Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayChristmas at Thorncliff Manor (Secrets at Thorncliff Manor, #4) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, holiday romance
Pages: 244
Published by Sophie Barnes on December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

More than love is in the air …Join the Heartly family as they return to Thorncliff Manor for the holiday season where four sisters and four very handsome, very eligible bachelors, are about to enjoy a lively Christmastime filled with laughter and love. But aside from the covert matchmaking undertaken by the eccentric hostess, Lady Duncaster, the thrill of adventure is sweeping through the estate. Soon, all the guests will be entangled in a treasure hunt for a lost heirloom and secrets hidden for decades will rise to the surface as matters of the heart are finally revealed.

Will Fiona ever see the Earl of Chadwick as more than a friend? Will Emily find an unlikely love in the Marquess of Montsmouth? Can Laura recognize the man of her dreams in the Duke of Lamont? And is Viscount Belgrave able to open Rachel’s eyes to romance? The magic of Thorncliff is about to offer the last unmarried Heartly sisters a chance at their own happily-ever-afters. So sit back with a warm mug of cocoa and lose yourself in a Regency Christmas Romance…

My Review:

Christmas at Thorncliff Manor is a delightful little sugarplum of a holiday romance.

It is also the final book in the Secrets at Thorncliff Manor series, and as such, it does its level best to both resolve the outstanding mysteries left from the first three books in the series and get the remaining Heartly daughters happily married before the final page.

I have not read the previous books in the series, and it looks like some absolutely fascinating things occurred during those books. Thorncliffe Manor is hiding a secret stash of valuables smuggled out of France during the Terror. And while those who betrayed the nobles who left that stash have been revealed and received their just desserts, the treasure trove itself has never discovered.

Not that several of the Heartly siblings, among others, have not spent a significant amount of time hunting for it.

Fiona is hoping to find her great-aunts jewel box. The Marquess of Montsmouth, an avid art collector, wants to find the paintings that are supposed to be included. They do not end up with each other.

But the remaining Heartly sisters, fun-loving Fiona, author Laura, artist Emily and scientist Rachel, do find their happily ever afters where they at least least expect them, among the wealthy, titled, and eligible men that their hostess Lady Duncaster has invited to spend the holidays at Thorncliff Manor.

The fun in this story is watching each of these singular sisters find someone who is just perfect for them. Even the scientific and mathematically inclined Rachel, who can prove with statistical certain that it is statistically impossible for her to ever meet the right man for her.

Instead, one after another the sisters find their matches, men who appreciate them as they are, and have no desire to attempt to mold them into what society expects them to be.

The sweetest story of all is Fiona’s. She is finally mature enough to see that the man who has been her playmate and protector is the only man she could ever possibly love. Even though trying for more has the potential to ruin the foundational friendship of both of their lives, it is too great a prize for them not to risk it all.

Finding the missing treasure is the icing on a very delicious cake of a holiday romance.

Escape Rating B+: If you’re looking for a sweet historical holiday romance, Christmas at Thorncliff Manor is an excellent choice. And I say that even though I have not read the rest of the series. It seems clear that there is more depth to the backstory if you’ve read them all, but this entry is surprisingly complete in itself, especially considering that the Heartly siblings have been hunting for that treasure from the very first book.

The holiday party setting also adds to the fun, and it provides the “glue” that makes these four separate romances stick together. It’s obvious to the reader, and to at least some of the participants, that someone is matchmaking in the background, and that everyone is more than willing to go along for the ride.

I did find Fiona and Chadwick’s romance to have the most depth. It does feel as if they are the primary couple in the story, and we see Fiona’s point of view more than her sisters. Their romance is in a classic trope. They have known each other forever, but Chadwick was her older brother’s friend. He has treated her like a little sister, but now she is 19 and he has finally realized that she is the woman he wants to marry. He has to figure out how to make her see him as something other than an older brother without scaring her off. And there’s a bit of a bittersweet touch because he knows this marks an ending no matter what happens. If she can’t see him as a romantic partner, he’ll need to step away from a family that has become a second home to him.

As I said at the very beginning, this one is a sugarplum, a sweet holiday treat, indeed.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: A Snow Country Christmas by Linda Lael Miller

Review: A Snow Country Christmas by Linda Lael MillerA Snow Country Christmas (The Carsons of Mustang Creek, #4) by Linda Lael Miller
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance, western romance
Series: Carsons of Mustang Creek #4
Pages: 256
Published by Harlequin Books on September 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It's a Christmas affair to remember as a Hollywood mogul discovers his inner cowboy—and the woman of his dreams—amid the rugged beauty of Wyoming.

Raine McCall would take snow-covered mountains over a star-studded premiere any day. But when hotshot movie executive Mick Branson arranges dinner on Christmas Eve to discuss a work opportunity, she's intrigued—by the offer and the man. She's a no-makeup, no-frills single mom, who's happy with her quiet life. Sharing chili cheeseburgers and sizzling kisses with Mick is sure heating up her holiday, but country girl and power player don't mix…

It's not just work that's brought Mick back to Mustang Creek. Since he first visited to oversee a documentary, free-spirited graphic designer Raine has been in his head. Her approach to life is as unconventional as her quirky holiday ornaments. Their attraction is undeniable—and so are their differences. Putting down roots in the Wild West wasn't in the script. But there are some Christmas gifts you can't walk away from, even when they turn your whole world upside down…

My Review:

A Snow Country Christmas is a candy cane of a Christmas romance, sweet with just the right touch of shivery, bracing coolness to make a delicious holiday treat.

It is also the perfect coda to the Carsons of Mustang Creek series. And even to the Brides of Bliss County series that it spun off from. It feels like all the story lines have been tied up with a big red Christmas-y bow, wrapped around this lovely story like a present.

The romance is of the “opposites attract” variety. Except it kind of isn’t. Raine McCall and Mick Branson are both certain that they have next to nothing in common. And on the surface they may both be right, but in the ways that it counts, they are totally and blissfully wrong.

Raine has been in the background of the entire Carsons of Mustang Creek series, and with good reason. She’s Slater (the hero of Once a Rancher) Carson’s ex. Not his ex-wife, just his ex. But also the very much present mother of his daughter Daisy, now approaching adolescence at breakneck speed. Raine knew that she and Slater, while they had a great time, didn’t suit for the long haul, so when she became pregnant and he made the expected offer of marriage, she turned him down.

