December Minireviews – Part 4

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Someday, my friends, I will be caught up on December reviews!! …but today is not that day!

The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss – 4*

//published 2020//

This was one of my favorite reads this month. Kate lives in a small town where there aren’t a lot of dating prospects, so she’s pretty much ready to resign herself to a peaceful life of singleness. However, she decides to give love one last chance when her best friend convinces her to sign up for a holiday blind-date event – 12 different dates with 12 different people in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

There’s always a danger that this type of story is going to lead to something super weird (plus I was extra paranoid after the train-wreck read of Match Made in Manhattan with its complicated timelines that made it basically feel like the MC was cheating on all the guys she was dating) but here it was exactly as it should be – fun and fluffy with a likable character and a good balance of guys on the dates instead of “wow every dude out there is a jerk.”

My biggest complaint about this book is that because it’s set in a small town everyone knows everyone – but I do not know everyone! Bayliss would casually mention someone’s name and how they were connected to someone else, and then just expect me to remember that person two chapters later. There were a LOT of names going on and it got a little confusing for me. But overall, a mild complaint for what was, on the whole, a fun and enjoyable read that I’ll probably revisit again next year.

Sorcery & Cecelia by Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer – 4.5*

//published 2003//

This one isn’t Christmasy, but it was my other traveling book club book for December. A reread for me, this is actually an old favorite of mine. It’s set in early 1800s England (just after the Napoleonic wars) except in an AU where magic is just a part of life. Cecelia’s cousin Kate has just gone up to London for her first Season, leading to a great deal of correspondence between the two, who are close in age and best friends. Shenanigans both magical and romantic in nature take place, making this one just a great deal of all-around fun. I also read this one back in 2016, if you want a more detailed review.

Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler – 3*

//published 2018//

This one was trying just a little too hard, and I wasn’t surprised to find out that it was written by one of Netflix’s screenwriters rather than an actual author, as the entire story felt like someone was telling me about a movie they watched, and I can’t even exactly explain why. The sentence structure and dialogue was just off somehow, making it really difficult for me to get into the story and actually embrace the cheesiness. Instead, it was just toooo much, like a sugar overload. Every Christmas movie cliche possible was jammed into this one book. Decent writing could have overcome it, but the whole thing just felt stilted. Ironically, I think it would make a fun movie (and actually it may already have done so) but the writing wasn’t good enough to make it work as a book for me.

Snowflakes at the Little Christmas Tree Farm by Jamie Admans – 4*

//published 2019//

One would expect that if I was so willing to pooh-pooh Christmas Camp for being too cheesy, that I would be ready to completely tear apart a book whose premise is that the MC accidentally purchases a Christmas tree farm in Scotland and then has to depend on the goodwill of the hunky pumpkin farmer who lives next door to help her get everything organized, but this was actually a super fun story and ended up being one of my favorites for the month. Leah is a really likable character who has been struggling somewhat with her life after the sudden death of her parents in a car wreck the year before. While drunkenly purchasing a Christmas tree farm sight-unseen is, in fact, a crazy thing to do, Admans makes it work with Leah’s character, especially as we learn more about her parents, their dreams, and Leah’s background. I really liked the male MC as well, and while this was definitely a fluffy romance, Admans balances it with some more serious themes about grief and loss (the guy’s dad died of cancer when the guy was in his teens… sorry, can’t remember the guy’s name right now haha), and just about how you move on when a huge chunk of your life is suddenly not there any more. There were times that this book got a little too silly (and Admans was OBSESSED with having Leah be obsessed with the guy’s lip piercing; she mentions it CONSTANTLY, like okay, I get it, even though he’s a Scottish pumpkin farmer in a remote corner of the country he’s still HIP and HOT because he has a PIERCING!) but on the whole this one really hit the spot.

Three Christmas Wishes by Sheila Roberts – 4*

//published 2016//

While I don’t see myself returning to this one again and again, it was really fun as a one-off read. Much like The Christmas Sisters, it balances the fun and fluffy with some more serious storylines that made it a story of substance as well as entertainment. Riley’s fiance dumps her in the first chapter of the book – three weeks before their Christmas wedding. Riley’s best friend, Noel, and Riley’s older sister, Jo, convince her to come to the mall with them for some shopping therapy. While there, they decide to visit the mall Santa on a lark – except this Santa seems strangely omniscient…

All three of the story lines were good fun. I related the most to Jo, who has been married several years and is due to have a baby at any minute. Her husband is in the Navy and so is gone on tour for large chunks of time and she’s struggling with his decision to re-up when what she really wants is for him to be home now that a baby is in the picture. While my life doesn’t look anything like Jo’s, I found Roberts’s handling of trying to find balance within marriage to be done really well.

My biggest issue with this one was with Noel’s story – Noel writes children’s books about a character named Marvella, and Marvella frequently “talks” with Noel in Noel’s mind – “Marvella” is rather obnoxious and I was pretty over the internal monologue. But on the whole this was a fun one that I enjoyed.

Christmas Comes to Dickens by various authors – 3.5* average

//published 2020//

This is a collection of ten stories, each one by a different author, but all set in the same New England town of Dickens, famous for their celebration of Christmas. On the whole these were pretty regular, for lack of a better term. I was hoping for a little more continuity between the stories, but other than mentioning the same stores along the main drag, they didn’t feel connected in any way – I wasn’t even sure if they were supposed to be happening during the same Christmas season or not. Some were pretty terrible and some were decent, but none were outstanding. Entertaining but not enthralling.

