Book Review: An Avalon Christmas by Darien Gee

An Avalon #Christmas For fans of Friendship Bread and The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society comes a delightful collection of stories that will put a smile on your face this holiday season.

The holidays have finally arrived in Avalon, Illinois and everyone is filled with festive cheer. Well, maybe not everyone …

The husbands of Avalon have started a Bah Humbug Club. A neighborhood cookie exchange wreaks havoc on Erin Meeks’ carefully planned life. Melvin O’Malley’s daughter has abandoned him for the holidays in a senior facility, and shop owner Margot West is intent on creating the best holiday shopping experience for her customers when a stranger threatens to ruin it.

But a few surprises await them as well–an anonymous donor is giving away free turkeys at the Pick and Save, and there’s an air of mystery surrounding a generous raffle prize for the upcoming Christmas Bazaar. And when it looks like Santa might be a no show, someone unexpected steps into his boots.

Celebrate the season with 12 heartwarming stories of hope and cheer that continue the spirit of Gee’s first two novels, Friendship Bread and The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. Includes recipes

This is a book of 12 short stories, all centred around the town of Avalon. Most of the people have been living in the town for years, and not everyone is looking forward to the Christmas holidays. Some are feeling lonely as they have lost their loved ones, some are losing their business or their homes, whilst others try to see the best in the holidays.

The stories have a loose link with each other and the reader ends up back where they started with the Senior Centre and the inhabitants there in.

The stories are not too “twee” – there is a positive feeling at the end of each story, even if the overall situations are not the most positive.

There are recipes at the end of the book, including a sough dough starter for sharing with others, and for which I will keep this ebook for reference later!

These are not the most indepth set of stories: there is enough character development of the relevant people in each story, but these are short stories so that is appropriate – you get a decent enough indication of the people involved and what happens why.   This is a nice light read for a busy time of year

Christmas themed stories

Since it’s nearly Christmas, I thought I’d pull together some Christmas themed reviews from times-gone-past for you to peruse. I make no bones that most of these are romance novels, but in the lead up to Christmas, who wants to be thinking too hard, or has the time to spend on a heavier book?

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Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens rather set the standard for what is classed as Christmas in the 20th and 21 Century.

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The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie. A set of short stories, a mix of Poirot and Marple

Christmas Honeymoon

The Christmas Honeymoon by Alicia Street. Someone trying to reclaim Christmas as her own after major letdown

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Lonely This Christmas by Krissie Labaye  about an older someone starting again at Christmas

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A Grovesnor Street Christmas (by Multiple authors). A set of romances centered around the Christmas parties thrown at a certain London house.

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A Highlander For Christmas by Jamie Carie An Englishwoman staying with her Scottish Relatives to escape some scandal meets a local laird……

You’ll see some other reviews from me recently, and some are still to come

So any other suggestions for over the Christmas Break? Any books you must read or avoid?

Book Review: A Highlander for Christmas by Jamie Carie

highlanderA Highlander for Christmas by Jamie Carie

A Christmas Novella: Lady Juliet Lindsay has made a colossal mistake. In the face of her parents’ rejection she realizes that a single stolen kiss could cost her everything. Sent to her aunt and uncle’s home in Scotland, she finds something in the rugged highland beauty that steals her heart…and a highland man, who seems her other half. Iain MacLeon, chieftain of the clan MacLeon, has one thing on his mind in a time where politics are like a tempest brewing—sheep. He loves his people and his land but he didn’t know he also needed a woman to share the load. And then he sees her…the flame-haired Englishwoman who steals his heart and holds it hostage against all his beliefs and all he holds dear. But how will he persuade his clan to love her as he does?

As a novella, this is a short story, which doesnt allow for much character development or extraneous plotting. Things happen apace and the job gets done.  Juliet attends the Highland Games whilst hiding after bringing shame upon her family whilst in London. There she comes to the attention of Iain MacLeon, who takes an instant shine to her.

She finds she has been promised in marriage to Lord Malcolm, a violent ungracious man, who has paid off her family’s debts in exchange for her hand.  He is not happy when he finds she has married MacLeon at Gretna Green, he kidnaps her, and forces a show down in the wilds of the Highlands.

Like I said, little room for extra plotting, story line or character development, so dont go in looking for a deep emotional resonance. Vague relation to Christmas as she arrives at her new home on Christmas Day.  Several references to a Christian God (and associated praying) which could have been worse.  As you can tell from the review – not much to write about!

Book Review: Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham

deathofaghostThe first killing took place at a crowded art show, in full view of the cream of London society. For the second killing, only the victim and the murderer were present. Now the scene was set for the third–a lavish dinner party with vintage wines, and with Albert Campion’s death as the main course.

