Advent reads part one – three holiday novellas

I love pretty much everything about Advent.  The kitschy calendars, the weather, the music, the expectation.  Let me be clear about the music, though.  I’m not keen on listening to Christmas music before Christmas (Eve).  Nope — it’s Advent music that I love.

Well, really, you can’t go wrong with the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, especially when they’re singing my favorite Advent anthem.

I have read (and am reading) a bunch of holiday-themed novellas so far this season, and I thought it might be fun to do a short series of Advent posts featuring these books and doing mini reviews.  I hope it’s fun for you, too.

Cover image, Heating up the Holidays novella anthology

When I heard that Mary Ann Rivers had a holiday novella coming out, I was all aflutter.  Heating up the Holidays is a 3-novella bundle featuring Play with Me by Lisa Renee Jones, Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers, and After Midnight by Serena Bell.  My buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict and I discussed all three novellas on her blog recently.  Check out our post.  While I wasn’t at all impressed by Play with Me (which I did finally finish after Kim and I wrote our review of it… and… wow. Underwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe it.), Snowfall and After Midnight are fantastic.  Snowfall is a Christmas novella about love, loss, fear, change, and stressed out E.coli bacteria.  After Midnight is a New Year’s novella about love, fresh starts, change, trust, and amazing first kisses.

Cover image, Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin

Matzoh and Mistletoe, a holiday novella with BDSM elements, grabbed my interest right from the blurb.  Every December twenty-fifth, Rebeccah Rickman volunteers through her synagogue so that others can celebrate Christmas. Her usual mitzvah, or good deed, is assisting police officer Jeremy Kohler. But this year is different: this year, Becca is free to act on the attraction that has long simmered between her and the sexy cop.  Jeremy couldn’t have asked for a better gift than discovering the woman he’s fantasized about for five long years is single. But when he learns about the violence that broke up Becca’s marriage, he’s hesitant to pursue her. He fears his desires will scare her away—but can’t deny his own need for control in the bedroom. Or his longing to instruct her in the fine art of submission… Becca is shocked to learn that Jeremy is a sexual dominant. And despite her past, she’s also aroused. But before she can explore what that means, she’s going to have to put her trust in Jeremy—and her own fledgling desires.  While Matzoh and Mistletoe was by no means perfect — the story line involving Becca’s ex didn’t quite resolve, and it felt a little bit as though Becca’s past abuse existed in the narrative only so the author could explore all the ways in which a D/s relationship is not abuse — it was still a charming read that I found very enjoyable, and it tells an interesting story.

Cover image, Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Earlier in the year, I read and enjoyed a book by Sue-Ellen Welfonder, so when I saw Once Upon a Highland Christmas (Scandalous Scots #0.5) come up on NetGalley, I wasted no time in requesting it.  I wish I had taken just a bit more time to think about it, because it turns out this story really was not up my alley.  Here’s my take on the blurb: This guy named Archie has decided that Christmas celebrations are for suckers, so he decrees that no one in his clan may be even remotely festive.  But this other guy named Grim and this lady named Breena are super festive, and they decide to invite all the neighbors to a Yuletide feast and thereby to rekindle the Christmas spirit in Archie. Along the way they fall in love.  Fans of Highland romance fiction or of Christmas stories that have a Scrooge-like character who finds redemption will probably enjoy this one, because it’s full of Highland charm and magic and definitely offers a strong theme of redemption and good cheer.  I felt that the romance elements were overshadowed by the festive themes and that there was not enough conflict in the romance story line to keep my interest as a reader.  That’s not to say that there isn’t any conflict at all, but it’s all external and seems to exist in the story more for the sake of there being some conflict than because there is any element that truly needs to be overcome in order for these characters to make a happy ending of it.

So there you go… three holiday novellas.  Stay tuned for more mini-reviews of holiday-themed novellas.  (I didn’t realize how many I had read until I started making a list… I read many!)  Have any of you been reading holiday-themed books this year?

Heating up the Holidays was released on October 28, 2013 as an e-book anthology by Loveswept.    Matzoh and Mistletoe was released on November 21, 2013 as an e-book by Carina Press.  Once Upon a Highland Christmas was released as an e-book on December 3, 2013 by Forever.  For more information about these books, please click on their cover images above to visit their Goodreads pages.

