Happy New Year!
I’m starting off 2021 with one of my favorite things: book reviews! I read seven books in December and I regret to say, several of them were lackluster. This time of year, I want to cozy up by my Christmas tree and read something that gives me all the holiday feels, but unfortunately some books were just duds. Luckily, I ended the month with some really great reads that redeemed my reading stack and gave me the holiday spirit I craved just in time for Christmas.
And just in case you missed it, earlier this week I rounded up my TOP TEN books of the entire year. My favorite reads of 2020 plus a few honorable mentions – you can find them all in this blog post.
Jingle All the Way by Debbie Macomber
Listen. I’ve read this author before and knew what I was getting into. I knew to expect it to be cheesy, squeaky clean, and predictable but I just wanted a quick and easy read full of Christmas spirit. The cover has a snowy farm scene with presents and a sleigh so I assumed this would put me in a festive mood. Unfortunately, this didn’t do it at all. The first half of the plot takes place in Brazil, which doesn’t exactly give me the holiday vibes, and then the Christmas-y second half wasn’t enough to redeem the story. Without the benefit of warm fuzzy holiday feels, the story just felt overly simplified, cheesy and honestly a little silly. I found myself skimming and rolling my eyes in many places. I don’t really even want to keep talking about it. If you’re a Debbie Macomber fan, I’m sure it’s fine, but I just didn’t get the holiday coziness from reading it like I had hoped and can’t recommend it.
25 Days ‘Til Christmas by Poppy Alexander
It’s been four years since her husband died, and single mom Kate is ready to bring some of the magic back into Christmas for her son Jack. Coming up with new activities for each day leading up until Christmas, one thing she doesn’t plan on is connecting with a handsome stranger who is also struggling to feel joy this holiday. Can Kate and Daniel find their own holiday magic with each other?
This had all the makings of a PG-rated, Hallmark-y, perfectly fun holiday read to kick off December but unfortunately, it was a big miss for me. First of all, the pace moved super slow (fine for some books but didn’t work for this one). Also, there were SO many plotlines, some of which felt completely unnecessary to the story. I think the point of many of them was to demonstrate the intense financial pressure that Kate was under, but it was overkill. We get it, Kate is struggling to provide for herself and her son. No need to pile on more and more side stories that reiterate it. To top it all off, the romance part of this completely flopped for me. So much time was spent on the smaller plotlines and the same issue of Kate’s struggles that we didn’t get to actually see much of her and Daniel’s developing dynamic, resulting in their whole relationship feeling disconnected and overreaching. Had the plot been streamlined to 3-4 storylines and more time been spent on their budding romance, I think it could have worked. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and this was a big fat “meh” for me.
The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler
Graham begrudgingly runs a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that has become a runaway success in his hometown of Moose Springs, Alaska. The only problem is, most of his clientele are tourists staying at the town’s upscale resort and he hates tourists. Or at least, he hates them until Zoey appears in his restaurant on the first day of her long-awaited dream vacation. Ready for adventure and enthusiastic about experiencing as much as possible, Zoey makes Graham realize that maybe not all tourists are awful.
Honestly, as my follow-up to 25 Days ‘Til Christmas, this book started out feeling refreshing and fun. It’s not Christmas-y but the Alaskan small-town setting is adorable, the characters are likeable, the plot was interesting. Unfortunately, I can pinpoint the exact moment things changed for me 1/3 of the way through the book. A particular line stood out and I realized that the writing was starting to feel juvenile. The feelings, thoughts, and motivations of characters were getting overexplained and the conflicts got sillier and over the top. And this was page 130 – the point in a rom-com where things should be picking up and getting better. Which brings me to another point: rom-coms should be 200 pages, 250 at max. This book was four hundred pages! That is just too long for a rom com, and this book would’ve definitely benefitted from a pare down. All that being said, there were enjoyable parts of this book and since it’s part of a series (I have a soft spot for rom com series featuring overlapping characters in charming small towns!) I decided to give the next book a shot. It falls mid-range for me – not the best, not the worst, a decent C+. Which brings me to the sequel . . .
Mistletoe and Mr. Right by Sarah Morgenthaler
Zoey’s best friend, the rich socialite Lana Montgomery, has risked a lot to get her company to invest in building luxury condos in Moose Springs. Even though she grew up vacationing there, loves Moose Springs, and thinks this plan will ultimately benefit them, the locals are not at all happy with the project. In fact, the attractive pool hall owner Rick seems to be the only local on her side. With Rick by her side, maybe Lana can get everything her heart desires – for the town and herself.