Audiobook narrated by Frances Matthews who I’m beginning to enjoy, in the way I prefer James Saxon reading Ngaio Marsh books.

Through knowing Belle, the widow, Campion is invited to the latest unveiling of one of John Lafacdio’s works – which are released at the rate of one a year after his death. The great and the good are at the unveiling, as well as some of the not so great, and during the party the lights go out (someone had failed to feed the meter put in place during the war). When the lights come back on,  Tommy Dacre, Lafcardio’s grand-daughter’s fiance, is found stabbed to death with a pair of ornate scissors. Campion soon finds himself investigating not only Dacre’s murder, the systematic loss of Dacre’s work, another death and, ultimately, finds himself almost losing his own life after making a fool of himself in drink.

Belle’s house is a rather Bohemian 1930s set up – the housekeeper is one of Lafcardio’s Italian models (now well in her 60s), another inhabitant is another ageing ex-model now fascinated with auras and the such like. A married couple of artists, of varying talents, live in a studio in the garden, whilst Lafardio’s paint mixer lives elsewhere on the estate. The granddaughter is an early candidate as the one time fiancée, and who had been ditched for another Italian model called RosaRosa.

This book isnt really a “whodunnit” as Campion, the police and the reader know who the killer is fairly early on.  All attempts to unmask the killer in such a way as to bring along a conviction fail at every turn. The denouement at the end means that Campion is going to be the final victim and it’s luck and the police who prevent this from happening, rather that any major interaction from Campion.

Once the second murder has happened and the investigation dropped off, many of the secondary characters disappear, with focus being made purely on trying to prove that the murderer did it, and why. The story is spread over several months, with large gaps in between and everything appears to be a watching and waiting game. Campion has been asked to act as Belle’s proxy with regards to the paintings and in this way he manages to put himself in danger, going out to dinner on the fateful night with the murderer and being manipulated into life threatening situations.  The description of Campion being drunk and going around town, making a fool of himself, is a rather decent set of telling.

Not perhaps my favourite Campion, but still has some interesting set pieces in it to change things around a bit

Sunday Salon: Earliest memory of reading

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Reading (along with things like counting and, oddly, knitting) is one of those things I don’t remember learning to do. My mother has always been miffed at the school report that came back after my first ever term at school saying how well I was progressing with my letters – since she knew she had sent all her children to school being able to read, write and count.

Both parents tell stories of how my father used to read us stories such as Little Red Riding Hood, try and skip a few pages, but us children always spotted it and made him go back and read the bit he missed.

My sister – 3 years older than me – had a decent library and was forever telling me to read certain books of hers, so I had read more Piers Anthony books by the time I was about 10 than I care to count.

I dont know what memory comes earliest – I do remember reading Charlotte’s Web and crying at the ending.  Charlotte Sometimes is also a book I remember reading as  a child, and stayed with me well into an adult

 

What’s your earliest memory of reading?

Book Review: Her Sudden Groom by Rose Gordon

her sudden groom #tomanceThe overly scientific, always respectable, and socially awkward Alexander Banks has just been informed his name resides on a betrothal agreement right above the name of the worst chit in all of England. With a loophole that allows him to marry another without consequence before the thirtieth anniversary of his birth, he has only four weeks to find another woman and make her his wife. Being the logical scientist he is, Alex decides to take his friend’s advice and treat his quest for a bride just like a science experiment…

Caroline Sinclair is still trying to scrape her jaw off the floor after hearing her cousin, Lady Olivia’s, latest announcement when the object of their conversation, Alex Banks, Olivia’s intended, arrives for what Caroline assumes is a bout of drawing room chitchat with his betrothed. But when an experiment is mentioned, Caroline, who cannot resist a science experiment any more than she can deny her lungs air, volunteers to help before she even knows what his latest experiment is!

This certainly isnt your traditional Regency romance – whilst there are plenty of Lords, Ladies and Barons (at least in title), in act they are not what you would expect! Some of the people in here use words and talk about concepts that you wouldnt expect Regency people – especially women – to be aware of, so if you prefer your romances to be more traditional, this isnt the book for you.

Olivia is an absolute fright and thankfully doesnt make too many actual appearances during the story, although some of her actions do. Marcus is her brother and rather a recluse after an accident several years previously had left him badly scarred and with a permanent limp.