They are, however, still very good friends and great co-parents for Daisy. It’s impossible not to believe that things worked out better this way for everyone, especially Daisy.

But Raine’s reaction to that expected proposal does sum up her life philosophy in a lot of ways. Raine is unconventional. Not just because she’s an artist, but because she’s found a place for herself and a way of living that work for her, and she’s learned not to pay attention to anyone who thinks she’s wrong for not doing any of the expected things.

Mick Branson does the expected things, and pretty much always has. Raine calls him “Mr. Boardroom” because he’s a high-powered wheeler-dealer in Hollywood and plenty of other places. Mick is also the man who finds the funding for Slater’s award-winning documentary films.

But somewhere along the way, his work with Slater as well as the many visits it’s required to Mustang Creek, have given Mick a new perspective – or put him in touch with a part of himself that he left behind. He’s fallen hard for Wyoming in general, and Mustang Creek in particular. He’s come to realize that at 40 or thereabouts, he’s tired of spending his life on the road or in the air, and wants to put down some roots and have a real life.

And he’s fallen even harder for Raine McCall, a woman whose life and roots are in Mustang Creek and who intends to keep them there – no matter how great a temptation Mick might provide. And as they explore the chemistry that has been simmering between them since their first meeting, they discover that under the surface, they have way more in common than anyone ever imagined.

And that it’s not just a mutual love of her famous grandfather’s novels.

Escape Rating A: I don’t give full A grades to many novellas. Even when I love them, there’s something about the novella format that usually leaves me itching for just a bit more. That’s not true with A Snow Country Christmas.

Because we’ve met these people before, and the setting is already established, the length here is just right. It also mirrors the length of time the story covers, over one long Christmas holiday, and it also seems to parallel the timing and course of Raine’s grandfather’s unfinished last novel.

That unfinished novel provides a touch of nostalgia as well as a way for the old man that Raine loved to give his haunting approval of her choice. And it gives Mick a vehicle in which he can explore his own suppressed creative side. The way that the unfinished story of the greenhorn and the unconventional woman of the West parallels Mick and Raine’s own romance was a marvelous touch.

For series fans, A Snow Country Christmas is the perfect ending to a delightful series. But, while I think this novella is complete in itself, it just doesn’t feel like the right place for beginners to start the series. For the best time in Mustang Creek, start back with The Marriage Pact, the first of the Brides of Bliss County series, to meet everyone and get to know this marvelous bunch of people.

I’ll miss these folks. But the romance between independent, unconventional Raine and thoughtful, considerate and willing-to-adapt Mick was the icing on what has been a really delicious cake.

Reviewer’s Note: The page count for this book on both Goodreads and Amazon is pretty far off. At 1700 kindle locations, A Snow Country Christmas is definitely a novella, and probably around 150 pages in length. A nice, quick read. With that number of kindle locations, the 384 pages listed on Goodreads is impossible without a ridiculous amount of white space. The 256 pages listed on Amazon probably refers to the large print edition. If you’re looking for a nice long read in this setting, go back to either The Marriage Pact or Once a Rancher, the first books in The Brides of Bliss County and The Carsons of Mustang Creek.

Review: Sugar Pine Trail by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Sugar Pine Trail by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySugar Pine Trail (Haven Point, #7) by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Haven Point #7
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on September 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An unlikely attraction brings comfort, joy and unforgettable romance this holiday season!

Librarian Julia Winston is ready to ditch the quiet existence she's been living. She's made a list of new things to experience, but falling for Jamie Caine, her sexy military pilot neighbor, isn't one of them. Julia's looking to conquer life, not become the heartbreaker's latest conquest. But when two young brothers wind up in Julia's care for the holidays, she'll take any help she can get—even Jamie's.

Happy to step in, Jamie reveals a side of himself that's much harder to resist. Not only is he fantastic with kids, he provides the strength Julia needs to tackle her list. She knows their temporary family can't last beyond the holidays, but the closer she gets to Jamie, the more she wonders if things could be this merry and bright forever…

My Review:

It may only be September, but welcome to the first holiday book review of the year!

And we’re back in cozy Haven Point in this follow up to Serenity Harbor and my personal favorite in the series, Riverbend Road.

Sugar Pine Trail even ties up a bit of the story in Riverbend Road, right along with the series’ ongoing efforts to get all the Caine brothers of Caine Tech matched up with the women they’ve been waiting their whole lives for – even if they haven’t known it.

The hero this time around is Jamie Caine, the pilot. Jamie spends his days flying his brothers and the other executives of Caine Tech wherever and whenever they need to go. And his nights with a seemingly endless succession of beautiful but ultimately forgettable women who go in knowing that all they’ll get is a few good rides.

Jamie is a flirt and a charmer, and not in the least shy of using those charms to get whatever, or whoever he wants. While he’s not quite a player – he’s the closest thing that tiny Haven Point has ever seen.

Julia Winston, on that other hand, is the town librarian. And she seems to have bought into the stereotype just a bit too much, even though she’s only in her early 30s. Renting Jamie the upstairs apartment in her huge Victorian house is way outside her comfort zone – if only because Julia, along with more than a few women in town – has an unrequited crush on Jamie.

But Julia has also discovered within herself a desire to finally take charge of her own life, and to stop letting her fears hold her back from all the experiences that she once upon a time believed she wanted. Including an orgasm not brought about entirely by her own efforts.

Jamie’s not the only new male to enter her life. In an act of concern and charity, Julia follows home two little boys who seem to be living in the library – and who don’t seem to have an adult around. Once she discovers their true situation and brings social worker Wyn Emmett (the heroine of Riverbend Road) into the case, she learns that the only way that these two brothers can stay together for Christmas is if someone steps up and can foster them together while officials hunt for their missing.

To everyone’s surprise, including her own, Julia volunteers to step so far out of her comfort zone that there’s no looking back. She fosters them herself, knowing nothing about fostering and even less about take care of children.

Lucky for her, her new upstairs tenant comes to her rescue when she finds herself way, way over her head. Jamie not only takes the two boys under his wing, but manages to even charm her supercilious cats into purring under his hand.

And finds himself, in turn, charmed by the woman that Julia reveals as she opens her heart to the boys and lets her hair down, both metaphorically and physically with him. Once the starch is worn out of Julia, he discovers that the sweet, lovely and slightly flustered woman she is underneath is someone he can’t resist.

No matter how much he tells himself that he should.

