Final Reads to Christmas!

We have arrived at the week of Christmas!  I took this week off of work, which I have not done in years.  Usually I stick around because it was important to other staff to have the days to travel or be with children.  Now I have a child who wants Mom home for some of the time with him, especially since there are two full weeks off this year from school, and I don’t have the heart to throw him in care the entire time, and I am privileged enough to have that choice.  And I want to get him started with playing with his Christmas gifts, which I always select as a little above his age so he has more time enjoying them.  If I let him choose his gifts the house would be filled with even more wheeled vehicles that he ignores.  Maybe some toy food that he also will never play with.  Drives me crazy.  But the trade off is I have to spend time orienting him to playing with them and giving him some ideas to start with.  So I’ll do that on my Christmas week off with my sweet not so baby boy.

I usually take time off to spend time to myself, so I hope I get a chance to rest, too.  I’ve been a little burned out this year, going through the motions a little bit to keep to the traditions, but not making myself nutty on doing every Christmas thing I see for children on my Facebook feed.  It is too easy these days to feel you have to do ALL OF IT, even though my son has enjoyed the small town Christmas traditions here just fine, without my having to drive hours and spend lots of money and valuable, oh so valuable, energy.  He’s plenty happy and looking forward to Santa.  He’s not asking why we have not made it to the alpaca farm an hour away for Christmas celebrations.  Although it looks super cute and I want to make it up there some year.

These are the last two books of the Christmas Reads post.  I kind of crapped out on Christmas books, like, ten days ago and I have been back to reading ghost stories, which I have done before at Christmas and now I’m seeing was a thing anyway back in the day, and getting a jump on my next year’s goals, which I will talk about in a later post.  I have other neglected Christmas reads sitting in my audio and books that will get their turn next year.

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Christmas on the Island, Jenny Colgan

A small community on a tiny Scottish island have a Christmas filled with love, misunderstandings, some family reconciliation and some letting go.  A woman with an unexpected pregnancy, a refugee doctor serving on the island, and a dying man who has long turned away from his rejecting family comprise three plotlines in the darkness leading up to Christmas on the cold, dark, close knit island where everyone knows everyone’s business. It reads like it probably follows other stories with this setting and this cast of characters.  The audio was shorter than eight hours but it packed a lot into those hours!

So, this was not to be counted under my lighthearted romances posted a few weeks back.  No, sir. I bought this over the summer with Amazon birthday money because of my dearth of Christmas audio last year and then looking at my prospective reads with those heavy plotlines I was like dude did I just find this appealing because it has to do with a place I’ve always wanted to visit?  These are not lighthearted misunderstandings. This is not Holly Martin. Why didn’t I get Holly? I’m not saying I didn’t wonder this occasionally as I talked myself into starting this. It’s been slow getting myself into Christmas this year despite my reads and all the dang snow and I did end up enjoying the story and the people and getting sucked in, I know I always say that, and the heavy themes were well done.  They were not overdone, maudlin or brushed over. It’s the realities of people’s Christmases, and that has worth too. I have Christmases ahead of me dealing with the losses I haven’t had to experience yet.

Also, the narration is with a Scottish accent, which is so excellent, that even in a bad part where there’s swearing I can’t get enough of the accent swearing.  It adds so much to this book. I find that books that take place in the British Isles just have to be done in audio:  Royal Spyness, Milkman, theScottish historical shorts I read last year, they all need to be done in the appropriate narration. Just have to be.

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Christmas Jars, Jason Wright

A newspaper reporter, adopted and alone in the world after her mother passes, stumbles on a story about anonymously given jars of money given to those in need at Christmas.  She is torn between keeping the story anonymous, as are the wishes of the family who started the tradition and who have become a second family to her, and hitting it big with this story for her newspaper career.

This is not a long story, which given my Christmas story/season burnout is a good thing.  It’s a diverting story, going between some depressing pieces and then the sweeter, almost saccharine parts, with the family that she finds and how she becomes part of them.  The tension over her decision to out the family’s Christmas tradition isn’t overwhelming, and there is a lot of telling of a story, rather than showing.  This book is for people who want something short and heartwarming for the holiday.  I can see it being the kind of book that people would return to annually for a Christmas reading to catch the spirit of the season.  So, after the heaviness of the previous read, it was a good way to finish up my reads for the season.  Even though I didn’t know I was finishing my reads, I didn’t know that I would read more of the MR James collection I dabble in when I am between books or not in the mood for audio rather than putting on another Christmas read.  It happens.

