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Christmas Reading Challenge – 05 – Home for Christmas – Debbie Macomber

Delighted and excited to announce that @BookElfLeeds has a brand new reading challenge!

Jess had decided to seek out the Christmas Spirit in contemporary fiction. And like all good reading challenges; there’s a strict criteria to be followed. 

  1. The book must have Christmas in the title. 
  2. Some one has lost the Christmas Spirit.
  3. A Christmas Miracle will therefore have to occur.
  4. Some one will then regain the Christmas Spirit.

So please, make yourself comfy and enjoy the 5th review!

Who has lost the Christmas Spirit?

In the first story it’s Texas cowboy Cal and his Big City Wife Jane. In the second story, a train carriage full of strangers.

How does the Christmas Miracle appear?

Through Talking To Each Other. This is a message of quite a few Christmas stories, apparently, that honesty and listening are Good Things in relationships. And Learning About Emotional Labour.

Debbie Macomber is pretty much the whole reason I’ve taken on this challenge. She is the “official storyteller of Christmas” according to her website and you will see a Christmas book by her out pretty much every year. She has written hundreds, literally hundreds, of books, several of which have been adapted as Hallmark movies, included the Cedar Cove series starring Andie McDowell, and is an incredibly popular and beloved romance and general warm and fuzzies author. I’ve never read anything by her and am so happy to correct that obvious mistake.

This book was two short novellas in one, so I am definitely going to read another Debbie Macomber by the end of the challenge as I want to see what she’s like in a full-length novel version.

The first story comes from her Heart of Texas series, set in the small town of Promise, and includes characters that are clearly part of a longer story arc. Cal and Jane are not hugely happily married, Cal is a bit of a dick to be honest. When Jane’s father is taken ill and she has to move back to California with the two small children in tow, the apparent cracks in the marriage grow wider, exacerbated by the interference of Alan Rickman’s Evil Secretary From Love Actually style husband hunter Nicole. Needless to say, Cal has till Christmas to get his act together in order to save his family. With a weirdly feminist-without-mentioning-it message about emotional labour and its impact on women, this is a nice story with a good message.

The second story, which is a standalone short, is just pure Christmas schmaltz joy. A group of strangers, including requisite Stressed Businessman, New Mother Who Isn’t Coping Because Her Partner Is Being A Douche, Cute Child, and Grieving But Ultimately Decent Widow, are trapped together in a small railway station during a snow storm on Christmas Eve. The obvious happens and each, in their own way, rediscovers the magic of Christmas. I read this story in one sitting on the train home from work and, not going to lie, I did look around at my fellow passengers and think “if this was us, what would happen?” and it did give me fuzzies because my thought was “we’d be alright”. A reminder that most people are decent if given enough time and room to be so, which I think we all need right now.

Listen to @BookElfLeeds and I introduce the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge – HERE 

Or just click here!

Review 01 – Nine Lives of Christmas

Review 02 – The Christmas Secret

Review 03 – Last Christmas

Review 04 – Lakeshore Christmas

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Christmas Reading Challenge – 04 – Lakeshore Christmas – Susan Wiggs

Delighted and excited to announce that @BookElfLeeds has a brand new reading challenge!

Jess had decided to seek out the Christmas Spirit in contemporary fiction. And like all good reading challenges; there’s a strict criteria to be followed. 

  1. The book must have Christmas in the title. 
  2. Some one has lost the Christmas Spirit.
  3. A Christmas Miracle will therefore have to occur.
  4. Some one will then regain the Christmas Spirit.

So please, make yourself comfy and enjoy the 4th review!

Who has lost the Christmas Spirit?

Former child-star Eddie Haven.

In what form does the Christmas Miracle appear?

Frumpy town librarian Maureen-glasses, bun, twin set and all.