Escape Rating B: I like Haven Point a lot. It’s a great place to visit, filled with lovely people that it is a joy to get to know.

On the one hand, the problem that pulls the lives of Julia and the two boys together is one that every library faces in some way, in both large and small places. At the end of the evening, it is not uncommon to discover one or two (or more) children who are too young to be left on their own but who don’t seem to have a responsible adult picking them up. Leaving them feels unsafe, but when it happens night after night, the staff who feel forced to stay overtime end up both worried and resentful. While calling the police seems heartless, it is often the only way to deal with the problem so that everyone, including the library staff, feel safe and protected.

Julia’s solution to this dilemma is unique, but the problem happens more often than people think, although usually not in such dire circumstances. As much as I applauded her in the book, at the same time, that she fostered the children herself made her feel like “not one of us” as did her continual harping on how she both fit and embraced the stereotype of librarian. As a group, we pretty much deride the stereotype whenever and wherever possible. It’s almost a game we play of complaining just how terrible and just plain wrong the old stereotype is.

Of course, readers who are not themselves librarians will not be bothered by this aspect. But I did want to shake her and drag her to a big library conference to see for herself.

The fears that held Julia back in so many ways, while they had nothing to do with being a librarian, felt all too real. She had created a shell around herself, for reasons that often made sense at the time. But her desire to break out of that shell and find out who she really wanted to be was well portrayed.

As a character, I liked Jamie and loved the way that he stepped in, stepped up and helped Julia figure out her sudden immersion in parenting. Not that he had any more experience as a parent, but he did have experience both as a sibling in a large family and in wrangling his nieces and nephews. As the only child of two only children, Julia’s life just hadn’t included much of those kinds of interactions. She needed his help, and as difficult as it was for her, accepting that help was necessary for her to grow up and to break out of that shell.

However, I’m not sure I really bought their romance. The relationship that Julia forged with the boys, and her heartbreak at the end, was sweet and crazy and just right. But I didn’t quite feel the chemistry between Julia and Jamie.

But I still had a great time visiting Haven Point for the holidays, and will be happy to make a return trip sometime soon. Maybe in the spring, when I won’t have to read about SNOW!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of Sugar Pine Trail to one lucky continental US winner

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Guest Review: Hold Me, Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Guest Review: Hold Me, Cowboy by Maisey YatesHold Me, Cowboy (Copper Ridge: Desire #2) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Copper Ridge: Desire #2
Pages: 224
Published by Harlequin on November 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Stranded with a cowboy for Christmas…from
New York Times
bestselling author Maisey Yates! 
Oil and water have nothing on Sam McCormack and Madison West. The wealthy rancher has never met a haughtier—or more appealing—woman in his life. And when they're snowed in, he's forced to admit this ice queen can scorch him with one touch… 
Madison had plans for the weekend! Instead she's stranded with a man who drives her wild. A night of no-strings fun leaves both of them wanting more when they return to Copper Ridge. His proposal: twelve days of hot sex before Christmas! But will it ever be enough?

Guest review by Amy:

Madison West just needs to get laid. It’s been a decade, because, well, reasons, and she’s determined it’s about time to shake off the cobwebs. She’s arranged to have a fling with a friendly traveling salesman (I kid you not!) at a nearby rental cabin, up in the mountains. As a snowstorm rolls in, the power goes out. Maddy can see another cabin close by, and their lights are on, so she goes to knock, and finds… Sam.

Sam McCormack, whom she’s been difficult and downright bitchy with for years and years. She calls her fling, only to discover that he can’t get up the mountain. Sam can’t fix the power in her cabin easily, so they’re stuck together for the night. So Maddy fulfills her plan with Sam, who conveniently has been a little hard up in the romantic department for a while, too. They walk away after their fun weekend together, with no strings attached.

It’s not that easy, of course; it never is, or Hold Me, Cowboy would be a really short book. Our lovers see that they got away with their fling slick as a pickpocket. After a dose of their long-practiced sniping at each other, they decide to have more fun. Sam is a farrier and artist, with most of his business savvy coming from his brother Chase; Maddy is part of the aristocracy of Copper Ridge, a horse trainer on her father’s ranch.

Conventional spoiled-rich-girl-falls-for-hired-hand romance, right? Not so fast.

Escape Rating: A-. Over the course of their affair, we learn why Madison had gone so long alone–as a 17-year-old, she’d had a crush on, and been badly treated by, her dressage instructor, and her father and pretty much the whole town had sided against her in the matter. It’s a classic case of victim-blaming, when they were discovered. It’s a frustrating case of art echoing life, as author Maisey Yates shows us the inside of Maddy’s thoughts, and the long-term impact this too-common problem can have on women. She’s understandably gun-shy about getting in a relationship with Sam, fearing the same abandonment will happen again.

For Sam’s part, he’s had a tragedy in his life too: a former lover, who had dumped him, then died of a hemorrhage from an ectopic pregnancy with his child. She’d called out for him, and he’d rushed to the hospital, but her family was not having him near her, and then she was gone. Sam has not allowed himself to grieve; he seems stuck on the fact that her family lost so much more than he did, and that means he hasn’t the right to grieve his own loss.

Over the course of their falling for each other, both of them reveal this–for the first time–to each other, and they give each other much-needed comfort, and permission to let down the guards of fear and loss that they have both held up for so long. In the denouement, this lets Sam free himself as an artist, and not do just the to-him boring works he’d been turning out, but art that expresses what is going on in his heart.

I enjoyed this story thoroughly; it’s an easy read, with a well-executed sense of place and time, and believable characters that I could really identify with. Hold Me, Cowboy explores the headspace of two very broken individuals, who manage to find the peace they need, not just in (very) plentiful wicked sex, but in each other’s hearts. There was one slightly sour note for me, in the unfinished business between Maddy and her father; Nathan West clearly needs a good talking-to, and he never gets it, nor is it alluded to that Sam is intending to help her settle that lingering stress in her life. It’s the only downbeat I can give an otherwise fantastic story. I strongly recommend this book and intend to hunt up other of Yates’ works for my reading list.

