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Book Review: A Hopeful Christmas, by Walker, Bessey, Kelly & Jensen

This was a bit of a late addition to the Christmas Reading Challenge, because the book almost got missed; lost in my shelves as so often happens to books. But basically by accident, I stumbled across it and immediately set to reading it for this year’s challenge. (It was almost Christmas miracle-like, I tell ya.)

I won A Hopeful Christmas last year and had every intention of reading it then. I don’t remember now what back-burner-ed it. But it’s irrelevant, as I’ve read it now.
a hopeful christmas

Kindle the spirit of the season as four of your favorite storytellers weave tales of love and hope in this charming yuletide collection.

Lord Blakely’s Gift
When Miss Ivy Hunt and Lord Curtis Blakely establish a secret acquaintance, neither can deny that their feelings extend beyond friendship. But as the children of bitter rivals, it will take a Christmas miracle for this star-crossed pair to reach their happily ever after.

A Season Of Hope
Following the death of her father, Amelia knows Christmas will be lean. But when circumstances become dire, it is the unexpected arrival of a childhood friend that renews Amelia’s hope—both for the future and for love.

Christmas By The Sea
After two years at sea with the Royal Navy, surgeon Will Crenshaw longs for a quiet Christmas with his family. But when unrest at home threatens to ruin the holidays, it takes the kindly intervention of a mysterious house sitter to remind them of the true meaning of the season.

Expectations At CanterWood
Marina Rowley is a spinster, Richard Stanhope a war-weary military man. A case of mistaken identity throws them together, but the unexpected stirrings of their hearts lead to an unforgettable holiday romance.

my review

I’ll post individual reviews of each story—written at the conclusion of each—and then sum it all up with some general thoughts at the end.

Lord Blakely’s Gift, by Anneka R. Walker

I actually thought this was really sweet. The writing flowed well, the characters were relatable and likeable, and I was happy to see everyone get their happily-ever-after. Some of the changes of heart felt a little miraculous, but then they’re supposed to be. Personally, I would have been happier to have focused more of Christmas miracles and less on “pray for your Christmas miracles” and all the other sundry God bits. But this is from a Christian publisher. So, it is what it is and that’s 100% just personal preference, not quality related. Lord Blakeley’s Gift is a nice Christmas novella.

A Season Of Hope, by Sian Ann Bessey

I generally enjoyed this. I thought it was generally well written and very sweet, with likeable characters. I liked it so long as I ignore one thing. I have a large qualm with a small part of the story.

The story is set in 1816 and it’s stated that Philip had spent the previous 5 years working on his uncle’s sugar plantation in the West Indies. It’s stated that he worked hard, invested well, and returned wealthy. Here’s the thing, I’m no historian (so, I keep hoping I’m missing some knowledge that would make this untrue), but slavery wasn’t abolished until 1834 in the West Indies (and even then many previously enslaved peoples weren’t functionally free for several years past that, what with the forced apprenticeships and such). The story refers to the plantation’s “workers” more than once.

My issue is how effectively this language obscures the fact that Philip almost certainly must have spent the last 5 years actively participating in the enslavement of other human beings. This is not at all engaged in the story. In fact, I don’t think the reader is even supposed to notice it at all. But I have a hard time imagining both the plantation’s man with the whip and the good son/respectable hero being the same person. Honestly, this just overshadowed the whole story for me.

Christmas By The Sea, by Carla Kelly

I’m of two minds about this story. The writing is very good and I really liked that this is a story about an established married couple, with children. The vast majority of Regency Romances are about people falling in love. I truly appreciated a devoted husband and wife romance. I also found the difficulties of a marriage between people of different social statuses interesting. It made for engaging conflict. But I also found the eventual events super predictable and sadly sappy. I enjoyed the buildup significantly more than the climax.

Expectations At CanterWood, by Krista Lynne Jensen

I liked this last story quite a bit. I enjoyed Marina’s wit and the realities of Richard’s unnamed, but present PTSD. I also appreciated that this story was notably less religious than the previous stories. It did feel as if there might be a previous story or book preceding it (Julia and the Vicar’s romance) and I’d have appreciated knowing that. But all in all enjoyable, with nice writing, and a bevy of fun side characters.


