‘Christmas Brides Anthology’ by Valerie Bowman, Elizabeth Essex, Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins

cba vb se ah eeSTORIES: A collection of previously published Christmas e-novellas…

“One Hot Scot” by Suzanne Enoch

Duncan Lenox lives surrounded by enemies, a MacLawry in a land of Campbells. But when an English beauty has nowhere else to turn, he feels obligated to help. Now that they must spend a night together in an abandoned cottage while a storm rages on, will their mutual passion save—or doom—them both?

“Once Upon a Christmas Scandal” by Alexandra Hawkins

Lady Ellen is outraged when she learns her dowry’s been increased by her dad, eager to draw every bachelor in England to her front door. So when Lord Swainsbury comes knocking, Ellen assumes he’s another dreadful fortune hunter. Little does she know that Swainsbury has completely fallen for her—body, heart, and soul…

“The Scandal Before Christmas” by Elizabeth Essex

Lieutenant Ian Worth needs a wife by Christmas. He has to find her, woo her, and wed her before he goes back to sea. Anne Lesley is a shy spinster with no prospects, so she accepts Ian’s hasty offer only for the security it will bring. But when a midwinter storm rolls in, things start to heat up between them…and they might just find true, honest-to-goodness love…

“It Happened Under the Mistletoe” by Valerie Bowman

Oliver Townsende intends to avoid the hordes of marriage-minded misses at a friend’s holiday party. When he meets Miss Cerian Blake, who’s dodging her own unwanted set of admirers, the two decide to join forces and fake an infatuation to keep their suitors at bay. But when mistletoe becomes involved, will their Christmastime prank turn into a love to last all seasons?

REVIEWS: “It Happened Under the Mistletoe” by Valerie Bowman

Oxfordshire, December 1817.  Oliver Townsende, the new Duke of Markingham, has been invited to attend Lord Medford’s Christmastide House Party.  It is with a bit of trepidation that he agrees to attend.  Now that the word is out that he has become a Duke and is single, the young women are around him like bees to honey.  For instance, one young woman, Lady Selina Kinsey, is quite brazen in her pursuit of him, trying to grab him at every turn and kiss him under the mistletoe.  It is while hiding from her that he meets a young woman who is also hiding from several gentlemen who are pursuing her.  

Miss Cerian Blake, age 22, is a cousin to a Viscountess and is in possession of a large dowry.  Although her father made his fortune in the copper trade, Lords Easterbrooke, Dashford, Meriwether and Sir Giliam are all looking to get their hands on her dowry.

As Oliver and Cerian are attracted to one another they are both trying not to give into this as they are each concerned that someone would want them only for their money.  However, they soon find that the attraction they have is true.

I enjoyed reading about Oliver and Cerian and found that they were perfectly matched for one another. They both possess a good sense of humor which is so necessary to having a good relationship.

Once again, Valerie Bowman has written a total winner.  I look forward to reading even more of her novels.

“The Scandal Before Christmas” by Elizabeth Essex

It is December 1816 where we find Lieutenant Ian Worth, second son to Viscount Rainsford who is demanding that Ian marry right away.  After spending 12 years as an officer in His Royal Majesty’s Navy, Ian is not open to demands from his bully of a father.  As it happens, his brother, Ross, and heir to the family’s fortune, has fallen from his horse and being paralyzed he will not be able to father children.  As Ross was engaged to Honoria, daughter of Sir Joseph Lewis, Ian is now instructed to marry her. In order to stall for time, Ian tells his father that he is already married when he in truth is not.

When Ian meets up with his old friend, Colonel Lesley, in a bar who tells him that he has decided to sell his commission and stay home to marry off his daughters, Ian responds that he is looking for a bride. They agree that Colonel and Mrs. Lesley will travel to Ian’s home, Gull Cottage on the Isle of Wight. They will bring their 22-year-old daughter for Ian to meet.  He is told that she is a sensible girl with a good head on her shoulders.