Review: Let it Snow by Jeanette Grey

Review: Let it Snow by Jeanette GreyLet it Snow by Jeanette Grey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: holiday romance, new adult romance
Pages: 120
Published by Forever Yours on November 1st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Baby, it's cold outside . . .
'Tis the night before Christmas Eve and Holly wishes she hadn't volunteered to work the night shift. The weather is frightful and getting worse by the minute, and the same old annoying carols are blasting from the bookstore's speakers. But Holly's holiday spirit returns when the store's sexy new assistant manager arrives to keep her company. He has muscled arms, baby blue eyes, and a sweet pair of lips she wouldn't mind meeting under the mistletoe.
Sam is glad the snow is keeping away customers-it gives him a chance to get close to his favorite employee. Holly has always been a mystery to Sam, like a beautiful present he'd love to unwrap. When they're trapped by a full-blown blizzard, Holly breaks into the Christmas cookie display. Sam busts out a bottle of vodka from the boss's office. Soon the two are trading heated kisses-as well as secrets neither has ever felt safe enough to tell before. What started out as one naughty night together turns into something so much more.

My Review:

In a lot of ways, Let it Snow is a very cute wish-fulfillment story. At some point in our lives, we’ve probably all daydreamed about being stranded with the hot guy (or hot girl) that we desperately want to notice us as more than just a co-worker or fellow student or whatever fits the location where we met.

And we’ve all had that feeling that the person we’re oh-so-interested in is much too hot or popular or smart or whatever to possibly reciprocate our feelings.

Holly gets to act out that fantasy in this little story. But the course of true love, or even true lust or true like, never does run smooth. Not just because she can’t believe that Sam is very much into her, but because Holly has a problem letting people in. Casual sex is easy, no pun intended. But she has a history of sabotaging potential relationships because her past has left her with the indelible impression that she’s not worthy.

Little does she know that Sam has those same feelings about her. And about himself.

Escape Rating B+: This is a short novella that is very, very easy to fall into like with. And it is completely adorkable.

Holly is a college student, and a not very closeted geek. She tries to hide her nerdy interest in science fiction and Doctor Who and reading in general, but doesn’t hide it very well. And she works in a bookstore! Temptation abounds.

Sam is a big part of that temptation. He’s the assistant manager of the store, but he’s only a couple of years older than Holly. And he’s gorgeous. And cute. And funny.

Geeky Holly can’t believe that Sam is interested in her. She may be pretty, but she’s not model gorgeous the way that Rachel, the bookstore owner’s daughter is. College dropout Sam can’t believe that smart Holly could be interested in him.

Snowbound for the night inside the bookstore, they explore all that suppressed interest. But snuggled in the cold and the dark, they also open up all the secrets they’ve been hiding. And that’s what levels this story up from cute to very, very interesting.

But Holly can’t deal with having let all her secrets out in the cold light of day. She tries to push Sam away, until she just can’t anymore. Because he’s throwing away the one thing that she wants above all. When she calls him on it, they find they have something worth fighting for, and worth believing in.

Their very own Christmas miracle.

Let It Snow RB Banner

Review: All I Got for Christmas by Genie Davis and Pauline Baird Jones

Review: All I Got for Christmas by Genie Davis and Pauline Baird JonesAll I Got For Christmas by Genie Davis, Pauline Baird Jones
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: holiday romance, science fiction romance
Pages: 193
Published by Pauline Baird Jones on November 9th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

My Review:

This is definitely a “mixed-feelings” type of review. And it’s not so much that I have different feelings about the two novellas in this collective as that I have mixed feelings about both of the novellas in this collection.

Let me explain…

There are two stories in this collection, Riding for Christmas by Genie Davis and Up on the House Top by Pauline Baird Jones. While I liked the concept of this joint release, I had some issues with the executions. Completely different issues with each story.

Riding for Christmas felt more like a ghost story than science fiction romance. The time travel element is a bit weirder than normal bit of handwavium, but the science fiction aspects, such as they were, felt like the story would have been better served if they had been fantasy or paranormal elements instead. Considering the setting, the Native American trickster deities, either Coyote or Raven, would have served just as well as the aliens to make this story happen.

In 1885 Sam Harrington is captured by aliens, and put in stasis for a century. Then on a whim, or perhaps a desire to find an excuse to let Sam go, the aliens let Sam out for Christmas, at the site of the old farm he was on his way to visit during that snowstorm that obscured the aliens way back when.

Sam discovers the granddaughter of his old friends, visiting the derelict ranch that she has just inherited. The lives of everyone connected to Sam went badly after his disappearance, and Jane MacKenzie is all that’s left. She’s an orphan whose drunken grandfather didn’t want her, but still left her his broken down ranch.

Sam’s one night of freedom coincides with Jane’s visit to the ranch, where she gets lost in (of course) a snowstorm. She and Sam spend one night together outside of time, where they talk and comfort each other, but share nothing more than a kiss.

The aliens return Sam to his own time, and Sam has the future that he should have had, including marriage and children and grandchildren. That lonely future that Jane Mackenzie was part of never came to be – but it is still the life that Jane remembers. Until she has an encounter with another Sam Harrington, and they swap ghost stories.

The story had a very cute concept, but the characters didn’t speak to me. Or the situation didn’t. Or something I can’t put my finger on. Was it all outside of time? How did the aliens manage to futz with time? And more than once at that. We don’t get quite enough of either character to really feel the story.

And it always felt more like a ghost story than SFR to me. The aliens are as nebulous as that ship they hid in the snow.

Escape Rating for Riding for Christmas: C+

Up on the House Top was a lot funnier than Riding for Christmas. And there is also a lot more heart in the story, or perhaps that’s more meat.

Gini comes back to her mother’s remote cabin in Wyoming for Christmas, with her twin sister’s two recalcitrant step-children in unintended tow. Van and her husband Bif (they’re his kids) had an emergency at work, and never do come to get the terrors. No one can figure out what kind of work emergency they might have at NASA without a ship in space, but Gini does eventually find out.

As much as anyone finds out anything about the real truth in this story.

Because when Gini gets to her mother’s, the love of her life is waiting in the cabin along with mother. But it’s been 20 years since Gini and Dex broke up, Dex is now the County Sherriff and Gini is entertaining a surprise marriage proposal from her rich and chilly boss.

It’s a weird meeting made even weirder by the presence of Gini’s mother Desi, who has always been a bit “out there” and is further out there than normal this Christmas. Things get even crazier the next morning, when Gini and Dex wake up to discover that they have reverted to their 13-year-old selves, at least physically, and that 80+ year old Desi is now about 7. Which seems to be the age at which she was originally captured by the little green men (and possibly one little green woman) who are all over the house.

