Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A SMP Christmas: Part One - - Deck the Halls / A Season of You / Christmas at Two Love Lane

We're only a little over two months out from Christmas but we're already getting into the holiday spirit here at The Romance Dish thanks to several holiday-themed romances. Today, Janga and I are sharing our thoughts on four new books and two novellas from St. Martin's Press. The first three reviews are below. Be sure to check back this afternoon for the rest! 

Deck the Halls
By Donna Alward
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press / Swerve
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Donna Alward takes readers back to Darling, Vermont, for a Christmas novella featuring George Reilly, a formerly homeless veteran, and a woman from his past. Since he was first befriended by Aiden Gallagher and Laurel Stone (Somebody Like You), George’s life has gradually been transformed. When Laurel first offered him work at the Ladybug Garden Center, his responsibilities were light, but George has taken on more and more responsibilities until he is now Laurel’s trusted assistant set to assume even more duties as Laurel’s pregnancy progresses. He has VA assistance and a small apartment and has made a place for himself in Darling. He is even thinking of celebrating Christmas for the first time in thirteen years. Then Amy Merck shows up at the garden center, asking George to resurrect the past he has struggled to forget.

Fifteen years after the death of her twin brother, Ian, in Iraq, Amy and her parents are still searching for closure. George and Ian met right out of basic training, and the younger Ian became George’s best friend and the little brother he’d never had. Ian took George home to meet his family, and George basked in the warm welcome Ian’s parents gave him and delighted in careless flirting with Ian’s pretty sister. But when Ian died in Iraq, George felt responsible. He couldn’t face the Mercks. He hasn’t seen any of them in fifteen years. His own life fell apart, and it is only in the past six months that George has stopped drifting and found a home. He is terrified by where Amy’s questions can take him, but he cannot ignore her.

Amy has tracked George down, rented a house in Darling for two weeks, and made the seven-hour drive from her home in Brooklyn to find the answers she needs. George may no longer be recognizable as the young soldier she once crushed on, but he is the only one who can tell her about her brother’s last days and how he died. Amy will not give up on finding what she and her family need to put Ian to rest at last. And her heart won’t let her give up on George.

George and Amy are two wounded creatures who need each other, but before they can build a future together, George must forgive himself and accept that his guilt is self-inflicted. The hearts of the Merck family have always been open to Ian’s friend.

Alward’s novella will warm the hearts and activate the tear ducts of readers looking for a contemporary Christmas read with a big emotional punch. Fans of the Darling series will be particularly pleased to see George, whom they have followed from homeless man to productive citizen, get his own story. My only complaint is that the complexity of this story deserved a full novel. I liked the novella, but I was left wanting more.


Christmas at Two Love Lane
By Kieran Kramer
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Reviewed by PJ

Kieran Kramer takes readers to Charleston, South Carolina in this first book of her new Two Love Lane contemporary romance series which centers around the lives and loves of three matchmaking best friends and business partners. 

Rumored to be descended from Cupid himself, Charleston native Macy Frost takes her matchmaking profession very seriously even if she has serious trust issues and has never been in love herself. Sexy northerner, Deacon Banks has no interest in finding his true love but could use a few good dates while he's in town visiting his aunt over the holidays. His aunt raised him after the death of Deacon's parents and the only thing she wants for Christmas is for Deacon to settle down with someone who will make him happy, preferably someone well-connected in Charleston society. If Deacon gives the appearance of trying to find his "one," he figures it will buy him time with his aunt. Macy reluctantly agrees to find dates for him but only if he will agree to also give her a chance to find his true love match. Things go awry when Deacon begins to think the only good match for him is his matchmaker, Macy.

Kramer has created a sweet, humorous, leisurely story about two people resistant to love who just can't seem to stay away from one another. There's plenty of push and pull along the way, especially as the dynamic between Macy and Deacon begins to change. I enjoyed Deacon's relationship with his aunt, a character who adds a lot of spice, sass, and heart to the story. I also liked George, his aunt's cook/houseman who is quite the accomplished scene-stealer. Unfortunately, I had difficulty engaging with Macy and Deacon. I liked them but eventually became frustrated with their lack of forward progress. Part of the reason may be due to the length and pace of the story. It's very slow with a lot of two steps forward - three steps back which is not my favorite type of set-up. I probably would have enjoyed their story much more as a novella. But, if you like that pace, give this one a try. It has a lot to recommend it even if it didn't quite work for me. 

