#BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

#BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike ChenA Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, science fiction, science fiction romance, time travel
Pages: 368
Published by Harlequin MIRA on January 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

The only thing harder than finding someone in a time loop is losing them.

Grieving her best friend's recent death, neuroscientist Mariana Pineda’s ready to give up everything to start anew. Even her career— after one last week consulting at a top secret particle accelerator.

Except the strangest thing a man stops her…and claims they've met before. Carter Cho knows who she is, why she's mourning, why she's there. And he needs Mariana to remember everything he’s saying.

Because time is about to loop.

In a flash of energy, it’s Monday morning. Again. Together, Mariana and Carter enter an inevitable life, four days at a time, over and over, without permanence except for what they share. With everything resetting—even bank accounts—joy comes in the little a delicious (and expensive) meal, a tennis match, giving a dog his favorite treat.

In some ways, those are all that matter.

But just as they figure out this new life, everything changes. Because Carter's memories of the time loop are slowly disappearing. And their only chance at happiness is breaking out of the loop—forever.

My Review:

Carter Cho recognizes that he’s in a time loop. He has four days to live, over and over and over and OVER again, with no way to stop it and no way out. All he can do is watch, wait and repeat. It’s boring, it’s disheartening, it’s downright depressing. Most of all it’s terribly, terribly lonely.

Until Carter decides to take one loop and do the opposite of everything he did the first and all the subsequent, mind-numbing, heart-breaking times he’s looped before. And in that opposition he manages to convince, coerce, drag another person into the loop with him.

Dr. Mariana Pineda and technician Carter Cho are opposites in every possible way, but all they have is each other. And a seemingly endless amount of time to figure out what keeps making the Hawke Accelerator accelerate itself into a catastrophic explosion, time after time after time – and resetting the world as everyone but the two of them knows it.

Neither of them has the training or the tools to diagnose what’s going wrong – but they are all they have. And that turns out to be more than enough. Just in the nick of, well, time.

Escape Rating B+: If the blurb or the description above are making you think of the movie Groundhog Day, you are not alone. Neither was it alone in my head as I was reading my way through the first part of the story – because time travel loops have been done before.

In other words, this loop has been looped before. As they do.

At one end of that time loop story perspective there’s Groundhog Day, which has kind of a sweet ending no matter how much of an asshole the protagonist (played by Bill Murray) is as the story begins. But Carter Cho is a really nice guy – if a bit of an underachiever according to his parents – so that resemblance isn’t 100%

The ending of A Quantum Love Story, or rather, all the endings of the world before the resets, have all of the explosive punch of the movie Edge of Tomorrow, although there’s no war in Quantum.

A Quantum Love Story felt more akin to the Stargate SG-1 episode “Window of Opportunity” as following the protagonists through the loops of that journey goes through many of the same stages that Carter and Mariana go through while following characters that one really does want to follow. Also there’s no real villain in “Window of Opportunity”, which is also true in Quantum. The story, the journey, the battle if you will, is to solve the mystery and break the cycle – not to break heads.

But the chasing down of just how many different time loop stories this one brought to mind kept me from being as invested in Carter and Mariana’s problem solving through their loops, although the emotional journey they took did hold my interest even as it briefly looked like it was heading for Flowers for Algernon territory which made for some tense moments for this reader. (Don’t worry too much, it doesn’t go there, but there were a few bits that just about gave me the weepies when it looked that way. Howsomever, the author has form for this, as that’s part of the direction that his lovely Light Years from Home went.)

The heart of the story, and it very much does have one, is in the relationship between Carter and Mariana, who begin as opposites in just about every sense of the word and bond through shared trauma. But what they discover through that sharing is that their version of opposites attract brings out the best in both of them, and that there are possibilities in life that neither of them ever imagined.

Including the possibility of a happy ever after with someone that they would otherwise never have had a chance to meet. A chance that will be whisked away if they ever manage to solve the problem and stop the resets.

The solution to both problems, to the endless resets of the time loop and to stopping those resets, turns out to be exactly the same thing. With one surprising and beautiful deus ex machina of an exception.