*FTC disclosure – I received e-galleys of all three books from their publishers via NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews.*

Review – Seduction of a Highland Warrior by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Real men wear kilts.  It’s true, unless the kilt-wearing man is also wearing a t-shirt that says “real men wear kilts.”  Just saying.

Cover image, Seduction of a Highland Warrior by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

At the King’s request, chieftain Alasdair MacDonald has sworn to preserve the peace in the Glen of Many Legends. Though he’s handsome and fearless, his warrior’s heart belongs only to his beloved land-until the fair sister of his oldest enemy shatters his defenses, branding his skin with a single touch, and sealing his fate with one stolen kiss . . .

Lady Marjory Mackintosh will do anything to unite the warring clans, even seduce Alasdair MacDonald. She has loved the rugged Highlander since she first saw him and now, as temptation leads to surrender, Marjory dares to possess him, body and soul. But a dangerous new menace enters the Glen, and he will stop at nothing to strip Alasdair of his honor-and the only woman who can claim his heart.

This book has magic, faeries, and a ghost romance (!!!), so my review is 100% biased.  I just want to get that out there.  I can’t dislike a book that has a ghost romance.  This book also has puppies (and y’all know that I go nutty for animal antics in romance novels), so… yeah.  My reading idiosyncrasies made me predisposed to forgive this book any of its errors (because love covers a multitude of sins).

On the whole, I think the book is actually pretty good.  I loved the tension between Alasdair and Marjory, and I was thrilled that Marjory was such a strong character (taking her life into her own hands, initiating each step of her relationship with Alasdair, etc.) without being obnoxious.  Alasdair is a well-drawn mix of duty and longing, and I enjoyed his journey from self-sacrifice to self-acceptance.  Of course, the story could have been completely awful and I still would have been on board with creepy amounts of glee and squee.

Did I mention that there are puppies?  Well, not only are there dogs of the young and the old variety, but there are also mentions of faerie dogs.  Faerie dogs!!!  Also, there is a big strapping man character named Grim who has as much enthusiasm for puppies and faerie dogs as I do.  I loved Grim.  He is a relatively minor secondary character, but he adds a lovely seasoning to the whole.  (I think it’s the gender role reversal bit that I liked best.)

Anyway, while I loved all the elements of magic, from a magical amber necklace to a gloriously creepy dream sequence, and how they provided a lovely and evocative backdrop against which Marjory and Alasdair’s romance is set, my favorite thing about the book was actually the way it is crafted.  There are all these little tendrils of story that seem, at first, a tad disjointed, but they draw you in nonetheless until you are ensnared in a story that is full of wonder, longing, hope, urgency, and fear.  The middle eighty percent of the novel is simply marvelous.

The beginning and ending of the book aren’t quite so strong.  I don’t think the beginning will bother anyone who has read the other books in this series, but I found it difficult at first to (1) figure out what was going on and (2) figure out who the characters are and why I should care about them.  In fact, I put the book down after about forty pages and read three other books before I picked it back up again.  I’m really glad I went back to the book: if I had endured just another ten pages, I would have read the book in one sitting.

With the ending, the trouble seems to be a strange case of anti-climax.  Welfonder does such an excellent job throughout the book introducing a menace both to the peace of the Glen and to the bodily safety of Marjory, but the resolution of those dangers takes place mostly off-screen (to mix my metaphors, a bit).

Take “The Prisoner,” for example.  If you smoke enough crack before you watch that show, Rover seems terrifying, largely because everyone on-screen reacts to it with fear.  Anyway, the show does a good job (ish) of making a giant balloon seem super menacing.  But what if all the characters onscreen were like, “Dude, this is a super scary moment in the show, because Rover could appear at any moment!” and another character from off-screen walked on and said, “Dude, don’t worry about Rover.  Turns out he was just a balloon, and I totally popped him with a sharp stick.  No worries!”  That’s kind of how I felt at the end of this book, except I liked it a hell of a lot more than “The Prisoner.”  After all, “The Prisoner” doesn’t have sexy Highlanders or faerie dogs.

Seduction of a Highland Warrior was released on January 29, 2013 as a paperback and e-book by Forever.  If you are interested in learning more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Sue-Ellen Welfonder, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*