When the family arrives, Ian is somewhat taken aback that Anne Lesley is a rather plain and painfully shy young woman constantly at the beck and call of her mother who treats her as a servant.  In truth, Anne would like nothing more than to marry and get away from her jabbering mother.

As Ian and Anne get to know one another, he is pleased to find that she is quite agreeable to live at Gull Cottage while he is away at sea.  She loves the peace and quiet of the place.

However, Ian’s father makes an unexpected appearance at his home demanding to meet his bride. When Ian tells Anne that he has lied to his father, she goes along with his deception and pretends to be his bride.  Ian always received cruel treatment from his father and was forced to go to sea at age 12.

Will Ian and Anne truly fall in love?  Will they be able to live their lives as they wish without interference by their parents?

I found this to be a very sweet story.  Ian and Anne are perfectly matched for each other.

“One Hot Scot” by Suzanne Enoch

Julia Prentiss is a lovely young woman with a large dowry.  What visiting family, she is kidnapped by Lord Bellamy and taken to his home in Scotland.  His plan is to make her marry him so he can gain access to her dowry.  But Julia is a wily one and manages to escape and take off on a horse.  When the horse throws her, she lands on the ground by a river.  When she sees a naked man bathing in the river, she asks for his help.  His name is Duncan Lenox and offers for Julia to stay in his small cottage a few miles from Lenox House.  A huge rainstorm necessitate that they stay there overnight.  They are immediately attracted to one another and he tells her about himself and his family.

When Lord Bellamy discovers them in the cottage, he tries to take Julia back but they escape to Lenox House which turns out to be a huge mansion.  There, his grandmother and three sisters welcome her.

Duncan is a very wealthy man and Julia is an heiress.  Wonder what will happen next?

This is short but sweet novella with just the right amount of romance and angst.

“Once Upon a Christmas Scandal” by Alexandra Hawkins

It is 1826 in London where we find Lady Ellen Courtland, age 30, living with her parents, Lord and Lady Netherley.  Ellen’s father is ill and has been diagnosed with angina pectoris.  His doctor tries to keep him in bed but his love for his plants in his conservatory keep him escaping from his bed.  Lord Courtland is frustrated that Ellen has not married, but she simply does not care for any of her suitors.  When she discovers that her father has decided to triple the amount of her dowry to make sure she finds the right man, she is furious.  However, she tries to cover her anger and go along with her father to keep him calm.  Her family has invited a great number of people for Christmas and, hopefully, one of them will be someone Ellen will choose to marry.

When Derrick Martin Hunt, Earl of Swainsbury, appears as part of the Christmas invitees, Ellen just figures that he is another man looking to marry her and gain her dowry.  However, as they get to know one another better over the days, she discovers he is not the man she thought he was.  In fact, he is handsome, kind and truly cares for her.  When he confides a sad story about his murdered sister, she is shocked to find that Derrick has reason to believe that the killer is now after her.

As the attraction between Derrick and Ellen increases, so does the tension of what might happen.  When near tragedy strikes, they ban together to save her and her family.

This is a cleverly written novel with solid characters that make the story one that the reader will not want to put down.

I have strived to include teasers by not spoilers in this review as I do not think the book/novella has been published before.

Connie for b2b

Complementary copy provided by the publisher

Carla Kelly’s Christmas Collection

CKCC CKSTORY: The Christmas Ornament: When the father of his now-deceased best friend hints that he should consider his daughter as a potential wife, Lord James Crandall isn’t sure he can get past the fact that he used to tease her mercilessly when she was just a girl. But once he finds out how brilliant her mind is, he’s not sure he can get past the fact that she’s a woman. Add in the fact that her charms have garnered the attentions of other gentlemen, Lord Crandall is in for quite the roller coaster Christmas.

Make a Joyful Noise: Widower Marquis Peter Chard is grateful for his two children, but not so grateful when his mother gives him the chore of recruiting people for the parish Christmas choir competition. When recently widowed and pregnant Rosie Wheatherby turns up with the voice of an angel and the looks to match, Lord Chard isn’t about to let her get away from the choir . . . or his family.

