Friday, January 27, 2012

Holiday books

Seeing as the season for Christmas books is well behind us (at least if you are like me and insist on reading Christmassy books only in December), I thought I'd do a quick summary post of the books I read last month.

The Christmas Scrapbook by Philip Gulley
Sam Gardner admits that his history as a gift giver is abysmal. Determined to redeem himself, he has enrolled in a scrapbooking class. His artistic enterprise, however, ends in disaster. Meanwhile, wife Barbara sees through his lame ruse of a Wednesday night "men's group," but suspecting the worst, she begins to search for a romantic rival.

This charming little tale is part of the Harmony series, which centers around Sam Gardner, who's moved back to his hometown to work as minister. I love the series; it's humorous, touching and being from a small town myself I can definitely relate. At less than 100 pages it's a quick read. I found myself chuckling throughout the story, while sympathizing with Sam and shaking my head at the quirky inhabitants of Harmony. I've been reading the other Christmas story in the series, Christmas in Harmony, every December for a few years, and I see the same thing happening with The Christmas Scrapbook (plus, I think I have a small crush on Sam Gardner).

The Christmas Secret by Donna VanLiere
Christine Eisley is the mother of seven-year-old Zach and five-year-old Haley. Her ex-husband provides little, if any, child support and makes life difficult for Christine by using the children as pawns. She works long hours as a waitress to make ends meet, but her job is in jeopardy because she’s often late to work due to the unreliable teenaged sitters she’s forced to use. When Christine saves the life of a woman who works in Wilson’s department store, the owner of Wilson’s wants to find her, to thank her, but Christine has disappeared, losing another job once again. He sets his grandson, Jason, to the task of finding the mysterious “Christy.” Jason, an accountant by trade who has lost his job to downsizing, thinks he is “above” working at Wilson’s. Soon, he discovers that this new task gives him more than he bargains for. The Christmas Secret is a novel for anyone who wants to see how love is a gift that keeps giving back; that hope is a treasure that never runs dry, and that faith is a miracle that is reborn with each new day.

The Christmas Note by Donna VanLiere
Gretchen Daniels has recently moved into a condo with her two children to be closer to her mother, Miriam. As they build a life together in their new community, they notice a mysterious young woman, Melissa McCreary, who lives next door. She has few possessions, little personality, and keeps to herself. One day a local landlord who is looking for Melissa knocks on Gretchen’s door for assistance. Melissa’s mother has died and in the coming weeks the landlord needs Melissa to empty her mother’s apartment. Gretchen reaches out and offers to help Melissa, but the apartment is a gut-wrenching shamble of a home. There is little worth saving except for a few photos and a note that is discovered on the crate beside the bed. It is unfinished, but in the two scribbled lines, Melissa discovers secrets about her family that she never could have imagined. Can two very different women embark on a journey that explores a long-buried need for forgiveness, hope, and redemption?

Donna VanLiere's Christmas books are another Christmas tradition of mine and I usually buy one every year in time for Christmas. Yes, they are all rather cheesy and predictable - just what I want for the season. These latest two in the series were both just as heart-warming and sweet as I have come to expect. Although all books in the series are stand-alones, some of them share a few characters, like these two books. They are set in the same small town and both feature young women who have gone through some tough times and are struggling to get ahead. VanLiere is very good at describing human relations and creating strong and likeable characters. These books provide a good story combined with a little bit of holiday magic.

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

It was impossible to ignore all the great reviews going around the blogosphere when this book was first released, but not being a huge fan of most YA books and romance novels, I didn't think it was for me. I only picked up the ebook version because it was on sale - and it turned out to be one of the best buys I made last year. Frankly, I loved it. It was fun, interesting and sweet and I couldn't wait to see what each new challenge would bring. Dash and Lily are very different characters but I was rooting for them from the beginning. The secondary characters are also great, especially Lily's great-aunt (I think?). My only concern is that both main characters, Dash especially, sounded and acted much older than they are, but it didn't ruin the experience for me in any way. Another Christmas favourite!

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