The Noel Letters

October 28, 2020

 


The Noel Letters
By: Richard Paul Evans

Summary:
After nearly two decades, Noel Post, an editor for a major New York publishing house, returns to her childhood home in Salt Lake City to see her estranged, dying father. What she believed would be a brief visit turns into something more as she inherits the bookstore her father fought to keep alive. Reeling from loneliness, a recent divorce, and unanticipated upheavals in her world, Noel begins receiving letters from an anonymous source, each one containing thoughts and lessons about her life and her future. She begins to reacquaint herself with the bookstore and the people she left behind, and in doing so, starts to unravel the reality of her painful childhood and the truth about her family. As the holidays draw near, she receives a Christmastime revelation that changes not only how she sees the past but also how she views her future.
        --Amazon.com


I've had a long standing tradition of reading each Christmas book Richard Paul Evans puts out. I eagerly await its release so I can get (usually) get lost in a story I don't want to put down. Some books have been better than others, and some have left a more lasting impression, but I still look forward to this Christmas tradition every year. 

This year's release, The Noel Letters, was no exception. The plot sounded right up my alley. And while I think it's a good book, it wasn't as good as I was hoping. Usually, Mr. Evans' books encompass more of the Christmas spirit in terms of the emotions they bring out. This one didn't do that. The Noel Letters was about the long term effects of harboring a grudge. You can see why Noel distanced herself from her father. You can easily see why she felt the way she did. You can relate to the confusion she encounters when she arrives home to everyone singing his praises. How was this man the same man at the root of her pain? There is a heaviness of the heart as you read the pages of this book. How was it able to get as bad as it did? How was the distance and misunderstandings able to last as long as they did?

The letters Noel begins receiving weren't as impactful as I thought they would be. Rather, they were random nuggets of advice that you later learn are connected. Not to say the words written weren't wise, but you didn't always see the connection between them and Noel. Finding out who was behind them and involved with them was more impactful. Once you have this background information on the letters, you see them in a different light. 

The supporting characters were both fascinating and confusing. Grace, I loved and wanted to learn more about. I loved her character. You just knew there was more to her involvement than just a friend of Noel's Dad. Your heart breaks to learn of her story, then it overflows with amazement when you see what she does with the circumstances. You aren't surprised to learn they were close friends, but shocked to see how the friendship came to be. I have to say, she was my favorite of the characters. I could just sit with her all day and gleam life lessons and wisdom from her.

Wendy, the coworker with her father in his bookstore, was a character I couldn't make sense of. You knew they were connected as she worked side by side, for years, with him. She was his righthand man in the business operations, as well as some of his personal life. Both she and Grace were the ones to care for him all the years Noel wasn't there- especially during his illness and death. There was a mourning with a touch of bitterness you meet right away, but can't quite figure out. I have to say the revelation of Noel's Father and Wendy was a surprise I didn't see coming. It was one I couldn't really understand. You aren't there to watch it unfold, so it's hard to imagine.

Overall, I'm glad I read the book. It was a story that tackles a darker set of feelings and emotions that can exist during the holidays. Grudges can bring damage that takes years to heal, if you let them. This book is a reminder of there always being two sides to every story, but being willing to learn both sides is key. Forgiveness was the center point of the story. Forgiveness from both sides. I felt much of the emotions Noel felt within the pages. I understood them. I cried a few tears and points. It's a good read, but not one that I think I would read again. 

Christmas Ever After

September 29, 2020

 


Christmas Ever After
by: Karen Schaler
396 Pages

Summary:
Author Riley Reynolds is desperate to salvage her career. Her last book didn't do well and, if things don't change, she's looking at being dropped by her publisher. So, the woman who has sworn off Christmas for most of her life has been told to write a Christmas book. Her publicist uses questionable tactics to make this happen. So, the girl who doesn't do Christmas is going to host a Christmas Camp. Since her publicist tells everyone listening that she's Miss Christmas, it makes perfect sense. Things get off on the wrong foot and she must do what she can to salvage not just her career but the Camp. She can play along for a few days with her fans, right? But.... what are her ex-boyfriends doing there?

Karen Schafer has quickly become part of my Christmas reading traditions. She releases a new book themed around Christmas each year, and I devour it. This one, I felt, fell a little flat. Rather than making the days at the camp, and it's Christmas-themed activities, the book spends most of it's pages on prepping for the camp. I'm used to the Camp time being the focus of the book, with everything else being a supporting story line. This time around, it's flipped.