At least one more post this year!  I have to decide if I am tossing in the book of poetry I read for BookRiot in an end of year post, or if I do do a specific end of year post, which I don’t even know what that will be about, maybe what I liked reading this year, but as my readers know often doesn’t follow publishing trends so can be random.  Maybe something I liked especially out of BookRiot.

New Year’s reading goals will, of course, be saved for the first post in the new decade.  Just try to contain yourselves until then (she said with great sarcasm).

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Christmas Reads! Christmas Past

So, I feel like Christmas came with a bit of an explosion with the snowstorm two weeks ago now that gave us over a foot of snow to make it look like a holiday.  And then it’s been cold, too, so at least there’s a big holiday coming up to ease the crash in of winter.   I am writing by the lights of the Christmas tree, always a favorite for the end of the year posts!

Also, yesterday was the local school breakfast, tree lighting and parade for my local town.  I took my son to see a local musical production of Elf last weekend and he loved it, and we went sledding in some additional snowfall together.  He loved it.  Christmas tempts to me to over mom, but then I have a perfectly happy boy just doing what we do.

I decided to stay home with him Christmas week because he asked this year.  Two full weeks of break is a long time for him to be at the Y and if I stay home and get him started playing with his Christmas toys, those will be the memories he will look back on. I hope.

But Christmas reads!  I noticed my views have definitely gone down this month.  I don’t have as many readers interested in Christmas reads, or this time of year gets too busy?  Feel free to let me know.  I try not to focus on stats, but as a Psychologist I rarely see a trend without asking why.  I’d love feedback.

This week is Christmases that took place in the past!  Not exactly ghosts of Christmas past, but past holidays.  And two authors, interestingly, that I have long been meaning to read.

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Christmas Bells, Jennifer Chiaverini

Different Christmas plotlines converge on a point:  the Christmas eve concert in a Boston church, as well as a historical plotline of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Christmas Bells.  The plots involve a family waiting to hear from a missing soldier, a teacher who will be laid off at the end of the school year, a man wanting to tell a long time friend about his true feelings for her, a Senator’s wife dealing with the death of her husband.  Longfellow deals with the strife of living in Civil War America with a son anxious to serve the Union. Things end up okay for everyone, because this is a Christmas book, after all. 

Chiaverini is one of my hoarded authors because she does the historical fiction, which I love, but it’s the first one of hers that I have actually read.  This book is about how hope and the spirit of the season don’t change through time. Even the darkest of times. I like interwoven plots and hearing the stories of the characters, shifting around when one plot becomes intense, and of course, the stories converged beautifully.  I didn’t know if the Wadsworth plot line would more directly connect with the modern line, other than Wadsworth being local Boston, but it still worked. I’m looking forward to reading more of hers.

Do I need to say that this was not one of the lighthearted reads I also review?  And it isn’t a romance novel. But it’s about Christmas and I love that.

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Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie

A family long estranged from one another gets together at the behest of the family patriarch at Christmas.  When the unlikeable man is murdered with everyone in the house, it is up to Hercule to use his powers of deduction to determine whodunnnit.

Now the only thing Christmas about this book is that it takes place on the days around Christmas and the holiday is the pretense for the gathering.  It’s really for the victim to have a chance to anger all his children in one place one last time. That’s the only thing Christmas about it.  Not even the cover is Christmas.

It’s surprising that this ended up being my first Agatha Christie novel, as I have read most, if not all Nero Wolfes and she’s a pretty classic writer.  And I try to get the classic authors in. But also last year was my first time reading James Patterson and David Baldacci, through their Christmas reads. It wasn’t unexpected, a bunch of people getting together and telling parts of the story and then Hercule using his magic of deduction and noticing detail to get to the culprit.  I listened to it because the library had it on audio while driving to see my friends after Thanksgiving and I tried to hang on to the details but they are so subtle I never saw the end coming. Which I suppose is part of Christie’s artistry, but I also don’t typically guess mystery novel outcomes. Nero never got predictable. He has at least one Christmas short that I have read and that’s much more Christmas themed.  I should find it and revisit it for Christmas reads! Because Rex Stout branches much more into the yule theme than Agatha Christie does.

