Friday, December 22, 2017

Review: The Christmas Secret

Another year, another Karen Swan Christmas novel! I admit that I don't really consider Swan's winter releases as Christmas books anymore. The holiday might be in the title but it's not really in the story. Now that I'm approaching them that way, I enjoy them a lot more. Swan's most recent, The Christmas Secret, was lovely and is probably my favourite of all of her holiday novels! 

Here's the synopsis:
Alex Hyde is in demand. An executive coach par excellence, she's the person who the Great and the Good turn to when the pressure gets too much - she can change the way they think, how they operate; she can turn around the very fortunes of their companies.
Her waiting list is months' long, but even she can't turn down the highly lucrative crisis call that comes her way a few weeks before Christmas, regarding the troublesome - and troubled - head of an esteemed whisky company in Scotland. Lochlan Farquhar, CEO of Kentallen Distilleries, is a maverick, an enigma and a renegade, and Alex needs to get inside his head before he brings the company to its knees.
It should be business as usual. She can do this in her sleep. Only, when she gets to the remote island of Islay, with the winter snow falling, Alex finds herself out of her comfort zone. Memories she would rather forget come back to haunt her. For once she's not in control, but with Christmas and her deadline fast approaching, she must win Lochlan's trust.
Yet as she fulls ever closer to him, boundaries become blurred, loyalties loosen and Alex finds herself faced with an impossible choice as she realizes nothing and no one is as they first seemed. 
I loved Alex. She was a bit difficult to like and that's why I loved her. I'm glad Swan wrote such a strong, successful, confident woman. Alex kicks ass and takes names and has nothing to apologize for (you don't see Lochlan or any of the other men running Kentallen Distilleries apologizing for being successful now do you?) Even though I liked her right away, the more I learned about Alex, the more I liked her. She starts to let her guard down a little bit and it was so nice to read as she realized that it's ok to open up to others and make friends and lasting connections.

Speaking of Alex opening up...I think the only thing that drove me a bit batty with this book was how long it took to explain Alex's background. I was fine with the other mystery taking awhile to be completely unraveled (I think I had it mostly figured out but it was still a bit of a surprise when it was all unveiled!). I think that was because it was an actual mystery whereas Alex's secret was something that she didn't feel she could or should share, even when she was starting to open up with Lochlan. But the historical secret that impacts so much of present day? I loved it and it added an extra depth to the overall story.

I was surprised at how much I loved the setting of this novel. I don't know family is Scottish so I'm always drawn to books set there. But a story set at a distillery was really interesting. I learned a bit about the whisky making business (and I hope Swan did a lot of research - you know the kind ;) - while writing this book!) but it wasn't so overwhelming that I felt like it was all whisky, all the time. It was unique and definitely one I'll think about for awhile yet.

The Christmas Secret was a really lovely and enjoyable read. I did not want to put it down! I was sad when it was over but Karen Swan wrote such a great story with an ending that left me feeling fulfilled. The last few Swan novels have been so great and I'm really hopeful her next one will be just as fantastic!

*An advanced copy was provided by the distributor, Publisher's Group Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe

I'm a big Jane Austen fan so when I realized Melissa de la Cruz had written Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, an updated, Christmastime, gender swapped version of Pride and Prejudice, I was sold. Happily, I really enjoyed it even though it's a super fast read.

Here's the synopsis:
Darcy Fitzwilliam is 29, beautiful, successful, and brilliant. She dates hedge funders and basketball stars and is never without her three cellphones—one for work, one for play, and one to throw at her assistant (just kidding). Darcy’s never fallen in love, never has time for anyone else’s drama, and never goes home for Christmas if she can help it. But when her mother falls ill, she comes home to Pemberley, Ohio, to spend the season with her dad and little brother.
Her parents throw their annual Christmas bash, where she meets one Luke Bennet, the smart, sardonic slacker son of their neighbor. Luke is 32 and has never left home. He’s a carpenter and makes beautiful furniture, and is content with his simple life. He comes from a family of five brothers, each one less ambitious than the other. When Darcy and Luke fall into bed after too many eggnogs, Darcy thinks it’s just another one night stand. But why can’t she stop thinking of Luke? What is it about him? And can she fall in love, or will her pride and his prejudice against big-city girls stand in their way?
I had taken a quick look at Goodreads to see what others thought of this book and one comment stuck out for me: that the synopsis doesn't quite match with the actual story. Though it really doesn't have much to do with my overall thoughts on the novel, I do think the synopsis should reflect what's actually happening in the book. I don't think it's ever mentioned in the story that she has multiple cell phones (she adores her assistant), she doesn't meet Luke at the party because they went to school together, Luke is not a slacker, and they don't have a one night stand. They literally sleep together after Darcy passes out from a few too many drinks. I think most people who are reading this for a Pride and Prejudice retelling won't care too much about the discrepancies because, if they're anything like me, they didn't even pay too much attention to the synopsis in the first place. But someone else who's going into this not knowing much about the original story might be frustrated with the story they ended up with.

The novel is quite short - just over 200 pages - so it couldn't faithfully follow Austen's novel. But I actually really liked how de la Cruz updated and tweaked the story to suit her needs and the present day. Characters were added (Darcy has a bunch of brothers instead of just one opposite gender sibling) or taken away (there's no Lady Catherine de Bourgh in this story but Darcy's dad sort of plays that role), and some even changed pretty drastically (Darcy's BFF Bingley is still a man but Jane became Jim so there's a gay romance in play too). Even with all the changes, it all seemed to work for me. I liked that I knew how the story would play out but wasn't totally sure how it would do so. It's not quite Lizzie Bennet Diaries level amazing but it's pretty good as far as adaptations/retellings go.