You can probably figure out the issue I had with this book. I am allowing myself a three sentence rant and then I’m done, but I highly recommend “The Librarian Stereotype; Deconstructing Perceptions & Presentations of Information Work”, edited by Pagowsky and Rigby, and which I reviewed for the Journal of Radical Librarianship last year, on why the stereotypical image of frumpy librarian is problematically sexist and racist. Link HERE

The main issue I have with librarian-as frump is that it allows a the professionalization of a  femocentric career to be derailed by the assumption that value within woman hood can only be given through approval of male gaze. Maureen is valued by her community for her caring service, her family for her kind and thoughtful presence, and is clearly valued by her professional network in that she is an invited speaker at a “library meeting in Long Island” (that we never hear about other than in passing but given the time of year and location is presumably is a ALA Chapter meeting and therefore a Bloody Big Deal), and got the position of manager of a public library right out of library school, which only happens to the very very lucky, or the very very good. And yet, obviously, she has to realise that she is worthy of a man’s love in order to be happy and can only do this by putting in contacts and letting down her hair. Gah.

Right, that rant aside, I was properly sucked in to this book. Part of a longer series set in the community of Willow Lake, and including a sub-plot surrounding a young single mother making good which presumably runs throughout the series, this was a truly charming read.

The town library is in danger of closing, as public funds just aren’t available to keep it running and the Traditional Christmas Evil Capitalist won’t give the building reduced rent. At the same time, Eddie Haven is fulfilling his community service and helping with the Town Pagent…but is Eddie’s bad boy persona and apparent hatred of Christmas masking a Deeper Hurt?

Well yes, obviously it is. Really mushy in places, this gave me a couple of fuzzies, which were only slightly dampened by the ridiculous portrayal of librarianship.

On a more serious note, libraries up and down the country are being decimated by cuts, with staff being made redundant to be replaced by volunteers. There are a multitude of campaigns you can support, but the biggest difference would be to demand a professional library service and use libraries that employ people, make sure you sign your whole family up, and get to know what services your libraries provide-I recently passed my theory test through using the free practice tests available through Kirklees libraries for example.

Listen to @BookElfLeeds and I introduce the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge – HERE 

Or just click here!

Review 01 – Nine Lives of Christmas

Review 02 – The Christmas Secret

Review 03 – Last Christmas

Christmas Reading Challenge – 03 – Last Christmas – Julia Williams

Delighted and excited to announce that @BookElfLeeds has a brand new reading challenge!

Jess had decided to seek out the Christmas Spirit in contemporary fiction. And like all good reading challenges; there’s a strict criteria to be followed. 

  1. The book must have Christmas in the title. 
  2. Some one has lost the Christmas Spirit.
  3. A Christmas Miracle will therefore have to occur.
  4. Some one will then regain the Christmas Spirit.

So please, make yourself comfy and enjoy the third review!

Who has lost the Christmas spirit?

Oh God, everybody

In what form does the Christmas Miracle occur?

Slight spoiler, but this is Proper It’s A Wonderful life territory here. Though the actual Christmas Miracle is “People Rejecting Consumerism”.

This is proper full blown mid to late noughties chick lit, with all the appropriate tropes. There’s the middle class couple who live beyond their means, have a stereotypically foreign and awful au pair, and Don’t Have Time For Each Other. There’s the mousy school teacher looking for love, the heart-broken single dad with the cute kid with a Secret Talent, the bossy large-bosomed matron who gets her comeuppance, and, because this is just post-credit crunch, the nasty capitalist with a hidden agenda.

The various characters all have had issues that come to a head the Christmas before, which are explored over time, and all are in need of getting their shit together. One of the sub plots involves the mental health of a partner, which isn’t dealt with as sensitively as it would be were the book written now, as our thinking about depression has changed so much in the last ten years, but apart from that, this is all rather jolly, if very predictable.

