An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klassen

Dear Fellow Reader,

If you read last week’s review, you know that there is another Christmas book waiting review. Yes, I am finishing off my commitment to write about the ARCs that I have received. And might as well put the disclaimer in now – I was given this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

I will agree that it seems terrible to be reviewing Christmas books before Halloween. But think of it this way. If you want to get the book from the library, you can ask for it now. And I just checked, this book is available from my local library. I am not alone in reading Christmas books already because there are people waiting to read this book. It may be that the author has fans because this is her 15th book.

To give you an idea about the book, the author describes herself in the following way:

“I love all things Jane Eyre”

That will tell you about the time period for the book.

An Ivy Hill Christmas is the story of Richard Brockwell, the younger son of in an English family. He has been living in London staying away from his family in Ivy Hill. His father had allowed him to stay in the house in the city with a skeleton crew, but his father is dead, and his mother and brother want him to return to the house at Ivy Hill. Richard decides that he will come home for Christmas. Richard’s mother wants him to marry and has invited some eligible women to be with the family at Christmas.

When I first started reading the book, I thought about Scrooge. Richard is not very giving. He seems rather caught up with himself. As the book progresses, we see a change or rather an unveiling of his personality and why he has been staying away from Ivy Hill. He has alienated his family to an extent with his standoffishness. But while he is at Ivy Hill, he rekindles relationships in the town, we see him warm up.

I did like that the story did not neatly wrap up immediately. The love interest did not swoon and fall into his arms. She did what she wanted to do and left Ivy Hill. It was a bit of a switch that I didn’t fully expect. Although as a bit of a gripe, why can’t these people ever talk to one another?  Oh, that is just me being crabby.

I did not realize this book was classified as a Christian Historical Fiction book. That probably would not have stopped me from reading it but I do have a comment about that. When I was reading it, for most of the book, I would not have said that it was a typical Christian book. It wasn’t until closer to the end that I noticed the Christian references. But I will say that they came on strong toward the end of the book. I almost felt like the author needed to pack it in at the end because she hadn’t had much reference to it before that. Now, you might not notice this. It is not anything that would stop me from recommending the book but the Christian references seemed a bit more at the end.

It is not a long story, I think it is considered a novella. It is about 224 pages long. A good length for a Christmas book. So, if you like a little romance at Christmas, I think you will like this book.

Thanks for reading.

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Jingle All the Way by Debbie Macomber

Dear Fellow Reader,

Fall is working its colorful magic outside. Yes, it is getting colder, but we are getting nature’s final show for the year before we settle into a world of whites and greys. No, I am not very excited about winter coming. After spending a lot of time at home, the prospect of the time of year where we spend a lot of time at home is not as exciting as it might have been in the past. But decorating the house is more fun for the next few months.

I went back to the well of ARCs. (Advanced Reader Copies) I try to keep myself from going there too often because there is so much that interests me. And in the past, I have taken many more than I can possibly read and write about. And there have been times that I have written about them and forgotten to report back that I did read and write about the book. I try to be much more careful now. Despite my efforts, I have five books. Yikes! I pick up five books (!) and three of them are new Christmas themed books. I think it is a bit early for Christmas books but not for publishers. I have read two and 1/3 of them so far. I regret to say that the one I have not finished is about to go on the “not going to finish pile”. I feel bad not finishing a book but there are so many books to read that I find that I need to just give up on some. (My husband would point to the large pile of books that I have not read yet as proof.)  I will say that sometimes it is the mood that I am in rather than the book itself. As I am sure you know, if you are stressed about something it influences your interpretation of the book.

I was asked recently if I review books that I don’t like or would not recommend. The answer is no. There are a few reasons for this. The primary reason is that the author has put a lot of work in to writing a book. Even if it is the worst book on earth, there were hours and hours of work put into that book and I am not interested in knocking the work that was put into a book. There are plenty of reviewers who will do that. Also, as mentioned in the last paragraph, your moods can affect your interpretation of a book. Also, your maturity can affect your feeling about a book. When I was younger, I loved the book Pentimento by Lillian Hellman. When I read it a few years ago, I was not as smitten. As a rule, I will not review a book that I didn’t like.

