Recent Reads

I’m currently reading Riveted by Meljean Brook (audio) and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons.

Riveted by Meljean Brook   The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Both are good. Really good. As in this kind of good:

snoopy_library

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A quick disclaimer: I’m friendly with several authors below on Twitter.

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The Art of Sinning and The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries

The Art of Sinning by Sabrina Jeffries    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25814323-the-study-of-seduction

Jeffries has been an auto-buy for years, and there’s no sign of breakup. I inhaled her entire backlist when I first started reading romance, and the Hellions of Halstead Hall and Duke’s Men series are constant re-reads.

The latest titles are just as good. Sinning has an artist hero and you know I can’t resist those. Seduction has a marriage of convenience between a grumpy hero who makes lists and a secretly-smart social butterfly, and adds in a truly creepy stalker who cooks up some creative blackmail over Deep Dark Secrets, and just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

I can’t say more without spoilers, but Seduction was especially memorable because of the social butterfly heroine’s Deep Dark Secret, which made the consummation of the marriage…heart-wrenching. I think Jeffries handled that potentially problematic trope really well.

I keep trying to articulate why Jeffries’ books work so well for me. She’s not a particularly flashy or profound or incisive writer. Her books are standard dukes-a-million regency fare that never bust out of the usual tropes – but they’re never wallpapery fluff.

I think it’s the simple fact that I know I can rely on her consistency. That might not sound like a compliment, but I mean it the best way – she’s just a damn good storyteller. Every. Single. Time.

Source: Edelweiss

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All I Have and All I Am by Nicole Helm

All I Have by Nicole Helm  All I Am by Nicole Helm

Helm is kind of the contemporary version of Jeffries — nothing flashy, just consistently good storytelling with really memorable characters. The realistic small-town settings and kick-ass heroines really set her Superromances apart. Also, dogs. I like dogs.

Her latest Harlequins are both close to perfect contemporary romances for me, and I think Helm just keeps getting better with every book. I’m a very character-driven reader, and Helm knows my sweet spot.

You need to read Falling for the New Guy too, because ANGST-O-RAMA. And Too Friendly to Date, because LADY ELECTRICIAN. Trust me.

I have Rebel Cowboy in the TBR; cowboy hockey star on a motorcycle usually isn’t my kind of thing, but we’ll see.

Source: Purchased; Provided by Author

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The Sport of Baronets and A Gentleman’s Game by Theresa Romain

The Sport of Baronets by Theresa Romain    A Gentleman's Game by Theresa Romain

Romain is another Regency author whose titles and covers have that wallpapery vibe.  But like Jeffries, Romain has the kind of character-driven stories that push every one of my buttons.

Her latest series centers on horse racing. I love it when authors give their characters hobbies and obsessions, and when unlikely couples are thrown together under high-conflict circumstances, so just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

I also love how Romain’s heroines (in all her books, not just this series) always have equal agency in the relationship, regardless of their social status.

Source: NetGalley

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Once Beloved by Amara Royce

Once Beloved by Amara Royce

I need Royce to write faster. Character-driven stories with unusual — but always realistic — conflicts. Royce isn’t afraid to take risks, and it’s a Book Trance every time.

Source: NetGalley

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A Woman’s Worth by Audra North

A Woman's Worth by Amara Royce

North tweeted something about her newest novella featuring a single mother and of course I one-clicked immediately.

This trope is a really touchy one for me, and this story got nearly everything right. The heroine is a marketing executive who loves her job and values her career. The initial flirty-sexy times with her enigmatic boss were a bit squirmy, but in good way, and I loved how their relationship developed.

The parenting bits were spot-on. I highlighted a lot of bits about the ex that really resonated with me, and I *loved* that the Other Woman wasn’t a shrewish harpy.

The only thing that bothered me was the timing. Characters jumping head-long into a new relationship immediately after a divorce is one of my eye-twitch triggers. I broke up with Marie Force over it. Authors, do your research and think long and hard about rebound romances.

Source: Purchased

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Tycoon by Joanna Shupe

Tycoon by Joanna Shupe

Just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

Read this. Trust me.

Source: NetGalley

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The Silk Series by Cassandra Dean

Silk Series by Cassandra Dean

Olivia Dade made me buy the first in the series. Then I had to get all the others.

Source: Purchased

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Chasing Jane by Noelle Adams

Chasing Jane by Noelle Adams

A little bonus for reading this far: It’s a freebie!

All of Adams’ novellas are great comfort reads. This one is just fluffy friends-to-lovers cuteness and I loved every word of it.

