TBR Challenge: The Earl I Adore by Erin Knightley

February’s TBR Challenge was “Recommended Read (A book recommended to you by another reader/blogger etc.).” I blame this one on John (@DreamingReviews) who reviewed it for Heroes and Heartbreakers. “Heroine plays the oboe” = FASTEST ONE-CLICK EVER.

Yes, I played the oboe. Full-on band geek. You are not surprised.

  • The Earl I Adore by Erin KnightleyTitle: The Earl I Adore
  • Author: Erin Knightley
  • Series: Prelude to a Kiss
  • Published: Signet, January 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 336 pages
  • Tropes: Big Misunderstanding, Deep Dark Secrets, Music Nerds, Mean Girl
  • Quick blurb: The heroine plays oboe. The hero sings opera. There’s some conflict-type stuff but I didn’t pay attention to that because MUSIC-SWOON.
  • Quick review: To quote the hero describing the heroine, it’s : “…a glass of champagne. Effervescent, light, and sweet.”
  • Grade: B

“You make me want to learn more Italian,” he murmured, offering her a small private smile.

“You make me want to listen to more opera,” she replied….

This was just charming. I’m going to be lazy and just tell you to read John’s review, because he really captures the feel of it. I never would have even looked at it without his recommendation — the title and cover just scream “wallpaper.” It does skirt the boundaries of fluff, but the wooing-with-music scenes are quite swoon-y, and I may have needed a tissue or two at the end.

And, of course, I bought the first in the series, featuring a pianist and her grumpy neighbor, and I’m impatiently awaiting book three with the Chinese heroine who plays the zither. THE ZITHER. I’m not kidding.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

More on the I Was a High School Oboe Player….

Why did I play oboe, you ask? Because I started out on the clarinet, but my two best friends were always first and second chair and I got sick of competing with them. Only two oboes, so I’d never sit lower than second chair — and I only had to practice once a week.

True story.

“The double reed is quite tricky, and it can be a lot of effort to get the sound just right, so we oboists tend to have exceedingly strong lips.”

Oboes cost $1200 for a “cheap” student model. Reeds cost $12-15 each. Strong lips, indeed.

TBR Challenge: Free Agent by Roz Lee

My first #tbrchallenge — woohoo!

  • Free Agent by Roz LeeTitle: Free Agent
  • Author: Roz Lee
  • Series: Mustangs Baseball, #0.5
  • Published: State of Mind Publishing, May 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 65 pages
  • Tropes: BDSM, Insta-Lust, Insta-Love
  • Quick blurb: Star ballplayer hooks up with new sub
  • Quick review: *YAWN*
  • Grade: D

“If you sign the contract tomorrow, we’ll seal the deal with a good fuck. How’s that?”

Yeesh. It’s a good thing this was a freebie, because it’s got every possible erotica cliché. I annotated every other paragraph with a variation of “Of course.”

  • Honey-blonde hair hung in soft waves over bare shoulders, framing fine features, porcelain fair skin, and blue eyes. [Of course.]
  • It was as if she saw past his defenses, right to his soul. [As he’s eye-fucking her while she’s fingering herself. Before they’ve even spoken. Because OF COURSE.]
  • Brooke licked her lips…. [Of course she did. How else would he know she’s horny?]
  • “…say yellow if you need a minute before we continue, red if you can’t take anymore.” [Because we all need BDSM 101 in every.single.book.]
  • Glossy pink petals framed a perfectly shaped slit. [Of course it’s perfect. Duh.]
  • …the most amazing orgasm of her life. [At their first actual encounter at the dungeon. Of course.]
  • He’d claimed a part of her no one else ever had—her heart.  [After their first encounter at the dungeon. And they’ve only shared first names. Of course.]
  • Now, she understood. The real pleasure came from pleasing her master, not the other way around. [*yawn*]
  • ...until he met Brooke, he hadn’t truly understood the submissive partner held as much power—perhaps more—than the dominant one. [*YAWN* Will this be on the quiz?]