Ultimately, the repeating time loops with their repeating reminders of other time loop stories is both a bit of a bug AND a feature. After all this is a story about things repeating until they don’t, so it seems right that they kind of do. In the end I was charmed by the story and the characters as they worked through both repeating and not repeating time at the same time.

I’ll certainly be repeating my exploration of this author’s work and his signature combination of science fiction and relationship fiction with his next outing, hopefully this time next year. In the meantime, if you are intrigued by this review, check out the first chapter excerpt I posted last week. If you like SF with just a touch of romance and a heaping helping of relationship building and problem solving, you just might fall in love with A Quantum Love Story!

Review: Cassandra in Reverse by Holly Smale

Review: Cassandra in Reverse by Holly SmaleCassandra in Reverse by Holly Smale
Narrator: Kristin Atherton
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via Libro.fm
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, time travel romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Length: 13 hours and 15 minutes
Published by Harlequin Audio, Harlequin MIRA on June 6, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

If you had the power to change the past…where would you start?

Cassandra Penelope Dankworth is a creature of habit. She likes what she likes (museums, jumpsuits, her boyfriend, Will) and strongly dislikes what she doesn't (mess, change, her boss drinking out of her mug). Her life runs in a pleasing, predictable order…until now.• She's just been dumped.• She's just been fired.• Her local café has run out of banana muffins.
Then, something truly unexpected happens: Cassie discovers she can go back and change the past. One small rewind at a time, Cassie attempts to fix the life she accidentally obliterated, but soon she'll discover she's trying to fix all the wrong things.

My Review:

The problem with wanting to change things is that things change – including things we had no intention of changing. There’s that thing about the butterfly and its unintended wing flap to consider.

But when Cassandra Dankworth discovers, on her second repeat of the second worst day in her life, that she has the power to change her past, she quickly discovers that for every single thing she attempts to fix, there’s a journey down the road not originally taken that might be even worse than the one she originally took.

As difficult as that is for her to imagine. Because it really, truly was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. Tinkering with it isn’t going to make things any better. Tinkering with the worst day of her life, the day her parents were both killed in a car accident ten years ago, seems to be out of her reach.

The one thing she can do, the event that the universe seems to be pointing her towards with increasingly sharp, poking fingers, is the day that she met her boyfriend, Will. The boyfriend who began her terrible, horrible, etc. day by breaking up with her.

She can’t save her parents, but she can save her relationship. If she can use her seemingly endless ability to tweak time to fix things. And herself. All she has to do is learn the lessons that the universe seems determined to teach her.

Even if they are not the lessons she wants them to be.

Escape Rating C: I ended up with a whole lot of mixed feelings about Cassandra in Reverse. I flipped back and forth between the audiobook and the text, trying to find a way to make myself comfortable in the story.

Which was probably a mistake on multiple levels, because the way the story begins makes it abundantly clear that Cassandra Dankworth is just not a comfortable person to be with. In audio the listener is bombarded with Cassandra’s rapidly firing mental processes – and it’s impossible not to understand why the people around her find her so “difficult”.

Howsomever, because we’re in her neurodivergent head and her first-person perspective, we are also able to empathize with Cassandra in a way that the people around her most definitely do not.

So we get both sides with both barrels – which does not make either of them a comfortable read.

Which means that it is not a surprise that when Cassandra discovers her limited power to time travel, the thing she truly wants to change – and by that I mean “fix” – is herself. Considering all of the completely negative and utterly damning messages that she has received over her life, and how much she has internalized those messages, she’s convinced that everything that happens to her is her fault because she’s broken. She ends up rewriting and resetting her encounters with pretty much everyone in her life, over and over, in order to learn proper behavior so she can fix herself and be happy like everyone around her.

The hard lesson in this story is that she’s not going to ever be happy like everyone around her because she isn’t like everyone around her. The lesson she needs to absorb is about accepting herself, finding other people who accept her as she is and not as society expects her to be, and make a life that works for her.