I really enjoyed this! It was incredibly nostalgic to read something that used jokes about older people talking about “Interwebs” and “Skiiing the Net” and where the teenagers still text each other. This was also incredibly Christmassy. The majority of the action is set in the village of Hope Christmas, and characters have names like Noel Tinsall. The hunky shepherd is also called Gabriel, which was pleasing. Occasional fuzzies were felt.

Listen to @BookElfLeeds and I introduce the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge – HERE 

Or just click here!

Review 01 – Nine Lives of Christmas

Review 02 – The Christmas Secret

CHRISTMAS READING CHALLENGE – 02 – The Christmas Secret – Karen Swan

Delighted and excited to announce that @BookElfLeeds has a brand new reading challenge!

Jess had decided to seek out the Christmas Spirit in contemporary fiction. And like all good reading challenges; there’s a strict criteria to be followed. 

  1. The book must have Christmas in the title. 
  2. Some one has lost the Christmas Spirit.
  3. A Christmas Miracle will therefore have to occur.
  4. Some one will then regain the Christmas Spirit.

So please, make yourself comfy and enjoy the first review!

Who has lost the Christmas Spirit?

Scottish distillery owner Lachlan and management consultant/walking TED talk Alex Hyde.

What form does the Christmas Spirit take?

Depending on what way you read it either sexual passion, The Socratic Questioning Method, Friendship, or Scottish landlady Mrs Peggie.

Alex Hyde is consultant extraordinaire. Her “techniques” to get CEOs back on track has won her fortune and fame all over the world, despite being relatively young at only 31. She is called in by the Chairman of whisky company, Kentallan’s, to manage out their CEO, Lachlan, whose volatile nature and apparently poor business strategies are on the brink of ruining the company.

Of course, Lachlan turns out to be hot and mid-thirties and single, with multiple problems of his own, trust issues, and a whole heap of history. He’s definitely in need of a Christmas Miracle. Alex herself is a designer brand-checking city girl who is disgusted by the idea of sharing a bathroom at the quaint Islay farmhouse she ends up staying in whilst working on Lachlan. She won’t touch shortbread and prefers vodka to a nice dram. Clearly in need of a miracle herself.

As Alex learns more about Lachlan’s life, and the distillery, she begins to unravel a complicated man who just needs to learn to love again. Can she save the business? And can she save Lachlan? Or will then end up saving each other?

I’m not sure what to make of this book. The author has clearly done her research into the whisky industry, and tells us all about it in great detail. My boyfriend is an Islay whisky nut, so I found this really interesting, but I’m not sure how much it advanced the romance plot! It read in parts as if she went to Islay on holiday and fell in love with it (and whisky tasting!), and had also recently learnt a bit about Socratic questioning and how it can be used within management consultation, then had to write a book because she was contractually obliged to do so, so decided to mash these two things together. There’s a flashback-a-hundred-years subplot that doesn’t work and feel tagged on, and parts where Alex is doing her management bollocks or describing the production of whisky I skim read because to be honest they were really really boring. Alex’s “consultations” were especially painful to read, but I am not the target market as I think that most of the self-help market is bollocks. If that’s not you, you might find these bits interesting, even enlightening, me, I’ll stick with Inspirobot

BUT I did end up enjoying this book. I bought it at Manchester Piccadilly train station and read the first half on a very busy Saturday night train with white noise in my ears and it did distract me in a lovely escapism way. The history of Islay is really interesting, part of me wanted her to expand that bit and get rid of the business-speak side.

It was also a bit weird to be reading a book set in December 2017 where the characters are of an age with me, but speak in a way I just do not recognise-they talk like chick lit characters have been talking for the past twenty years, and therefore came across as more like people in middle age rather than early thirties. The occasional use of the word “hashtag” doth not a late-millennial make, Alex herself was just a completely unbelievable character. Lachlan, meanwhile, steps straight off the pages of Danielle Steele.