This particular Christmas Camp isn't like the others in previous books. This Camp centers around Riley. The attendees are fans who paid to be there- with the focus on Riley's Christmas traditions. No one- not even Luke- knows she doesn't do Christmas anymore. Things get a little hairy when, amongst the guest list, are blasts from her past with intentions on becoming her future. Misunderstandings run rampant in this book- mostly at the hands of her near-do-well publicist, Mike. 

You learn why, as a child, Riley loved Christmas and why those days abruptly ended. You get an up close look at her life and how it became the way it currently is. You see her slowly open her heart and mind to the possibility of letting Christmas back into her life. You see her focus shift from just saving her career, but making sure others involved get what they want, as well. 

Riley and Luke, the manager of the Inn, get off on the wrong foot. He's left scrambling to clean up a mess she made when she storms out of an interview about the Christmas Camp. Riley and Luke both have reasons for needing the Christmas Camp to be successful, so they have to work together to make it happen. The road isn't always smooth, but they tread the path, nonetheless. It doesn't take long before she's having to think fast to live up to false expectations her publicist promises. 

While Christmas Ever After isn't my favorite book in this series, it was still a good read. I connected with Riley, Luke and several of the other characters. Despite being a slower read than it's predecessors, it was still a cozy read to get get lost in. No one will find the basics of the story unpredictable, but you don't buy it thinking they will. Karen Schafer gives you what you are expecting: a heart-warming story around Christmas. She delivers another book showing the magic and wonder of the Christmas spirit. 

The Christmas Swap

September 1, 2020

 


The Christmas Swap
By: Melody Carlson
176 Pages
$16.99

Summary:
Emma Daley's parents have been living in Africa for the last several years. So, rather than spend her Christmases alone, she's been spending them with her friend, Gillian Landers. This year, Emma is looking forward to a relaxing Christmas- away from the bickering of the Landers family and Mrs. Landers' constant complaining. Gillian, however, talks her into spending Christmas with them since her father has done a Christmas house swap. Instead of spending Christmas in Arizona, they're going to have a White Christmas in Colorado. Not ever having seen snow in person, Emma can't pass up the invitation.

West Prescott's family has decided to spend Christmas in the desert of Arizona. So, against his wishes, he swaps homes with  the Landers family. However, his vacation finds him home and discovering something he never thought he'd find.

This book is a quick, cute holiday read. I thought it would be reminiscent of The Holiday, but it really wasn't. West forgets something at his house that he goes back for, but isn't able to get away before the Landers family arrives for their stay. I had a hard time liking Mrs. Landers. She pretty much complained about everything from the start. Gillian is a spoiled product of a wealthy family, so she's used to getting what she wants. Emma is an awesome character with her head on her shoulders, but it's hard to understand why she's close enough to spend multiple Christmases with Gillian since they're complete opposites. The book does address this, but you still don't quite get it. 

I think the main issue I had with the book lies with Gillian. From early on in the book, you understand she's a pampered, privileged woman. Later in the book, she adds manipulator and liar simply to get what she wants. And she does this with her friend. I wasn't expecting her to be as conniving as she was and with who she was. 

Overall, this was a cute read. I wouldn't add it to my favorite holiday reads list, but it was a nice little read. I would recommend getting it from the library over buying it. I don't think it was worth the $17 price tag because I  don't see myself ever rereading this book. 

Royal

August 18, 2020

 


Royal
By: Danielle Steel
288 Pages

Summary:
As the war rages on in the summer of 1943, causing massive destruction and widespread fear, the King and Queen choose to quietly send their youngest daughter, Princess Charlotte, to live with a trusted noble family in the country. Despite her fiery, headstrong nature, the princess's fragile health poses far too great a risk for her to remain in war-torn London.

Third in line for the throne, seventeen year-old Charlotte reluctantly uses an alias upon her arrival in Yorkshire, her two guardians the only keepers of her true identity. In time, she settles comfortably into a life out of the spotlight, befriending a young evacuee and training with her cherished horse. But no one predicts that in the coming months she will fall deeply in love with her protectors' son.

She longs for a normal life. Far from her parents, a tragic turn of events leaves an infant orphaned. Alone in the world, that child will be raised in the most humble circumstances by a modest stable manager and his wife. No one, not even she, knows of her lineage. But when a stack of hidden letters comes to light, a secret kept for nearly two decades finally surfaces, and a long lost princess emerges.

A fascinating story of family and royalty, and an unforgettable portrait of an extraordinary young woman and the man who brings her home, Royal is an exhilarating work from America's most beloved storyteller.
            ---courtesy of bn.com

                                *** My Review does include some spoilers ***

This story is all about the fallout of war and secrets. As the book opens, princess Charlotte is sent away for her own safety. No one thought it would be for more than a year. Well, a lot happens when  the year in question is during a war. And in true fiction style, a lot happens in Princess Charlotte's life within said year. Not only does she keep her true identity secret, but she falls in love, gets pregnant, gets married, becomes a war widow, gives birth and then dies. The rest of the book is centered around her daughter, Anne Louise who doesn't learn of her heritage until she's an adult.

