If you caught my blog post yesterday, you know that I read twelve books in November, which was just too much for one review post! Yesterday I reviewed the seven non-holiday books I read (check out that post here) and today, I’m reviewing the five holiday books I read last month.
Let me preface this post by saying that I know the majority of holiday books are cheesy and Hallmark-y. That’s not everyone’s thing and I get it! I don’t mind little cheese, especially when it comes to a holiday read, and I just accept that it comes with the territory. I make a lot of allowances for the sake of festivity so consider yourself warned haha. Okay, let’s jump in!
The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Susan Meier
Eloise Vaughn is without family, flat broke, and in desperate need of a job. Ricky Langley is grieving and in desperate need of being left alone – no more questions about how he’s doing from concerned friends, no more attempts to set him up with every available woman. When Eloise and Ricky happen to meet at a party, an idea starts to form: Eloise will pretend to be Ricky’s date for the twelve social events he has coming up so people think he’s moving on and stop pitying him. In exchange, he will send out Eloise’s information to various business contacts and help her get a job. No need to get feelings involved, because this is a mutually beneficial business transaction. Simple, right?
Truthfully, this book was an accidental pickup (I meant to check out a different book with the exact same title) but I decided to give it a try anyways. It’s a pretty standard handsome-billionaire-meets-gorgeous-but-broke-woman story that stays in the PG-ish range the whole time. It felt like a Lifetime Christmas movie (not Hallmark haha, the vibes are a little different I think!) I personally needed a bit more substance to make the story and relationship work but it was ok for a holiday read. It reminded me of something you pick up in a random place like a grocery store or out of the stack of books left behind at a vacation rental home – it’s fine, but nothing remarkable and kind of like other books you’ve probably heard of or read when you just wanted to read something. I put it in the C+/maybe B- range: an easy to skim, fairly festive romance with a predictable premise.
Christmas on 4th Street by Susan Mallery
Noelle loves her town, her friends, and her little store, The Christmas Attic. There’s just one thing missing in her life: love. Gabriel Boylan is nursing an injury and taking a break from his job as an army doctor to visit his family in Fool’s Gold. He doesn’t feel much like celebrating Christmas, but when he meets Noelle and starts working in her store, things start to change for him.
Anytime the characters have holiday themed names (like Mary, Holly, Joy, etc) I know I’m in for a seriously festive, and likely somewhat cheesy, read. When I saw the main characters here were Noelle and Gabriel…let’s just say my expectations were set. Ha! It also had a lot of ultra-festive elements: Noelle owns a Christmas store, their little town has festivals every week, and there is a surprise triple wedding being planned for right after the Christmas Eve. I often love elements like that but this book fell really flat for me. The characters were alright, but not especially developed, and even though you kind of expect the romance to happen fast, this felt a bit over the top. It was also definitely at least PG-13 (no open door scenes per say but a lot was alluded to). This book is a bestseller on Amazon so a lot of people liked it, but for me, it was another C+ choice. It’s one of those books in a romance series about all the townspeople (I’m pretty sure the triple wedding were all relationships from previous books) and you can definitely tell there are hints of future stories being set up in this one. I won’t be reading any more from this author but there are a lot more options from her if you liked this one!
Christmas at Silver Falls by Jenny Hale
Scarlett Bailey loves celebrating Christmas at White Oaks, the historic inn that her grandmother runs and lives in. Unfortunately, due to plummeting profits and the high cost of upkeep, it’s looking like this might be the last Christmas there and the family will have to sell. That is, unless she can convince Charlie Bryant, a successful property developer who is back in town after years away, to invest in the inn.
With a family Christmas in a cozy and festive inn and a charming little town with interesting side characters and plots, this book feels like a good one for reading next to the Christmas tree with a comfortable blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. Of course, as with nearly every holiday read, there is a certain amount of cheesiness, but the characters felt developed enough and the romance didn’t feel overly rushed and stayed in the PG range. I was rooting for Scarlett and Charlie and also invested in saving the inn! I enjoyed picturing the setting: the town, the inn, the snowy scene around Charlie’s cabin. I could see how some readers might think there were too many side characters but I loved the dynamics within Scarlett’s family and her friends in town and thought it enhanced the story. There are a few things in the plot that didn’t feel entirely realistic, but overall it was a sweet and festive holiday escape that I’d put it in the B+ range.
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
Every year, Maelyn’s family spends the Christmas holiday with friends that feel like family at a cabin in Utah. It’s normally her favorite week of the year but this year, she not only received the devastating news that the cabin is being sold, but she also made a huge mistake that has potentially ruined her biggest romantic hopes and dreams. Mae is in a state of distress and regret as she leaves with her family, and while in the car she throws out a plea to the universe: “Show me what will make me happy!” In an instant, tires squeal and metal crunches, but instead of waking up in a hospital, she wakes up on the plane…on the way TO the cabin and a holiday week that now hasn’t happened yet. Given the miraculous chance of a do-over, Mae is determined to save the cabin and pursue the romance she really wants.
I’ll just go ahead and say that time loops are not really my thing. I don’t like how unrealistic they make a story and the Groundhog Day repetitive nature is not my favorite. I wish this story could’ve been written in a different way without the time loop. But setting those feelings aside, I did ultimately enjoy this book. Again, I love a good story with family coming together at the holidays, and even though these were family friends, not relatives, I really enjoyed the group dynamics. These people have known each other for years and years and I felt like I knew them all too. I loved the comfort, familiarity, and humor! I liked that the activities were festive but a little different – there’s no small town festival or big holiday event, instead it’s things like sledding and building snow creatures. The romance felt realistic, relatable, and fun and I was definitely rooting for it to succeed (I’d say it’s rated R for open door scenes and language). I have a little beef with a few aspects of the storyline but not enough to take away from my overall enjoyment; I just accepted that there were some cheesy or unrealistic aspects and went with it. I would give this an A- holiday read rating!
An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klassen
Due to dwindling financial resources and a mother who is threatening to cut him off, carefree bachelor Richard Brockwell returns to his home of Ivy Hill for Christmas. While Richard does not exactly have Christmas spirit in his heart, he does find that a few unexpected people are finding a way to that very heart, most notably an orphan boy and a childhood friend, Arabella Awdry. Though Arabella does not have interest in being pursued by someone with the notoriety that Richard has, neither one can deny that there is something there.
I picked this up from the display of Christmas books at our library based on the cover alone. A festive historical romance? Sign me up. This story felt like the PG, Christian romance version of A Christmas Carol – Richard is super selfish and stingy but slowly starts to have a heart change to becoming more warm, generous, and kind. There is definitely a religious aspect to this book, although I wouldn’t say it’s done super strongly. It was fun to see the festive activities through a historic lens – the way they took an actual horse and sleigh ride or decorated the house with real greenery throughout and went around caroling. There were a few side plots that kept the story from feeling too one-dimensional and I especially liked the historic setting. It was a nice change of pace from the more contemporary holiday reads I chose this month and I’d give it a solid B rating.
I have specifically been saving a few more holiday reads for December, so I’m excited to continue the festive reads a little longer! What are you reading this month?