Next week is one more helping of the Christmas reads, with Santa coming midweek, and then it’s the end of the year and I actually have one BookRiot category left to post on.  Believe it or not, and then it’s into my different goals for the upcoming year.  Not BookRiot this time.  Even though I have looked over the 2020 list. Hint:  it has to do with getting back to my joy.

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Christmas Reads! Short and not always sweet

These two reads for today have been sitting on the TBR since, like, 2015. The ones waiting last week were bought in 2018 but these two have languished for years!  I don’t know why.  Neither of them have audio, of course, so that could have something to do it.  And they aren’t light, which has its place, but we also know how much I’m willing to do not light reads.  Thankfully, both are short.

They are heartwarming but you really have to work for it in a big way.  So get ready to work for it!

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Comfort & Joy, Kristin Hannah

A woman betrayed by her husband and sister impulsively decides to go on a trip for Christmas.  Her plane crashes, leading her on a series of events that lead her to her true home.

There’s a decent twist in this one so my synopsis is short.  I didn’t read much about this book so I didn’t even know there was going to be a plane crash, and that part was pretty intense. There were periods in this book where it felt slow.  I was like okay, where is this really all headed? And I almost lost steam completely before she tosses in the twist that kept me going. I read Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah, and I wasn’t that impressed, feeling that could be slow in parts, too.  Even though it was slow, I do still find myself thinking about parts of it, so it did make an impact, even if in the moment I didn’t know that it would. I see now that she has two books that have really taken off, The Nightingale and The Great Alone, and I do at least want to get to The Nightingale.   Anyway.  I had this book for a few years, and I was glad I got to it, although it has themes that are really larger than the Christmas holiday.  It is a romance, and there is falling in love at the holiday, but the love is built on something larger than the holiday and the main character goes through more drastic and notable change than can sometimes be found in romances.  Plus romances don’t usually involve graphic airplane crashes, at least not in the ones I have read. 

I had issues last year wanting to sit and read, largely preferring audio, and that’s why this one kept getting missed. This year my compulsive reading has left me time to read a few of them, so I have been working through the backlog quite nicely.  It’s been a good year for reading.

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An Angel’s Touch, Heather Graham

A childless couple dies in an accident on Christmas eve and must perform three miracles by midnight in order to be allowed to be angels.

So this is terrible quickly and is terrible a few times.  I almost didn’t want to do it, but it’s only 221 pages and I got traction with it rather quickly.  The momentum carried me through.  It went from a book I almost put down to something I did in about 24 hours, which I think speaks to the credit of the book that I wanted to turn away and then couldn’t.  I didn’t think it was predictable but I also wasn’t trying to figure out the end as I went.  A classic story of redemption at Christmas. And what is Christmas about, if not light and redemption?

More Christmas reads next week.  It will be the weekend the small town I live in does their parade and their Santa breakfast at the elementary school and their tree lighting and my son gets to be part of decorating the tree.  Christmas explosion in my life.  People have been hanging lights since before Thanksgiving outside which I absolutely love in the dark drives home from work.

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Christmas Reads! Heartwarming Romances

So the Thanksgiving has passed enough for Christmas to start to happen.  No more statute of limitations. The tree is probably on its way up at my house today while we are waiting for Snowmaggedon and I’ll be making chex mix.  I kind of want to get me a bottle of sweet local wine to get through the day but I don’t know if the store opens before the heavens do.  Looks like they may happen at the same points in time.

It’s a great day to post on heartwarming Christmas romances from England. These two sat on the TBR last year because I wanted to listen rather than read, so now they need their time.

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The Christmas Wish, Tilly Tennant

Esme, a young woman in the throes of an emotionally abusive relationship, decides to go against her boyfriend’s wishes to go on a vacation to Lapland that she was planning to take with her grandmother before the grandmother’s unexpected death.  Her trip changes her life in all the best ways possible, and as with anything marketed as a heartwarming Christmas romance, you can rest assured that the right man is duly located in the course of the story.  