“Arid” Alex Banks is not the traditional romance hero – he is scientific minded, hasnt made too many romantic conquests, wears glasses and sometimes struggles with banter. Alex’s has an extensive family, none of whom could be classed as “traditional” and many of whom could be classed as having skeletons in the closet – such as pre-marital sex, seductions, and babies that arrive “premature” not long after a wedding. Caroline is well aware of the nature of her past, who her parents are, and what it can mean to her having a decent future in the marriage stakes. She grew up as an only child, who from 7 years old was brought up by her uncle whilst living with the her cousin, the horrendous Olivia. Alex’s family do have reasonable relationships, which gives Caroline a glimpse into how other families can do it.

Alex and Caroline are well rounded characters, some of the secondary characters are decent and are likely to be the source of future books (there’s at least 2 potential grooms in this book!).  Alex’s social awkwardness and lack of experience with women, and Caroline’s insecurities and lack of a knowledge in the finer points of life (she knows of the birds and the bees but not how that translates into the marriage bedroom) means there are plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings and the big confrontation near the end.

So in summary: a Regency romance that is more romance than Regency, with some moderately spicy sex scenes, and a non-Regency take on things

 

Book Review: The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire by Cora Seton

cowgirl ropes a billionaire #romanceBella Chatham will lose everything – her veterinary practice, her animal shelter, and even her home – if she can’t find another source of income, fast. So when her best friend signs her up for the hot new reality television show, Can You Beat a Billionaire, Bella accepts the challenge and hopes against hope she can win the five million dollar prize. If she doesn’t, it’s bye-bye pet clinic and shelter, bye-bye Chance Creek, Montana, and hello to marriage to the billionaire for a year!

Evan Mortimer, billionaire, can’t believe he’s reduced to competing in a television contest to win a wife. Unfortunately, it’s the only foolproof way to secure his position as head of Mortimer Innovations. At least he’ll be able to dump his “spouse” at the end of the year. He has no intention of getting hitched for life.

Bella doesn’t expect her adversary to be handsome – or funny, or compassionate – but Evan’s all three, and he’s proving a tough competitor, too. When they end up sharing a tent – and a sleeping-bag – her body betrays her with a longing so deep it cuts her to the core. Still, this cowgirl must stay strong. If Evan uncovers her secret fears, he’ll use them to win the contest – and then he’ll own her for a year. She’ll be out of luck, out of cash, and stuck being Mrs. Mortimer until he kicks her to the curb. Too bad she can’t decide which is worse – winning the show and losing Evan forever, or losing the show and only being his temporary wife.

Evan can’t believe he’s falling for the one woman who doesn’t want him. This cowgirl’s not impressed by his money, his name, or his inability to sleep in a tent with her for an entire night, but every look and touch she gives him sends his desire through the roof. With a director determined to use his claustrophobia to make him look like a fool, and an adversary so sexy he can hardly see straight, he’ll need all his savvy to come out on top. Too bad he’s going to lose no matter how this show turns out. If he beats Bella, he’ll destroy the first woman he’s ever loved. If he doesn’t beat her, it’s bye-bye Mortimer Innovations.

Will either of them remember in time that it’s not who wins or who loses – it’s how they play the game that really counts?

Slightly misleading title, in that Bella isnt really a Cowgirl – she grew up on a ranch and is now a domestic animal vet. However, her practise is running on empty money wise and set to close if she doesnt find some revenue fast. Evan is the oldest Mortimer, and about to lose his place at the head of the company business if he doesnt find a wife soon. He always suspects that women date him for his money if nothing else.

Dont think too hard about how the two of them end up on a reality show together, where both have a lot at stake and neither can afford to lose. During the week, even when the cameras are on them, sparks fly and each find that both are damaged in some way – Bella from being blamed for an accident when she was 10, Evan from a needy, controlling mother and a fear of enclosed spaces.

During a week’s worth of challenges, where they are permanently being filmed by the crews and the producer is on a knife-edge because of falling ratings, each challenge seems designed to boost ratings and put one or both at a disadvantage. The ever smaller tents put Evan on edge, and it is little alleviated being so close to Beth, whilst having a night camera fixed on them. They still manage to have sex on two of the nights, and Evan tries to use it as a tool to put Bella off the following day’s challenges, only for it to backfire on him.

When Bella is confronted by kayaking followed by a challenge with her biggest fear of riding a massive Stallion, both situations being highly dangerous, Evan realises that he has fallen in love with Bella and wants nothing more than to protect her.

It’s almost irrelevant who wins the challenge – after filming the last scene, Bella is whisked off home and has to confront reality of what happens next.  As usual with a romance, it cant be a surprise to mention that all ends up well in the end, but how we get there is the fun.

Great way to spend the weekend, especially if you’re willing not to over think things