The Sunday Post AKA What’s on My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand? 12-23-12

We made the mistake of trying to go shopping yesterday. The outing was successful, but ACK! I know there are people who love being part of the pre-holiday shopping madness, but count me out for next year.

Parking lot vulturing is insane. You know what I mean? Driving behind people as they leave the mall, like packs of vultures wheeling over a hopefully dying carcass in the desert, hoping against hope that the shopper is going to leave the mall and is not just returning to their vehicle to unload.

Like I said, parking lot vultures.

In much happier holiday news, the Holiday Gifts of Love Blog Hop winner at Reading Reality was Holly J. Lucky for Holly, the $10 Amazon Gift Card does not require a trip to a shopping mall. Way to go Holly!


Speaking of Blog Hops, there is still plenty of time to enter the Gifting Books Blog Hop, here at Reading Reality and elsewhere. The prize at Reading Reality is the winner’s choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card (they’re so easy to send, and you get to pick what you want) or a copy of The Hobbit or one of the parts of The Lord of the Rings, sent to anywhere the nice folks at the Book Depository ship.


About the rest of last week…

Red Hot Holiday: A+ Review: Breath on Embers by Anne Calhoun, B+ Review: I Need You for Christmas by Leah Braemel, B Review: Wish List by K.A. Mitchell
A Review: The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd
B Review: That Night by Diane Dooley
Gifting Books Blog Hop
Five Golden Rings: B+ Review: Tempting Mr. Witherspoon by Vivienne Lorret, A Review: War of the Magi by Rena Gregory
Stacking the Shelves (27)

This week coming up is the week that slows down at work–at least for most people. It’s a three day week at my place. Whoopee!

But on the blog, it’s still a week. One last Christmas review, All I Want for Christmas is a Duke, by Delilah Marvelle and Maire Claremont. Well, not me personally, but the heroines in the two novellas.

Also, my review of Cast in Peril, the latest in Michelle Sagara’s marvelous fantasy/urban fantasy Elantra series. I already can’t wait until next year’s installment. Write faster, Michelle!

And my fantastic friend Cryselle is back with another fantastic guest review. This time for Eden Winters’ The Wish.

One more treat this week. As the year winds down, it’s time to take a look at the best of the year, at least from this reviewer’s perspective. This week I’ll post my best dozen for 2012, and next week, December 31, my baker’s dozen (13, of course) of my most anticipated books for 2013.


Stacking the Shelves (27)

Seasons’ Greetings, Happy Holidays, Pleasant Solstice, whether that be cool or warm in your part of the world, etc.

As the marvelous graphic so delightfully illustrates: 

‘Tis the season after all. Peace on Earth and goodwill to all is a sentiment we can all get behind, whatever our personal beliefs.

Speaking of personal beliefs, I believe I’ve seen enough Christmas romances to last me until next November. I’ve got two more Christmas romance reviews to finish, and then I’m done.

About this week’s shelf-stack. Amazon had a local deal, well, there’s this Amazon local deal thing you can subscribe to in email. And by the way, they need to edit the combos a little better. It shouldn’t be possible to see a deal for “Facial/Waxing/Wine tasting” all in one subject. It just looks WRONG. Never mind the day it was “Horseback riding/Chocolate Tour.” My mind went to a horrible, horrible place.

Back to books. There was a local deal, at least here, where $1 bought one kindle book from a list of 50 books. One of those books was Mongoliad 2. I’ve already read and reviewed Mongoliad 1, and Mongoliad 3 popped up on NetGalley. I’m curious enough to give it another shot, at least $1 worth of shot.


I reserve the right to give up after 50 pages. After all, it was only $1.


Speaking of only $1, or even less. Lyrical Press is having a “Doomsday Sale“. More like a “the Mayans were wrong” sale. Everything in their catalog is 75% off in ebook., adding a couple more ebooks to my stack, at least so far. It IS kind of a steal, so I’ll probably go back.

And I checked a real, honest-to-goodness print book out from my library. Being surrounded by thousands of books is so damn tempting. Otherwise, everything on the list is e.

So what’s on your stack this week? And do you reach a point where you’ve had it up to the proverbial “here” with Christmas books? Or do you like to linger over them into January?