So, I definitely got sucked into Esme’s story trying to find who she is and be true to that person and even though I knew she eventually had to ditch the jerk boyfriend, I wanted to know how it was going to play out and the secret that the man she is interested in seems to be withholding the whole time.  I liked her and I wanted her to be okay. I related to trying to find and stay true to oneself. The ending was gratifying and I loved the creativity of the trip to Lapland. I love how heartwarming romances incorporate elements of wish fulfillment that don’t have to do with romance: creative jobs, cool trips and settings, fun friends. Those things said, there were some slow pieces in this book that were redundant, could have been expressed in dialogue, and reduced.  Places were we were being shown enough where I didn’t think we needed quite as much telling. It’s good for light, distracting fun and to get you in the mood for the magic of the holiday.

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Snowy Nights at the Lonely Hearts Hotel, Karen King

A single young woman, Saffy, is prevailed upon by her older sister to throw a big Christmas party for singles at Christmas in her absence.  When she goes out to do this, she meets Logan, a handsome single father and a neighbor of her sister’s with his own heartbreak and disappointments.  This is a romance so you can figure out the end of the story, yes? It takes place in England, too, so there are the little word differences too.

This was definitely fun and lighthearted.  There was the usual romantic conflict, but nothing too intense and the parts that have you chewing your fingernails are not drawn out to the point of torture.  I have read enough romances to see differences in how much the author is willing to put you through before they give you what you want. This one has the drama but wants to keep it light and I appreciated that.  

I think the characters were the strongest part, especially her best friends in the middle of a romantic conflict themselves that didn’t torture too much.  And they made the party working out more feasible. It helped that Saffy was in her late twenties, and even though she was career focused and spent a lot of time out with friends, her friends were also moving into more serious relationships, so it helped set the stage for her getting more responsibility.  It would have been cringey to me to have her be the first one of her party friends to leave that world behind and be younger, as I didn’t move into a more settled life until I was close to 30. It was one of the low priced kindle reads and I have a hard time resisting, and it sat unread for a year because I really focused on what was available on audio last year.  It’s worth picking up for the Christmas spirit.

Are you warming up for the season?  My husband is trying to get the plow truck to work before the tree goes up.  And my son is resenting me for telling him to make Christmas cards for some grandparents so I have time to send them out.

Next week the Christmas reads may not be so light of heart.  Higher on the drama.

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Christmas Reads! Victorian Times

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving week to kick off the holiday season.  If you haven’t kicked it off already, that is!  This week, for me, will be about making treats and desserts!

I mean, maybe an image of a turkey isn’t completely in line with my theme here but I like his salty look and it is their week to shine, anyway.  In a morbid sort of way.

I have decided that a strict policy on no thought to Christmas until after Thanksgiving is for those who are not parents.  I have already taken advantage of time away from my son to start picking up gifts here and there and being mindful of getting only what I think he will really love.  And won’t make me bonkers.  He doesn’t make a Christmas list because he will fill it with things he won’t play with.  And I’m going to make a list of fun things he can choose from to do in the coming year that aren’t me buying things and see if I can’t make that a tradition too.  Because I do a lot with him in the winter months and that should be represented too.

But this is not a blog on how I mom.  This is a blog on how I read.  And read I do!

Christmas isn’t the same for me without some reads from Victorian times in white people land.  They embody for me the darkness that was the whole reason Christmas came about…bringing light with the birth of Jesus.  I’m not super religious either, but anyone who has done a few seasons here with me know I’m all about the light of Christmas.  Christmas is perfect for romances too because Christmas is about love and light.

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Mr. Dickens and His Carol, Samantha Silva

This is a fictionalized version of how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.  In it, Charles Dickens finds himself in the beginning pushing back against the holiday, of all the excess and people asking him for things even though he’s a little short this year himself. He has to find Christmas again for himself, and does, while writing this, his most famous work.

Now, a few years ago I did all his Christmas stories for this blog, so I know that this was not a standalone work.  And in this story, Dickens is under pressure from his publishers to come out with something Christmas and a little less bleak (because to be fair he does write some really bleak stuff…do I need to insert a Bleak House joke here?) and has his own Scrooge-y character arc.  And Silva clearly did her research on the context of the holiday and that it was changing, being redefined at that time, revived from the puritan interpretations that had prevailed, which was cool, because I love social history of I’m finding just about everything.  Even Dickens in this story has to find the meaning of the holiday again.