There were parts of this story I had a hard time connecting with. Most of the story had me fascinated. What originated out of revenge grew to a genuine parental love between Lucy and Anne. You kept waiting to see how the truth would unfold and it didn't happen in a way I expected. You didn't always want to like Lucy. Her motives weren't always good in the beginning- but they changed over time. She gave Anne a happy and solid life full of love that she probably wouldn't have had otherwise, 

Not being a big horse fan, I wasn't pulled into that part of the story. While I like the groundbreaking leaps Anne made for women in the equestrian field, I wasn't as pulled into this aspect of the book as I was with other parts. 

The area I had the hardest struggle with was the last 1/4 of the book. Anne's transition to royal life wasn't at all what I expected or thought likely. Nor was I able to get behind the romance of Anne and Anthony. In a matter of a paragraph she goes from seeing him in a brotherly view to confessing her love in a romantic view. 

Overall, it was a moderate read. There were amazing parts and equally disappointing parts to this story for me. I wasn't as gripped or invested in this book as I have been with previous Danielle Steel books. I don't think I would buy this particular book. I love her historical fiction, but this one wasn't one of her bests. It's a great summer beach read, but not among my favorites.

Murder in Waiting

June 30, 2020


Murder in Waiting
By: Lynn Cahoon
176 Pages
Publish Date: June 30, 2020

Summary:
At Coffee, Books, & More, Jill’s the boss. But as Amy’s maid-of-honor, she can barely keep up with marching orders--and now she’s in charge of organizing an epic bachelorette! Adding to Jill’s party-planning panic, the South Cove Heritage Society just unceremoniously dumped her historic landmark bid. While vying proposals rush in from a loaded land developer and a pushy travel guide company, Jill finds an unexpected ally in Heritage Society expert, Frank Gleason. But their happy union is cut short when Frank is mowed down in a suspicious hit-and-run. With Amy’s big day on the horizon, Jill vows to catch the killer before she has to catch a bouquet.  --bn.com

In the latest installment of the Tourist Trap Series, Jill is facing contention in every direction. Someone wants the property her house is on and has gone so far as to imply it's willing to be sold. As readers know, no doesn't always mean no until a body ends up dead. Jill needs to find out who is trying to sell off her house and why. Also, attacks are being taken at her business. After being falsely blamed for something, retaliation finds it's way to Coffee, Books & More. Who's trying to ruin her business? Does it have anything to do with things happening with her house and the vacant lot next to it? As if that wasn't enough, Jill is the Maid of Honor to her Bridezilla bestie. Everything comes to a head when the gang travels to Las Vegas for a Bachelor & Bachelerette party. 

I always enjoy catching up with this group of characters. While the mystery part of the story line isn't the as strong as other aspects, it still keeps you intrigued. All the characters are fun and interactive and will keep you entertained until the next book of the series arrives.  If you're in the mood for a light, fun read you will enjoy this book. 

The Grim Reader

June 2, 2020


The Grim Reader
By: Kate Carlisle
336 Pages

Summary:
Brooklyn's hometown of Dharma is hosting it's first Book Festival. Everyone's excited and getting involved. The local bookshop owner even found a first edition of Little Women (the festival theme) for Brooklyn to repair that will be in the silent auction. However, one dead body leads to questions and revelations- not to mention another dead body and other mayhem.

I'm a fairly new reader to this series. I recently discovered it and loved it. While I'm only a few books in, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to read this one. Brooklyn and Derek are newlyweds and full of all the lovey-dovey stuff of newlyweds. When Rebecca, Brooklyn's Mother, is threatened by a not so nice community member, Brooklyn and Derek spring into action. Threats lead to an attempt on her life and the discovery of a fellow festival committee member's dead body. When Lawson is found dead, new revelations comes to light: where did the all the festival money he was in charge of go? 

This story is full of possible suspects and you either like them, or meant not to. While the plot took a bit to get moving and all the action to start happening, once it did you were gripped. You can picture the mountain surroundings and the small town feel as you try to figure out how one thing leads to another. While this book is the 14th in the series, I didn't need to read all the previous books to feel in the know of what's going on. Kate does a great job of giving you whatever background information you may need. 

I enjoyed this book! It was a fun mystery to get lost into. Like I said, I'm a new fan of the series. I look forward to reading the books leading up to this one. Go out and get your hands on this book so you can spend part of your summer solving a mystery.