I actually enjoyed this book a lot more than the first. I thought the writing was better, the characters were more developed, the romance was more convincing and it certainly didn’t hurt that this book took place at Christmas so I was all about the festive vibe. It helped that this book was the second one in the series so the author could just expound on what she had started in book one and not explain so much. I also just liked Lana and Rick’s dynamic a lot more and found this book to be a more entertaining read than the first. Again, this book clocks in just shy of 400 pages which is way too long, and it did have one semi-absurd plotline but luckily it didn’t dominate the book like I feared it would. Overall, this series isn’t going to be a top recommendation for me, but it’s a decent choice. I believe there’s a third book coming and while I’m not dying to read it, I’ll likely give it a chance if I come across it when it’s published. I think it’s also worth noting that these book fall in the leaning PG-13 area (pretty tame romantic moments; things are implied but there’s nothing descriptive or graphic at all). That can be hard to find in a rom com these days so if that’s a preference of yours, these might be good ones to check out.
Match Making for Beginners by Maddie Dawson
Blix is old and misunderstood by her high class Southern family, but with her great-nephew’s fiancé Marnie, there is an instant connection and understanding. Blix is a matchmaker and she sees herself and her skills reflected in Marnie – so much so that when Blix dies she leaves her beloved Brownstone, complete with her unfinished tenant “projects” to Marnie. Marnie decides to comply with the unusual stipulations of the inheritance, soon finding herself using her own matchmaking skills to pick up where Blix left off.
I needed a bit of a Christmas break mid-month so I picked this one that has been on my TBR list for a long time. It was really interesting because you kind of know from pretty early on who the main character is supposed to be with, so it becomes less of a story of her love life and more a story of everyone else’s. There are plenty of loveable, eccentric characters and a very unique plot line. I loved the setting in Brooklyn and the family vibe of Blix’s community (it made me want to move in to the brownstone!), and I loved the ways that Marnie used her matchmaking gifts. It’s kind of predictable in that you know what Blix’s matchmaking plans were, but also not predictable because the way that things unfold is unexpected. I liked the pace of writing and the fact that there were multiple storylines but it never felt like too many. I didn’t enjoy the path that Marnie’s own plot line took a few times, but it wasn’t enough to turn me off to her character altogether. I found myself rooting for all the tenants and their happiness and thought this was a charming, quirky, and enjoyable read.
One More for Christmas by Sarah Morgan
Gayle has a successful career and is an inspiration to countless women, but her relationship with the two women who matter the most – her daughters – has been estranged for years. After an injury leads her to question the decisions she’s made in the past, she reaches out to her daughters to try to mend the relationship. Samantha and Ella are skeptical but agree to spend a destination Christmas together to see if they can reconcile with one another.
Now THIS one was a winner for me. First of all, the setting was just awesome – a snowy Christmas at a lodge in Scotland!? Yes please! I’ll be on the next plane. I also loved the amount of characters: enough for a good variety but not too many that it felt overdone. Then the characters themselves had great depth – they were flawed, yet likeable. I also loved that the plot’s solid foundation was about Gayle, Ella, and Samantha’s relationship with one another but other side stories were mixed in to help you understand each one a little better and give a fuller picture. I loved the exploration of how our past experiences shape our actions, for better or for worse. I loved watching the relationship between the three women; it felt authentic – not too fluffy or sappy, but real emotions, struggles, hopes, and strides toward reconciliation. I adored the supporting characters and felt like they had just enough time – not too much to distract, but woven in well to create a nice rounded narrative. It also does a really great job of striking the right chord with including romance without that being too much of the focus or too little of a side story. It was just a really enjoyable and festive read that is a perfect choice for reading by a roaring fire or the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree! Highly recommend!
A Wedding in December by Sarah Morgan
Rosie calls her family in England one evening to tell them her great news: her boyfriend of three months has proposed and they are getting married in Colorado at Christmas, only four weeks away! She urges her parents and sister to come join her but doesn’t bargain for what she’s getting when they arrive: parents trying to hide the news of their impending divorce and a sister bent on stopping this wedding from happening.
Thanks to loving One More for Christmas after so many festive duds, I quickly checked out another Sarah Morgan book to squeeze it in before Christmas. I’m so glad I did because this was another winner! The basic formula for this book was the same as before – alternating point of view chapters with each of the three women. I enjoy this kind of storytelling and liked all of the characters. Once again, I loved the setting and found myself wanting to visit this picturesque ski lodge in Colorado at Christmas. I liked the characters and their relationships and I liked the fact that romance was included but the main focus was on family dynamics. I found myself rooting for each character and kept wanting to read more about each one. It’s a good pace of writing and a good length of novel. I kind of wish that I hadn’t read these so close together because they do feel a little similar, even though the plot lines were different, and I think I would have enjoyed more space in between the two reads. I also think if I had to choose between the two, I’d give One More for Christmas the edge as my top pick this month. Even so, this is another book I’d highly recommend as an excellent choice paired with a cozy blanket, a cup of hot chocolate, and a twinkly Christmas tree.
I had a few more festive reads on my list, but I got a little burnt out by Christmas and I’m ready for a change of pace, so I’ll save those for next year. Here’s to another great year full of great books!