewildered and find it difficult to understand.
The McClellan’s are finding it difficult economically, Jenny and Alistair work really hard, but the shrimping business is in decline and they just can’t afford the dog that Miller has his heart set on. So when Taylor receives his lifeline – the service dog Thor, Miller is really upset. And then there is more than one grumpy Scrooge in the family. In fact poor Jenny is the only one keeping the Christmas spirit alive among her men.
This is a beautifully written story, it sucked me in right from the beginning and I loved every word and minute of it. It is a perfect Christmas story and is linked with little quotes and references to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  
Yes, this could be read as a stand alone, but readers of the series will I think just find that extra piece of satisfaction with it. And if you haven’t reached this series yet, starting with this one would work I do believe.
Now that's a Hero< Page turnerPenPile of books
Review

The Christmas Town. Donna VanLiere

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Published: St Martin’s Press
Date: 18th October 2016
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 241
Genre: Christmas Contemporary Fiction
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating:
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Lauren Gabriel spent many years of her childhood in foster homes, wishing her mother would come back for her and be the family she needs. Now twenty-years-old, she still longs for a place that she can truly call home. Her work as a cashier is unfulfilling, and at Christmas it’s unbearable with the songs and carols and chatter of Christmas that she hears throughout the day.

When Lauren ends her shift one night, she finds herself driving aimlessly in order to avoid returning to her lonely apartment. And when she witnesses a car accident she is suddenly pulled into the small town of Grandon, first as a witness but then as a volunteer for the annual fundraiser for Glory’s Place, a center for single mothers and families who need assistance. Could this town and its people be the home she has always longed for.

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The Christmas Town is a heartwarming Christmas story of someone – Lauren, who has really never experienced the love and warmth of family at Christmas, until one fateful year when she stumbles into a town that seems to have the spirit of Christmas wrapped about it.
The people of the town are varied and not perfect. But they are caring and thoughtful and they want to reach out to others. Especially Miriam and Gloria who when they hear of a young woman looking for a family for Christmas decide to do something about it.
The best character in the story is Ben, a young man who works packing groceries. At Christmas time he packs along with the groceries a special wish or piece of Christmas wisdom that is unique and suited to the person.
There a number of town characters, not least of all the children that Lauren comes by most days to help prepare for a Christmas sing along. 
Filled with Christmas spirit and offering hope and pointing out the best side of all things Christmas related, this was an enjoyable and quick read.
Review

Hot Toy. Jennifer Crusie

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Hot Toy
Jennifer Crusie
Published: St Martin’s Press
Date: 13th October 2015
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 77 – Novella.
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Mayhem ensues under the mistletoe as a determined shopper grabs the very last hot toy action figure off the shelf, only to find herself plunged into the middle of a real-life spy game and in the arms of a sexy secret agent…

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A really cute, funny, spoof like novella for the Christmas season.  Even though it is one that is previously published in an Anthology – Santa Baby, I had never read it, and of course when I saw that it was by Jennifer Crusie, totally irresistible.
Trudy Maxwell is doing some late night Christmas Eve shopping for her nephew so that he can have Santa bring him what his heart craves for. Trudy is determined not to let him down. However the shops are all sold out of the action figure Major MacGuffin who shoots vile stuff out of his mouth. Not giving in, remembering disappointments in her own youth, Trudy is persistent and eventually unearths last years version of MacGuffin.  
However, close by is Nolan, she went out with him a few times, thought he might be The One, but then she never heard from him again. She is not that happy about that. Turns out he wants a MacGuffin too, and offers her a ridiculous amount for it. As does a lady in the cue and as does Reese, a younger guy who worked for her father for a while.
From there the story takes off. Who is the good guy? Well… I thought I knew… then a little confusion and a lot of action. Trudy is sure of one thing – she is hanging onto her MacGuffin, come what may and whatever it takes. 
It’s short, but it’s a load of action and fun.
4 stars
Review

Christmas in Mustang Creek. Linda Lael Miller

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Christmas in Mustang Creek
Linda Lael Miller
Published: Harlequin
Date: September 29th 2015
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Source: Little Bird Publicity and Publisher via NetGalley
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Christmas in Mustang Creek is #4 in The Brides of Biss County, and is a delightful shorter story for the Christmas season.