Gini isn’t sure whether to go with the flow, fear for her sanity, or try to take the house back from the invading forces. Those little green men say that first contact never goes well, but this particular instance is proving to be a humdinger.

By the time the dust settles, the men in black have been foiled by decorating the flying saucer on the roof as an extra terrestrial vehicle for a big green Santa, and life is back to normal. Except that the little green men have taken their little friend Desi away with them, and that Gini’s 13-year-old self finally had the courage, or perhaps the self-centeredness, to ask Dex what went wrong all those years ago.

The story has a lot of things to say about the relationship between adult children and their aging parents. It also manages to get a fair number of licks in about the normal self-centered phase that teenagers go through. And there are plenty of geeky in-jokes to make SF fans laugh and chuckle.

But the story lurches from one crazy incident to another, and at points it feels more like an excuse for those in jokes than an actual story. And this reader never did figure out exactly what purpose those two real kids served in the plot. The girl was not just selfish, but completely unlikeable from beginning to end.

And there’s an “it was all a dream” ending. The question left in the reader’s mind is which parts?

Escape Rating for Up on the House Top: B-

open with care by genie davis and pauline baird jones alternate cover for all i got for christmasReviewer’s Note: It’s been a few weeks since I reviewed this book at  Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. In those intervening weeks, it appears that there might have been a title and cover change. Some references to this title at the etailers are now calling it  Open With Care: Beware of Aliens Bearing Gifts

SFRQ-button-vsmallThis review was originally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

 

Review: Burning Bright by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen + Giveaway

Review: Burning Bright by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen + GiveawayBurning Bright: Four Chanukah Love Stories by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: Hanukkah romance, holiday romance
Pages: 400
Published by Avon Impulse on December 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This December, take a break from dreidel spinning, gelt winning, and latke eating to experience the joy of Chanukah. When you fall in love during the Festival of Lights, the world burns a whole lot brighter.
It’s definitely not love at first sight for Amanda and her cute but mysterious new neighbor, Ben. Can a Chanukah miracle show them that getting off on the wrong foot doesn’t mean they can’t walk the same road?
Lawyers in love, Shari Cohen and Evan Sonntag are happy together. But in a moment of doubt, he pushes her away—then soon realizes he made a huge mistake. To win her back, it might take something like a Chanukah miracle.
When impulsive interior designer Molly Baker-Stein barges into Jon Adelman's apartment and his life intent on planning the best Chanukah party their building has ever seen, neither expects that together they just might discover a Home for Chanukah.
All Tamar expected from her Israel vacation was time to hang out with one of her besties and to act like a tourist, cheesy t-shirt and all, in her two favorite cities. She definitely was not expecting to fall for Avi, a handsome soldier who’s more than she ever dreamed. 

My Review:

In the avalanche of holiday romances that arrives every November and December, I seldom see anyone like myself. Why? Because there is a dearth of Hanukkah romance in the middle of all the Christmas. And just like the heroines in this collection of Hanukkah romances, I’m Jewish. It was beyond marvelous to read romances that reflected some of my experience, where the cultural background is the one that I remember from my own family. So for that alone, this collection is a marvelous collection of Hanukkah lights.

But these are also terrific love stories, and anyone looking for something slightly different in their holiday romance will certainly find someone and something to love in this bunch of treats. Or bag of chocolate Hanukkah gelt.

My favorite story in the book is the first one, Miracle by Megan Hart. It’s a love story, and it is also a story about finding your own path, even if it is not the one that other people think you should follow. So it’s a story about growing up and breaking away. Ben has moved to Harrisburg, PA of all places, in order to get away from his ultra-orthodox religious community back in New York. While it is impossible to grow up in the U.S. without some exposure to popular (and Christian) culture, Ben’s community in NYC was as isolated in its own way as the Amish. Popular culture was something forbidden, and something that happened very much on the outside of the insular and insulated community. But when the girl that Ben was supposed to marry falls in love with his best friend, Ben takes the opportunity to escape a life that doesn’t fit him. He wants to travel, he wants to experience the entire world, and he doesn’t want to take over his father’s kosher grocery store chain. He isn’t sure what he wants for his life, but he wants a wider world than the one he has experienced so far.

In Harrisburg, he meets Amanda. While Amanda is also Jewish, she has grown up in the wider and predominantly Christian world. In Amanda’s life, while she is proud of being Jewish, she has also experience some anti-Semitism and has the experience of being a minority where most people she meets are different from herself. Ben often seems critical because she does not act the way that he was brought up to expect “good girls” to act, while at the same time he is definitely attracted both to her and the adaptation to the world as a whole that he craves. When his father shows up at his doorstep in an attempt to guilt Ben into returning home, Ben is caught between the life he had, and the life he wants with Amanda.

In both A Dose of Gelt by Jennifer Gracen and A Home for Chanukah by Stacey Agdern, while the details in the stories are different, the theme is the same. In both stories, the couple are negotiating the shift from friends and lovers to lovers and partners. And in both cases, there is a huge bump in the smoothness of that road. In Gracen’s story, Evan and Shari have been lovers for several months, long enough for both of them to think seriously about the future. But they are both lawyers, and Evan in particular is a divorce lawyer. He has soured on marriage so much that he isn’t sure he will ever want to enter that institution for himself. When he brings Shari home for the holidays, his unwillingness to ever marry runs headlong into his family’s desire for him to settle down with Shari, and Shari’s coalescing thoughts that someday she would like to marry and have children, and that she would like her someday with Evan.

The relationship between Jon and Molly in Agdern’s story is much newer than the one in A Dose of Gelt, but hits similar rocky shoals. Jon invites interior designer Molly to turn his empty apartment into a place he will feel at home – but when he comes back from a business trip and sees what she has done, he feels invaded and exposed, and pretty much shoots the messenger, meaning Molly. It takes a lot of appropriate groveling and some very pointed nudging from Jon’s family and Molly’s friends to get Jon to see the light. Or lights.

KK Hendin’s story, All I Got, gave me a bit of trouble. I liked the happy ending, but getting there was a bit confusing. Tamar returns to Israel for Winter break, and meets a handsome soldier. She falls in love, but keeps her feelings to herself, knowing that she has to return to the U.S. to fulfill her college scholarship. That handsome soldier, Avi, finds a way to follow her to the States, so he can discover if what they feel for each other is real. The story is told from Tamar’s first person perspective, with lots of inserted quotes from either her friends or from others who have written about the experience of traveling to or living in Israel. The quotes are fascinating, and Tamar’s story is lovely, but for this reader they didn’t blend together well.