Other random thoughts/observations:

  • There is zero character- or relationship-building. These people are completely cardboard and interchangeable with every other bad erotica I’ve read.
  • Might have been a D+ if not for the pluralizing-with-an-apostrophe egregiousness (“two single Dom’s looking…”) throughout.
  • The meet-cute occurs at a munch. Yes, a “munch.” I cannot believe I’ve never come across that term before.
  • The contract is “Concise and well written with headings, subheadings, and bullet points.” She wonders if a secretary prepared it for him. [No, really.]
  • The word “slurping” is used.
  • Secondary character is a sub named Candy. There are dessert jokes.
  • The characters contradict themselves ALL THE TIME, sometimes even within the same sentence. “Punishment is not intended to be pleasant” — but then he teases her about being a pain slut and yammers on about how sexy her moans are. “I don’t enjoy leaving those marks” — but, um, dude, YOU’RE A DOM WITH A FLOGGER.

I was hoping for something quick and fun to prep for a Spring Training baseball theme. I’ll keep looking.

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.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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-

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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)

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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)

The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The DNFs and a WTF

Today I wore my dogs-wearing-wreaths-and-Santa-hats socks.*  Therefore, it is time to officially kick off the Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge. We’ll open the festivities with the DNFs and a WTF.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

A Fairytale Christmas by Susan Wiggs

  • A Fairytale Christmas by Susan WiggsTitle: A Fairytale Christmas
  • Author: Susan Wiggs
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (November 2014; originally published October 2002)
  • Source: Library
  • Length: 72 pages
  • Trope(s): Misogynistic Hero, Heiress Heroine, Sexual Harassment
  • Quick blurb: Regendered Cinderella story.
  • Quick review: W.T.Ever-Loving.F.
  • Grade: DNF and W.T.Fuckity.F.F.

I’m starting with the WTF entry. Because W.T.Ever-Loving.F.

They stared at her like a pair of dieters eyeing a box of Godiva chocolates. Idiots, thought Jack. He knew they had a standing bet to see who could get her into bed first. As if either one had a chance. Who would want to, except maybe a polar explorer with a suit that could withstand subzero temperatures?

The story opens with that mess of misogyny from the “hero” and his dude-bro coworkers. I DNF’d after the first chapter because I was starting to throw up in my mouth. SHE’S THEIR BOSS, FFS. I don’t really find sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace particularly romantic.

Also: The blurb describes the hero as an “ace reporter.” And his reporter colleagues wear cashmere sweaters and Top-Siders. I know it’s a re-release, but it’s pretty obvious this didn’t age well.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Going to the Chapel by Rita Herron

  • Going to the Chapel by Rita HerronTitle: Going to the Chapel
  • Author: Rita Herron
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Montlake (November 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 132 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Southern Sassy-Pants Heroine
  • Quick blurb: Sassy Southern girl ditches her cheating ex and returns home.
  • Quick review: Ick.
  • Grade: DNF

As she crossed the state line from Texas into Louisiana, she belted out “All My Exes Live in Texas,” tossed her wedding ring out the window, and waved good-by to the state — and the man who’d ruined her life.

The heroine’s name is…wait for it…Izzy Sassafras. She’s a wedding planner. In a small town called Matrimony, Georgia. The cutesy Southern sassy-girl schtick just writes itself.

Also: Izzy has sisters, God help us. And now I have that stupid song stuck in my head.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby by Carolyn Brown

  • The Cowboy's Christmas Baby by Carolyn BrownTitle: The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby
  • Series: Cowboys & Brides, Book 2
  • Author: Carolyn Brown
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Western, Holiday
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca (September 2013)
  • Source: Library
  • Length: 349 pages
  • Trope(s): Cowboy Soldier, Pistol-Packin’ Mama
  • Quick blurb: Online friends meet cute over a dead coyote.
  • Quick review: Yee haw. *shudder*
  • Grade: DNF

BEHOLD THE FIRST LINE:

There she stood with a dead coyote at her feet, a pink pistol in her right hand, three bluetick hound pups cowering behind her, and cradling an infant in her left arm.

How could I possibly resist that??? But, alas, the “down-home Texas twang” was almost as annoying as the Southern sassy-girl schtick. And it made me nostalgic for some Sable Hunter, and that’s never a good thing.