Source: Purchased

Audiobook Adventures: More Wallowing

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m bored at the dayjob. Go figure.

Another fun fact: It’s so windy here on the open prairie (well, a barren cornfield north of the airport, but whatever) that the facilities guy put himself on call to HELP US OPEN THE DOORS. True story.

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Current read: Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden

Narrated by Stina Nielsen

I’m retitling this Until the Yawn, because I’m clever like that. I’m about halfway in, and the pacing just ….keeps …..slowing …….down. I expect great things from Camden because I’ve unreservedly loved all her previous books; Against the Tide and Into the Whirlwind are both DIKS.

Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden

Sadly, Dawn has “meh” all over it, partly because the narrator is noticeably lackluster, but mostly because the main characters are both completely insufferable. He’s a Cranky Crankhole and she’s a Sunny Sunbeam and ALL RIGHT THEY’RE OPPOSITES WE GET IT MOVE ON ALREADY FOR CRIPES SAKE. The heroine is described as “nice” at least 1,486 times.

A bunch of scientists just showed up at the cursed mansion, so I’m hoping there’ll be some ghost action or a dog unearths buried treasure (I like dogs) or Mr. Crankhole breaks his other leg falling off a cliff or something to get this story moving.

HOWEVER. The prequel novella, Toward the Sunrise, was really good. It had GOATS as a primary plot device and I still liked it.

NO GOATS ALLOWED

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Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

Narrated by Rachel Botchan

Gist gave me a dud with her last book, which gave me Book Anxiety for this one. But I sucked it up and got sucked into her world-building once again. I stayed a while to wallow.

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

Gist can take a tiny thread from a historical newspaper article or, in this case, a Chicago World’s Fair brochure, and spin it into glorious layers of character and relationship building. And then she surrounds it with an almost touchable sense of place. Tiffany Girl has the same Grumpy vs. Perky pairing as Until the Dawn, but this time it works beautifully.

I don’t necessarily recommend the audiobook over other formats; the narration was serviceable but nothing outstanding. Just read it. Trust me.

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The Bride by Julie Garwood

Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

I wanted to like it. I really did. Garwood’s The Prize was my first audiobook ever, and I hated it so much I put the narrator (Anne Flosnick) on my Never Again list. Then I tried Ransom and loved it, so I figured what the hell.

The Bride by Julie Garwood

Hell indeed. I hated The Bride. I thought it was irredeemably stupid. I know it’s a classic and it has a million copycats. I still hated it. I yelled “OH FOR GOD SAKE” approximately seven times per chapter. We won’t even discuss the eye-rolling.

Me and Garwood were just not meant to be.

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The Parfit Knight by Stella Riley

Narrated by Alex Wyndham

Me and Stella Riley, on the other hand….

The Parfit Knight by Stella Rilery

Nearly perfect in every way. A noble but insecure hero. A strong but vulnerable heroine. A bad guy I still want to punch in the face. If someone had punched him in the face, and then had him press-ganged, this would have been perfectly perfect instead of just nearly perfect.

The narration was perfectly perfect. Wyndham is brilliant.

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A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

Narrated by Angele Masters

So, some people loved this and other people didn’t. I — because it’s all about ME — loved it. LOVED IT. I struggled with the Book Anxiety again; Raybourn’s foray into more “upmarket” chick lit didn’t impress me, and I read the first three chapters of this three times over three months.

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

Then I tried the audiobook, and I was there. As Joanna Bourne said (yes, I’m name-dropping, shut up), Raybourn is brilliant at texture, and the world-building was stellar with this one. The heroine is, admittedly, very…odd, and the actual romance doesn’t show up until the last chapter, but the melding of action and suspense was everything I’ve wanted since my last (umpteenth) re-read of Lady Julia. I did not see the twisty bit coming at all, and I’ve read at least five books attempting that particular twist.

I am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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Ruined by a Rake by Erin Knightley

Narrated by Alastair Stephens

Knightley is a new auto-buy for me, and I grabbed her two novellas on Audible as soon as I saw them.

Ruined by a Rake by Erin Knightley

I…squeed. I think I honest-to-god squeed. A solid A grade – FIVE BIG FAT STARS – because this completely charmed me and I’m going to listen to it again and again. I’m…using a lot of italics.

The other novella, Scandalized by a Scoundrel, was more of a B-/C+ read; it really needed the same narrator as Ruined.

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The King’s Man by Elizabeth Kingston

Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

Everyone else squeed, which usually scares me off. I should trust you guys more.

