Monday, January 3, 2022

Review: Meet Me In London

I really wasn’t sure what to expect with Meet Me in London, Georgia Toffolo’s first novel. But the description sounded like fun and who doesn’t want to spend some time, albeit through a book, in London, leading up to Christmas?

Here’s the book’s description:
What do you do when your fake engagement starts to feel too real…
Aspiring clothes designer Victoria Scott spends her days working in a bar in Chelsea and her evenings designing vintage clothes, dreaming of one day opening her own boutique. But these aspirations are under threat from the new department store opening at the end of her road. She needs a Christmas miracle, but one is not forthcoming.
Oliver Russell’s Christmas is not looking very festive right now. His family’s new London department store opening is behind schedule, and on top of that his interfering, if well-meaning, mother is pressing him to introduce his girlfriend to her over the holidays—a girlfriend who does not exist. He needs a diversion…something to keep his mother from meddling while he focuses on the business.
When Oliver meets Victoria, he offers a proposition: pretend to be his girlfriend at the opening of his store and he will provide an opportunity for Victoria to showcase her designs. But what starts as a business arrangement soon becomes something more tempting as the fake relationship starts to feel very real. But when secrets in Victoria’s past are exposed, will Oliver walk away, or will they both follow their hearts and find what neither knew they were looking for…?
I liked that this book kind of played on the same storyline as You’ve Got Mail but, dare I say it, better. I adore the movie but I am always so bummed that (spoiler alert) Kathleen’s store has to close down in the end. In Toffolo’s novel, Oliver is doing his best to make sure his family’s department store doesn’t run anyone out of business, especially after Victoria lays out all of the potential harm the store can do in the neighbourhood. Oliver and Victoria seem more like equals and there were no hidden identities in this story.

There were however, some secrets, particularly on Victoria’s part. I wasn’t totally thrilled with how her past was revealed because I hate when there are little hints when there is absolutely no reason for them. Tell me the whole story so I don’t have to wonder (this isn’t true for all genres or storylines, of course). I could understand completely why she kept it from Oliver because he really didn’t need to know. They were strangers who were just pretending to be in love so he didn’t need to hear about her past. But the reader should know and I wish Toffolo had told us up front.

Fake dating is usually always a fun trope and this one delivered. Sure, Oliver and Victoria know absolutely nothing about each other but the reader can tell immediately that they have some chemistry and you can’t help but hope for them to realize they’re so much better off together as a real couple.

Meet Me in London isn’t super Christmassy but the Happily Ever After you expect from such a story does happen on Christmas - which is always lovely! I’m not sure yet if I’ll read the next books in the series but I still found Georgia Toffolo’s debut novel entertaining enough for a pre-holiday read.

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

Friday, December 24, 2021

Review: The Christmas Bookshop

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a Jenny Colgan novel and now that I’ve finished her latest, The Christmas Bookshop, I’m wondering why on earth I haven’t been reading each of her new books as they've released. I was entertained the entire time I was reading this one and absolutely adored the setting.

Here’s the book’s description:
When the department store she works in closes for good, Carmen has perilously little cash and few options. She doesn’t want to move in with her perfect sister Sofia, in Sofia’s perfect house with her perfect children and her perfectly ordered Edinburgh life.
Frankly, Sofia doesn’t exactly want Carmen there either. Her sister has always been sarcastic and difficult. But Sofia has yet another baby on the way, a mother desperate to see her daughters get along, and a client who needs a retail assistant for his ailing bookshop, so welcoming Carmen might still have some benefits for everyone.
At Sofia’s behest, Carmen is thrown into the daily workings of old Mr. McCredie’s ancient bookshop on the streets of the old dark city. Can she use her design skills to revamp the store and bring it back to popularity in time to benefit from Christmas shopping traffic? Can she choose between bad boy literary rock star Blair and quiet Quaker student Oke? And will she heal the rift with the most important people of all: her family?
Right off the bat I was in absolute heaven with the setting of this book. Not only is it all about a bookshop (swoon) but it’s a bookshop in Scotland! Edinburgh, to be specific. I’ve always had a soft spot for Scotland but after being in Edinburgh for a week back in early March 2020 (yep, squeaked that trip in just in time), I was even more enthralled with the book’s location. I could picture so many of the streets and areas Colgan described and I loved it. Armchair travel has been a saviour over the last almost two years so it was particularly delightful to read a book set in the last place I travelled to.