Also:

  • Heroine shot the coyote with her (pink) pistol while holding her newborn. Then stuck the gun into her waistband. All I could think was “You’ll shoot your ass off, lady.”
  • Hero dragged the carcass of the dead coyote (to get it away from the slobbering hound dogs who were devouring it) and DIDN’T WASH HIS HANDS. Gross.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Christmas at Carriage Hill by Carla Neggers

  • Christmas at Carriage Hill by Carla NeggersTitle: Christmas at Carriage Hill
  • Series: Swift River Valley, Book 3.5
  • Author: Carla Neggers
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (December 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 51 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Wedding Planner, Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Sexy fighter pilot follows ex-girlfriend to small-town wedding.
  • Quick review: Not a good starting point for the series.
  • Grade: DNF

Her grandmother eyed her with open suspicion. “You have that jilted-by-a-man look, Alexandra.”

Neggers is a new-to-me author, but this one does not work well as a standalone — the numerous intrusions from previous characters/plots (including some completely irrelevent bits about some stolen jewels) left little storytelling left over for the nominal main couple and . I did request an ARC of the fourth book in the series, and my library has the others, so…yet another backlist binge in my near future.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

What Happens At Christmas by Victoria Alexander

  • What Happens at Christmas by Victoria AlexanderTitle: What Happens At Christmas
  • Series: Millworth Manor, Book 1
  • Author: Victoria Alexander
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency), Holiday
  • Publisher: Kensington (October 2012)
  • Source: Purchased (freebie)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Trope(s): Flaky Family, Hired Players, Jilted & Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Ditzy widow stages a farce to lure a proposal from a prince.
  • Quick review: Over the top shenanigans with zero chemistry.
  • Grade: DNF

“She’s not quite as shallow as you think.”

Um, yes. Yes, she is.

Yay for free, but alas…. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a madcap comedy, but this wasn’t one of those times. I had to skim because I could not stop screaming “HE’S A FRAUD, YOU F’ING DIMWIT” in my head.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

* Yes, I took that photo at work. Yes, the flash went off and everyone yelled “Hey! Who’s taking pictures?”

RANTYPANTS: Looking for Trouble by Victoria Dahl

  • Looking for Trouble by Victoria DahlTitle: Looking for Trouble
  • Author: Victoria Dahl
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin HQN, July 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Secretly Sexy Librarian, Tattooed Biker Bad Boy, Small Town, Mental Illness
  • Grade: D

In case you missed it in the title, beware of the RANTYPANTS. This will be apparent in the abuse of italics, bold, ALLCAPS and other means of beating you over the head with my emotional emotions.

Also, spoilers.

I’ve been stewing about this book for weeks, trying to distill my thoughts — and emotional emotions — into coherent, logical analysis. Which is pretty ironic, considering….

I am really disappointed with the author, and with Harlequin. The basic story is quintessential Dahl — misunderstood tattooed bad boy biker and misunderstood secretly sexy librarian kept apart by second-generation small town rumors. Yeah, it’s got Dahl’s trademark wicked chemistry and smoking-hot sexytimes.

But it also has a seriously offensive portrayal of mental illness. Take a wild guess which character is mentally ill. That’s right — the villain. The hero’s mother. She’s obsessive. She’s paranoid. She’s a stalker.

And guess what? She’s a whack-job because she’s bitter about being dumped by her husband twenty years earlier. Everyone in town knows that. Duh.

Yes, the hero and his brother know she’s a whack-job. But do they do anything about it? Of course not. Because that would eliminate the lazy-ass villainy that passes for conflict. They know their mother is supposed to be on meds. They know she has a therapist. But instead of caring enough about their obviously distressed mother to you know, actually get involved, the hero and his brother shrug off her self-destructive and increasingly erratic behavior. Why should they bother? It’s so much easier story-wise to send the therapist on a Very Convenient Extended Vacation (with no on-call backup, of course) and give the misunderstood bad boys a tragic past and embarrassing parent to angst about.

But wait — there’s more!

The resolution. Ugh. Not just UGH. More like the ARE YOU SERIOUS??? OH FFS kind of WTFery. Please note the triple ugh use of italic, bold AND allcaps.

It’s just a vitamin deficiency. Yes, really. You know – like a real medical problem.

<INSERT CAPSLOCK OF RAGE AND RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION HERE>

A short hospital stay for some Vitamin B injections and the Evil Psychotic Villainess is cured. She writes an apologetic letter to the editor of the local newspaper — yes, really — and all is forgiven.