The King's Man by Elizabeth Kingston

I got to the part where the disguised-as-a-boy heroine whips out her bow and shoots the smarmy hero in the foot to shut him up and then I was all OH HELLS YES.

And then the end killed me dead. Actually, just mostly dead, but I still haven’t fully recovered.

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The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Narrated by Faye Adele

Yes, I’m the only person in Romland who hadn’t read this yet. Steampunk intimidates me. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. I had a Scribd credit to use so I girded my clockwork loins. Or would clockwork loins already be girded? I’m still a noob at this kind of stuff.

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

While I was listening, I was all “yeah, I see why everyone likes this, it’s pretty good.” And then after I was done, I kept thinking about it. And thinking about it. Random scenes pop into my head and they’re vivid. So I’m keeping my Scribd subscription for a few more months.

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All the Loretta Chases

Narrated by Kate Reading

ALL THE CARSINGTONS ALL THE TIME.

Mr Impossible by Loretta Chase

I love Daphne and Rupert SO MUCH.

I also listened to the Scoundrels series and I still think Rupert would just ignore the blow-hard Marquess of Dain until he got fed up with the endless blustering and threw him out a window.

Chase’s earlier novels — Devil’s Delilah, Viscount Vagabound and Knave’s Wager — were kind of uneven. I liked Vagabond a lot, but the other two didn’t do much for me.

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Next up….

ALL THE TESSA DARES.

Who started me on audiobooks anyway??? I may have a problem. Damn you all.

Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Colonial/Revolutionary Binge

The party continues with a list that’s not so random – my recent reads about colonial, revolutionary and post-war/frontier America. I’d been hoarding most of these for years, but finally got inspired by — wait for it — Jude Devereux’s The Raider.

Most are from inspie publishers, who seem to be the only ones interested in non-Brit settings. Maybe someday Harlequin will discover early America. I would GLOM THAT SO HARD. That sounds vaguely dirty, but you know what I mean.

All the family pics are from a trip to Washington D.C.,  in 2008 to visit my little sis, who had an actual job actually schmoozing actual politicians. She likes that sort of thing (*~*shudder*~*).

Kids_MtVernon2

Damn, my kids are cute.

Things 1&2 were eight and five. We spent July 4th at Mount Vernon, where it was approximately 157 degrees, with mosquitoes the size of bats and restroom lines nine miles long. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

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The colonial era

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton
The story of Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallet,  a founder of Greenwich, Connecticut, and ancestor of Howard Dean,  John Kerry, Amelia Earhart, Bill Gates and Johnny Depp. No, seriously. Not quite as good as Seton’s Katherine, but definitely a must-read. There’s some info-dumping when the narrative skips ahead a few months or years, but the heroine’s struggles with her Puritan community and the harshness of the early settlements are incredibly vivid and memorable. Grade: A- (HMH, 1958; purchased (I own all of Seton in paper, ebook and audio)) Continue reading

The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The Historicals

It’s still the holidays. YES, IT IS. Because I’m the only one in the office at the dayjob.

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Now on the DIK Shelf….*

A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams

  • A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy WilliamsTitle: A Cowboy for Christmas
  • Author: Lacy Williams
  • Series: Wyoming Legacy, #5
  • Published: Harlequin Love Inspired Historical, December 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Tropes: Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, Angst-O-Rama
  • Quick blurb: Former bad boy tries to make amends with boss’s daughter for a horrific accident
  • Quick review: Lovely. Just lovely. *~*HAPPYSIGH*~*
  • Grade: A

“I thought, for a moment, that you might kiss me.” She rushed on, a fountain of words babbling out of her. “And I know you didn’t want to. I know you said we’re to be friends, and I didn’t want you to think that had I had any expectations, because I don’t—”

Three strides brought him to her, but it wasn’t until he took her upper arm in his hand that she went silent. Looking up at him, she could see his face was like a thundercloud, eyes stormy.

“You think I don’t want to kiss you?” He grated the words, as if it was hard to speak them.

“I know you don’t.”

“You don’t know anything.”

He reached for her, and before she could even think that she should push him away — that she didn’t want a pity kiss from him — he’d cupped her jaw, his calloused palm sliding along her cheek and sending sparks flying like a summer cowboy campfire….

It was like putting a match to tinder.

By the time I finished the first chapter, I was THERE. Book Trance. I can’t reveal too much without spoilers, but this book is a master class in angst as a plot device. And character- and relationship-building. And describing panic attacks and agoraphobia. And portraying struggles with faith. Also, there’s a puppy rescue.