And the bookshop! Mr. McCredie was the sweetest old man and it was such a delight to see him open up to Carmen and, well, to life. He and his bookshop really came alive with her help. And they, in turn, really helped Carmen. It was so fun to read as they added Christmas touch after Christmas touch to the store and kept themselves (and their customers) entertained with toy mice and trains. I didn’t just want to visit Scotland again. I wanted to find this exact bookshop (crazy twisty aisles and rooms and all) and spend all day there.

What stopped me from LOVING this book wasn’t anything super specific - just a sort of feeling I got (or didn’t get) when I was reading it. Sometimes I felt scenes were told out of order but not so much so that it seemed like it was an editing mistake in my advanced egalley. And I also just really didn’t like the Blair storyline and couldn’t quite understand how self-absorbed Carmen was at some points. Was all that a dealbreaker? Definitely not. It’s still worth a read.

The final thing I absolutely loved about this book was the focus on relationships between sisters. I liked that the story was both Carmen’s and Sofia’s (though Carmen is definitely the main focus) and the pair working out their relationship was just as important as Carmen’s love life. If not more so. I found myself giggling at some points when the sisters (as well as Sofia’s two girls) were interacting because Colgan completely nailed what it’s like between sisters. I’d love to have another book about the pair so I could visit with them some more.

The Christmas Bookshop was a delightful wintery read (you don’t have to read it at Christmas) that I really enjoyed. I’m going to make a point of reading more of Jenny Colgan’s backlist and will definitely be paying attention to when her next book comes out!

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

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Review: The Certainty of Chance

I’ve been reading Jacquelyn Middleton’s novels for a number of years now and one of the things I love about her work is how her books can feel so different and yet familiar all at the same time. Her latest, The Certainty of Chance, reminded me of why I fell in love with her books so many years ago and why I’ll continue to read her novels as long as she keeps writing them. They’re entertaining and heartfelt with characters I can really relate to.

Here’s the book’s description:
There’s something about December...
Madeleine Joy is feeling more meh than merry. When an Icelandic volcano erupts six days before Christmas, hazardous ash congests European airspace, canceling flights indefinitely—including the thirtysomething's connection to Paris. Stranded alone in London, separated from her sister, and with the devastating one-year anniversary of her best friend’s tragic death just days away, Madeleine has never felt less festive. And as if things couldn’t get worse, the cute guy driving the cab to her hotel won’t shut up about carolers and tinsel…
Julian Halliwell is one of life’s sunny optimists. A former music journalist, he’s embraced his love for London by starting his own black cab business, enthusiastically ferrying passengers from one historic landmark to another. But life hasn’t always been easy for Julian. Having navigated several life-changing setbacks including a cruel betrayal by his former fiancĂ©e, Julian remains hopeful that he’ll meet somebody kind, who shares his love of music, his corgi named Winnie, and of course, the magic of Christmas time in London.
Despite being an unlikely match, fate seems determined to throw them together. But can the grieving American find joy again in a world where the lights have all but dimmed?
One of the things I loved about this book was a fairly simple thing: it takes place in London. At Christmas! I loved this for a couple of reasons. The first is that I, like many, many others, have not traveled much outside my own city in the last two years. Armchair travel to anywhere right now is great! The second reason is that my sister was in London while I was reading it (she's back home in Canada now). So as I was reading about Madeleine and Julian’s adventures in the city, I was able to picture my sister there too. She also read the book recently and I loved getting her messages as she got to certain parts. I got a number of “I’ve been there!” messages as well as photos showing exactly what Middleton was describing. Especially fun was that Middleton was also in London in November/December 2019, which is when my sister first landed in the city so they saw many of the exact same Christmas events and decorations that year. And, boy, was it magical. It really felt like I was experiencing the magic of Christmas in London and I really hope one day I can see it in person.