One thing I loved about this book was the setting. The author's love of Charleston comes through clearly, evoking the sights, smells, and sounds of this lovely, historic city on the South Carolina coast. It made me want to pack the car and drive down for a visit! 

A Season of You
By Emma Douglas
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Mina Harper, the youngest child of rock legend Gray Harper, married her high school sweetheart when she was eighteen, shortly after the death of her father. Two years later, her husband, on his way home after a friend’s birthday party at the Salt Devil Distillery, was killed by a drunk driver.  Mina has spent the past three years as a semi-recluse, working her shifts with Cloud Bay’s search and rescue team and maintaining contact with her family, but spending most of her time in her cottage painting. Her yellow Lab Stewie is her closest companion. Mina has no interest in opening her life to someone else whom death might steal from her.

Will Fraser fell in love with Mina Harper when he first saw her. Knowing it was hopeless because she was happily married didn’t change his feelings. Neither does knowing that the last man a woman whose husband’s death was alcohol-related is likely to be interested in is the co-owner of a whiskey distillery. But when Will rescues Mina, she thanks him an invitation to the Harper Thanksgiving feast. Soon mistletoe and Will are giving Mina ideas. But while Mina is all for an affair that may make Christmas bearable, Will is thinking about forever.

Douglas’s second Cloud Bay book is set against the Christmas activities of this island community. Mina’s feelings about the holiday are significant to the story, and the conclusion is practically wrapped in a Christmas package and arrayed with stars. This sweet, slow-paced romance also has its share of sizzle, a combination sure to please readers who like a contemporary story with a real Christmas feel, a well-developed romance, and interesting family dynamics.

Have you read any Christmas themed romances yet?

Are there any in particular you're looking forward to?

Do you have any titles to recommend?


  1. Loving this post, contemp and Christmas - what could be better. I have a lot of Christmas books on my wishlist. Just started Catherine Anderson's The Christmas Room. Am looking forward to several Christmas books: Christams at Two Love Lane by Kieran Kramer (had never read her), Sugar Plum Way by Debbie Mason, Nancy Naigle - Hope at Christmas, TAll Christmas Cowboy by Carolyn Brown, and lots more incl The ones you posted here. I read a few years ago, The Unfinished Gift I would def. recommend and any of Susan Mallery or Sherryl Wood's Christmas books. Look forward to the next post.

    1. Hi Patoct! Do give Kieran Kramer a try. I've read all of her books and usually enjoy them a lot. As I said in my review, this one didn't quite work for me but she's a good writer.

      I've read Debbie Mason's Sugarplum Way and it's another winner for me. I've fallen head over heels in love with her Harmony Bay stories.

  2. I've been reading Christmas books since July. LOL But I'm not complaining. I love Christmas stories, and for many years, reading new ones and rereading old favorites has been a beloved holiday ritual. I'm really looking forward to Debbie Mason's Sugarplum Way and to Regency Christmas Wishes, an anthology with a new Christmas romance from Carla Kelly.

  3. These all sound really lovely. I do enjoy Christmas themed romances, and I also love Christmas. The other day I was wondering how I could start sneaking out Christmas items without my husband noticing. I have so much stuff and it takes me forever to put out everything. :-)

  4. I read Deck the Halls and liked it a great deal. The other two sound like books I would really enjoy too. Thanks for all these have made me want to go dig into that dark closet and start off loading things.

  5. I agree with your review of Christmas at Two Love was just a so-so for me. I also didn’t engage well with the leads.

  6. Love anything Christmas themed. Looking forward to Nancy book. And Jill Shalvis. Will do a re-read of Harry Potter

  7. All these authors are new to me. I need to give them all a try.

  8. I am looking forward to Debbie Mason's Sugarplum Way. I've been reading Ginny Baird's series that is set in Christmas, TN.

  9. I've read a few including the first two you reviewed here. You nailed how I felt reading them. I've read a couple for Tule that were sweet too.

  10. I like Donna Alward's books. I will have to look for this one.

  11. I read Kieran's book and enjoyed it (arc)