Also, this was a cool book to be reading for NaNoWriMo.  It embodies the amazing highs and the terrible lows of being a writer.  I was going to say gifted, but some writers have had some pretty big success without being considered gifted.  Even seasoned writers have to go through a process to get to their material.  And it blends with the upcoming Christmas season, so I’m imagining, since I bought this one on audio, it will be revisited on other years.

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A Christmas Revelation, Anne Perry

An impoverished young boy in Victorian England spies a lovely woman in distress, right before Christmas.  As he has been taken in himself to be cared for, he is concerned for her and co opts the book keeper of the ‘clinic’ that he works and lives at to help him figure out what’s wrong and help her.  The book keeper has his own shady past, so he understands that this woman’s situation is likely one they want nothing to do with, but part of his taking part in this has to do with the spirit of Christmas, and wanting to keep some hope and wonder alive for this boy.  He is correct that she is embroiled in something unsavory, an unsolved mystery and wanting to avenge her father’s death.

This is the second of Anne Perry’s Christmas stories that I have read, the first one being A Christmas Hope.  Anne’s books are a blend of the Christmas holiday against the backdrop of darkness:  the shoestring lives of the poor and marginalized in Victorian England and some dark murder mystery.  I love the light and hope of Christmas but I’m also duly attracted to my darker reads, and if the number of historical fiction novels set in Victorian England is any indication, I’m not alone in my love of that context.  As much as I can’t romanticize it and consider myself a reasonable human being, I’m still drawn to that time and place. My library has them on audio sometimes and they are nice and short. I listened to this mostly on a Sunday afternoon following the letdown of reading nine of the same cozy mystery series and it was a nice transition into the Christmas reads. I have a feeling I’ll eventually work through all of these because it’s a delightful combination for me, and I love the sweet and light reads but they aren’t all I read. Even though they have been much of what I have read this year.

More Christmas Reads for the next few weeks!  Cozy heartwarming romances are a MUST, even though today’s reads were not completely heartwarming.  Christmas came to warm cold hearts, though, so it gets in the idea.  Stay tuned.

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Christmas Reads: Nora Roberts Shorts

Focusing on finishing my reading year is incredibly hard now that next year’s lists are out and this year’s Best of lists are everywhere, especially since I don’t think I read any new releases this year.  Or very few.

I am justifying the fact I have already picked the books out that I will likely be reading in 2019 with my expectation of AMAZING kindle sales on Christmas week and I have to be ready.  I can’t let the sweet price go by and not be aware that I will NEED that book for my 2019 goals.  I don’t know if Santa is bringing me any Amazon cards, but I should be at the ready.

Another end of year challenge being faced in my house right now is my husband’s not getting into his Christmas socks early because he has blown through all the ones he has right now.  Possibly the elf can bring a few spares to tide him over.

Also a brief shout out to the Audible gift this year, The Christmas Hirelings, an ME Braddon Victorian Christmas item of goodness. I have not been as into their originals that they have been offering monthly yet, which either means I am a picky snob or I don’t tend to read what other people read.  I don’t know what other people read.   Maybe more nonfiction than I do.  But I’m excited about it as I am scrambling to make it to 60 books this year.

Speaking of what other people read, this post is dedicated to two Nora Roberts Christmas short stories as my foray into more popular authors via their Christmas books.

I’m not sure at this point if I regret that decision.  I will summarize them and then discuss my feelings for both of them in one part because I felt the same about both of these.

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All I Want for Christmas, Nora Roberts

Two motherless little boys ask Santa to bring them a Mom for Christmas the same fall where a beautiful young new music teacher assumes the open position in the local school.  She was a cosmopolitan girl but she is settling into small town life for the first time and he is the stoic handsome contractor that is raising his boys on his own, thank you very much, after the boys mother just wasn’t ready to be a mom.  He doesn’t need to let anyone into his life and lets her know it, but they can’t resist their overwhelming attraction to one another.

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Home for Christmas, Nora Roberts

A man comes back to his old home town for Christmas after traveling the globe to reconnect with his high school sweetheart, whom he pretty much abandoned, and unexpectedly reconnects with her for the holiday season.  A second chance at love and family on Christmas.