For Review:
The Cat’s Meow (Witch’s Brew #1) by Stacey Kennedy
The Geek Girl and the Scandalous Earl by Gina Lamm
The Mongoliad: Book Three (Foreworld #3) by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, Nicole Galland, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo
The Notorious Lady Anne by Sharon Cullen
The Reluctant Countess by Wendy Vella
Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
The Summer He Came Home (Bad Boys of Crystal Lake #1) by Juliana Stone)
The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart (Magic Most Foul #2) by Leanna Renee Hieber

Keir by Pippa Jay
The Mongoliad: Book Two (Foreworld #2) by Neal Stephenson, Erik Bear, Greg Bear, Joseph Brassey, Nicole Galland, Cooper Moo, Mark Teppo
Whistling Dixie by Serenity Woods

Checked out from the Library:
The Buntline Special (Weird West Tales #1) by Mike Resnick (print)
Explosive Eighteen (Stephanie Plum #18) by Janet Evanovich

Review: Five Golden Rings: A Christmas Collection

Format read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: Mass Market Paperback, ebook
Genre: Historical Romance, Holiday Romance
Length: 100 pages
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Date Released: December 11, 2012
Purchasing Info:Sophie Barnes’ Website, Karen Erickson’s Website, Rena Gregory’s Website, Sandra Jones’ Website, Vivienne Lorret’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance

The holidays are a time for wishes, magic and, of course, love. Celebrate the season with this delightful collection of Christmas tales. What better way for Connor Talbot, Earl of Redfirn, to spend the holidays than convincing Leonora Compton that the only match she needs to make is with him!

The Duke of Ashton has had three years to plan for his perfect Christmas present—the Lady Eleanor Fitzsimmons as his wife. Now, all he has to do is convince the reluctant lady …

Phin Baldwin does not believe in Christmas magic … until the clever and beautiful Ginny Overton gets it into her head to show him how wonderful it can be when wishes come true.

Just returned from the Crusades, marriage is the last thing on Sir Caerwyn’s mind. But will he be able to resist Lady Nia, the thief of his boyhood heart, when she tempts him yet again?

Responsible Ethan Weatherstone is determined to save Penelope Rutledge—and her reputation—from her silly scheme, but can he save himself from the temptation of her lips?

There are five stories in this collection. And I read them all and definitely enjoyed them. But these are the two that stuck with me after I’d turned the last page.

Tempting Mr. Witherspoon by Vivienne Lorret takes the friends into lovers trope, dresses it up in Christmas wrapping paper, and does it proud.

Penelope Rutledge and Ethan Witherspoon have been close friends since childhood. Their families met when Penelope and her father moved in  to the estate next to Ethan and his mother, after both had been widowed. Ethan and Penelope shared the tragedy of losing a parent much too young.

Since then, they have both had a need to maintain order, but Ethan much more assertively so than Penelope. Now Penelope is in her 20s, and other needs are rising to the surface. She wants a family of her own. Her own children. A husband. And she loves Ethan. She always has. But Ethan is unwilling to risk their friendship. It would upset the order of things.

Penelope knows that she must leave if she is ever to get over Ethan and have any chance at happiness. Or even contentment. Ethan is certain that all of her plans for leaving represent a risk to her reputation, that they are all dangerous to the order of things. To the order of his well-ordered life.

But will he see the truth before it is too late?

This was a beautiful family story. And a sweet love story. Escape Rating for Tempting Mr. Witherspoon: B+

War of the Magi by Rena Gregory was simply terrific. This is also a story about a young woman with a widowed father. Ginny is also in her 20s, and also has just a bit of fancifulness in her very well-ordered life.

Ginny helps her father manage the shop in their village, but she does want a life of her own. It’s just that there hasn’t been a man who interested her, and her father does need her.

Her villlage has a tradition about the gifts of the Magi. Not the actual Bible story, but a statue. Each year, the right to keep the statue is won by lottery, and the keeper gets to put three wishes in the statue. Those wishes somehow manage to get granted. Not always, but fairly often.

This year’s winner is Phin Baldwin, a reporter at the local newspaper. Phin is from out of town, and he doesn’t believe in wishes. But he won’t give the statue to someone who does believe.

Phin also makes Ginny’s heart beat faster. Well he did. Now he’s making it beat faster out of sheer exasperation. So Ginny starts stealing the statue from Phin, and letting the villagers have it for a day at a time.

Sharing the wishes. Sparring with Phin. And, it turns out, making his heart beat faster.

Maybe wishes do come true.

The concept behind this story, the Magi, the wishes, and the town, and how Phin and Ginny get together, was more than terrific. Ginny finds a way to share the true meaning of Christmas with the whole village, have fun, and get her man. She makes him a true believer too!