An Object of Charity: Stuck on land while his ship is being repaired, Captain Michael Lynch is approached by his late first mate’s niece and nephew. Learning they are destitute, he decides to take them home with him for the holidays, returning for the first time in 22 years ago. As he spends more time with them and unburdens his heart to the young woman, she replaces his hurt with love in time for a very special Christmas.

The Three Kings: After her brother is shot by the French in Spain, Lady Sarah Comstock is forced to travel across the war-torn countryside with a Spanish Colonel. As Christmas quickly approaches, Sarah learns about the Three Kings giving gifts to the Christ child and finds a gift of her own that she can share—her heart.

REVIEW: It’s not really a Christmas if you don’t read or re-read Carla Kelly Christmas story, and in this book you get four!

This is a reissue, so pay attention because you might own it already, and in that case, dig it out and reread it. It’ll make you feel warm all over again…

All four blurbs are sufficient enough to give you a good hook to each story, so I’m skipping on summarizing them for you.

This collection of four short Christmas novellas is classic Carla Kelly and even though the stories are short, each one delivers on plot, pace and depth of characters. Each story is unique, heartwarming and sweet romance.

I adored the hero of the first one as he awkwardly approaches the woman he finally realizes is his equal and a love of his life.

Again in the second story, I just fell for the hero that ‘fell’ into his mother’s scheme and found love in the most unexpected place.

The third story was a bit darker than the other three, and I rooted for the hero that finds himself as well as someone to love.

And in the last story, our heroine who is English finds out that she can love someone who is not. This story was fast moving with action, but it ended abruptly and it left me wanting.

Each of these stories has a bit of everything for everybody: romance, humor and what we all need for the Christmas season, faith in humanity and in our Savior.

Highly recommended!

Melanie for b2b

*Book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

‘Countdown to First Night’ by Jillian Hart, Margaret Daley & Brenda Minton

STORY: Ten, nine, eight, seven…

Winter’s Heart by Jillian Hart

Shelby Craig comes to Snow Falls for a First Night job, but secretly hopes it will be a respite from her grief and a haven for her two young kids. A sympathetic cop becomes the determined widow’s staunchest ally—though helping her may break his heart.

Six, five, four…

Snowbound at New Year by Margaret Daley

This was supposed to be a done deal! Children’s book author Ellie Summers came to the festival to meet her new illustrator. She didn’t expect him to turn down her proposal. And then to find the obstinate man so charming… Is it wrong to hope his matchmaking twin daughters succeed?

Three, two, one…

A Kiss at Midnight by Brenda Minton

Pride is a hard thing to swallow, but Jolie Godwin does her best to ignore her grievances with Jake Wild this one time. The man is graciously letting her exhibit her artwork in his luxury resort for First Night. He seems like a good person and a devoted uncle. If only he’d always been so perfect. Because his kiss is something she can’t forget….

Cue the fireworks!

REVIEW: Well, it’s that time of year again when I venture out and do as much of ‘sampling’ to me new authors as I can, and to do that I turn to any anthology I can get my hands on, especially the Christmas/New Year ones. They are the best in gauging out if I like the author or not.

Here are three that I think you might like…

‘Winter’s Heart’ by Jillian Hart

I just loved this story, and even though it was way too short [HELLO! It IS anthology, right?!] I thought the character of Shelby Craig, a down on her luck widow and mother of two on her way to visit her grandma, was very well written and my heart went out to her.

This story was also very emotional and the scenes between the hero and the heroine were so well executed you could feel the vibrations jump from the pages.

For some of you out there who don’t like kids in your romance books, I can tell you right now, you’re missing out on a lot of fun! I adored the scenes between Ronan and Shelby’s kids.

Jillian Hart penned a sweet, fast paced and all around romantic story that will melt your heart.

‘Snowbound at New Year’ by Margaret Daley

Talk about love at first sight!

