Review | Respect for Christmas, Grace Burrowes

39969234This is a quick and sweet holiday romance, featuring a former courtesan on her way back home to her estranged father and a newly minted baron tasked with stealing a book from her.

I love the way the relationship between Henrietta and Michael develops. Michael needs to steal a book from Henrietta in order to settle a debt of honour, and I love how torn he was over his sense of duty and his growing feelings for Henrietta. I also love how he wins Henrietta over by simply listening to her. At one point, she reflects that she had a soft spot for one of her former clients because of his best feature: his ears, and yet Michael had him beat by far.

There’s a bit of matchmaking from their respective coachmen, who recognize that their employers will likely have a lonely holiday ahead — Henrietta because her father has disowned her for her profession and Michael because his sisters live far away. But this mostly seemed unnecessary as Michael and Henrietta appeared to need no help in falling for each other!

Respect for Christmas is a novella (fairly short at 96 pages), and I admit I ended up wishing we had more time to explore Michael and Henrietta’s stories. But overall, it’s a really sweet romance, and a nice quick read for the holidays.

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Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Merrily Ever After, Jenny Holiday

40333825If you love sexy, heartwarming, emotional holiday romances, I highly recommend Merrily Ever After by Jenny Holiday. I love how this book talks about a very real issue that can arise after a couple seems to have found their happily ever after. I love how Elise and Jay address this issue together, in a way that’s honest and emotionally raw while still being really fun and sexy.

When Elise and Jay got married, they both agreed that they will never have kids. Jay is afraid of turning into his father, and Elise thinks she is biologically incapable of becoming pregnant, so it seems like a simple enough promise. But, as this novella begins, Elise learns that she’s pregnant, and now has to figure out how to break the news to Jay.

I love how real these characters feel. Elise wasn’t as open as she should’ve been, and when Jay does learn the news, he doesn’t respond as well as he could’ve either. But even when they’re at odds with each other, the love between these characters just overflows from the page. The entire time I was reading this, I fell more and more in love with these characters, and became more and more eager to see them find their way back to each other again.

I also love the way that their sex life plays a huge role in how they communicate. There’s such sexual chemistry between them that they almost feel like a new couple, but there’s also so much wordless communication that I can also believe they’ve been married for decades. I especially love the scene where Jay draws Elise into one of their favourite sexual scenarios to get her to open up — it’s a really steamy scene, first of all, but also it shows how their physical connection as a couple fuels their emotional one. More importantly, Jay also notices when Elise wants to straight-up talk, and not have sex mixed up in it, and he pulls away immediately and starts the conversation. This kind of deep, intuitive understanding shows just how perfect they are together, and this scene is just so wonderfully indicative of that.

Finally, the holiday connection is so beautifully cheesy and heartwarming. The ending made me squee, and feel all warm and gooey inside. Merrily Ever After made me fall in love with Elise and Jay and their love story, and I absolutely recommend this as a bookish holiday treat.

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Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Christmas Lights, Karen Swan

41589390One of my favourite parts of the holiday season is all the holiday-themed romances coming out. I love all the Hallmark movies and Harlequin titles coming out around this time — the cheesier the better. So with a title like The Christmas Lights, I fully expected the Karen Swan novel to be along the same lines.

Despite the title, it wasn’t quite as Christmas-themed as I expected (the heroine wants Christmas in a cold country, the hero helps her and other characters with the tree, but there’s none of the usual holiday cheesiness). Still, it’s a lovely story, with a very sweet friends-to-lovers romance, and it’s set in a snow-swamped, icy small mountain town in Norway, so it’s a perfect story to enjoy with a hot cup of cocoa.

The Christmas Lights is about a pair of lifestyle bloggers and real-life couple Bo and Zac. Travelling with their manager/photographer Lenny, they’ve branded themselves the Wanderlusters, and share beautifully curated photographs of their adventures around the world with over 9 million followers. From the beginning of the novel, it’s clear Bo isn’t as happy with their lifestyle as she used to be — she misses home and wishes she and Zac could have more privacy.

Enter their latest adventure: a month in a remote shelf farm in Norway run by the ruggedly handsome but taciturn and often grumpy Anders, and his feisty 96-year-old grandma Signy. The farm is on a tiny ledge on the side of a mountain, accessible only through a ladder of metal rungs down the mountain’s face or via Anders’ helicopter, so it’s totally within Bo and Zac’s brand of ‘roughing it’ like locals do.

There are minor subplots about the beautiful marketing manager who joins them at the farm and an Instagram troll who may be stalking Bo in real life as well as on the Internet, but the crux of the story for me lies in the relationship between Bo and Anders. I love how gradually their friendship develops — Bo realizes that Anders is a different person when he’s with just her, because he’s more relaxed and while still taciturn, isn’t quite as grumpy as he often appears.

I also love how complex the characters are. Even though it may be easy to write Zac off as selfish and self-absorbed, Swan takes care to portray him as a major adrenaline junkie, and this helps us understand why he’s more into the whole social media thing than Bo is. I also love how Swan manages to show how sweet and caring Anders is, without giving up his natural reserve — he’s still mostly grumpy, but with a squishy heart within.

There’s also a parallel story line running throughout about Signy’s childhood. With these types of books, I’m often more intrigued by the historical storyline than the contemporary one, but in this case, I never really got engaged in Signy’s story. Most likely, it’s because she was only 14 when the major events in her story happen, and so wasn’t privy to some of the more compelling elements — I think I’d much prefer to have heard from her older sister Margot. Swan does try to draw some symbolic parallels between Signy and Bo, but it felt weak.

Like any good holiday read, the ending was heartwarming and sweet. I thought some elements were wrapped up somewhat abruptly, and I wasn’t thrilled with how they ultimately dealt with the Instagram troll (like, I understand the emotions behind it, but yikes). But overall, I enjoyed the book.

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Thank you to Publishers Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.