April Minireviews – Part 3

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

More minireviews… apparently I’ve been reading a lot of books that don’t inspire strong feelings.  Or the weather is so perfect that I’m spending way more time outside in the garden than I am inside blogging.  :-D

Solace Island by Meg Tilly – 3.5*

//published 2017//

In my mind this was going to be more thriller than romance, but it’s more romance than thriller.  There are also several scenes of sexy times, which I wasn’t expecting either.  The romance part was pretty happy, and I liked both of the main characters, although they were pretty instalovey – and in some ways it wasn’t even the instalove that bothered me as much as Maggie just telling Luke everything about her horrible ex-fiancé on basically their first date.  The thriller part kind of spiraled from the realm of slightly unbelievable to completely unbelievable, but it did move everything along.  All in all, not a book I want to reread, but I enjoyed it enough to read the sequel about Maggie’s sister, which is coming out sometime this spring.

Six Months Later by Natalie Richards – 3.5*

//published 2013//

Chloe, an average student with an average life, falls asleep in study hall one May afternoon.  When she wakes up, it’s November and she can’t remember the last six months.  But somehow, during that time she’s started dating one of the most popular guys in school, has turned into a star student, and scored ridiculously high on her SAT, meaning that she’s being courted by several fancy colleges.  Unfortunately, Chloe’s best friend is no longer her friend, Chloe likes the resident bad guy more than her perfect boyfriend, and nothing about the missing six months seems to match Chloe’s personality…

This book had a really fun premise and was overall done well, but there were some clunky parts that left me feeling like this book could have used one more round of ruthless editing to really make it shine.  There were some parts where the motivation of various characters stuttered a bit, and the ending seemed very rushed.  But overall I really liked Chloe and I also appreciated when she frequently told people about her problems instead of just trying to do everything/figure everything out by herself.  I think a little more time spent before she falls asleep and loses time would have helped to emphasize how different her life was when she woke up, especially regarding Adam, the “bad boy” – like I know nothing about this guy, so I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t just dump the other guy and start dating Adam.  One sentence about him being a troublemaker isn’t really enough to give me a feel for the relationship Chloe and Adam had before all this started.

If you’re looking for a quick, fun thriller-esq read, Six Months Later fits the bill.  But if you’re looking for a story where everything is polished and flows perfectly, you may want to give this one a pass.

The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal – 3.5*

//published 2011//

This wasn’t a bad story, but it never really felt magical to me.  I liked the concept – basically, just after her sixteenth birthday, the princess is told that she isn’t actually the princess.  Instead, the real princess has been hidden in a convent her entire life because of a prophecy that said she may be murdered before she turned 16.  So the girl who has thought she was the princess is now just plain Sindra.

I think part of the problem was it never really felt like this book knew what it wanted to do.  Sindra herself wasn’t particularly coherent, and she really exasperated me a lot.  She had a bad habit of just saying mean things to people whenever she was feeling frustrated with life, and frequently had a very woe-is-me attitude about things.  So while this was a perfectly pleasant one-time read, it wasn’t one that made me want to dash out and see what else O’Neal has written.

Better Than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts – 3*

//published 2012//

I really enjoy fluffy chick lit series that focus on a group of people or place, where I can get to know and enjoy different characters, so I’m always on the lookout for new ones.  I can’t remember when Icicle Falls came to my attention, but the premise of the first book is that three sisters are putting on a chocolate festival in their small town to help save their business, and it sounded like fun.  However, the execution was very choppy and scattered.  I found the main character, Samantha, to be alright at best – most of the time she was just plain obnoxious, and literally only cared about the business and not her family.  And while she spent time thinking things like “Oh I’m a terrible person who only cares about this business and not my family,” I never really felt like she changed at all.  Like in the end, the business was still the most important thing to her.

There was also supposed to be an enemies-to-friends aspect in the romance, which I usually really enjoy, but it was done quite poorly here, with basically no conversation between the two other than “You suck” and yet in the end I’m supposed to buy not just that they are happily ever after, but that the dude is loaning Samantha a crapton of money with no ulterior motives, despite the fact that she immediately falls into his arms after that…????  It felt really weird that he gave her the money to save her business and then suddenly she started dating him.

At first I was going to go ahead and try the next book in the series, but I honestly realized that I didn’t really feel that attached to anyone in this story enough to see how things go for them next.  Plus, I was really put off by the way this book ended, which lowered the entire book to a 3* rather than 3.5*.  There are a lot of chick lit series out there, so I don’t think I’m going to bother finishing this one.

Miss Lucas by A.V. Knight – 3*

//published 2018//

Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I go through random, arbitrary times in life where the only thing I want to read are terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  I just started one, and I’m here to assure that the overwhelming majority of P&P variations are, in fact, terrible.  Still!  So addictive!

This one actually focuses entirely on Charlotte Lucas – Elizabeth’s story, in the background, is following canon almost completely.  In this story, Mr. Collins doesn’t quite bring himself to propose to Charlotte – at the last minute he decides that he ought to have Lady Catherine’s permission first, since technically she sent him to propose to one of his cousins, not some random woman in Hertfordshire.  A few months later, instead of Elizabeth and (Charlotte’s sister) Maria going to visit the already-married Charlotte, Lady Catherine via Mr. Collins invites Elizabeth, Charlotte, and (Elizabeth’s sister) Mary to stay basically so she can look them over and decide who Mr. Collins should marry.  This means that Charlotte is still single when she meets Colonel Fitzwilliam…

While I did enjoy this story and really liked the overall idea (I’ve always shipped Charlotte and the Colonel), the execution was rather mediocre.  I never quite bought the romance between Charlotte and the Colonel, and the ending of the story felt very rushed.  There were also instances where it felt like the author was trying to shoehorn Charlotte into Elizabeth’s story so that we would still know what was going on with that part of the action, even implying that Charlotte and Elizabeth were closer than Elizabeth and Jane, which I think is categorically false.  So a decent little story, but one that really lacked some spark.