Escape Ratings:
Miracle by Megan Hart: A-
A Dose of Gelt by Jennifer Gracen: B
A Home for Chanukah by Stacey Agdern: B+
All I Got by KK Hendin: C+

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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The authors are giving away a $25 Gift Card to the bookseller of the winner’s choice:

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Review: Christmas on Candy Cane Lane by Sheila Roberts

Review: Christmas on Candy Cane Lane by Sheila RobertsChristmas on Candy Cane Lane (Life in Icicle Falls, #8) by Sheila Roberts
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance, women's fiction
Series: Life in Icicle Falls #8
Pages: 400
Published by Mira on October 27th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Icicle Falls is the place to be at Christmas…
Everyone's getting ready for Christmas in Icicle Falls, especially on Candy Cane Lane, where holiday decorating is taken very seriously. Tilda Morrison, town cop, is looking forward to celebrating Christmas in her first house… until she discovers that she's expected to "keep up" with the neighbors, including Maddy Donaldson, the inspiration behind the whole extravaganza. But this year, someone's destroying Maddie's precious candy canes! Thank goodness for the cop in their neighborhood.
Tilda already has her hands full trying to sort out her love life and fix up her fixer-upper. Oh, and won't it be fun to have the family over for Christmas dinner? Not really… Then there's her neighbor, Ivy Bohn. As a newly single mom, Ivy can sum up the holiday in two words: Bah, humbug. But she's determined to give her kids a perfect Christmas.
Despite family disasters, irritating ex-husbands and kitchen catastrophes, these three women are going to find out that Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year!

My Review:

This is a story about what happens when you live next to the Griswold family from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Or at least you feel like you do. When the plastic trappings of Christmas become way more important than any spirit of Christmas whatsoever, you have a recipe for disaster. And comedy.

This entry in the Life in Icicle Falls series is set on Candy Cane Lane, and one of the story threads follows the woman who makes it all happen. Literally. Maddy Donaldson is the person who petitioned the village to change the name of the street to Candy Cane Lane in the first place, and she’s the person responsible for making sure that every resident has their holiday lighting display dialed up to 11. She’s also the cheerleader and organizer who schedules every single woman on the street to serve as Mrs. Claus, standing out in the cold and snow and giving away free candy canes to the carloads of mostly local tourists who come to see Candy Cane Lane in all its electric glory.

(There are plenty of real places that do Christmas to the nth degree the way that Candy Cane Lane does, The Sauganash neighborhood in Chicago is fairly famous, or infamous, in the Chicagoland area.)

But Mandy is so busy organizing the neighborhood, whether they like it or not, that she doesn’t see how often she breaks promises to her husband and daughter in order to play Mrs. Claus or chivvy the neighbors into more holiday spirit. If some of those neighbors are turning to other types of holiday spirits in order to avoid her, she misses that, too.

Mandy isn’t the only woman on Candy Cane Lane having a little difficulty seeing the Christmas around her. Ivy Boch is spending her first Christmas alone. Last December 26, her husband said he’d had enough of being tied down, and left. Now they are sharing custody of their two little kids, and sharing a rather separate misery. Their daughter has written to Santa that all she wants for Christmas is her Daddy back home. Ex-husband Rob has finally figured out that he was a jerk and an idiot, and wants to come home. But Ivy isn’t sure she can trust him again, and who can blame her?

Icicle Falls Police Office Tilda Morrison has just bought a fixer-upper house on Candy Cane Lane. Her love life is non-existent, and she’s decided to quit waiting and just get on with her life. One problem is that her fixer-upper needs way more fixing up than she thought. Her second problem is that one of the local bad boys, Devon Black, would love for Tilda to take him on as her very own personal handyman and fixer upper. And if that wasn’t enough, her new neighbors expect her to solve the sudden rash of Christmas decoration vandals that is ruining everyone’s Christmas displays, right along with Mandy’s and Tilda’s Christmases.

Something needs to change on Candy Cane Lane, or no one is going to have a very merry Christmas.

Merry Ex-Mas by Sheila RobertsEscape Rating B: Just like the previous entry in this series, A Wedding on Primrose Street (reviewed here), Christmas on Candy Cane Lane reads more as women’s fiction than it does a romance. The emphasis in this story is on women’s friendships and women’s relationships, including the fractured relationship between Maddy and her daughter, the tenuous friendship that grows up between Ivy and Tilda, and Tilda’s loving but sometimes contentious relationship with her mother Dot.

Also like a previous holiday entry in the series, Merry Ex-Mas (my personal favorite in Icicle Falls), the women are dealing with the men in their lives at very different stages in those relationships. Maddy and Alan are harried but generally happy with each other; Ivy and Rob are divorced but nothing has been resolved, and Tilda and Devon are still dancing around whether they will have a relationship or not.

Each of the women is in the middle of a crisis. Maddy’s daughter Jordan has become a teenager with a vengeance, and their formerly good relationship is strained by Jordan’s mood swings and increasingly bad attitudes. Ivy is having a meltdown between managing her shop, taking care of her kids, and feeling lonely and stressed to the max. Tilda is worried about her mother, who ends up in the hospital, and has a never-ending series of house-related messes.

Seemingly no one is perfectly happy. But they all get through, often by helping each other. And in the end, they each find out what is really important at Christmas. And the rest of the year.

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Review: The Lodge on Holly Road by Sheila Roberts

Review: The Lodge on Holly Road by Sheila RobertsThe Lodge on Holly Road (Life in Icicle Falls, #6) by Sheila Roberts
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Life in Icicle Falls #6
Pages: 368
Published by Harlequin MIRA on October 28th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

How Santa Gets His Christmas Spirit Back…
James Claussen has played Santa for years, but now that he's a widower, he's lost interest—in everything. So his daughter, Brooke, kidnaps him from the mall (in his Santa suit!) and takes him to Icicle Falls. She's arranged a special Christmas at the lodge owned by long-widowed Olivia Wallace and her son, Eric. And yet…Brooke wants Dad to be happy, but she's not ready to see someone else's mommy kissing Santa Claus.
Single mom Missy Monroe brings her kids to the lodge, too. Lalla wants a grandma for Christmas, and her brother, Carlos, wants a dog. Missy can't provide either one. What she'd like is an attractive, dependable man. A man like John Truman… But John's girlfriend will be joining him in Icicle Falls, and he's going to propose.
Of course not everything goes as planned. But sometimes the best gifts are the ones you don't expect!