It’s not all Christmas joy, either. Madeleine suffered a loss a year prior when one of her closest friends passed away (perhaps a minor spoiler but I think this is an important warning, especially around this time of year). She slowly begins to find the joy in the festivity around her and it was lovely to read as she opened up over the course of the novel.

Speaking of warnings, I love that Middleton is always super clear and descriptive about the potential triggers in her books. Many of her characters deal with mental health struggles and it’s fantastic that we, as readers, can see those characters in contemporary romances. Plus, Middleton is writing from experience and treats those storylines with the utmost respect. Triggers aren’t mentioned as often in romances - though that’s changing - and it’s impossible to mention them all (I have a very particular one that’s hardly ever mentioned) but Middleton makes sure to thoughtfully think about what her readers might find difficult and mentions them at the beginning of the book.

And the romance! It was such a lovely story as Madeleine and Julian randomly met and had to decide if they’d give into the feelings they clearly had for each other even though Madeleine was only going to be in London for such a short period of time. Julian might be my favourite of all the male characters Middleton has written and has been added to my (long) list of book boyfriends.

I highly recommend you pick up a copy of The Certainty of Chance sometime before the holiday season ends. Jacquelyn Middleton’s latest novel will have you feeling all the feels, including wanderlust and Christmas spirit.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the author in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Review: The Holiday Swap

I had been eagerly awaiting the publication day of The Holiday Swap since authors Marissa Stapley and Karma Brown announced they had written it together under the name Maggie Knox. And that was sometime back in 2020. Needless to say, my expectations were through the roof. And guess what? It totally delivered. I absolutely adored the festive rom com and think it’s a must read for fellow romance readers this holiday season.

Here’s the book’s description:

All they want for Christmas is a different life.
When chef Charlie Goodwin gets hit on the head on the L.A. set of her reality baking show, she loses a lot more than consciousness; she also loses her ability to taste and smell--both critical to her success as show judge. Meanwhile, Charlie's identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown while running the family's bustling bakery and dealing with her ex, who won't get the memo that they're over.
With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven't done since they were kids: switch places. Looking for her own escape from reality, Cass agrees. But temporarily trading lives proves more complicated than they imagined, especially when rugged firefighter Jake Greenman and gorgeous physician's assistant Miguel Rodriguez are thrown into the mix. Will the twins' identity swap be a recipe for disaster, or does it have all the right ingredients for getting their lives back on track?
Just like In a Holidaze last year (also by an author duo, this time Christina Lauren), Knox delivered a classic rom com - but updated for 2021. The premise - identical twins swapping lives at Christmas - is perfectly set up for hijinks, miscommunication, and characters learning more about themselves. But even though it seems ridiculous and far-fetched, it totally worked. Of course, you have to enjoy these types of stories but I definitely do so the story completely captivated me. I was laughing and swooning and enjoyed the entire book.

I love watching baking shows (who else absolutely loves Great British Bake Off?) so the fact that Charlie works on a baking competition program was too much fun. And be warned: you're going to want all of the baked goods while reading this book!

There’s city living as Cass experiences the best of LA and small town charm with Charlie in Starlight Peak where the women grew up. I really liked the balance of small town and big city in this story. You might not picture Starlight Peak as Stars Hollow but I, Stapley, and many, many readers all did!

And the relationships! Swoon! The connections between the women and the men they meet were immediate and so delightful to read about. Neither woman needs a man to solve their problems and the men Knox wrote are wonderful and supportive.

The Holiday Swap is romantic comedy at its finest. Both sisters have important career decisions to make but romance is at the heart of the story and readers will be left with a smile on their faces as they finish the delightful novel Maggie Knox has written. 

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, December 13, 2021

Review: The Christmas Escape

Sarah Morgan has been on my “auto-read” list for years now. I’ve enjoyed her last few holiday novels so I was really looking forward to reading her latest, The Christmas Escape. Published back in October, the novel delivers cozy, Christmas feelings all while giving the reader some serious wanderlust.

