What’s this? A book review round up happening in the middle of a month? Yep – I’m mixing things up in December!
Christmas Eve is only one week away and I’ve been deep in the holiday reads over here. Last month I split up my book reviews into holiday reads vs. non-holiday reads and I was inspired to do something somewhat similar this month. I thought I’d split the month in half again but this time, split the first half and second half up. There are a few books so far this month that I really enjoyed and I thought it made the most sense to share them now instead of the end of the month to give you time to read one if you want before the holidays.
I’ve read six holiday books so far this month and since they’re all basically in the same genre, I kept with my “grade” ratings to distinguish where they fell for me overall. Let’s jump in!
Let it Snow by Nancy Thayer
Nantucket native Christina owns a little toy shop in a small shed on the wharf and is dismayed to find that her shed, along with the sheds where three of her friends house their businesses, have been bought by a wealthy old man who plans to increase the rent in the new year, effectively driving them out of business. Christina is determined to save her shop and appeal to the wealthy owner, who just so happens to have a darling grandchild and very handsome bachelor son that she quickly forms special bonds with. Can she save her shop, and possibly find the love she’s always dreamed of, in time for Christmas?
If I’m being honest, I almost quit at several points and barely made it through this book. I found the pace to be super slow and the writing to be overly descriptive about unimportant things – I feel like I know every single breakfast, lunch, and dinner that Christina ate. I didn’t think the characters, main or side, were developed enough, and the romance felt rushed and hard to believe. I just couldn’t get invested in it! I’m truly not trying to rip this book apart – I could see how a different person could find it to be a cute holiday slow burn in the realm of a sweet but cheesy Hallmark movie. It’s a pretty clean romance and Nantucket always makes for a charming setting. It might be a win for others, but I found myself to be pretty bored the whole time and give it a C- rating.
The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox
When chef Charlie Goodwin gets hit on the head on the L.A. set of her reality baking show, she loses a lot more than consciousness; she also loses her ability to taste and smell—both critical to her success as show judge. Meanwhile, Charlie’s identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown while running the family’s bustling bakery and dealing with her ex, who won’t get the memo that they’re over. With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven’t done since they were kids: switch places. Looking for her own escape from reality, Cass agrees. But temporarily trading lives proves more complicated than they imagined, especially when rugged firefighter Jake Greenman and gorgeous physician assistant Miguel Rodriguez are thrown into the mix. Will the twins’ identity swap be a recipe for disaster, or does it have all the right ingredients for getting their lives back on track? (synopsis taken from Amazon)
I had to make a few conscious concessions when reading this book, the number one thing being: overlook the fact that these women are apparently so identical that no one in their lives noticed they switched places. Not only does no one notice, but every bizarre thing they do as one another gets written off without much question. It’s a bit implausible, and seems a little silly and immature to switch places as adults, but if you can get past that, this is an entertaining read! Charlie and Cass are spirited sisters, Jake and Miguel are both really likeable, the quaint little hometown makes for an appealing backdrop, and all the baking references add to a festive and cozy atmosphere. It’s a little cheesy and predictable in that Hallmark-y way, but I found it to be a whimsical, sweet, gratifying, feel-good clean romance. I’m giving this one an A- rating!
Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss
Ever since moving back to her hometown of Blexford, England, Kate has found fulfillment in living near her dad, engaging with her friends and community, and working as a fabric designer for her dream company. The only downfall is, her dating life in the small village hasn’t exactly been thrilling. When a dating agency’s Twelve Dates of Christmas event comes around, it seems like it might be the answer: three weeks until Christmas and twelve romantic and fun dates with handsome single men. Full of hope, Kate pays the fee and signs up for twelve dates, but as each one becomes more disastrous and disappointing than the last, the whole town becomes invested in Kate’s journey to discover love in time for Christmas.
The premise of this book got me so excited. A woman goes on multiple dates to find love while living in a charming British village at Christmas? Sign me up! I did love Kate and her dating mishaps, the quaint and festive setting, the cheeky British humor, and the overall concept. Unfortunately, it fell short of my hopeful expectations for one big reason: I found her best friend Matt to be supremely unlikeable. I get that they were supposed to have like a banter-y relationship where the arguing is a actually a chemistry thing, but it wasn’t endearing to me and I found myself turned off to his character on multiple occasions. It was also a bit too long for me (again, I get it, twelve dates is a lot to write about!) I feel like there were ways to trim it down, but then again there are probably readers who enjoyed all the descriptions and extra characters. In fact, if I had liked Matt at all, I probably wouldn’t have minded the length! As it is, I can’t give this book more than a B rating, which is sad because it had so much potential.