Looking at this collection as a whole, I liked it more than I expected to. I appreciated that these stories were long enough to allow for robust plot development, even if not full book length.

Regency romance, clean Regency romance at that, isn’t a favorite genre of mine. Plus, I largely avoid explicitly Christian stories if I can (any religion, really). As I mentioned above, this is from a Christian press. So, I knew going in there would be no avoiding God. I admittedly went in with some trepidation. Luckily, I found the Regency settings charming and none of the stories proselytizes too strongly (and the last almost none at all). So, while I noticed everyone’s devotion to The Spirit, I wasn’t put off by any of it. I’d read any of these authors again.

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Blog Tour and Review: A Hopeful Christmas


Come back tomorrow. I’ll be reviewing Mr. Frosty Pants, by Leta Blake.

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Book Review: Christmas Lites II, edited by Amy Eye

I won a Smashwords copy of Christmas Lites II, several years ago. I kept meaning to read it and then it would get re-burried in my TBR. But this year, I made sure it was part of my Christmas Reading Challenge.

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Join us this Christmas season as authors from across the globe unite to spread holiday cheer and raise money for a very important cause. You will delight in the various stories these authors have created in order to take you on a journey from inside their heads and into your heart. Fairy tales, mysteries, journeys with zombies and monsters, vampires, angels, trips to the North Pole and much more await inside the covers of this book. All proceeds from the book are being donated to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Not only will you get a taste of the spirit of the season, but you will do so knowing you did your part in helping a very worthy cause. Merry Christmas!

These are all really short. There are 20 stories here, in a 197 page book (including front and end-matter). That’s, an average of less than 10 pages apiece. So, I’ll just give each a couple sentences as review—basically just my general thoughts—and then finish with my overall thoughts on the collection.

Santa’s Ninja Elf: Hunter’s Revenge, by Lizzy Ford

This was super cute in a silly, don’t think too deeply about it sort of way. I liked it.

A (Not) Very Neighborly Christwitchas, by Patti Larsen

Cute, with a conversational tone. But I’m not sure I got the point. I expected it to culminate into something and it never did. Still cute though.

A mermaid for Christmas, Nichole Chase

Cute, but maybe a little too cutesy for my. Though I liked getting to see the perspective of Christmas in the islands.

Ugly and the Prince, by Monica La Porta

This one I didn’t like at all—problematic in too many ways. The implication that women can be beautiful or intelligent, but not both (or that learning and/or intelligence is something you receive in exchange for beauty). The implication that a woman (or person) can’t be loved it they’re not physically attractive. The ending that makes her lack of physical attraction acceptable only because it can’t be seen. The suggestion that the love of a man is enough to ease her into society, while nothing she did on her own was. Most old fairy-tales are problematic, if you really think about them, but new ones don’t have to be.

The Light of Truth, by Lynn Rush

Meh, I wasn’t thrilled to find such a blatantly religious story included. And it tried to cram too much into too few pages.

A Fading House, by EC Stilson

Meh, not enough to it to really accomplish what it set out to and the God bit felt unneeded.

The Hunt: Vol II, by Amy Eye

Meh. Fine, but prosaic.

Wishmaster 2000, by JG Faherty

This reminded me of a Christmas Goosebumps story. I imagine my kids might like it, but it was a little juvenile for me.

The Christmas Parrot, by Vered Ehsani

Not so much a story as a small vignette that happened to have Christmas tacked on to fit the anthology. It did remind me to go check if my daughter’s chameleon had water though.

Rent-A-Christmas, by Kimberly Kinrade

This is a short in The Forbidden Trilogy world, and while it was follow-able I didn’t appreciate not knowing the rest of the series. Beyond that, I thought it super sappy (too sappy for me), but not bad.

The Locket, by JA Clement

This one packs quite a lot of worldbuilding into a short story (enough that I have to wonder if there isn’t a longer work somewhere that it ties into). It was pleasant, but more a vignette than a story.

Joseph, by Melynda Fleury

Literally just the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective. Far too religious for me.

Table Five, by Misty Baker

A sweet little reminder to do nice things.