I read a few of Williams’ earlier books on Scribd; they were on the OK-but-not-memorable scale. After finishing Cowboy, I bought the entire Wyoming Legacy series — I’m giddy about seeing how she’s evolved as a writer. Let the Author Binge continue!

*As soon as I update that page. Remind me to do that. DONE!

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More inspies….

Married by Christmas by Karen Kirst

  • Married by Christmas by Karen KirstTitle: Married by Christmas
  • Author: Karen Kirst
  • Series: Smoky Mountain Matches, #5
  • Published: Harlequin Love Inspired Historical, October 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Tropes: Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, Marriage by Scandal, Angst Lite
  • Quick blurb: Former bad boy must marry woman whose life he disrupted with an unfortunate accident
  • Quick review: And…I bought the rest of the series.
  • Grade: B

I read Kirst’s The Husband Hunt first — a charming friends-to-lovers story. This one was really enjoyable too; the basic premise is very similar to the Williams book, but the difference in tone and voice make these completely unique reads.

Continue reading

The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The Contemporaries

Officemates are playing incredibly crappy Christmas music at full volume, so I feel no guilt whatsoever about writing blog posts at work.

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Don’t Miss; Have Kleenex

Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat Latham

  • Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat LathamTitle: Unwrapping Her Perfect Match
  • Author: Kat Latham
  • Series: London Legends, Book 3.5
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published (November 2014)
  • Source: Amazon ($2.99)
  • Length: 119 pages
  • Trope(s): Reluctant Heroine, Gentle Giant, Plot Moppet
  • Quick blurb: Celebrity bachelor auction + rugby injury = sexy times
  • Quick review: I loved the heroine even more than the hero.
  • Grade: A-

I love love love Latham’s entire London Legends rugby series, and everything about this novella absolutely worked for me. And if you haven’t read Mine Under the Mistletoe, read that too. *~*happysigh*~*

Off the Map by Tamara Morgan

  • Off the Map by Tamara MorganTitle: Off the Map
  • Author: Tamara Morgan
  • Series: Winter Rescue, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published (November 2014)
  • Source: Author
  • Length: 88 pages
  • Trope(s): Reunited, Dogs, Kickass Heroine, Grumpy Hero
  • Quick blurb: Helicopter pilot risks her career to help grumpy ex rescue his rescue dog
  • Quick review: I ♥ Tamara Morgan
  • Grade: B+

You’ll need the kleenex because you’ll be laughing so hard you’ll be crying. Morgan’s In the Clear is still tops on my DIK contemporary list (OMG, that shower scene *swoon* <thud>), and this one is going to be a frequent re-read as well. Also, it’s about dogs.

Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley

  • Hero's Homecoming by Rebecca CrowleyTitle: Hero’s Homecoming
  • Author: Rebecca Crowley
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Carina Press (November 2013)
  • Source: Scribd
  • Length: 88 pages
  • Trope(s): Hurt/Comfort, Snowbound, Reunited, Kinda-Sorta-Big Misunderstanding
  • Quick blurb: Wounded war vet stuck in blizzard with former lover
  • Quick review: Three hankies
  • Grade: B+

At first, I was all, “WHY is she making this all about HER???” But I kept reading and then I cried.

Christmas at Waratah Bay by Marion Lennox

  • Christmas at Waratah Bay by Marion LennoxTitle: Christmas at Waratah Bay
  • Author: Marion Lennox
  • Series: Christmas Around the World
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Tule Publishing (October 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 120 pages
  • Trope(s): Enemies to Lovers, Big Misunderstanding, Family Drama
  • Quick blurb: Supermodel clashes with business tycoon when she returns home to visit her dying grandfather
  • Quick review: Ah, the glorious, glorious angst.
  • Grade: B+

I think Marion Lennox is going to be my next Author Binge.

Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan

  • Maybe This Christmas by Sarah MorganTitle: Maybe This Christmas
  • Author: Sarah Morgan
  • Series: O’Neil Brothers, Book 3
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin HQN (October 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Friends to Lovers, Angsty Athlete, Kickass Heroine
  • Quick blurb: Smooching in the snow
  • Quick review: Everything I wanted it to be
  • Grade: A-

I wasn’t all that impressed with the first book in this series that everyone else adored, but this one pushed ALL my buttons. The only thing keeping this from an A+ was the over-the-top Evil Ex. Other than that, this has everything I crave in a friends-to-lovers story.