Ellie is an author of children’s books, and she’s not so happy about the illustrations for her latest one, so she decides to have a talk with the man and once she gets to his place, she is taken with him and his two girls.

Again, if you’re not a fan of kids in your romances, this one is not gonna float your boat, but seriously, you’ll be missing on a fun story. I just love kids in any story! Another well told, albeit short story that will brighten your holiday season.

Please don’t let some kids scare you away from a sweet romance!

‘A Kiss at Midnight’ by Brenda Minton

This story is another one that I liked a lot and that’s because of the hero, Jake Wild who ends up as a guardian to his sister’s child with special needs.

Jolie Godwin is an artist that is letting Jake display her art at his Lodge but the undercurrent to their story is connected with their pasts where her father played a major role and then there’s a kiss they shared a year before, which our heroine can’t dismiss.

Another heartwarming little story with yet another child in it, and I loved it.

There’s a common thread through all of these stories: First Night and Snow Falls, Colorado.

If you’re a fan of clean contemporary tales, I know you’ll like this collection.

I enjoyed all three equally because; each story was unique, entertaining; well written and developed as well as heartwarming.

If you’re looking for a Christmas/New Year read to make you feel warm all over, this one’s for you.

Mel for b2b

*Book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Merry Christmas!

Peace on Earth

Today we celebrate the birth of Our Savior and one birthday unlike any other in the whole universe…

Wishing you a very merry and peaceful Christmas Day and this whole holiday season.

Isaiah 9:6

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Luke 2:11

For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

‘Holiday Man’ by Marilyn Brant

STORY: A Year of Holidays…

Shannon Quinn is the small-town girl who runs “Holiday Quinn” — a holiday-themed inn and resort based in scenic Door County, Wisconsin.

One winter evening, wealthy Minneapolis businessman, Bram Hartwick, blows into town along with the fast-falling snow. The sparks Bram and Shannon create succeed in heating up the chilly Midwestern night, not to mention plenty of holiday weekends in the year that follows…

But is their relationship only for special occasions, or might it be the elusive everyday love that neither of them thought could be found?

REVIEW: As I finished this story [3 am Thursday morning!] the one word that bubbled in my mind as I tried to encompass everything within it was ‘honest’.

Make no mistake, there are many more like, hot; sensual; funny; entertaining; warm…romantic. But somehow the word HONEST was the first to pop into my head. Ms. Brant had created these two characters with honesty of who they are within their vastly different upbringings.

Everything in Shannon’s life involved and revolved around the legacy that was left in her keeping. She accepted it with love and dedicated herself to making sure she didn’t disappoint anyone, her new patrons and her regular guests; her friends and employees. In pleasing everyone and making sure that the Inn thrived she neglects her love life and all other dreams are left on the back-burner to be dealt with sometime down the road. Except that ‘down the road’ line keeps moving further and further. I really, really liked her. She was such a sweetheart and totally relatable character.

Bram, our hero, was one of those men that finally starts to see the fruits of his labor. As the CEO of his company, he was very much a ‘hands on’ man and never left anything to chance. He belonged to the family of overachievers and workaholics, so the good and bad habits were in his genes. His love life suffered greatly because of them and his globetrotting.

As these two lonely people meet and consequently embark on an affair, the author is clever in throwing them a curve ball of reality, and that’s where I felt the honesty of a real life and real problems and insecurities intrude into their life and bringing this story closer to the reader.

The chemistry that the author created between the two was raw and sizzled throughout the story. For that alone, this is one worthy read!

For me, a very surprising moment came almost at the end of the book, and it will stay in my memory for ever. I hate giving spoilers, but I’ll give you a hint…I am Serbian.

‘Saving Savanna’ by Sara Fitzgerald

STORY: Devan can’t help but blame God for his wife’s death, so the last thing he wants to do this holiday season is celebrate.  But when his daughter, Savanna, makes a special Christmas wish, their little family will never be the same.  Filled with faith and tenderness, this heartwarming story is sure to remind you of the real power behind the magic of Christmas.