The best characters in this are the Scottish landlady, Mrs Peggie, and her silent but amazing farmer husband. The subplot of the history of the sinking of the Tuscania and the affect it had on the island in genuinely moving and I’d love to read another romance novel that centres on this

Karen Swan has a back-catalogue of Christmas yarns that I am keen to delve into, and I’m glad this challenge found me a new author that I will be exploring further-I would never normally have bought this book. Again, no major warm and fuzzies, but I will be adding her name to my beach-read wishlist.

Listen to @BookElfLeeds and I introduce the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge – HERE 

Or just click here!

Review 01 – Nine Lives of Christmas

CHRISTMAS READING CHALLENGE – 01 – Nine Lives of Christmas – Sheila Roberts

Delighted and excited to announce that @BookElfLeeds has a brand new reading challenge!

Jess had decided to seek out the Christmas Spirit in contemporary fiction. And like all good reading challenges; there’s a strict criteria to be followed. 

  1. The book must have Christmas in the title. 
  2. Some one has lost the Christmas Spirit.
  3. A Christmas Miracle will therefore have to occur.
  4. Some one will then regain the Christmas Spirit.

So please, make yourself comfy and enjoy the first review!

Who has lost the Christmas Spirit?

Firefighter and all-round hunk, Zach. Zach’s a basically decent guy with an unfortunate penchant for treating women as objects, but it’s not his fault, man, he is issues.

What form does the Christmas Miracle occur?

An old ginger cat called Ambrose. Ambrose is on his last life (the ninth of the title), and feels guilty that he’s wasted the rest of them. He just wants to live! He promises The Christmas Spirit that he will make someone’s life better if only he can live, and guess whose life that ends up being…

Hyper-masculine Zach doesn’t need women, they’re nothing but trouble, and relationships only end in misery, don’t they? But when he rescues Ambrose from the snarling jaws of a Rottweiler, Ambrose makes it his personal mission to make Zach’s life better, which obviously means getting him a decent mate.

The chosen love interest is Merilee, who, sad upon sad, used to be fat. But don’t worry, gang, she isn’t any more! She now has a “hot body” and is cute in an elfish red haired way. But of course, she has zero self-esteem. Because she used to be fat. Sad.

This book is a mix of mad-cap cat inspired japes and fatphobia. There are baddies and goodies, but the line between the two is very much Do You Like Cats? Zach’s redemption story is quite sweet, involving appreciating family and learning to accept your parents as people who make mistakes, but Merilee’s lesson that you have to buy lovely clothes and stay thin in order to achieve happiness, which is man shaped, grates. Ambrose the cat is the best thing in it. I also loved how the town had a suitably Christmassy name, “Angel Falls”, and representation of firefighters as hunky heroes with a heart.

I didn’t hate this book, but it didn’t give me many warm and fuzzies. It HAS however been adapted as a Hallmark movie, WITH BRANDON ROUTH,  which I am not going to lie, I have marked up as Future Hangover Viewing…

 

Listen to @BookElfLeeds and I introduce the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge – HERE 

Or just click here!

PODCAST – The Quest for the Christmas Spirit

So much excitement!!

The podcast is back! Huzzah!!

And it’s back because @BookElfLeeds is doing a new reading challenge – the 12 reads of Christmas!! Huzzah huzzah!!!

She will mostly be reading books that follow a strict and very complex criteria (reviews will start tomorrow) which she sums up as

‘someone has lost (or does not have) The Christmas Spirit. There is The Christmas Miracle (oft aided by small children or animals). The person therefore finds (or gains) The Christmas Spirit.’

Also, it has to have Christmas in the title.

From A Christmas Carol to It’s a Wonderful Life, hallmark movies and children’s classics, tv specials and Christmas music – we take a moment to appreciate the hope behind the holiday.

One of the first books in the challenge was called ‘The Nine Lives of Christmas’ by Sheila Roberts, which was turned into a Hallmark Christmas movie in 2014, starring a former Superman.Enjoy!

mp3 LINK

m4a LINK

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