It’s a very hard lesson, and one that most of us struggle with for all of our lives. And at the end of Cassandra in Reverse I’m not even sure that Cassandra has figured out that that’s the lesson she was supposed to learn. Although it is possible to interpret the story that she did, and that her journey involves resetting everyone else’s as she passes by.

So I’m torn by this one. It didn’t work well for me, and found the audio to be a particularly rough ride because the drumbeat of how much Cassandra does not fit into the world around her is so very loud and harsh. I felt for her too much to want to experience the way the world treated her from so intimate a perspective.

Your reading mileage may vary.

Review: Cast in Honor by Michelle Sagara

Review: Cast in Honor by Michelle SagaraCast in Honor by Michelle Sagara
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Chronicles of Elantra #11
Pages: 512
Published by Mira on November 24th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org

In the aftermath of a vicious battle between darkness and light, the city of Elantra has emerged victorious. But Shadows continue to haunt every corner of its streets...
Elantra stands strong, but countless numbers of Hawks, the city's staunchest protectors, were lost in the brutal attack. Humans, Barrani, Aerians, Leontines—none of the races emerged unscathed from the defense of the city. Homes were lost, families were scattered…and the outcast Barrani Lord Nightshade is missing from his castle in the fiefs.
Yet as the chaos surrounding the battle begins to wane, Private Kaylin Neya's duties must resume, despite her grief. Called in to investigate a triple murder in a quiet part of town, Kaylin and her companions are soon embroiled in a case that is anything but routine. Evidence of the deadly Shadows that still threaten the city leads to hints of ancient, forgotten magics. And a visit to the Oracular Halls points directly to Ravellon—the heart of the Shadows and the darkness they contain.
But it is there that Lord Nightshade will be found—if he still survives.

My Review:

Elantra is a completely immersive world. It sucks you in the moment you start the first page. Then it spits you out at the end of the book, gasping at the shock of the return to the real. You find yourself figuratively pounding on its door, begging to be let back in, only to hear a sniggering voice whisper, “come back next year”, as you scream in frustration.

I’m still sitting in that shock of return stage. I was desperate to see how it ended, and now I’m completely bummed that I finished and I’m stuck waiting until next year.

The Elantra series is an urban fantasy set in an epic or high fantasy type world. While our protagonist Kaylin is human and mortal just like us, most of the people she works with and/or cares about are either not one, not the other, or not both. Elantra is ruled by a Dragon Emperor who really is a dragon. And immortal. And believes that the city is his hoard, which he will defend to the death. Usually the challenger’s.

One of Kaylin’s best friends is also a dragon. Bellusdeo, rescued from the realms of Shadow, is the only female dragon in existence. She is the hope of her race, and she hates it. Because everyone is trying to protect this immortal warrior, when all she wants to do is be of use, including being the warrior that she is born to be.

There’s an irony in Kaylin and Bellusdeo’s friendship. Not just because both are female, but because they are both surprisingly in the same boat. People keep trying to protect them against their will, when all they both want is to protect and serve everyone else. That Bellusdeo doesn’t need protection and Kaylin is basically a squishy human doesn’t make a difference. They both often end up fighting some well-meaning soul who is attempting to keep them safely on a pedestal that neither of them has any interest in mounting in the slightest.

Many of Kaylin’s friends are Barrani, this world’s quasi-equivalent of the more political and tricksy variety of elves. One reason the Barrani like Kaylin so much is that she is a chaos and trouble magnet. Immortality often gets boring, and being around Kaylin is guaranteed to be anything but.

Her sergeant at the Courts of Law is a Leontine, and yes, he’s a lion. Some of her friends are Aerians, who do not seem to be immortal but do, as the name states, fly. Her house is sentient, and occasionally rather fierce.

But Kaylin herself is very human and very young. She is either in her late teens or at most very early 20s, and only a year or so has elapsed since the first book in the series, Cast in Shadow. Kaylin is still learning, but at her sometimes slow and often recalcitrant human pace, which frustrates the Dragons and Barrani no end.