My Review:

I pulled The Lodge on Holly Road out of the virtually towering TBR pile because I’m scheduled to review the 8th book in this series, Christmas on Candy Cane Lane, early in November. I totally forgot that Holly Road was last year’s Christmas book in the Life in Icicle Falls series. So I get two heaping helpings of Christmas spirit in time for the upcoming holidays.

Merry Ex-Mas by Sheila RobertsWhile Merry Ex-Mas is still my favorite Christmas book in this series, at least so far, The Lodge on Holly Road was definitely a tasty treat.

The first thing readers need to know about this series is that Icicle Falls is really Leavenworth, Washington, a small tourist town that really did change its look to make it seem like something out of an idealized Bavarian Forest. It is just this cute, and in the location relative to Seattle described in the book.

The Lodge on Holly Road is a bed and breakfast in Icicle Falls. In this story, the Lodge is open for its regular Christmas package, but the guests that arrive for this particular Christmas make the holiday a special treat for everyone involved.

Olivia Wallace owns the Lodge, and she and her oldest son Eric run the place. Her younger son Brandon drops in every once in awhile, especially at the holidays. Brandon is still making a way for himself, which currently involves traveling around the U.S. searching out the best ski resorts. He’s a teacher and trainer, but it does seem like a bit of an excuse to be a “ski bum”.

Olivia has been a widow for 14 years, and Eric, as much as he’d like to settle down and get married, hasn’t found the right woman in the small town he loves. And as he and his friends lament at the beginning of the story, most women who visit Icicle Falls from Seattle or wherever live in those other places because they don’t want to actually live in a small and sometimes remote place like Icicle Falls.

Brooke Claussen just wants her dad to recapture not just his Christmas spirit, but a little bit of his spirit in general. As James Claussen often spends the holidays as a department store Santa, he really needs a little Christmas, but has lost his heart. His wife (and Brooke’s mother) died last Christmas Eve after a long struggle with cancer. In his grief, James has turned inward and is shutting himself off from the world.

One of the really sweet things in this story is that Olivia and James are pretty much perfect for each other, and it is especially lovely to see their burgeoning romance take a chunk of the center stage in this multi-romance holiday treat. It’s also good that Brooke and Eric both have their own experiences with caretaking and jealousy, and need to figure out what their places are in their parents’ lives, and what place they might find in each other’s life as well.

But the heart of the story revolves around poor deluded John Truman, and Missy Monroe, the single mother he rescues on the way to Icicle Falls a couple of nights before Christmas.

John believes that his big city girlfriend, Holland, will just love Icicle Falls, the vacation he has meticulously planned, and the engagement ring he plans to present to her on Christmas Eve. It is pretty obvious to the reader and most of the other guests at Holly Lodge that John is seriously deluding himself, but as is so often said, “love is blind”. In Truman’s case, it’s even blind that what he feels is love.

Missy Monroe is a single mother with two young children by different fathers. She’s the first to admit that her choices in men have not been stellar, but her children are the light of her life and she is doing her best to raise them with much more love and care than she received from her alcoholic mother. Missy’s problem is money. It’s pretty clear that she isn’t collecting any child support, and her wages and tips at the low-end beauty salon where she does hair isn’t enough to make ends even wave at each other, let alone meet.

Missy has saved all year long to give her kids a beautiful Christmas someplace nice. But the presents that Carlos and Lalla want are beyond her budget and control. Carlos wants a dog that she’s not allowed to have in their apartment. And Lalla wants a grandma, which is even harder to magic up.

As John Truman finds himself more and more alone on what should have been a romantic holiday, he spends more and more time with Missy and her kids. Missy sees instantly that John is just the kind of man that she would love to be with – he’s caring, sincere, funny, willing to try new things and most of all, loyal. That he’s a stable accountant and not a flake doesn’t hurt either. But all the things that Missy likes about John, including his steadiness and his desire to settle down in a small town just like Icicle Falls, are all the things that his erstwhile fiance finds boring, if not downright low-class.

The Christmas miracle in this story is that everyone who comes to the Lodge on Holly Road this Christmas finds their happily ever after, no matter how remote a prospect it seemed at the beginning. There’s even a puppy and a grandma for Missy’s kids.

Escape Rating B+: Everyone gets what they need for this Christmas, even if (or especially because) it wasn’t what they thought they wanted. I also liked the way that Olivia and James’ romance was treated. We so seldom see romances that feature, frankly, anyone over 40, let alone anyone around 60. While both of their children have issues seeing their living parents with someone other than their dead parents, the fact is that 60 isn’t dead and they both have plenty to give a new partner that doesn’t take anything away from each of their happy first marriages or their relationships with their kids.

It was icing on the cake that when Eric and Brooke stopped squabbling over their parents getting together, they discovered that their parents had the right idea. The two families do belong together, and Eric has as much in common with Brooke as his mother does with her dad.

Icicle Falls is always lovely, and when John Truman’s would-be fiance Holland finally gets there and acts like the whole place is beneath her, we all know she’s evil and he needs to find someone who will love him as he is. Not wanting to go out clubbing every weekend is not a character flaw. And when he finally figures out that he was just Holland’s “starter boyfriend” in a new city and that now that she knows her way around she’s ready to trade him up for someone flashier, we know he’s WAY better off without her, whether he gets the clue to start a relationship with Missy or not.

While it is not necessary to have read the previous books in the series to enjoy The Lodge on Holly Road, the ambiance of Icicle Falls provides a nice backdrop for this story. We get to catch up with a few people that we’ve already met, but those old favorites are a side note to a story that is all about the newbies in town and in the story.

For a tasty bite of Christmas cheer, The Lodge on Holly Road is a lovely story. And Olivia’s mouth watering recipes for her Lodge will make you hungry for a holiday getaway of your own.

