Sunday, December 31, 2023

"The Hart of Christmas" by Latisha Sexton

I started reading The Hart of Christmas before Christmas and set it aside because I just wasn't in the mood for a romantic comedy.  Picked it up again (well, pulled it up again, as I was reading the ebook version on my phone) a couple of days after Christmas and finished it off in two days.  Mood reading do be that way sometimes, heh.

This is a cute Christmas romance set in the mountains of Tennessee (so just a hop, skip, and jump away from where I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina).  Millie Jane's music career hasn't taken off, and her best friend back home has offered her house to Millie for Christmas because said best friend and her husband will be out of town.  But when Millie Jane gets there, she discovers that her best friend's stepbrother is also staying at that house, laid up with a broken leg.

That stepbrother is a hotshot hockey player named Dex... who happens to have been Millie Jane's dream guy in high school until he broke her heart.  Dex asked to stay there right after Millie's best friend offered the place to her, and they figured Millie would go stay with her grandma instead, except a blizzard hits before she can leave, which means Forced Proximity Romance, here we come.

I actually don't like forced proximity romance much, which is part of why I set this book aside for a while.  If done juuuuuuuuuust specifically right, I will be okay with it, but if the "forced" part feels like the characters could really get out of it if they wanted to, I will back off.  The blizzard makes it work, because I have driven the Blue Ridge Mountains in the winter and you do NOT mess around on winter mountain roads.  Unplowed roads can equal death.  Frozen roads can equal death.  So, I accepted that this really was an inescapable situation, but kind of grudgingly.

Once I decided to accept that, I liked the book a lot.  Millie Jane was really sweet, and she did a LOT of great character growth over the course of the book.  This was aided by flashback chapters showing how she and Dex met and almost kinda sorta had a high school romance, and what went wrong between them years ago.  

But I never did like Dex.  Cocky and arrogant guys with a high opinion of their own worth tend to grate on me, and Dex very much was all of that and then some.  Dude could not stop smirking.  Worse yet, he teased Millie All The Time.  I don't like people who tease constantly.  Even worse, he called her by a nickname she hated, and he knew she hated it, and so I was annoyed with him every time he used it.  (Just by the way, I hate the nickname 'Rach' when used by anyone except my Grandma Haack [who is dead], one friend from high school, and my German professor from college.  If you are not one of those three select people, do not call me Rach.  Call me Rachel or Hamlette or Ray, okay?)  

It is okay to have a book romance where I don't actually love both halves of the couple, as long as they genuinely work together in and of themselves.  Which Millie and Dex do.  So I can be cool with their romance, but if I knew them in real life, they would be one of those couples where I just hang out with the wife and we don't invite them to our house as a couple because I'm going to be on edge all the time.  (Actually, I don't know any couples like that right now, but I did in college.)  So... was this a fun Christmasy romance?  Yup.  Is it one I will reread routinely?  Probably not.  However, if you are a fan of clean, Christian contemporary romance books, you will probably dig this a lot!  But it's a genre I only dip into a few times a year.

Particularly Good Bits:

But the sad, lifeless trees bear a startling resemblance to my own empty heart.

I've never understood the whole follow your heart thing.  My heart doesn't know what it wants half the time.  How am I supposed to follow it?  Not to mention that the Bible says the heart is deceitful above all things.

"Millie, we live in a fallen world.  No one is perfect.  We will hurt one another.  The important thing is that we come clean when we do and that we learn to forgive one another."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussions of a man admiring a woman and trying not to imagine her in her bathing suit, mild and flirtatious innuendo in dialog, and quite a bit of kissing.  Nothing I felt uncomfortable reading myself, but not something I would let my tween daughter read, either.  No cussing or violence, and no smut or spice -- not even a "closed door" or "fade to black" love scene.

This has been my 59th book read off my TBR list for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

"Classic Christmas Crime Stories" ed. by David Stuart Davies

There's something about the bustle and chaos of the lead-up to Christmas that makes me crave the restoration of order that a good mystery provides.  This collection of festive mysteries and other crime stories was just what I wanted to read in the middle of December!

There are eleven short stories here, ranging from very familiar Christmas mysteries like "The Blue Carbuncle" by A. Conan Doyle to story featuring the characters from the BBC show Rosemary and Thyme.  I enjoyed nearly all of the stories ("The Case of the Seven Santas" by H. R. F. Keating got really tedious after a while, for me).  My favorites, in the order in which they appear, were:

  • "The Blue Carbuncle" by A. Conan Doyle (already one of my absolute favorite Sherlock Holmes short stories)

  • "The Case of the Dead Wait" by Peter Lovesey

  • "Markheim" by Robert Louis Stevenson

  • "Death on the Air" by Ngaio Marsh

  • "Stuffing" by Edgar Wallace

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for murder, bloodshed, poisonings, a smattering of bad language here and there, and occasional hints at lascivious behavior.

