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.

Cecelia & Kate – Books 2-4 // by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

So when I decided to reread Sorcery & CeceliaI knew that I wanted to reread the other two books in the series as well – The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician.  However, I discovered that there was, in fact, another book – Magic Below Stairs, which is written by Caroline Stevermer alone.  I already owned The Grand Tour, but splurged and bought the other two used.  Because I obviously need more books in my life.


//published 2004// I really must get my hands on these editions! //

So in Sorcery & Cecelia, Cecelia and her cousin, Kate, correspond while Kate is having her first Season in London and Cecelia is still at home in the countryside: the book is comprised of their letters back and forth.  In The Grand Tour OR The Purloined Coronation Regalia (“Being a revelation of matters of High Confidentiality and Greatest Importance, including extracts from the intimate diary of a Noblewoman and the sworn testimony of a Lady of Quality”), Cecelia and Kate are together pretty much the whole time.  The book begins with their double wedding, and then follows the newlyweds as they meander about Europe for their wedding trip – and, of course, get entangled in a magical mystery along the way!

While it wouldn’t make sense for the book to be written in the same epistolary style as the first, the authors manage to recapture part of that essence by having Cecelia’s parts written as “The deposition of Mrs. James Tarelton to the Joint Representatives of the British Ministry of Magic, the War Office, and the Foreign Office,” while Kate’s are excerpts from her diary (“The Commonplace Book of the Most Honorable the Marchioness of Schofield”).

Overall, the first person perspective works well for moving the story along.  The voices of Cecelia and Kate are distinct (probably because they’re written by two different people, I suppose), and I quite enjoyed seeing how much they both enjoy being married.  The magical mystery gets a tad complicated but is mostly resolved in the end.  All in all, a very entertaining read – I do love the humor throughout.


//published 2006//

In the third book, a decade has passed.  Cecelia and Kate have settled contentedly into married life, which now involves several children.  They are still the best of friends – as are their husbands.  The Mislaid Magician OR Ten Years After (“Being the Private Correspondence between Two Prominent Families regarding a Scandal touching the Highest Levels of Government and the Security of the Realm”) revolves around letters once again.  Cecelia’s husband, who still sometimes works for the government, is asked to travel to Leeds in order to find a magician who has disappeared.  He and Cecelia leave their children (of course) with Kate and her husband.  I really enjoyed this book because not only does it include letters between Cecelia and Kate, but the husbands get to chime in of course.  (And I love the way that their letters are much shorter and more brisk!)

It had been quite some time since I had read this volume, and I had a vague feeling that I hadn’t liked it as well as the first two, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story.  The humor is spot-on, and the mystery engaging.  Per usual, things get a little hasty at the end, but on the whole it is a very fun addition to the series.


//published 2010//

Magic Below Stairs is written by Stevermer alone.  While it is set in the same world, the focus is on Frederick, an orphan who finds himself employed in the home of Thomas and Kate shortly after their marriage.  This book was a little weird to me just because it is obviously aimed at a much younger audience – readers who would not have read the other books or be interested in their characters.  The story was alright, but there wasn’t a lot to it.  It was fine for a one-time read, but I didn’t feel like it added a lot to the series, or that it was particularly brilliant as a stand-alone.

On the whole, I heartily recommend the series for anyone who enjoys lighthearted fantasy, magical regency stories, or just some good, all-around fun.