Escape Rating  for War of the Magi: A

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Gifting Books Blog Hop

gifting books giveaway hop

Gifting Books Christmas hop was organized by Reading Romances!

The absolutely most special book that I ever received, hands down, was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I was in the third grade, so I was either 8 or 9 years old at the time. While The Hobbit isn’t exactly a romance, I will say that the boy who loaned it to me was the older brother of one of my best friends, and I did have kind of a crush on him at the time.

Back to The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins’ unexpected journey changed my life. I fell in love with fantasy because of that story. I didn’t read Narnia until after I finished the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.  And although I think I read Lloyd Alexander’s awesome Prydain Chronicles at about the same time as LOTR, and that does have a romance in it. But I know I checked those out of the library.

The Hobbit was a gift. It was the gift that has kept on giving throughout my life, because fantasy led me to science fiction, and from there to sf fandom, and to a lot of wonderful friends and adventures.

But the Gifting Books Christmas Hop was supposed to be about giving a romance book for Christmas. On the other hand, my husband and I have a holiday tradition. We tell each other what we want, and then, that’s what we get.

So the winner at Reading Reality will get their choice of prizes. I do want to share my love of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. So if you want a paperback copy of The Hobbit or any one of the parts of The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, or The Return of the King), I will be happy to send the winner their choice, US or internationally, to anywhere the Book Depository ships. Or in ebook if you prefer.

If the winner would prefer a $10 Amazon gift card, it’s the winner’s choice of present.

What you can win here:

Winner’s choice of paperback or ebook copy of The Hobbit or The Fellowship of the Ring or The Two Towers or The Return of the King


$10 Amazon Gift Card

Number of winners: 1

Open to (INT, US or US/CAN): INT 

How to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There are LOTS of blogs participating in this hop. So hop on over to the other participants and see what gift books everyone is gifting this Holiday season!

Review: A Galactic Holiday by Anna Hackett, Stacy Gail and Sasha Summers

galactic holidayFormat Read:ebook provided by the authors
Number of Pages: 247 pages
Release Date: December 3, 2012
Publisher: Carina Press
Genre: Science Fiction Romance, Holiday Romance
Formats Available: ebook, audiobook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Anna Hackett’s Website | Stacy Gail’s Website | Sasha Summers’ Website | Publisher’s Website | Goodreads

Book Blurb:

Do androids dream of electric sugar plums?

A detective who refuses to modify her body teams up with her cyborg rival to track down a burglar who is putting toys into homes. A solitary ice miner finds love and friendship while stranded on the surface of Galileo. And two hardheaded negotiators put their differences aside to evade an assassin and save their planets. Enjoy these visions of Christmases yet to come with three science-fiction novellas from Carina Press.

Edited by Angela James, this anthology includes:

How the Glitch Saved Christmas, by Stacy Gail
Galileo’s Holiday, by Sasha Summers
Winter Fusion, by Anna Hackett

My Thoughts:

A Galactic Holiday is one of Carina Press’ annual holiday trifecta collections, along with Red Hot Holiday (reviewed at Reading Reality) and Romancing the Holiday (reviewed here at BLI). Maybe I should have called them holiday confections, because they’re usually pretty yummy overall.

But the annual sci-fi collection (last year’s was the all-steampunk A Clockwork Christmas and yeah, I reviewed it too.) always has a slightly more heavy lifting to take care of than the contemporary anthologies. Because each story has to build its sci-fi world, justify its winter solstice holiday and tell its romance in the length of a novella. That’s a LOT of scaffolding to build and sometimes one element or another doesn’t quite hold up.

Let’s take a look at what we have for this year’s out of this world holiday collection!