Here’s the book’s description:
It was supposed to be Christy Sullivan’s perfect Christmas getaway—a trip to Lapland with her family and best friend, Alix. But facing a make-or-break marriage crisis, Christy desperately needs time alone with her husband. Her solution? Alix can take Christy’s little daughter to Lapland, and they will reunite there for Christmas Day. It’s a big ask, but what else are friends for?
There’s nothing Alix won’t do for Christy. But Christy’s request to save Christmas is giving Alix sleepless nights. She knows something is wrong, but for the first time ever, Christy isn’t talking. And even the Arctic temperatures in Lapland aren’t enough to dampen the seriously inconvenient sizzle Alix is developing for Zac, a fellow guest and nemesis from her past.
As secrets unravel and unexpected romance shines under the northern lights, can Christy and Alix’s Christmas escape give them the courage to fight for the relationships they really want, and save the precious gift of each other’s friendship?
The novel is told through alternating chapters from Alix and Christy, with a few from Robyn’s perspective as well. I liked getting to know all three women but definitely feel like there wasn’t an even emphasis on the two best friends. I enjoyed reading about Alix more (you always have a favourite with these types of books - don’t try to deny it) but her storyline was very heavily focused on the romance (which I really enjoyed). Chrissy’s storyline was also about her romantic relationship but there were a ton more issues surrounding it than just waiting to see if she and her husband would be able to rekindle their marriage.

There’s some great armchair travel opportunities in this book. The women both live in England - Alix with a glamorous lifestyle in London as she works her high level marketing job, and Christy living an idyllic life in a cottage in a small village outside of the city. But not only did this Canadian get a taste of England but they all travel to Lapland (part of Finland) for Christmas. I’ve never been to Finland and Morgan made it seem so incredibly magical. I want to stay in Robyn’s cabins at her spa! I especially loved how excited Christy’s daughter was about spending the holidays surrounded by snow and reindeer.

If you’re looking for a contemporary fiction read that’s heavy on the romance and travel inspiration, The Christmas Escape is for you. Sarah Morgan’s latest novel combines Christmas, family, and love in a nice novel that’s perfect for curling up with next to the fire. 

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

Monday, October 25, 2021

Cover Reveal: Escaping Christmas

It shouldn't be a secret that I've loved Marie Landry's novels for a long time. They always make me so happy! So I'm really excited to share the cover for her upcoming novel, Escaping Christmas! Yes, she has another book coming out this year! Yay! 

Here's the book's description:
What happens when the so-called Queen of Christmas feels more like Scrooge? In actress Josslyn Hazelwood’s case, she decides to escape it all: the heartache and mess of her very public divorce, the press, and, most of all, the holidays and everything that comes with them. Spending a few weeks in the small town of Honeywell Hollow as “just Joss” is exactly what she needs.
Liam Doherty is happy to help Joss test her BFF’s theory that the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else. Her no-strings-attached holiday fling soon becomes more entangled than a string of Christmas lights, and she finds herself not only caught up in a whirlwind romance with Liam, but also getting sucked into the festive fun of Honeywell.
Joss knows she’s falling for both Liam and Honeywell, but the ghost of Christmas Past is determined to visit this Scrooge after all. No matter how much she tries to escape her past and Christmas, she’s forced to confront them both before she can appreciate the gifts of Christmas Present.

It sounds like just the kind of magical and romantic Christmas tale I love.

Ready for the cover?

I AM IN LOVE. Just absolutely swooning over here.

Escaping Christmas is releasing on November 22 so get those preorders in. Especially because it will cost a little bit less for you if you do! The ebook is available for pre-order on Kindle (for just $2.99!), Kobo, Apple Books, and Nook. Paperbacks will be available during release week (if not sooner).

And for those who love to know just what you're getting into when it comes to you romances, here are your tropes: contemporary romance, holiday fling, Christmas romance, small town romance, celebrity romance, Canadian romance, steamy romance.