Review: Christmas in Mustang Creek by Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway

Review: Christmas in Mustang Creek by Linda Lael Miller + GiveawayChristmas in Mustang Creek (The Brides of Bliss County, #4) by Linda Lael Miller
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance, western romance
Series: Brides of Bliss County #4
Pages: 272
Published by HQN Books on September 29th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

No one does the holidays like Linda Lael Miller, whose Christmas novels have warmed the hearts of millions of readers the world over!
Charlotte Morgan grew up in Mustang Creek, Wyoming, and couldn't wait to escape to the big city. But life in New York isn't as fabulous as she'd like to admit—she's lonely, doing a job she doesn't love and dating too many frogs she meets online.
There was one potential prince, though—Jaxon Locke, a veterinarian with definite possibilities—but his move to Idaho to fill in at his dad's vet practice ended things just as they were getting interesting. What Charlotte doesn't know is that he misses her, more than he expected…
Meanwhile, Charlotte's great-aunt Geneva—the woman who raised her—needs to enter an assisted-living facility. So, just before Christmas, Charlotte moves back home. When Jax catches wind of her move back West, he's determined to get to Wyoming and do whatever it takes to win her back.
Christmas in Mustang Creek is a magical time in a magical place, not least because of a mysterious visitor named Mrs. Klozz. She knows that love is the greatest gift of all, and she's ready to help out Santa by giving these two a push in the right direction!

On the one hand, it’s barely October and I’m reviewing a Christmas book. I feel like there should be someone throwing a flag on this play – “Ten yard penalty for rushing the season”.

On the other hand, Christmas in Mustang Creek is a lovely story with a heaping helping of holiday magic, so if you can sit back and check your willing suspension of disbelief at the door, it’s a sweet little holiday treat. And it was cool enough this weekend to make reading a holiday book into a reminder that the season is just around the corner. Or maybe two corners.

Winter is coming, but this little story makes that seem like a good thing.

marriage pact by linda lael millerChristmas in Mustang Creek is a follow-up novella to Miller’s Brides of Bliss County series. While that series was lovely (start with The Marriage Pact (reviewed here) to find out how Charlotte’s friends found their happily ever afters) it is definitely not necessary to read Brides in order to enjoy Mustang Creek. There’s enough recap to place the other women in their context, but this Christmas belongs entirely to Charlotte, Jaxon, Charlotte’s great-aunt Geneva and especially Mrs. Millicent Klozz.

Charlotte comes back home to Mustang Creek after seven years as a marketing executive in New York City. She loved New York and her life there, but her great-aunt Geneva, the woman who raised her, has moved into an assisted-living complex after a few incidents with her memory. Geneva feels more comfortable in a place where she can’t forget that the stove is on, or forget whether she’s fed her beloved dog and cat 10 times or none that day. Not that Mutley didn’t enjoy the extra meals.

Charlotte feels the need to go home to take care of Geneva, the dog Mutley, the cat Can-can, and figure out what to do with Geneva’s marvelous Victorian house, which is gorgeous but in serious need of a new roof, and that’s just for starters. And since Charlotte has just been laid off, returning home will give her a chance to recoup and regroup, and figure out what she wants to do next.

She also has a hard time admitting that Mustang Creek, a place she couldn’t wait to get away from, is calling her heart back home.

Meanwhile, the only man that Charlotte was ever serious about in New York, veterinarian Jaxon Locke, is moving to Mustang Creek to join his college roommate’s veterinary practice. And Jaxon is definitely chasing Charlotte. When they met in New York, he was just there on a temporary assignment – he’s from Idaho and knew he would be returning to the Big Sky Country. At the time, Charlotte seemed determined to stay in New York, and Jaxon eventually returned home.

But now that Charlotte is coming home to Mustang Creek, Jaxon has decided that her hometown in Wyoming will fit his dreams just fine, as long as she’s there to share them with.

They all get a little help from the holiday magic of Aunt Geneva’s friend Mrs. Klozz, who seems to know everything before it happens and spreads more than a bit of holiday magic to make sure that everyone gets the present their heart desires this Christmas.

Escape Rating B+: I think that how people are going to feel about this story may depend a lot of what people think of Mrs. Klozz, her extremely successful “manipulation” of people and events (all to the greater good and the course of true love) and even who they think she really is.

I have my own opinion on that last, but it’s a spoiler. Maybe. If I’m right.

Back to the story – Mrs. Klozz aside, it’s easy to see where Charlotte is coming from. Possibly easier for us than Charlotte. Her parents were killed when she was very young, and she has some serious and understandable issues about being dependent on anyone else, which definitely affects her relationship with Jaxon.

Mustang Creek is a very small town, where everyone knows everybody else’s business the moment it happens, or possibly before. It’s easy to understand why Charlotte might want out, and might feel conflicted about coming back.

Also there are way more single men in New York City, but she keeps finding frogs. The only handsome prince she dated in NYC turns out to be Jaxon, a man from a small town in Idaho just like Mustang Creek. The difference is that Jaxon is upfront about wanting to go back home and settle down. He just wants to do that settling down with Charlotte, and she’s having none of it.

Charlotte has a lot of fears that just because Jaxon wants to return to his small town roots, he also wants Charlotte to be a “traditional” wife who stays home and takes care of lots of (their) children. While they have definitely had the painful discussion of where they each see themselves living, they never seem to have had the discussion about how they see themselves living. Which makes this a fabrication of Charlotte’s fears rather than a real problem.

Jaxon sees Charlotte as a woman who will always want a career, and that’s part of what he loves about her. But this is a question that never comes up. Also, Charlotte fears that she will need to find another big city job to pay for her aunt’s care, which she wants to do. While this turns out not to be necessary, again, this is a fear that she does not share with Jaxon. High-paying jobs for marketing managers are non-existent in Mustang Creek, but Mrs. Klozz’ idea to turn Aunt Geneva’s beautiful house into a much needed bed and breakfast is a challenge that will engage Charlotte, require the use of her brand marketing skills, help the town and make enough money for Charlotte to take care of the house, herself and Aunt Geneva if necessary.

It’s a win-win-win (admittedly one with a LOT of work attached) if Charlotte can let go of some of her fears and listen to her hopes and dreams.

The author does a good job of setting up Jaxon’s move to Mustang Creek so that it doesn’t feel like creepy stalkerish behavior. Yes, he is moving there in the hope that it will give him a chance with Charlotte. But his best friend really does need another vet, Jaxon is good at his job, and he tries very hard not to put any pressure on Charlotte.

Of course, he has Mrs. Klozz in his corner, moving obstacles out of the way and setting him up for success. It turns out that having Mrs. Klozz in his corner was all the help that Jaxon really needed, because this is a love story where the heroine just needs a chance to listen to her heart instead of wrestling with every manufactured worry in her head.

And a little holiday magic always helps!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Linda is giving away a copy of Christmas in Mustang Creek to one lucky U.S. commenter:

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