how the glitch saved christmasHow the Glitch Saved Christmas by Stacy Gail was my favorite story in the collection. It not only embodied the spirit of Christmas in a hearwarming way, it also made the most sense as a science fiction story that extended the world we know. And the romance was both hot and sweet.
First of all, I dare anyone not to be reminded of Steven Spielberg’s movie A.I. by the end of this story. And, I double-dare you not to get a little misty-eyed. But that’s at the end. Returning to the beginning.
Chicago, although it is an utterly marvelous city, gets damnably cold in the winter. And it is entirely possible that it was named the Windy City, at least in part, for the windbags in city government, and not just the wind off Lake Michigan. Which, by the way, is brutal in the winter. The weather prediction of “cooler by the Lake” also applies in the winter, and it isn’t near as nice as it is is August.
In the background to the story, it’s pretty clear that the inventor of body modification should have made them work better in sub-zero temperatures. He also should have figured out that just because it was illegal to force someone to accept body-mods, that didn’t mean that someone couldn’t be pressured beyond all reason to accept them. And yes, I could easily see it happening.
Reina Vallette was a damn good cop. A fine detective. She just refused to accept body modification. She’d been dependent on machines once, when she was hospitalized under life-threatening conditions, and she couldn’t bear it psychologically. Also, her thought processes were too quirky to work any way except from her “gut”. (Gibbs on NCIS comes to mind). So the CPD made her the poster girl for insubordination.
Edison Wicke, on the other hand, is the golden boy. He’s a walking toaster, in Reina’s eyes. But still a damn fine detective. (Also a damn fine looking man!) So when someone breaks into an apartment in the Projects and delivers presents, Edison requests Reina as his partner.
He had his eye on her when his eyes were just human, and now, he wants her even more. She’s unique.
Better still, their styles complement each other. He’s data driven, and she’s pure instinct. New school plus old school.
But it takes a glitch in the system to show them that underneath their differences, they are both the same people they were before he got body mods, and before the system started busting her down the ladder.
They’re the best detectives that CPD has. And they’re the best for each other. But can they save the little glitch that brought them together?
I give How the Glitch Saved Christmas 5 frozen stars with the sun glinting off them for sparkle.
winter fusionWinter Fusion by Anna Hackett comes in a close second for me in this collection. The thing about science fiction short stories, at least for me, is that there is so little time for the world-building, the author needs to have something familiar to use as a short cut.
Ms. Hackett tells a Prime Directive-type story, with a merchant empire Federation instead of the slightly more militaristic one we’re used to. And the traders Savan Bardan and Brinn Fjord are part of the very recent dropping of the embargo on high-tech goods between Bardan’s Trade Guild and Fjord’s more primitive ice planet of Perma. Her father died of a disease that was eradicated on Guild worlds, but membership came one year too late to save his life.
Bardan’s decision was the one that kept Perma out of the Guild. Because high-tech too soon leads to very bad decisions. Sort of like lottery winners on spending sprees, only with planetary-wide ecological disaster-type consequences. All Bjorn knows is that her father is dead and that it’s Bardan’s fault.
Now he’s back on Perma, because the ice miners have found an unsynthesizable high-yielding energy resource that his planet needs. And Brinn is the Perman trader he has to negotiate with to get it.
However, someone is willing to kill both of them to make sure that Rendar doesn’t get the energy crystals.
While they are running and fighting together for their lives, Savan Bardan and Brinn Fjord are forced to strip off the masks they wear in public. They have to rely on each other to survive.
Bardan learns the personal cost of his decision to keep Perma out of the guild. The reason behind Brinn’s bitter rivalry. And Brinn learns the reason behind Savan’s judgment–the last time he gave a planet early admission, they ruined their world.
And the reason there’s always been such heat in their negotiations? Just another way to conceal how they’ve really felt about each other all along.
But first they have to survive whoever is stalking them. In the middle of a Perman winter. Without gear or shelter.
Winter Fusion is a very good take on the “enemies into lovers” trope. Very, very good. With a slice of “poor little rich boy” thrown into the mix.
I give Winter Fusion 4 dark stars.
galileos holidayGalileo’s Holiday by Sasha Summers was a cute story, but it was also the shortest story in the collection and I kept wishing there were more of it! I just didn’t have enough of the world-building to quite get the reasoning behind the hero’s actions, but the love story and the settlement definitely worked.
Riley is a tugger. A lone ice miner with a tiny, one-woman ship, like her mother and her grandmother before her. Raiders destroy her ship, lucky for her while she’s planetside mining ice. Even luckier for her, a mysterious man leads her to a settlement.
That mysterious man, Leo, introduces her into the life of Galileo, just before their winter Holiday, and what a life it is! Riley has lost both her home and her livelihood in one fell swoop, but the settlers take her in and make her welcome.
Her ability to fix every bit of electronics tech they have doesn’t hurt her cause one little bit. Especially since their security grid is about to go down. That grid keeps the cryptids out. (Yes, I did say cryptids.) Big ugly carnivorous bug-eyed monsters.
The settlers can use her skills, but it’s Leo who fascinates her. In a jumble of new experiences (eating real food, wearing cloth instead of space gear) Riley’s never felt anything like what she feels for Leo. And it seems to be mutual. But she knows it can’t be permanent. He’ll go back to his ship as soon as the snow clears, and she’ll have to find a new place for herself.
Until the Raiders come to take Leo, and steal the cargo of medicines he’s been hiding. Leo sacrifices himself to save her. Then the Raiders want to take her. And Riley has to decide what sacrifice she’s willing to make.
As I said, the story of Riley’s discovery of a life outside her tugger, and the life of the settlement, worked. The parts that drove me a bit nutty were the lack of background about the raiders and the outside galaxy. There were hints of a bigger picture that I wanted, that would have made Leo’s reason for being with the settlers make more sense, that I just didn’t have. I want the rest of this story!
I give Galileo’s Holiday 3 1/2 icy stars.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: That Night by Diane Dooley