That leads us to today’s review. I was surprised that I was given an advanced copy of this book. Debbie Macomber is a well-established author. I would not have expected them to have a desire to ask for reviews as her books will sell well without any reviews. She is very popular.

Jingle All the Way is Debbie Macomber’s latest Christmas book. If you have never read one of her books before – how? – she writes contemporary woman’s fiction books. They are almost always from the female perspective. In this story, we meet Everly Lancaster. She is a very successful real estate executive who is frustrated with her business partner and his niece, who has been installed as her assistant. The niece has screwed up again and Everly wants her gone. The business partner decides that what Everly really needs is a vacation and tells her to take the month of December off. He practically pushes her out of the door. But he does tell his niece to book Everly on a cruise for the first two weeks of December. A wonderful relaxing cruise with all the perks. Instead, Everly is booked on a nature cruise down the Amazon. The boat is utilitarian. There are no phones or internet. Everly tries to get off the boat but that isn’t possible. Then she gets sick from a bug bite and spends days in bed with a fever. The boat’s naturalist, Asher Adams, takes care of her and spends time talking to her. When she is finally back up on her feet, she has two misadventures on the boat’s excursions. As a result of the trip, Everly finds herself and true love.

Okay, is it a bit formulaic? Yes. Is it a pleasurable read? Yes. This book is a salve to the holiday crazies. And you get to learn some fun facts about the Amazon. If you haven’t read Debbie Macomber before then you are in for a treat. If you have, then you know the pleasurable experience.

This book comes out on October 13. And time for the usual disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book for my unbiased opinion.

Thanks for reading!

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Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

Dear Fellow Reader,

There are times that I admire a book for the imagination of the author. I may not love the story, but I respect that the author could imagine a complicated story full of unbelievable events  and pull me into it. Have you ever read a story like that? A story that you keep reading even though it may be completely weird?

Sometime in the past, I read the book Himself by Jess Kidd. Do I remember the book? Not well but I do remember that it was an odd story. I don’t even know why I read it in the first place. Recently, I noticed that Jess Kidd has a new book out. The new book is Things in Jars. I had to wait a couple of months to be able to get it from the library. I just looked and there are still 70 people on the waitlist for the eBook. So, I am not alone. I don’t think I read a description of the story prior to reserving it. (Why would I do something that would make sense like that?)

This story is imaginative. I truly appreciate the creative talent of Jess Kidd. I am blown away by the plot of the book and the things that go on. Please note that if you are not willing to be open to things not known in this world, this is not the book for you. As our protagonist goes to a church to look at bodies that have been holed up in a cupboard, she attracts a ghost who stays with her for most of the book. He is occasionally helpful. His tattoos seem to have a mind of their own and move according the scene. (Yes, you read that right – his tattoos move around.)

The book takes place in 1863 London and in the countryside around London. The main part of the plot is that a child has been stolen and Bridie Devine has been asked to find the child. But it becomes apparent that the child is a bit odd. The servants are not allowed anywhere near the child and the Baron refuses to bring the police into the matter. He also won’t let Bridie see the child’s rooms. A bit odd? The child has pointed teeth like a pike, attracts snails (and eats them) and if she bites a male, he will die. That’s all. Wait, no, that’s not all. She looks like an angel and as she approaches puberty has an unquenchable desire to get to the sea. She does not talk. A woman is then found dead on the Baron’s property. Who was the woman and why was she there?

Bridie determines quite quickly that the “nanny” and the family doctor have taken the girl and Bridie starts hunting them down. She goes to a showman she knows to see if he has been approached to buy the child as an oddity for his show. He has built a decidedly large tank and was advertising a new attraction. And then Bridie’s 7-foot-tall housemaid and the snake charmer find each other. But don’t be detoured by that.