So, I get it.  She wouldn’t be the queen of romance if she didn’t know how to follow the formula that readers want and expect.  She didn’t have a lot of room with the word count to pursue too much extra or drama and get the couples united in a believably way.  But I felt these were just, blah.  I felt less like a jerk when I saw that Goodreads reviews were okay, but not stellar. She usually clears a four star rating on her novels but these stories didn’t make it to four. She’s a prolific world renowned writer and I read two of her shorts and I am not impressed.  I like the cozy Christmas books I have read more, even if they weren’t high on tension and conflict either.  But as I said, limited word count strips it to the bare romance plot line that is what readers love under all of it.  But they were not my favorite of the bunch this season.

With all of that said, I still intend on reading more Nora before I make a decision on her as a writer and if I want to keep reading her things.  I have Year One and she has some witch novels that deserve a visit.  Maybe I am just not a consumer of straight up romance.  Maybe it isn’t about her.  But I liked other things I read this season better.

Next week is the reading year in review!

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Christmas Reads: Love in a Castle

BookRiot’s Read Harder 2019 list was released on Wednesday!  It doesn’t matter that I am still chewing my way through 2018’s list either!  I even watched the Youtube video released and wrote it down before I could find the list I was so anxious to know what the next year’s lineup was to be.

Plotting my next year projects get me through the doldrums post Christmas and the prospect of the rest of the winter going by without all the Christmas lights twinkling on my way home from work.  Christmas lights are entirely too short lived.

I love the 2019 list.  I can’t tell you that I know how to find all of these books but it is better than the prospect of another celebrity memoir.  I am delighted to say it will be the first memoir free year in many.  Even if I hit Popsugar.

I’d rather hunt for an award winner of color, a non binary or prison author than read about white people ascending to an even more exalted status, even if white people problems will always hold a certain appeal to this Apple product loving, bangs wearing white girl.

Also white people romances in castles at Christmas, which was the intent of this post before the miracle of the new Read Harder list being released.

I lied last week when I said there are no witches in my Christmas romance lineup.  I didn’t know that Scottish time travel romances would involve a meddling magic hub in the form of a woman:

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Morna’s Legacy Christmas Novella Collection:  Scottish, Time Travel Christmas Novellas from Morna’s Legacy Series

I mean, Scotland, Christmas and time travel.  Coming from someone who enjoyed the first in the Outlander series, this was a no-brainer.  Outlander is a little more hard core on the Scottish history, which I loved in the first one but I haven’t read the rest because I heard the sex decreases and the anxiety increases, and, despite the historical accuracy of  it, it’s not enticing reading.

Morna is considerably lighter and these three books are compiled I think to appeal to a wide range of ages.   Two of the three are about older couples falling in love, kind of a second chance you really aren’t too old for this sort of thing and the other one is about traveling back in time to fix a breakup in a young couple just starting out.  Hope that last bit wasn’t a spoiler.  And they all center around the season of love and light, and being with family and finding family at Christmas.

These romances also include some mildly graphic sex, but it is love sex, not hookup sex.  It is like, soulmate sex. These are happily evers for three sets of lovers that, in the beginning, weren’t headed toward that.  It’s wish fulfillment without obstacles that are too harrowing.

All three of these stories were less than ten hours of listening on audio, and audio is always the way to go when you are listening to stories with Scottish characters. Real narrators who can do the accent but still have it understandable.   A decent price. Good background listening to a nice walk or gift wrapping.

I’d love to check out Scotland someday, even though I have heard that it is easy to underestimate how cold the place can be.

In other news, cookie baking was the seasonal activity of the weekend. And getting my husband to score me some massage gift cards for Christmas.  I wasn’t sad I didn’t have to freeze my butt off for a parade and a tree lighting like I did last weekend.

Next week is another holiday foray into a mega famous author’s works again for what I think will be the last Christmas reads post of the season.  I snuck in another read that doesn’t fit in with next week’s post but it might get tossed in anyway if I finish it in time to blog about it.  I’m really enjoying it, so I hope I finish it.

Then it’s my last two Read Harder reads.  Yes, I have three weeks to go and I haven’t finished all my reads and squeezing in the last few reads to make my Goodreads challenge goal.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And I am already the cheater scoping out the internet for my 2019 plan.

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