Format read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Holiday Romance, Contemporary Romance
Length: 42 pages
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Date Released: December 12, 2012
Purchasing Info:Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance

Lindy Hopkins works early, works late, always gets the job done and never, ever has incredible one night stands with handsome coworkers. Until that night. But it’s okay. She’s just going to keep on pretending that it never happened.

Alex Anderson never imagined that buttoned-down workaholic Lindy had the ability to transform into a table-dancing, champagne-guzzling femme fatale. Until that night. And it’s not okay that she’s been giving him the coldest of shoulders ever since.

Neither are prepared to face the other, but they have no choice. They’ve each booked the company Catskill cabin for a few days before Christmas and are both too stubborn to budge. Over mulled wine and under a blanket of snow, it’s starting to look like that night might happen all over again. But this time Alex is playing for keeps, while Lindy is determined that no man will come before her career. Will they find that love is forever or will it be just another night to remember?

A cute, sweet holiday treat. A lot like the reindeer cupcake I had last night. I’m not sure it would work any other time of the year, but for right now, utterly yummy.

Lindy Hopkins books the company cabin in the Catskills for the holidays because she doesn’t want to spend Christmas with her family. They exhaust her. And that’s a telling part of this story. Lindy is from upstate New York, but from a dying small town. And from a family that expected her to stay close to home, marry early, and live a conventional small town life.

Because Lindy didn’t do what her family expects, she does nothing but disappoint them. She is terrific, but because they can’t understand anything about who and what she is, all she feels from them is hurt. She can’t get anything right, so she just keeps trying harder. And harder. She has no life. We all know people like that.

One night, she celebrated a bit too much, and spent a glorious night with Alex Anderson, another rising star at the company. She expected to face a “walk of shame” the next morning, but nothing happened. Alex never told.

Lindy never forgot a single thrilling moment of that night, but she acted like it never happened. Men can have affairs with co-workers and no one thinks a thing of it, but there is still a double-standard. Lindy doesn’t want her work denigrated because she slept with Alex. She needs respect.

Alex wants more from Lindy than a one-night stand. So he arranges to be at that cabin for Christmas. They need to talk about what happened. Whether there is the possibility of more, or whether that was all that there was. But they need to talk about it at least once!

He’s playing for keeps. Lindy is just plain afraid. But until they finally talk it through, neither knows a thing. A little wine, a little snow, and a whole lot of truth might turn Lindy’s lonely Christmas into the best one she ever had.

Who knew that cheesy romance novels like “Kidnapped by the Greek Billionaire” contained a kernel of truth after all?

Escape Rating B: That Night is delicious late night reading pleasure. It’s just a cute, and slightly steamy story about two people who need to be alone together and start communicating to finally figure out that they really are perfect together.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd

Format read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook, Large Print
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 256 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: October 30, 2012
Purchasing Info:Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

“I was in Paris the day the French Army was mobilized.”

In 1914, while visiting her friend Madeleine, Lady Elspeth Douglas’s life is thrown into chaos when war breaks out and the Germans quickly overrun Belgium, threatening France. Having just agreed to marry Alain, Madeleine’s dashing brother, Lady Elspeth watches him leave to join his unit, and then she sets out for England, only to find herself trapped on the French coast.

Caught amid a sea of stranded travelers, terrified refugees, and wounded men overflowing the port of Calais, the restless Elspeth—daughter of a Highland aristocrat whose distinguished family can trace its roots back to the court of Mary, Queen of Scots—decides to make herself useful, carrying water to weary soldiers near the Front. It is an act of charity that almost gets her killed when enemy shells begin to explode around her.