The story is always told from Kaylin’s first person perspective. We know what she knows, we hear the explanations she is always begging for, and when she is lost, so are we. Kaylin is lost a lot, because circumstances have conspired so that she is always in the middle of big magic that she does not understand, but is often the only person who can fix it, even with her imperfect understanding and sometimes complete lack of knowledge.

The story in Cast in Honor is that something magical is swallowing the City of Elantra, and if it isn’t stopped, the world will come to an end. It’s up to Kaylin and her friends to figure out what is going wrong, and stop it, before it is too late. No matter what the cost. Or who.

cast in shadow by michelle sagaraEscape Rating A+: This is a series that you wallow in. The world of Elantra is incredibly complex, and is not really familiar. It has its own magic system, its own history, and definitely its own bogeymen. Even though Kaylin starts out the series not well-informed about the wider world, she certainly remembers her own history, even the parts she would rather forget. Kaylin attracts both natural and supernatural trouble, seemingly just by breathing, and a lot happens to her in each book. If the combination of urban fantasy tropes with high fantasy magic and scope appeal to you, start with Cast in Shadow or the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, to learn about Kaylin’s world as she does.

I wish I had the time to re-read the entire series before every annual addition. It’s that good.

This particular entry had Kaylin staving off the end of the world as she knows it, yet again. And it still seems completely logical that all this chaos happens around Kaylin. Also that she usually doesn’t figure out either what to do or what she did until sometime after the fact, but it still works.

Magic was visited upon her when she was 13, and her life hasn’t been the same since. In some ways that are good, and in some ways that are bad, but always in ways that the immortals around her find completely not boring, if occasionally extremely frustrating.

Underlying the mystery of how to save the world and why it needs saving, at least this time, is something deeper. Kaylin finds a young girl not unlike the person that she was at the same age. And Kaylin wants to prevent young Kattea from making the same mistakes that she did, even though their situations are not the same. In the end, Kaylin is able to let go of some of her regrets by letting Kattea find her own way.

But a bigger part of the story here is a meditation on loneliness, and what it means to be lonely. Kaylin is no longer lonely, and no longer alone. By chance, by design, by circumstances often beyond her control, Kaylin has created a family of choice around herself that she sometimes loves, sometimes frustrates her beyond measure, but always keeps her tied to the real world.

Through the characters in this novel, particularly the very unusual Gilbert and his unexpected relationship with Kattea, Kaylin is forced to look at what loneliness is, and how terrible it can be to be both immortal and lonely. It turns out we all need a hand to hold onto – even when we don’t have real hands.

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
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Life in Icicle Falls #8
Pages: 400
Published by Mira on October 27th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org

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.

Christmas on Candy Cane Lane banner

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Review: A Wedding on Primrose Street by Sheila Roberts

Review: A Wedding on Primrose Street by Sheila RobertsA Wedding on Primrose Street (Life in Icicle Falls, #7) by Sheila Roberts
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Life in Icicle Falls #7
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on July 28th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org

There's nothing like a wedding!
The joy, the fun, the memories—the stress. As a wedding planner, Anne Richardson has seen mothers of the bride turn into Momzillas, and she's determined not to do that when it's her daughter's turn to get married. But once Laney gets engaged, all bets are off. Anne becomes obsessed with giving Laney the perfect wedding she herself never had. And that wedding needs to be held in Icicle Falls at Primrose Haus, the perfect setting.
Roberta Gilbert, owner of Primrose Haus, has been hosting events at her charming Victorian for thirty years. She's an expert on weddings, but not on mother-daughter relations. When her daughter, Daphne, comes home and decides to help with the business, the receptions become truly memorable—and not in a good way. Then there's the added complication of Roberta's gardener, who seems more interested in Daphne than he is in planting primroses…
Tying the knot is a business that has everyone tied up in knots!

My Review:

Although there are a lot of weddings in this entry into the Life in Icicle Falls series, this one isn’t really a romance. The weddings are all for romances that have already reached their happily ever after, we hope. Or to paraphrase one of the wedding planners, her job is to create a perfect wedding, a perfect marriage is not in her job description. Or capability.