This is my 58th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Additionally

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "The Ten Most Recent Additions to My Bookshelf."  I received five books for Christmas, won one in a giveaway, and bought the others myself over the past couple of months.  Behold!

The Bookish Bandit by Erica Dansereau and Britt Howard (Christian contemporary romance involving book publishing)

A Cranberry Christmas by Wende and Harry Devlin (festive picture book I loved as a kid)

A Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin (festive picture book I also loved as a kid)

The Hart of Christmas by Latisha Sexton (Christian contemporary Christmas romance)

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, specifically the 50th Anniversary edition from Unwin Paperbacks (classic fantasy adventure)

Kling Klang Gloria by Jenni Sauer (sci-fi fairy tale retelling)

The Mistletoe Countess by Pepper Basham (historical fiction mystery romance)

Persuasion by Jane Austen, specifically the Winchester Austen edition from Worth Press Ltd. (classic novel of second chances and self-discovery)

Through Thorny Ways by Jennifer Q. Hunt (Christian historical fiction set just after WWI)

The Weight of Air by Kimberly Duffy (Christian historical fiction involving a circus)

That's my list for this week.  Did you get books for Christmas?  Or give some?  I did give a handful as gifts, as well as receiving some.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

"Big Red" by Jim Kjelgaard

You know what I love about Jim Kjelgaard's books?  The dogs in them don't die at the end.  That shouldn't be a revolutionary concept, and yet, it sure seems to be.  So many dog books broke my heart when I was a kid, and then I discovered Kjelgaard, and he became my hero.  I read every book of his that my library had on their shelves.  I asked for them for Christmas.  I bought them at yard sales.  I still buy them at used book stores.  I actually haven't looked up how many books he wrote, I just keep finding another every few years.

Big Red is his most famous book, and it's quite the delight.  A poor Canadian mountain boy (EDIT: or possibly, Pennsylvanian???) who loves dogs gets to take care of his rich neighbor's prize Irish Setter, and he grows up a lot in the process.  There's lots of stuff about how to train a dog, how to survive in the woods, and how to win a dog show, which is all very wonderful.  But the part I remember best from when I was a kid, and the part I couldn't wait to get to when I was reading this aloud to my own kids this fall, was the part where a wolverine comes down the chimney.  

I am not making this up.  A wolverine comes down the chimney and tries to kill the boy and the dog.  It's so terrifying and horrible and thrilling.  And, of course, the boy is basically unarmed and has to survive with his wits and almost no weapons of any sort.  Because that is the kind of book I loved when I was a teenage girl!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 because man, that wolverine is scary!  Also, there's a smattering of mild cuss words.  Also, there's a big, mean bear.  

Saturday, December 16, 2023

"The L. M. Montgomery Christmas Collection"

I love L. M. Montgomery's writing, and I love Christmas, so I am naturally drawn to her festive stories and poetry.  The Christmas with Anne collection is one of my favorite Christmastime reads, so I am excited to add this new collection to my shelf.  It does have some overlap with that other volume -- both contain the "Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves" from Anne of Green Gables, as well as several of the same short stories.  This collection has a couple of different Anne chapters too, and six Christmas/winter poems that are paired with appropriate classic paintings.  There are paintings to go with the short stories and Anne chapters as well, and I love all the thought that obviously went into the pairings.

I bought the paperback edition of this book, but I wish I had gotten the hardcover instead.  I see there is now a pocket-sized hardcover edition available, as well as the full-sized one, and I might get that for myself and put this paperback copy into my kids' box of Christmas books that we haul out every year.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  It's everything sweet, wholesome, and lovely.

This is my 57th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Reading in a Winter Wonderland

Today's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Books On My Winter 2023-24 TBR List."  So, here are ten books from my to-read shelves that I would like to read by the end of February, 2024:

  • Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love by Patricial C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack Jr. (graphic novel biography)

  • Bluebird on the Prairie by Tasha Hackett (Christian historical fiction)

  • The Bookish Bandit by Erica Dansereau and Britt Howard (Christian contemporary romance)

  • Kling Klang Gloria by Jenni Sauer (cozy sci-fi)

  • The Legend of Bass Reeves by Gary Paulsen (middle grade biography)

  • The Mistletoe Countess by Pepper Basham (Christian historical Christmas fiction)

  • The Sackett Brand by Louis L'Amour (western)

  • The Sky-Liners by Louis L'Amour (western)

  • The Vanderbeekers Ever After by Karina Yan Glaser (middle grade contemporary)

  • The Weight of Air by Kimberly Duffy (Christian historical fiction)

Have you read any of these?  Any of them pique your interest?  What books are you looking forward to reading this winter?

Sunday, December 10, 2023

"A Little Persuaded" by Kendra E. Ardnek

I was hesitant about this final volume of the Austen Fairy Tales by Kendra E. Ardnek.  Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel, but this book is blending it with "The Little Mermaid," and that is not a fairy tale I tend to love, at least not most retellings of it.  In fact, I actively dislike the Disney version.