To her rescue comes Captain Peter Gilchrist, who pulls her away from the battle and leads her to safety. But before they can properly say good-bye, Elspeth and Peter are separated.

Back in London, surrounded by familiar comforts, Elspeth is haunted by the horrors she witnessed in France. She also cannot forget the gallant Peter Gilchrist, even though she has promised herself to Alain.

Transformed by her experience, Elspeth goes to London and enrolls in a nursing course, where she meets a fellow nurse in training, Bess Crawford. It is a daring move, made without the consent of Elspeth’s guardian, her cousin Kenneth, a high-handed man with rigid notions of class and femininity.

Yet Elspeth Douglas is a woman with a mind of her own, which—as she herself says—is a blessing and a curse. She is determined to return to the battlefields of France to do her part . . . and to find the man she has no right to love, no matter how far Cousin Kenneth may go to stop her. But before she can set things right with Alain, he goes missing and then Peter is gravely wounded. In a world full of terror and uncertainty, can the sweetness of love survive or will Elspeth’s troubled heart become another casualty of this terrible war?

A poignant, compelling tale brimming with adventure, danger, and love, The Walnut Tree is an enchanting holiday gift and a wonderful companion to Charles Todd’s acclaimed Bess Crawford series.

If you’re looking for something to tide you over until Downton Abbey finally starts up again in January, take a look at Charles Todd’s World War I Christmas romance, The Walnut Tree.

And if you happen to be a fan of Todd’s Bess Crawford mystery series, you’re in for a real treat. The heroine of The Walnut Tree is one of Bess Crawford’s London flatmates, so there is a glimpse into Bess’ world from a slightly different perspective. There’s even a touch of mystery.

But back to Downton. The heroine in this particular tale is Lady Elspeth Douglas. Like Sybil Crawley, she wants to do more in World War I than lament about the shortages and roll up bandages. Lady Elspeth goes through the rigorous training and becomes a surgical nurse, serving in France, until her guardian discovers where she is and forces her resignation from the service. Elspeth is well into her 20s at this point, but she is under her cousin’s guardianship until age 30 according to her late father’s will.

No one wants her to leave the nursing service. Elspeth is a damn good nurse and they need her. Badly. Desperately. But her cousin has the absolute legal right to do this. Makes you want to scream but this was quite legal. He thought, and many people quite agreed with him at the time, that serving as a nurse would make her unmarriageable. And, after all, that’s what upper-crust women were supposed to do-get married and make upper-crust babies.

Never mind what Elspeth wanted to do.

About the story. Elspeth was always somewhat different. Her late father raised her to be independent. And she is Scottish, not English. It does matter. She begins the war in France, waiting for the birth of that friend’s baby. And being courted by that friend’s brother. A man she had a terrible crush on when she and her friend were in finishing school together.

During the course of Madeleine’s pregnancy, Alain has been courting her quite assiduously, with the expectation that after the birth, he could go to Scotland to ask her cousin for her hand in marriage. All very proper. Elspeth thinks Alain is who she wants, but they never really have a chance to know each other. I’m not talking about sex. That’s not what this is about. They never have the chance to talk about what they really want out of life or what their expectations are for the future. They assume that everything will go on as it has always been.

Then the war intervenes. Alain asks her for her promise, but they are not engaged. Exactly, because he can’t ask her cousin’s permission. She feels bound, yet there is nothing formal.

And the world goes to hell. Germany invades Belgium, and Britain is dragged into the war. Her friend stays in Paris, and begs her to stay with her, when Elspeth should, as a British citizen, leave while she can.

After the baby is born, she finally does leave, and is caught up in Calais by the British troop movements. There are no ships for a civilian to take. She ends up nursing the wounded. Even untrained, she is more help than nothing.

And she finds Captain Peter Gilchrist, a friend of her family from Scotland. He takes her with his company, and makes sure she gets back behind the lines to the coast. The harrowing experience binds them together in a way that her brief relationship with Alain does not. But she gave Alain a promise that she cannot break.

But her experience on the coast of France has changed her forever. Enough so that she defies the expectations of her class and goes through the rigorous training to become a nursing sister. Enough so that she spends the entire war dreaming of one man while fully committed to honoring her promise to another. Praying that both of them make it through the war whole.

Some prayers are not meant to be answered.

Escape Rating A: Charles Todd (actually a pseudonym for the mother and son writing team of Caroline Todd and Charles Todd) do an excellent, as always, job of invoking the time, the place and the sensibilities of life in England in the WWI and post-WWI era.