Because — duh — someone with mental illness needs to apologize. And be forgiven.

I need to go now. The Xanax is calling. And fuck you if you think I need to apologize for it.

One-Quote Review: The Duke’s Match Girl by Lila DiPasqua

This one gets its own post because DUDE. The Duke's Match Girl by Lila DiPasqua

  • Title: The Duke’s Match Girl
  • Author: Lila DiPasqua
  • Genre(s): Historical, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2013
  • Source: Purchased (99¢)
  • Length: 99 pages
  • Trope(s): Smartass Heroine, Arrogant Aristocrat, Forgiveness & Redemption, Angry Sex, Makeup Sex,
  • Quick blurb: Recently widowed duke goes on campaign to woo back his first and only love
  • Grade: A (maybe an A+, need to read it again, might be lacking a big slobbery dog)

Your Grace,

Your man has informed me of your offer. He was quite uncomfortable about relaying my response. It is for his ease that I put it to you here in writing. As to your offer — and say this with the utmost sincerity  you may take it, and insert it into your exalted posterior.

Sincerely,

Suzanne

Drop whatever you are reading and READ THIS INSTEAD. No, really. Yes, the description says it’s a retelling of the Danish fairy tale, but trust me. I would never recommend a romance where the titular character freezes to death in a doorway.

Instead, it’s hilarious (the excerpt above is a mere hint) and madly sexy (as in angry makeup sex in a carriage) and breathtakingly romantic (I almost used “speechlessly” as the adjective but it sounded weird, which is kind of ironic when you think about it) with just the right amount of holiday seasoning.

Let’s just put it this way: The hero is a SMARMY ALPHA-HOLE AND I LIKED HIM ANYWAY. Christmas miracles, indeed.

Unleashing the Snark: A Light in the Window by Julie Lessman

I guess it’s not really “full snark.” It’s more like half-snark with vitriolic overtones of CAPSLOCK OF RAGE.

  • A Light in the Window by Julie LessmanTitle: A Light in the Window: An Irish Christmas Love Story
  • Author: Julie Lessman
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspirational
  • Publisher: Ten Talents Press, November 2012
  • Source: Purchased (99¢ promo)
  • Length: 407 pages
  • Trope(s): DON’T EVEN ASK .
  • Quick blurb: DON’T MAKE ME GO THERE.
  • Quick review: WHAT PART OF “CAPSLOCK OF RAGE” ARE YOU NOT UNDERSTANDING?
  • Grade: DNF

He flinched. “I have faith,” he said, a bristle of hurt in his voice.

“Yes, of course you do,” she said quickly, gaze gentle as she tapped a finger to her head. “Up here.” She slowly slid a hand to her heart, taking great pains to soften her words. “But based on what I know of a man of your ilk, I worry that it doesn’t live here.” She studied the confusion in his face and tried again. “I believe that in your mind, your faith is deep—doctrine, precepts, catechism—but when it comes to living it?” Her smile was sad as she curled her hand over her chest. “I suspect it may be heart shallow.”

Yes, it’s THAT BAD. If this were a movie (God help us, and I mean that literally), the tagline would be “She has a License to Judge — and she know how to use it.”

The only thing “inspirational” about this book is my overwhelming desire to tell the Saint Mary Sue “heroine” to TAKE HER UNBEARABLE SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS and STUFF IT SOMEWHERE UNSPEAKABLE and go somewhere FAR, FAR AWAY.

That smarmy smile on the cover model’s face? It’s THAT for the ENTIRE BOOK. It’s being HIT OVER THE HEAD with SANCTIMONIOUS PREACHING in every. freaking. chapter. I skimmed ahead in hopes of the “heroine” finding herself in need of enlightenment and redemption, but of course not. She’s PIOUS. She’s VIRTUOUS. And she makes sure everyone around her knows it.

I DETEST (and that’s putting it mildly) the “You’re Not Worthy of Love Until You’re as Godly as Me” inspie trope, and this book is built on PILES AND PILES of that HOLIER-THAN-THOU HYPOCRISY. It’s ironic — and not in a good way — to find such a pharisaic message glorified and rewarded in a Christmas novel.