Instead of a romance, this story is all about relationships. Specifically, mother/daughter relationships. And it’s mostly about the number of ways they go wrong, although things do get straightened out before the end. Mostly.

The story centers around two women who are both in the business of perfect weddings. Anne Richardson is a Seattle wedding planner who has just found out that her daughter Laney is engaged. Anne wants Laney to have the perfect wedding, a day that she will remember for the rest of her life with no regrets.

Roberta Gilbert is the owner of Primrose Haus in Icicle Falls. Roberta rents out the beautiful Victorian house for perfectly beautiful weddings, and helps coordinate the services of the caterers, florists and all the other myriad minions needed to pull off the event of a lifetime. But Roberta’s daughter Daphne is back home after her third failed marriage. Daphne wants to help her mother in the business and take few weeks or even months to get her life back on track.

Both Anne’s relationship with Laney and Roberta’s relationship with Daphne go through many trials by fire as the two mothers get together to create the perfect wedding for Laney. The only problems are that Roberta really doesn’t want her disappointing daughter Daphne anywhere near her business, and Laney (and her fiancee) don’t want anything like the wedding that Anne has her heart set on.

Readers get a ringside seat as both sets of mothers and daughters have to struggle their way through to a happily ever after for their relationships, as each of the older women has to reconcile themselves to the regrets in their own pasts before they can repair the present, and hopefully the future.

Although love does help conquer all, in this story, it’s really truth and understanding that finally win the day.

Escape Rating A-: Unlike most of the series so far, A Wedding on Primrose Street is a lot more women’s fiction than anything like a romance. There are a couple of romances that get off the ground in this story, but they are background to the main event. That main event is the relationships between mothers and daughters in both Anne’s and Roberta’s families.

Roberta ran away from home in the early 1960s, a pregnant high schooler whose boyfriend abandoned her and whose mother cared much more about her standing in the community than the plight of her daughter and future grandchild. Roberta’s escape to Icicle Falls to have her child was the best thing that ever happened to her. But she never did resolve issues with her own mother, and while she loved her daughter Daphne, held her to such high standards that Daphne never felt capable. When Daphne comes home, all Roberta sees is another result of her daughter’s terrible choices, and another round of disappointment. As far as Roberta is concerned, the only thing that Daphne has done right is to successfully raise her own now-adult daughter.

When Daphne comes home and wants to help her mother, who is in her early 70s and needs to slow down a bit, all Roberta sees is an endless series of business disasters until Daphne falls in love with another loser. She doesn’t see her own part in Daphne’s issues, nor does she see the woman that Daphne has become.

Anne Richardson, although more of a generation with Daphne than Roberta, has also spent her life in a tug of war with her daughter and her own past. Anne always wanted the traditional big church wedding, but married in haste at the courthouse when she found out she was pregnant, and that her fiancee was due to ship out with the Army for the Middle East. Anne is very happily married, but has always regretted that hasty wedding. She’s determined to pull out all the stops for Laney’s wedding, whether Laney wants those stops pulled or not. Laney is just young enough to want to please her mother, even knowing that what her mother wants is not what she wants. Laney is caught in the middle between her mother-the-steamroller and her fiancee who wants to have a destination wedding in Vegas. A wedding that is much more in line with Laney’s (and Drake’s) artistic and very non-traditional life and tastes.

Anne turns into something she dreads, a “Momzilla” and Laney runs and hides from the preparations she doesn’t want. It takes an intervention for Anne to be forced to look at what she is doing to her relationship with her daughter. And her husband.

This is a story that got me in the feels. The ways that things go right and wrong seems so true to life, that it hit too close to home, and to my own issues with my mother. So it was sometimes a rough go for me, not because it wasn’t a good story (it definitely is good) but because it often felt too real.

A Wedding on Primrose Street is a terrific story for anyone who has unresolved issues with their mother, but still wants to see a happy ending. And don’t we all?

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
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Life in Icicle Falls #6
Pages: 368
Published by Harlequin MIRA on October 28th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org

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.