One Night in the Ice Storm by Noelle Adams

  • One Night in the Ice Storm by Noelle AdamsTitle(s): One Night in the Ice Storm
  • Author: Noelle Adams
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published (December 2012)
  • Source: Amazon
  • Length: 81 pages
  • Tropes: Snowbound, Brother’s Best Friend
  • Quick blurb: See tropes above
  • Quick review: See tropes above
  • Grade: B+

Snowbound with brother’s best friend = here, take all my money.

The Mistletoe Effect by Melissa Cutler

  • The Mistletoe Effect by Melissa CutlerTitle(s): The Mistletoe Effect
  • Author: Melissa Cutler
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s (October 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 200 pages
  • Tropes: Fake Engagement, Crazy Family, Cowboys
  • Quick blurb: Hotel heiress fakes engagement to ranch hand to preserve her family resort’s reputation
  • Quick review: I really can’t believe I actually like this.
  • Grade: B

I prepared myself for another caricature down-home yee-haw festival, but Cutler redeemed the Christmas Cowboy trope with this gleeful farce.

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Not Bad; Worth a Read

  • Snowed In by Sarah Title
    Insta-lust in the grocery store, but it still charmed me. Grade: B- (NetGalley)
  • The Kent Brothers Trilogy by Jaci Burton
    A bit predictable, but I loved the brothers’ banter. Grade: B (Purchased)
  • Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne ThayneSnow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
    Pleasantly surprised. Debating whether to read more by Thayne…. Grade: B- (NetGalley)
  • A Yorkshire Christmas by Kate Hewitt
    The Cameron Diaz/Jude Law bits of The Holiday. But with sheep. Grade: B (NetGalley)
  • Christmas with the Laird by Scarlett Wilson
    Coworkers snowbound in derelict castle = take all my money. Grade: B (NetGalley)
  • Christmas in Venice by Joanne Walsh
    Angst-o-rama. Probably won’t read again, but it was a lovely reunion romance. Grade: B- (NetGalley)
  • Wild Holiday Nights anthology by Samantha Hunter, Meg Maguire and Debbi Rawlins
    Everyone should read this for Maguire’s snowbound-with-the-high-school-crush story. Grade: B (NetGalley)
  • A Family for Christmas by Noelle Adams
    Stretched the marriage of convenience trope quite a bit, but Adams still rocks the sexy inspie thing.  Grade: B (Purchased)
  • Unwrapped by Maisey Yates
  • Again a bit predictable, but lots of chemistry. Grade: B-

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Meh; If You Like That Sort of Thing

  • Her Holiday Man by Shannon StaceyHer Holiday Man by Shannon Stacey
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone else loved it. I found it so bland and boring I almost DNF’d it. It has none of the zing and chemistry of Holiday Sparks.  Grade: C- (NetGalley)
  • Christmas Curveball by Shari Mikels
    A snowbound-with-brother’s-best-friend that fizzled quite disappointingly. Grade: C- (Scribd)
  • Trading Christmas by Debbie Macomber
    My first Macomber. It was OK. The second, not so much (see below). Grade: C (Library)
  • Love Finds You in Frost, Minnesota by Judy Baer
    I bought this because I have relatives that live here. I finished it. Grade: C (Purchased)
  • Snowbound Surprise for the Millionaire by Michelle Douglas
    More travelogue than romance, but I liked the heroine. Grade: C (NetGalley)
  • A Mistletoe Christmas anthology by Carla Cassidy, Cathy McDavid, Marin Thomas
    None of these really stood out. I don’t think I even remember any of them after a week.Grade: C- (NetGalley)

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Blech; Don’t Bother

  • The Christmas Violin by Buffy AndrewsMr. Miracle by Debbie Macomber
    Schmaltz to the Nth Degree. D+ (Library)
  • Home in Time for Christmas by Heather Graham
    Loved the premise, but the execution was a complete mish-mash of Way Too Much Going On. DNF (Scribd)
  • The Christmas Violin by Buffy Andrews
    I’m usually a sucker for anything involving musicians, but this crossed that Schmaltz to the Nth Degree threshold too. (Purchased)
  • Just in Time for Christmas by Kim Boykin
    The Sassy Southern trope just does not work for me. DNF (NetGalley)

Holiday Romance Binge, Part 3: More Contemporaries

A few anthologies, a few novellas, a novella from another anthology, and one I thought was a novella but was actually a novel which is probably why I got pissy with it.

I kinda forgot about the “Naughty & Nice List” theme, but I can’t think about that right now because I need to figure what to take to the office potluck tomorrow that won’t require cooking or baking. Or buying ingredients. I’m thinking Mint M&Ms. Unless I eat those for breakfast again.

ANYWAY….

Continue reading