Momma’s Last Christmas, by Cassie McCown

Sad, but one of the best stories in the collection. It creates such a sense of place without ever telling where it is.

A Monstrous Christmas, by Frank W. Smith

I didn’t particularly care for this one and if “frank W. Smith” is male as the name infers, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. The idea that deep-level contempt can be erased by a single kindness is farcical and the characters little bit of later self-awareness did nothing to overcome my dislike for them formed in the beginning of the story.

The Loving Dead, by Angela Yuriko Smith

I really liked the beginning of this and was kind of ‘meh’ on the second half. But, overall, it was pretty good.

Merry Christmas, You Guys, by S. Patrick Pothier

This felt like a Halloween Horror – Christmas mash-up. But I found it amusing all the same.

Accidentally Smitten, by Tricia Kristufek

I was pretty ‘meh’ on this one. I thought the guy felt a little skeevy, so I didn’t really feel the spark. But I understand what the author was going for.

The Rise of Rae, by Trish Thawer

This story was a fail for me. I didn’t understand what giving her the ostracizing name had to do with her eventual destiny. And the whole thing just felt a little too generic-fairy tale to me. Plus, the fairy grips an iron door handle, which threw me for a loop since fae are traditionally thought to be allergic to iron.

Someone to Love, by Addison Moore

Weird. The writing was pretty but the story was weird.

The Unicorn Who Saved Christmas, by Elizabeth Evans

Very childish…as in it is a children’s story, not as a criticism.


All in all, none of these blew me away but none seemed too horrible either. I do wish, at the collection level, the editors had decided to make it a religious anthology or avoided including explicitly religious stories. Yes, I know Christmas = birth of Christ, etc. But most of these stories are fairly agnostic, such that those that were explicitly about God or Jesus stood out and felt out of place to me. On the whole, it’s a fine collection of short stories.

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Come back tomorrow. I’ll be reviewing Merry Elf-ing Christmas, by Beth Bolden.

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Book Review: Holiday Haunts, by Imogen Markwell-Tweed & Wendy Dalrymple

Author, Imogen Markwell-Tweed is a local-to-me author and on behalf of herself and co-author, Wendy Dalrymple, she sent me a review copy of Holiday Haunts last year. But it was past the holidays (if I remember correctly)…or maybe I just didn’t get to it before the holidays. Regardless, that means I’m lucky enough to have it on hand for this year’s Christmas reading challenge.
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Christmas is the perfect time of year to fall in love; especially if you’re a specter or a retail employee, that is. At Holiday Falls Mall, love blooms in sweet and spooky ways for four shop employees during the holiday season. This collection features two stories from queer romance writer Imogen Markwell-Tweed, and two stories from sweet romance writer Wendy Dalrymple for a unique, intertwined anthology of paranormal romance novelettes.

my review

Of the four stories, I found that I enjoyed the Markwell-Tweed stories more than the Dalrymple ones. I thought Dalrymple’s writing a little more pedestrian. But I also thought the two authors paired well together and none of the stories were bad. Some just worked more for me than others. Here are my brief thoughts on each individual stories, as I finished them.

Up to Snow Good

I thought this was super sweet. There was definitely some insider WLW humor. But being able to good-naturedly poke fun at yourself to an expected audience that can share the humor is a super relatable way to make something feel like a comfort read. It’s only a short story, so nothing is deeply defined or elaborately developed. But there is just enough to make you like both characters and root for their happy ending.

Heavenly Reads

I also thought this a super cute story. Jesse’s inner monologue had a lot of character and Angel fit his name. It was fairly obvious where the story was going, but it was fun seeing it get there.

Magic Mistletoe

I thought Nick’s absentminded pleasant demeanor super cute and Paige’s vegan, new age-ness suitably witchy. I like that the eventual age difference was of no concern. All in all a fine Christmas story.

The Assistant Manager and the Beast

Meh, I thought this the weakest of the bunch. I’m not saying it was bad; one of the four stories had to be bottom of the pile and this was the one for me. I really liked the idea of Krampus as a character, but nothing about Heidi stood out as notable for me. But it was a sweet story overall.

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Come back tomorrow. I’ll be reviewing Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop, by Jenny Colgan.