Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: Christmas Roses by Amanda Cabot

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Celia Anderson doesn't need anything for Christmas except a few more boarders, which are hard to come by in this small mining town. She certainly doesn't have a husband on her Christmas wish list. But when a wandering carpenter finds lodging at her boarding house, she admits that she might remarry if she found the right man--the kind of man who would bring her roses for Christmas. It would take a miracle to get roses during a harsh Wyoming winter. But Christmas, after all, is the time for miracles . . .

My source for book: Personal Library
My Thoughts:
This is a sweet historical romance novella. The short length makes it ideal for reading during the busy holiday season, while the pacing and character development actually make it seem more like a full length novel. This is a win-win scenario!

I really liked both Celia and Mark, the two main characters. I do admit that it seemed like Celia had too many men chasing after her, but this didn't dampen my enjoyment of the story. The relationship development between Celia and Mark was done very well and didn't seem rushed at all. Mark's difficult past had left him emotionally scared, but I greatly appreciated how it was shown that the hard times were necessary to bring him to where he was ultimately meant to be.

The story takes place in the later part of the year, but it's not completely centered around Christmas. I feel it would be fine to read at any time of the year, but if you're like me, you'll probably want to read it at Christmas anyway. :) Though I don't think the story will be very memorable for me in the long run, I did enjoy it and it's one of the better Christmas stories I've read this year.

My Rating: 4 stars

Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: The Christmas Project by Amanda Hamm

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Hartford is full of small-town Christmas traditions and Gaby Bryant puts herself in the center of all of them. She loves Christmas and she loves things that stay the same. She spends most of the season engaged in one project after another, all intended to squeeze joy and beauty into the holiday. The fact that her friend Owen only reluctantly joins her preparations somehow adds to her fun.

But this year Owen has a project of his own. He wants to convince Gaby that not all change is bad and that if she’d stop thinking of him as “only” a friend, Christmas could be a whole lot merrier.

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
I'm a sucker for a cute Christmas story, and while it's true they're a dime a dozen, this one is better than most of what's out there. It has a cute factor that's fun, but it's not over the top cheesy like many are. It stays grounded with the humorous realistic scenarios that are mixed in, such as Owen's extreme aversion to glittery decorations. (I have an Uncle who is even worse about glitter!)

I really liked the apartment building setting, with Gaby and Owen being next door neighbors on their floor. Their habit of often eating or watching tv together in the evenings was cute, and it really displayed the closeness of their friendship. Of course the "friends-turning-into-something-more" angle is fairly common, but it's one that I like and never get tired of--providing it's done well. This one is pretty good, and it's actually better than many I've recently read. Though they both wonder about the other's feelings, they don't spend pages and pages obsessively analyzing things. (Yay!) The sneaky Christmas-themed test that one of them comes up with to test the other's feelings is really cute and creative, and surprisingly the scene didn't turn out at all like I expected.

Overall, Gaby's love of all things Christmas is pretty fun, and I was quite amused how she continually tried to sneak Christmas decorations into Owen's decoration-free apartment. Though I do think I liked the other books in the Hartford series slightly better, I still enjoyed this one and was sad to leave the characters when the (neatly wrapped up) end came. Though it's part of a series, it stands alone perfectly fine. It's really a cute Christmas romance, and very clean as well. I'm glad to have read it, and I can easily recommend it if you're looking for a cute and clean Christmas story.

My Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Review: The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter

Book Cover and Synopsis:
She daydreams of whipping up sauces and souffles in her own restaurant. His heart is set on helping foster children. Both dreams are at stake. So are their hearts.

With grand plans to open her own bed & breakfast in Chapel Springs, PJ McKinley can't afford the most crucial part: the brick and mortar. But when the owner of a local historic home announces a contest and promises her property to the worthiest candidate, PJ makes a fervent wish and tosses her name into the hat.

Cole Evans is cool, confident, and successful, but he'll never forget his roots. He's thankful for how far he's come and knows his life could have turned out drastically different. If he can win the stately old mansion, he'll turn it into a home for children aging out of the foster system.

When the eccentric house owner narrows the entries down to only two applicants, she extends the contest, giving PJ and Cole one year to prove which one of them can make the best use of her beloved home. As the pair competes in close proximity, something deeper than rivalry sparks between PJ and Cole. And in this battle, they're likely to lose their hearts.

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
I really liked PJ and her extremely talkative personality. I couldn't help but grin at some of her rambling speeches which were most prevalent when she got nervous. Considering her profession as a chef, I really appreciated that she didn't seem uppity about her tastes or knowledge, and the dishes she prepared, though fancy, weren't things I'd never heard of. Usually when chefs are in novels I find there is too much fancy terminology used, but that was not the case with PJ at all. She is very down-to-earth and easy to relate to, despite having refined tastes.

I also really liked Cole, and I felt so bad for the things he went through as a child. At the same time, I also sort of wanted to slap some sense into him and tell him that the things he blamed himself for weren't valid... BUT, nevertheless I did still like him. The work he did with the older foster kids was awesome, and it serves to shine a light on an important issue that is often overlooked or forgotten.

The book title and cover design initially gave me the impression that it would be a Christmas or winter centered story, but that's not really the case. The story covers the span of about one year, so while winter is included, it plays no larger part than any other season. The story is appropriate to read at any time of the year, so don't let the cute snowy cover image hold you back. 

Something I thought was unique was how one of the major relationship conflicts was resolved in an untraditional manner, with a third party getting involved to try to fix the issues. Often times novels with a large romantic element seem very cookie-cutter in their flow, but this angle brought a unique feel to the resolution of the story that I really liked.

Denise Hunter certainly doesn't shy away from the hard issues, but I really admire how she weaves everything together. The inclusion of difficult and touchy topics gives a very realistic atmosphere, while the grace with which they're handled keeps things from feeling overly gritty. Her characters are flawed with past mistakes--some larger than others--that makes them very easy to relate to and sympathize with. Though "The Wishing Season" doesn't top the previous Chapel Springs book (Dancing With Fireflies, which is one of my all-time favorite novels), it's still a very solid story with a good message and high entertainment value. I can easily recommend it if you are looking for a good read!

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Thanks to the publisher (Thomas Nelson) for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.