Happily, Ardnek made the two stories and sets of characters work together really nicely.  Enna, her Anne Elliot/Little Mermaid character, was as retiring, thoughtful, and wise as Anne Elliot, but with some of the longings and disappointed hopes of Hans Christian Andersen's original Little Mermaid.

It was great getting to see lots of characters from earlier books in this series, especially since this is their last adventure.  I would have liked a little more resolution at the end, which is mostly a personal issue -- I love resolution, and books/stories with more open endings tend not to be my favorites.  Still, I feel like all the characters I have come to care about have a good chance at a happy and safe future, so I am pleased.

Particularly Good Bits:

Enna was used to people talking about her as though she wasn't there.  She wasn't used to being defended (p. 34).

"Austere alone knows the future, but we can prepare for it as best we can " (p. 104).

"Focus, Enna," she whispered to herself. "Thinking about how much there is to think about isn't going to help at all" (p. 189).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  No real violence to speak of, no cussing, no smut.

This has been my 56th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Friday, December 8, 2023

"Noel Streatfeild's Christmas Stories" by Noel Streatfeild

This is EXACTLY the sort of book I want to read at Christmastime!  Heartwarming, sweet, uplifting short stories featuring realistic people in realistic situations that are treated with humor and kindness.  

My favorite stories were:

"The Moss Rose," about a young skater who loses her costume and skates on the subway, but it all turns out okay.

+ "The Princess," about a princess who goes shoe-shopping and gets shanghaied into performing in a ballet incognito.

"The Chain," about a boy who imagines that all of his favorite fictional characters form a chain of joy that helps his sister get well enough to come home from the hospital for Christmas.

"Christmas at Collers," about some city kids who are forced to spend Christmas in the country with their ailing grandmother and discover that hustle and bustle are not essential elements for a merry Christmas.

I absolutely loved this collection!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  As wholesome and uplifting as they come.

This is my 22nd book read and reviewed for my 4th Classics Club list, and my 55th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

"Meant to Bee" by Storm Shultz

This is the sweetest rom-com kind of book I have read in a long time.  Yet it also has a lot of serious and meaningful things going on!  I think that's what makes it so delightful.

Single mom Cordy spends everything she has on a cute little cottage in a small English village, sight unseen.  When she and her toddler arrive there, that cottage turns out to be full of leaks, creaks, and grime.  But Cordy has nowhere else to go, so she rolls up her sleeves, blows her nose and dries her eyes, and gets to work figuring out how to make a life there for herself and her daughter.

Enter a surprise delivery of beehives.  And Ronan, a young man who's only in town for a few days to convince his younger brother to go back to veterinary school.  And an older gentleman with lots of advice on how to care for bees.  Next thing you know, Cordy and Ronan have the house fixed up, and Cordy has opened a small shop in her front room.  She sells honey and baked goods and cute gifts, and she manages to make enough to keep herself and her daughter fed and clothed and housed.

And then, her ex shows up.  The father of her child who had no interest in their baby's existence until now.  Oh, and he has the power to shut down Cordy's shop.

But it all turns out okay!

I really love books about setting up a store and managing a store, as well as books about fixing up a house and decorating it and getting settled.  So that whole aspect of the book really drew me in.  But what I loved best about this book was how Cordy's friends encouraged her to look outside herself for help.  There's a wonderful discussion of why Cordy doesn't attend worship services that doesn't dismiss her struggles or her reasons why she hasn't attended services in a long time, but also doesn't brush off attending worship services as unnecessary if someone doesn't "feel like it."  That is a really important conversation within the book, but also one that resonated with me.  This line hit me especially strongly:

"People shouldn't keep you away from God.  People may be rude from time to time, and there are some in the church who can be unkind, but those people do not represent Christ."

I lost a friend in recent years who felt insulted by something someone in our congregation said to her, and she decided that meant she wasn't welcome in our church anymore.  I'm not even sure who said it, or if they meant it as an insult, but that's how she took it, and I wish so hard I could have read this book a couple of years ago (except it hadn't been written yet when all that went down) because maybe I could have quoted that line up there to her, and maybe it would have helped.

Anyway, this is a really enjoyable book, and quite funny!

(More) Particularly Good Bits:

"Forgiving him doesn't mean you drop all your boundaries.  Just because you forgive someone, doesn't mean you let them back to do the same thing they did before."

"I knew that his not liking French fries was a sign."

"Falling in love is easy, but sometimes you have to choose to love someone.  Not all the time, because if you have to choose all the time that's forcing it, but in the hard moments.  In the 'we have no money' moments or the 'someone is trying to pull us apart' moments, that's when you choose to love, and Malcolm didn't."

I generally prefer life without spectators.

"You make everything feel like home."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussions of unwed motherhood and some kissing.  No smut, no cussing, not much violence (someone does get punched in the face...).

This is my 54th book read for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.