I cannot wait to dive into this one!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Review: Secrets at Bletchley Park

I don't know about you but I find the work that was done at Bletchley Park during World War II to be absolutely fascinating. There's still a lot of mystery around it but after reading The Rose Code by Kate Quinn earlier this year, I wanted to know everything. So, when I was offered the chance to review Secrets at Bletchley Park by Margaret Dickinson I jumped at it. Turns out it wasn't exactly the kind of novel I was expecting. It wasn't bad but I wish I had realized beforehand what I was getting into.

Here's the book's description:
In Secrets at Bletchley Park by Margaret Dickinson, two young women from very different backgrounds meet in the Second World War and are plunged into a life where security and discretion are paramount. But both have secrets of their own to hide . . .
In 1929, life for 10-year-old Mattie Price, born and raised in the back streets of Sheffield, is tough. With a petty thief for a father and a mother, who turns to the bottle to cope with her husband’s brutish ways, it is left to the young girl and her brother, Joe, to feed and care for their three younger siblings. But Mattie has others rooting for her too. The Spencer family, who live at the top of the same street, and Mattie’s teachers recognize that the girl is clever beyond her years and they, and Joe, are determined that she shall have the opportunity in life she deserves.
Victoria Hamilton, living in the opulence of London’s Kensington, has all the material possessions that a young girl could want. But her mother, Grace, a widow from the Great War, is cold and distant, making no secret of the fact that she never wanted a child. Grace lives her life in the social whirl of upper-class society, leaving Victoria in the care of her governess and the servants. At 11 years old, Victoria is sent to boarding school where for the first time in her young life she is able to make friends of her own age.
Mattie and Victoria are both set on a path that will bring them together at Bletchley Park in May 1940. An unlikely friendship between the two young women is born and together they will face the rest of the war keeping the nation’s secrets and helping to win the war. They can tell no one, not even their families, about their work or even where they are. But keeping the secrets is second nature to both of them . . .
Considering the length of that description, you'd think I'd know what was what when I went into reading this book. Um. Nope. Not so much. The story is divided into three equal parts. Part one follows Mattie from 1929 through to 1940 when she arrives at Bletchley Park. Part two goes back in time and tells the story of what Victoria was up to during the same time period. And then part three is the pair's story together from 1940 until just past the end of the war in 1945. Considering the title, I was kind of expecting more than just a third of the novel to take place at, you know, Bletchley Park. So that was a disappointment. 

It shouldn't be a surprise to longtime readers of the blog that I love historical fiction and very much enjoy WWII novels. Because of that, I feel like I've learned a lot of facts about the war that have made those school history lessons from way back when come to life and stick in my mind a little bit more. I consider a historical fiction novel good, in part, when it doesn't feel like a textbook. This novel was kinda like that. The details about the war that were shared were pretty basic - at least in my opinion. There wasn't a single unknown event or incident in the entire novel for me. Not that I know everything or even a ton about the mentioned events but it was all surface level information. Is this a bad thing? No. What I think this means is that I was not the target demographic for this novel. I think if there's a reader who enjoys history but doesn't necessarily want the nitty gritty or wants to be reminded of the big events and how they impacted people, this is the kind of story for them. Not necessarily one like me who reads a ton of WWII set novels every year.

What made this novel more enjoyable for me was the way Dickinson told her characters' stories. I couldn't quite figure out how to describe the way she wrote the novel. There were a lot of characters. It was all told in third person so the perspective jumped around from character to character even though Mattie and Victoria were the main threads of the story. Anyway. I didn't know how to explain what this was like until I noticed a Daily Express review on the back of the book where they called Dickinson, "The Queen of Saga." Saga! That was it. This was a sweeping story that impacted a lot of characters and you were immersed in their lives. That's where Dickinson shines.

So, Secrets at Bletchley Park wasn't a winner for me but I'm still glad I read Margaret Dickinson's novel. She introduced me to some wonderful characters who I really felt for as I read their stories over the course of the novel. 

*A copy of this novel was provided by the Canadian distributor, PGC Books, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*