Christmas at Peachtree Bluff by Kristy Woodson Harvey
The Murphy women – matriarch Ansley and daughters Caroline, Sloane, and Emerson – are a close knit bunch. So when Caroline is struggling with a difficult divorce and the rebellious response of her teenaged daughter Vivi, she turns to her mother for help. As the “storm of the century” approaches the coastal town of Peachtree Bluff, Georgia a few weeks before Christmas, it’s decided that Ansley and her husband Jack will keep Vivi and take her on their planned vacation to Australia while the rest of the family evacuates to New York until the storm passes. But when Vivi’s reckless behavior causes her, Ansley, and Jack to miss their chance to get out of the storm’s path, they have to shelter in place in a dangerous hurricane. With no other way to access Peachtree Bluff by land or air, the Murphy sisters take Caroline’s boat and embark on a rescue mission to get back to their family and help rebuild their town in time for Christmas.
This is actually the fourth book in the Peachtree Bluff series, but I had never read the first three books and think this book can stand on its own. That being said, I think it did kind of work against me because I didn’t have prior feelings about the Murphy women to endear me to them. The women are layered and real, which is great, but it was hard for me to get past a few of their character flaws sometimes. It might have helped if I had previous experience with the characters! I did love the coastal small town setting, I liked the alternating narrative perspectives, and I liked that there was such a focus on family dynamics. I appreciated that it felt like a fresh Christmas story as the hurricane brought in a unique plot line leading up to the holidays. This book definitely feels very Southern – it’s sweet, a little cheesy at times, and ultimately satisfying. I give it a B+ rating.
Lauren Richmond hasn’t gone home for Christmas in years. Part of it has to do with her parents’ tumultuous relationship and part of it has to do with an extreme fear of flying. But when her brother begs her to come home for the birth of his first baby, Lauren can’t say no. Unfortunately for her, the only last minute option available is catching a ride home with her brother’s best friend, and her long-time childhood crush, Will Sinclair. Still harboring hurt from an incident with Will ten years before, Lauren is determined to keep her heart closed off during the long trip from California to Illinois. But Will has changed a lot in the past decade and Lauren starts to find it harder and harder to convince herself not to open herself up to him again.
Out of all the books I read this month, I think this one might edge out the others as my favorite. I love a good enemies-to-lovers story (although this one is more like unrequited childhood crush with a one-sided grudge to lovers) and found this one to be entertaining from start to finish. I loved the dynamic between Lauren and Will and I loved that we got to have narration from both of them. The banter was lively, the relationship was believable, the pace was perfect, and I thought the character development was great. It’s charming, it’s heartwarming, it’s emotional, it’s fun. It’s also a clean romance. This is a great choice if you want to get into the Christmas spirit but don’t want a book that is overloaded with it – the holidays and festivities were definitely there but they’re secondary to Lauren and Will’s relationship. It was just a delightful little read to curl up next to the tree with. I don’t often finish a book thinking “I hope this gets made into a movie” but well . . . I hope this gets made into a movie. It’s definitely A, maybe even A+ range in my book. (Note: it’s a self-published title, so many libraries do not carry it. I had to actually order it on Amazon, and I’m not sure there is another way to access it at this point).
The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer
Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt comes from a prominent Jewish family and has always strived to maintain her image of a Nice Jewish Girl, but deep down she’s hiding a big secret: she deeply loves Christmas. She loves it so much that she’s actually become a bestselling Christmas author writing under a pen name! But when her publisher demands a book about Hanukkah, she’s uninspired. Hanukkah isn’t merry and magical like Christmas, but she’s determined to come up with something. When her first love (and heartbreak) Jacob Greenberg returns to New York to coordinate the first-ever Matzah Ball, which promises to be glamourous and like nothing else ever seen in the Jewish community, she knows she has to attend. Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since their brief summer camp romance years ago, but in working together on the Matzah Ball, they realize that the spark they had years ago is still very much alive, if only they trust can one another to not repeat the heartbreak from years ago.
Wow – I loved this one! I felt very out of my depth with all the Jewish references, but the author does a good job of subtly explaining most of the Hebrew phrases, names, and traditions so you’re not completely lost. I enjoyed learning more about Jewish culture. I loved Rachel and Jacob individually and together and I loved the families and friends and rich sense of community and tradition woven into their lives. I really appreciated that this was a rom com with quite a bit of depth- child abandonment, chronic illness, trusting the love and acceptance your family provides, identity, etc. It was funny and entertaining and meaningful at the same time. It satisfied my need for a festive read -fun, touching, and memorable. I really recommend this one – solid A rating for this holiday read!
Believe it or not, I still have a few more festive reads on my list to check off before the holidays get here. I’m still enjoying immersing myself in holiday spirit, but I’m also getting ready to branch out into other genres again so the second half of the month will be more of a mix. Stay tuned for more reviews coming in two weeks!