This was a really easy read for me. I read it in about two hours over the course of two days. Part of that is because I'm a super fast reader, but I think it's also because I already sort of knew how the story would play out and also because it was written in such a way that wasn't too difficult to read.

Like most Christmas books these days, the holiday aspect of the book isn't overpowering. The book begins around Christmas and there is a big fancy Christmas party as well as some caroling. Plus, mistletoe does play a pretty big part in Darcy and Luke's relationship. So, if you want Christmas, you've got it. If you'd rather the holiday didn't play a part, well, know that it's not a huge one. I personally love Christmas stories so I always want more festive cheer than less but I can understand why it's usually played down in books.

Overall, Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe was a fun holiday read. Like I said, I'm a Jane Austen fan so I came into it with that lens and knowing the original story fairly well but I'd be really interested to see what those who haven't read Austen's novel think about it. Melissa de la Cruz's latest is a good one to pick up during the holidays not just because it's a good read but also for its hints of Christmas cheer.

*An advanced uncorrected proof was provided by the distributor, Raincoast Books, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, December 18, 2017

Review: Moonlight Over Manhattan

It's been an absolute delight reading Sarah Morgan's From Manhattan with Love series. I brought the latest one, Moonlight Over Manhattan, with me on a recent vacation because I knew it would be the perfect beach read and because it would help me get in the holiday spirit while on said beach. Though, I must say, reading a Christmassy book while in Australia was an interesting experience!

Here's the synopsis:
She'll risk everything for her own Christmas miracle...
Determined to conquer a lifetime of shyness, Harriet Knight challenges herself to do one thing a day in December that scares her, including celebrating Christmas without her family. But when dog walker Harriet meets her newest client, exuberant spaniel Madi, she adds an extra challenge to her list--dealing with Madi's temporary dog sitter, gruff doctor Ethan Black, and their very unexpected chemistry.
Ethan thought he was used to chaos, until he met Madi--how can one tiny dog cause such mayhem? To Ethan, the solution is simple--he will pay Harriet to share his New York apartment and provide twenty-four-hour care. But there's nothing simple about how Harriet makes him feel.
Ethan's kisses make Harriet shine brighter than the stars over moonlit Manhattan. But when his dog-sitting duties are over and Harriet returns to her own home, will she dare to take the biggest challenge of all--letting Ethan know he has her heart for life, not just for Christmas?
I had the warm and fuzzies as soon as I started reading this book. I loved the way Harriet and Ethan met! It was such a sweet meet cute and I loved the twist Morgan threw in that had them come together once again. Their second meeting was a bit tough to read - and I don't think this will be too spoilery - as Ethan's anger at the way his day had gone resulted in him yelling at Harriet. If you've read the other stories you'll know that Harriet had a really rough childhood and his anger triggered her stammer. But Morgan knows how to write her heroes and Ethan quickly figured out that he was the issue and he worked hard to correct his behaviour. Harriet didn't trust him right away - rightfully so - but she could see that he was genuine in his desire to make things right. It was really sweet to read.

I absolutely loved getting to know Harriet more. Especially because she was trying so hard to become more assertive and less shy. I can totally identify with that and am in awe at some of the things she made herself do. She didn't want to rely on her (super amazing) support system so much and that's admirable but I also think that, at times, she pushed them away too much. It was like she swung too far into the "I am going to do this on my own and I absolutely cannot accept any help from my siblings." I think that was a bit of a mistake but I can understand why she was feeling like that.

Morgan has worked her series Puffin Island, into this series before so I wasn't too surprised to see the O'Neil Brothers pop up in this story. Unsurprising, maybe, but not unwelcome. I thought the setting of the ski lodge was perfect (note to self: read more books set at ski lodges) and seeing Harriet and Ethan bond even more in such a picturesque setting was lovely. I especially love the date idea Ethan came up with. It was perfect! ( date spoilers here.) And, even though I've only read one of the O'Neil Brothers series (always wanted to read the rest but just never found the time), it was really nice to catch up with the family.

Like most Christmas romances, this book isn't overly Christmassy. The focus in this book was more on how Harriet was trying to stand on her own two feet and allowing her siblings to have Christmas with their new significant others. She knew she could have gone to see her grandmother in the Hamptons, or stayed with Fliss and Seth (their story was Holiday in the Hamptons and you can read my review here if you missed it) but she wanted to stay in New York City for the holidays. Now, I've never been in NYC for Christmas (only ever been once in my life) but I've read enough holiday stories and seen enough movies to know that it really does look like a magical place in December. (And, yes, I'm aware these shows and books show it as picture perfect and it's probably not but let me have this vision, ok?). I could see why Harriet would want to stay in the city and enjoy all that it has to offer during the holiday season. Plus, it allowed for a really sweet scene with Harriet and Ethan later on in the book!

Small sides note: if you're a dog lover, you'll love this one. Harriet understands dogs at a whole other level and Morgan is able to write her in such a way that you can really see how talented she is at working with animals.

I really hope there's going to be another From Manhattan with Love novel but I have a feeling Sarah Morgan has reached the end of the stories she has to tell from New York City. Ever story in this series has been so heartwarming, sweet, funny, and a little sexy. If it is the end, Moonlight Over Manhattan was a great novel to end on. It very well might be my favourite of the six! If you want a nice Christmas-ish read this holiday season, this is one to pick up!

PS I really did bring it to the beach!

*An advanced copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Harlequin, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*