As much as the restrictions on Lady Elspeth chafe us, our world is not hers, those are the times in which she lived. She had to deal with her world as she found it, not as we would. The Todds let you slip into her skin, and see the world as she did.

We feel Elspeth’s need to do her duty to the promise she made to Alain, and we understand why she feels it. Just as we feel her need to do her part in the war, no matter the personal consequences.

That those consequences are high, and different from what Elspeth initially imagined…well that’s what makes the story so marvelous.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Red Hot Holiday by Anne Calhoun, K.A. Mitchell and Leah Braemel

Format read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: Erotic Romance, Holiday Romance
Length: 262 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: December 3, 2012
Purchasing Info:Anne Calhoun’s Website, K.A. Mitchell’s Website, Leah Braemel’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance

I’ll be home for Christmas…to fulfill all your dreams.

This holiday, a Mountie is determined to get her man. A widow finds a fireman who ignites her passions again. And two men unsure of their commitment discover a happily ever after—and a blindfold—under their tree. No matter your desires, this collection of three shorts is bound to treat you to all the joys of the season.

Edited by Angela James, this anthology includes:

I Need You for Christmas by Leah Braemel
Breath on Embers by Annie Calhoun
Wish List by K.A. Mitchell

All the stories in this holiday collection contain extra-spicy sex, but that wasn’t necessarily the point. Or at least it wasn’t for this reader.

I found it interesting that all three stories were about established relationships. There was no porn-without-plot here. Yes, there was a little kink, but it was really about love, and what worked for these relationships, these people.

Breath on Embers wasn’t merely my favorite story in this collection, it nearly broke my heart. This is a story about someone using noise, any kind of noise; music, work, sex, exercise, to distance herself from terrible, gnawing grief. Tess lost her husband two years ago this Christmas. For the past nine months, she’s been using FDNY Lieutenant Ronan O’Rourke as the sex part of that noise. He knows where she’s been. He lost a beloved uncle in one of the towers on 9/11. He’s lost comrades on the job. Tess makes him feel alive. He’s tired of her using him to help her deaden the pain. He knows they have more. This Christmas he’s going to prove to her that there is life on the other side of grief, if she’ll only take the first step across the yawning chasm.

This story is awesomely painful. And awesomely beautiful.

Escape Rating for Breath on Embers: A+

I Need You for Christmas is an updated version of O. Henry’s classic Christmas story, The Gift of the Magi, with a slightly kinky twist. In today’s society, what’s the biggest thing you can sacrifice for your lover? Your career? Your dreams. Ryan’s dreams were for his art. He’s a sculptor, and he’s finally starting to sell. Art is always a hit or miss proposition at best, and this is finally his “time”. Megan is a Mountie, and that’s her dream. The problem is that her dream meant 5 years being posted in Nunavut, while the death of Ryan’s parents meant that he had to stay in Toronto as guardian to his young step-siblings.  They’re going to college now. So he can leave Toronto, even if being out of civilization may cause difficulties for his career.

But Megan has had about enough of being away from Ryan. She’s been a Mountie, and she loves it, but she misses him. While she needs to serve and protect, outside of her job, she also needs the freedom of submitting to Ryan in the privacy of their bedroom.

And after the sudden death of Ryan’s parents, Ryan knows that no one’s tomorrows are guaranteed. Mounties get shot at in the Territories.

So they each plan a surprise for the other for Christmas, a surprise that should guarantee they can be together all the time. But there’s this little problem with surprises…

This story was sweet, and hot, and drives the reader crazy with wanting them to just TELL EACH OTHER already! But it’s oh so believable, that they want to be together and would do this. Terrific story.

Escape Rating for I Need You for Christmas: B+

Ryan and Megan in I Need You for Christmas were definitely into the D/s part of BDSM, but only to a certain extent, and they didn’t explicitly refer to it that way.

Jonah and Evan in Wish List by K.A. Mitchell don’t start out the story being part of the BDSM scene either, but when Jonah discovers a pair of wedding rings hidden in his boyfriend Evan’s desk drawer, he starts thinking of all the things he might like to try before he finally takes himself permanantly off the market, and in the “wish list” he makes of things he’d really, really like to experiment with, his imagination conjures up a whole LOT of BDSM ideas, with himself starring in the submissive role.