REVIEW: This is an extremely short story but it did convey the meaning of true Christmas and was told with care. It touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes.

We all tend to give in to the fast pace of life and most of the time hardly stop to think and contemplate the reasons behind this holiday that has been commercialized by the whole world. By telling us this story, author is reminding us that miracles do happen, but we need to believe in them as much as we have to believe in the birth of our Savior.

Devan and his daughter Savanna went through a tragedy which shocked both, and as they both are trying to come to terms with their loss in their own way, we are invited to witness their miracle and hope for one in our own lives by believing that the Savior was born unto us for a reason.

Heartwarming, sweet, tender and well told short [I was done in less than 30 minutes] story of true meaning of Christmas and miracles.

NOTE TO PUBLISHER: As much as I liked the story, I thought it priced too high for its length. At only 381 KB [10 pages of raw story] it should have been offered for far less than $2.99 and I hope that you would consider doing it. As a reader, I wouldn’t buy it at that price, not because the story isn’t worth it, but because the length is not. The author should not be penalized by the price you set for her work. This short story was a perfect vehicle for us to get to know Sara’s work and I think by overpricing the story, that opportunity has been missed.

Remembering my Serbian Christmas Tradition

Badnjak

Every year at this time I’m reminded of how we used to celebrate Christmas in the “Old Country”.  I grew up as a Serbian Orthodox, so Christmas for us comes two weeks later than that of Roman Catholics on December 25th. Serbian Orthodox Christmas is always on January 7th. This is because the Serbs follow the Julian calendar, while Roman Catholics follow the Gregorian calendar, so while most of the world welcomes New Year December 31st, Serbs welcome it on January 13th.

Cesnica

In the morning of January 6th, Grandpa would get my dad to go with him and together they would choose our Yule log (badnjak) which actually is a young oak branch with leaves.  Cut “Badnjak” is then brought to the house, where mom and Grandma would welcome them back with the gift of “Badnjak”, and place it around the home as well as put some on the fire for good luck.

As evening approached, Grandpa would gather us all and together we would head to the stables where we’d gather straw, so we would place it on the floor of our rooms. Our traditional Christmas Eve supper was usually fish, baked beans, dried figs, dried plums and apples. Grandma used to call that “Posna Vecera” (Lent Dinner).  After dinner, the neighborhood kids with their parents would head out to “Korindju” (Caroling). We would go from house to house of our small village and wish all a “Sretan Badnjak” (Happy Christmas Eve). Afterwards we’d get home and while we’d be getting ready for bed in anticipation of “Deda Mraz’s” coming, dad would cover the Yule Log with hot ashes so it would still be burning in the morning.  

Koljivo

On Christmas Day, the first person that enters our house was called “polozajnik”.  For this day people are greeted with “Hristos se rodi” (Christ is born!) to which you must reply:  “Vaistinu se rodi” (Indeed he is born!).  He is offered my Grandma’s Christmas specialty “zito” (which is actually a boiled wheat and sugar) and red wine. For breakfast we eat a dish made of flour, eggs, butter and cheese (“cicvara”).  That is accompanied with cakes, figs and “Sljivovica“, which is Serbian homemade plum brandy. It is also a custom to prepare a bowl where young wheat is planted to grow during the coming year.  Before lunch, women of the house are getting everything ready for dinner, as Lent is officially over. Men are all outside slowly roasting the pork

Christmas Cake

After a very rich and heavy lunch, which starts early and can stretch well into the afternoon, mom would bring her “cesnica” (Christmas bread). Our Christmas bread is made of  lightly sweetened pastry filled with cream cheese, raisins, and pecans where a coin is hidden and us kids would always wait in anticipation of who would be the lucky recipient of this coin as that would mean prosperity into New Year. Serbian women are all very proud of their “cesnica” as it’s nicely decorated with braids, birds and roses made of dough.  Christmas day meal marks the end of the lent period and  for three consecutive days, Christmas is celebrated. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone through this tradition, but I still remember it fondly. What are yours?