The Wedding Dress

April 28, 2020


The Wedding Dress
By: Danielle Steel
304 Pages
Release Date: April 28, 2020

Summary:
From the glamorous San Francisco social scene of the 1920s, through war and the social changes of the ’60s, to the rise of Silicon Valley today, this extraordinary novel takes us on a family odyssey that is both heartbreaking and inspiring, as each generation faces the challenges of their day.
 
The Parisian design houses in 1928, the crash of 1929, the losses of war, the drug culture of the 1960s—history holds many surprises, and lives are changed forever. For richer or for poorer, in cramped apartments and grand mansions, the treasured wedding dress made in Paris in 1928 follows each generation into their new lives, and represents different hopes for each of them, as they marry very different men.
 
From inherited fortunes at the outset to self-made men and women, the wedding dress remains a cherished constant for the women who wear it in each generation and forge a destiny of their own. It is a symbol of their remaining traditions and the bond of family they share in an ever-changing world. --bn.com

While it's not one of Danielle's best books, it's not one of her worst either. The storyline did captivate me, though the actual dress the book is named for has a very small role. The book is centered around Eleanor Deveraux- the bride the dress was made for- and her descendents. As you meet her, she is from a highly wealthy banking family. She marries a man of similiar wealth. I enjoyed their love story. It was reminiscent of earlier Danielle Steel books where the husband is always older than the bride. You watch a genuine love unfold and a bond that builds a life on. However, it all comes crashing down while on their honeymoon as the stockmarket crashes.

I enjoyed seeing how the main characters adjust to their new lives. I felt their storylines played out in a realistic way. You see strength rise from sources you wouldn't expect and you see the lasting scars created as lives are never the same again. 

Seeing Eleanor's life play out was intriguing. It wasn't all roses, nor was there an immediate happy ending. She conitues to endure heartbreaks through miscarriages and having her daughter, Camille, rebel. Heartbreak knocks on Eleanore's door again, but also leaves a ray of light to embrace- her granddaughter, Ruby. I do have to say that this book doesn't come with the typical happy ending you expect. Her characters learn to accept their reality and flourish within it. 

Overall, I wouldn't buy this book. I'm glad I read it, but I'm also glad I didn't pay the just under $30.00 price tag. Fans of Danielle Steel will enjoy the story, but I don't see me reading this particular book of hers again. It's definitely one to get from the library. 

The Lions of Fifth Avenue

April 6, 2020


The Lions of Fifth Avenue
By: Fiona Davis
368 pages
Release Date: July 21, 2020

Summary:
It's 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn't ask for more out of life—her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she finds herself drawn to Greenwich Village's new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club—a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women's rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. But when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she's forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.

Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she's wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie's running begin disappearing from the library's famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-adverse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage—truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library's history.   -bn.com

I'm a recent discoverer of the immensely talented Fiona Davis. I've been incredibly blessed to review most of her books. I have loved them all and while this one wasn't my favorite, it was a dleight to read. I've always loved how Miss Davis takes historical fictin out of it's preconcieved box. Rather than sticking with the traditional wars, she takes a thing from the past and wraps it up for us readers in an engrossing package. 

This particular story revolves around Laura Lyons- herself, immediate family and decendents. You start out with her happily married to her husband and living in the esteemed New York Cigty Public Library with their two children. Dreams she had of being a journalist had been placed on the backburner for women weren't typically with careers at the time. An opportunity presents itself with her being able to pursue her dream and the life she knew slowly unravels. Journalism schools allows her to see a world beyond what she currentlty knew. She meets people a woman who she knew from school, but now will open doors- and viewpoints- that she never purseud before. Over time the friendship changes her life in ways the heavily sheltered Laura couldn't have predicted. All this happens as her husband's job is under intense scruiteny as someone is discovered to be stealing books from the library. Within a short period of time, the life Laura started out with looks nothing like the life she ended up with. 

Decades later, Sadie is the granddaughter of the elusive Laura Lyons. By now she has been gone for many years, but more questions than answers appeared to be her legacy. When history repeats itself with new books thefts within the same library, that Sadie is now employed with, she's forced to dig deeper for explanations and those elusive answers. 

I was engrossed in most of the story. As with any reader, some aspects of the story were more intriguing than others. I was fascinated with life within the library. I never knew anyone actually lived within it's walls. I was equally intrigued with the whole journalism school aspect. Fiona Davis makes you feel you were there with each student, in Laura's case embarking on a rare adventure. 

Fans of Fiona Davis will not be disappointed. Once again, she takes an obscure thing in history and make you unable to put it down while she unravels a story within it. Some characters were more relatable than others. Readers will find their favorite to root. You will feel like you're among the characters while everything is happening.


 

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