The only problem is that he can’t imagine his relatively buttoned-down, neat-and-tidy lover Evan presiding over those fantasies as the Dom. No matter how much that concept turns him on. And how much he loves Evan and wants him to be the man in his life forever.

Little does Jonah know that Evan is a dominant who has been suppressing that side of his nature, because the sex no longer interests him without an emotional component. When he finds one of Jonah’s “wish lists” after it falls out of Jonah’s pocket, Evan’s need to dominate Jonah comes roaring back to life. Jonah can have everything he wants, and Evan too, if he can just figure out how to ASK for it.

This story drove me just a little crazy, because of the communication misunderstandammits that were required to keep it going. But it was still fun.

Escape Rating for Wish List: B

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand? 12-15-12

There’s a Mellie-cat sleeping right beside my chair. I think my presence is not required from her perspective–she just likes to sleep on top of the pile of boxes.

Galen says that my office is the preferred kitty sleeping place during the day. LaZorra, of course, sleeps in my office chair since she always believes she’s in charge. Who knows, she might just be right!

But I’m using my office right now to talk about the week behind, and the week ahead.

About that week behind…there’s still time to enter the Holiday Gifts of Love Blog Hop! The prize here at Reading Reality is a $10 Amazon Gift Card, but there are over 200 Authors and Bloggers participating. Think of all the holiday shopping you might get out of the way. Or maybe gift yourself with a few prezzies?

What else happened last week?

B Review: Losing It by Cora Carmack
A Review: Taste Me (Underbelly Chronicles #1) by Tamara Hogan
A Review: Chase Me (Underbelly Chronicles #2) by Tamara Hogan
Romancing the Holiday: A- Review: The Best Thing by Jaci Burton, B+ Review: We’ll Be Home for Christmas by HelenKay Dimon, B- Review: Ask Her at Christmas by Christi Barth
Holiday Gifts of Love Blog Hop
Stacking the Shelves (26)

What’s happening this week? It’s the last week before the holiday weekend. Is anyone else wondering where the year went?

The big event this week will be the Gifting Books Blog Hop starting December 20. This hop, organized by Reading Romances, asks an absolutely fascinating question, “What was the most special book you’ve gifted or received?” Then we give a copy to our lucky winner. I wonder if I can stretch the definition of “romance” to include The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? Because they are it for me.

In addition to the Gifting Books Hop, this week is going to have more than a few Christmas book reviews. Someday this Jewish girl is going to have to find some good Hanukah romances for the holidays. A little bit of equal time would be nice!

But there are plenty of Christmas romances in the meantime. And a little bit of futuristic winter holiday romance to liven up the season!

A note about The Sunday Post. The Sunday Post is organized by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. A couple of weeks ago I asked for some advice about how to maintain a book blog and a full-time job. Kimba not only answered, but her answer was tremendously helpful. Thank you, Kimba for a terrific Sunday meme and your fantastic words of wisdom!


Stacking the Shelves (26)

The year is winding down fast! For those who celebrate it, the Christmas Holidays are next week. For many of the rest of us, it’s a lovely excuse for a long weekend. For those who have to work next weekend, especially those working retail during the last frenetic shopping days, I salute you.

Especially your no doubt tired aching feet.

I tried to keep the books stacked on top of my virtual shelves to a minimum. Well, a minimum for me, anyway. A few still managed to tiptoe their way onto my iPad. These are all ebooks this time around, including the book I borrowed from my new library. (Haven’t said THAT for a while!)

Just what I need, another source of books to read! Yes!

For Review:
All I Want for Christmas is a Duke by Delilah Marvelle and Maire Claremont
Between Two Thorns (Split Worlds #1) by Emma Newman
Demon’s Curse (Imnada Brotherhood #1) by Alexa Egan
Double Enchantment (Relics of Merlin #2) by Kathryne Kennedy
Entity (Spectra #2) by Joanne Elder
The Fat Man by Ken Harmon
Grave Intentions by Lori Sjoberg
The Importance of Being Wicked (Millworth Manor #2) by Victoria Alexander
Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements (Millworth Manor #1.5) by Victoria Alexander
Real Men Don’t Break Hearts (Real Men #1) by Coleen Kwan
She Returns from War (Cora Oglesby #2) by Lee Collins
The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher
Take What You Want by Jeanette Grey
That Night by Diane Dooley
Unnatural Acts (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. #2) by Kevin J. Anderson

Borrowed from the Library:
Enchanting the Lady (Relics of Merlin #1) by Kathryne Kennedy