Charlotte is returning home to the small Wyoming town to the house she shared with her aunt since childhood. Her aunt is now in a home, because she has a little dementia.  Residing in the house is the warm, rather mysterious Mrs Klozz. (say her name out loud and you’ll get the idea). A little Disney, but kinda sweet. She certainly has the Christmas spirit and is not about doing a little organising so that Charlotte is put in the path of Jax. She and Jax had been an item, but had parted company over a year ago. Now he too has come to the small town to help Nate in his vet practice. Mrs K sees to it that he is right in the action and right in the path of Charlotte.

Want to get into the Christmas spirit – this is an ideal book to put you into the scents and warmth and goodwill of this season. Mrs Klozz is a magical mystery, and she certainly adds to the spirit of Christmas.

There is goodwill aplenty, the small town ambience where everybody knows everything, and of course it has delightful animals, family and a hint of new birth. Some romance too of course.

Save this one up for near Christmas and you will be right there in the spirit of the season.

4 stars
Review

Candlelight Christmas

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Candlelight Christmas
Susan Wiggs
Published: Harlequin Mira
Date: 29th October 2013
Pages:336
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Format: e-Arc
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads

A single father who yearns to be a family man, Logan O’Donnell is determined to create the perfect Christmas for his son, Charlie.  The entire O’Donnell family arrives to spend the holidays in Avalon, a pretty post-card town on the shores of Willow Lake, a place for the family to reconnect and rediscover the special gifts of the season.

One of the guests is newcomer to Willow Lake, Darcy Fitzgerald.  Sharp-witted, independent and intent on guarding her heart, she is the last person Logan can see himself falling for.  And Darcy is convinced that a relationship is the last thing she needs this Christmas.

Yet between the snowy silence of the winter woods, and toasty moments by a crackling fire,  their two lonely hearts collide.  The magic of the season brings each of them a gift neither ever expected; a love to last a lifetime.

My thoughts
This is number ten in the Lakeshore Chronicles and I am always ready to return to Willow Lake and the many wonderful characters there.  I was really delighted to meet Charlie again – now ten years old and his Dad, Logan.  Logan and Daisy are the parents of Charlie although there relationship was not to be.  Daisy chose the right man for her!  However Logan deserves to have his story and find that love that lasts a lifetime.

I liked that this story was told alternatively from the point of view of Logan, Darcy and at times Charlie.  I know that some readers don’t like children in a book, but I do, and Charlie’s parts were just so heartwarming.  Logan makes a great Dad for Charlie, and this book explores fatherhood a little, looking at the relationship of Logan with his Dad as well.  It shows us two children who have no Dad at all – a druggie and no hoper.  Logan reaches out to these children as well.  I am hoping for another Lakeshore book in the future that includes Maya and her children Andre and Angelica.  I am sure there are a few possible Bellamy’s available!

Both Logan and Darcy have been through divorce and Darcy especially is not quite ready to enter into another relationship where she might be vulnerable to disappointment and loss.  Watching her grow through this during the book is wonderful, and I loved how she was with Charlie. Logan and Darcy are given the time to grow in their relationship to the very satisfying conclusion.

This is definitely a Christmas book.  While it begins in the summer, the main chunk of the book is set in the holiday Christmas season.  It will touch your heart, and remind you about the real spirit of Christmas, where there is family, thoughtfulness, seeking to make others happy and real love. And as we all know not everything turns out perfect because it happens to be Christmas – well there is a touch of the imperfect too for these characters.  However what really matters is totally there.

I know all Lakeshore Chronicles readers will love this addition.  Don’t feel turned away if you haven’t read the previous ones, but want a great Christmas season story – this book delivers. It could stand alone.

5 stars.