We learn about Bridie Devine during the story. We learn how she left Ireland for England with a man who sells bodies to doctors and scientists. And then was sold to a doctor who had a very jealous and cruel wife and an amoral son.

The plot has many twists and turns. (What can she think of next?) but it comes to a satisfying conclusion. I would suggest this book if you are willing to go on a ride with the author. Everything does work out but you need to be able to go with a suspension of belief.

Thanks for reading!

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The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Dear Fellow Reader,

While I write to you today, there is a rainstorm outside. Thunder and lightning – the whole Midwest rainstorm show. I am delighted because it has been dry where I live and we need the rain. There is one member of the family who doesn’t agree that we EVER need thunder and lightning. Sadie, the dog who is afraid (of everything) is under the desk at my feet hiding from the day. So while she tries to burrow through the floor, I will tell you about a new book I read.

Each morning, I receive an email from BookBub with the eBook deals of the day. (You can subscribe at  I really try not to buy any books but sometimes there is one that captures my eye and for $1.99, I’ll buy it. That is what happened with this book. It was on the sale list and it sounded intriguing. And of course, I was supposed to be reading my book club book. Sometimes, that rebel in me that just can’t settle in to read what I am supposed to read. (Just kidding, there is no rebel in me.)

The School of Essential Ingredients was a pleasure to find. It is a story about a group of 8 people who meet in a cooking class at Lillian’s restaurant. The class is held once a month on Monday nights. The stories about the 8 students and Lillian are woven through the classes. We learn first about Lillian and her involvement with food and how she learned how to use food to get her mother’s attention and the woman who helped her learn about food and cooking. The students in the class each have a different reason for being in the class. There is the older married couple, the lawyer coping with loss, the young girl trying to find her way, the older woman whose memory isn’t quite what it should be, an Italian kitchen designer with a design problem, a new mother, and the software engineer who tends to look at things in black and white.

This book tells the story of these people and how they came to be in the class. Through the writing, you feel that you get to know them and will miss them when the story is over. There is not some big pivotal moment – it is a nice story. The book reminds me of a Maeve Binchy book. I don’t know if Maeve Binchy is still in as much favor as she once was but there was a time when I couldn’t wait for her next book. (I even saw her in person once. I could have been an author groupie…)

I sometimes feel that if I say, “it is a nice story” that that will undersell the book. The truth is that while we can appreciate books that share a lesson or review something about the world, it is great to just read a nice story and take a break from current events or history. That is what I am offering to you to read. A nice story to entertain you.

There is a second book in the series, The Lost Art of Mixing. I just got it from the library yesterday, so I can’t comment on it yet. But so far, so good.

Be good to yourself.

Thanks for reading!

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A Deception at Thornecrest by Ashley Weaver

Dear Fellow Reader,

Back in January, I reviewed the book Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver. ( Remember back in those good old days? That was back before we were all inside for the pandemic. ~sigh~ 

Anyway, I enjoyed that book and talked about reading the rest of the books in the series. I have been making my way through the series and then I found that I could get an advanced reader copy of the newest book in the series. ( So this is my unbiased review.) 

A Deception at Thornecrest finds Amory Ames at her summer residence, Thornecrest, waiting for the birth of her first child. Milo (her husband) is out for a few days but should return later that day. A guest arrives at the house and introduces herself as Milo’s wife, Mrs. Ames. Even though they have had several rocky years in their marriage, Amory is sure that the woman is not married to her Milo. But then the young woman identifies him in a picture. Needless to say, Milo has a lot to explain when he gets home. But then another person arrives at Thornecrest, who announces that he is Milo’s (surprise!) stepbrother. It would be hard to deny the relationship as they look amazingly alike. Milo is not happy with this arrival. (But could it explain the first visitor?)  

While they are trying to figure out the situation, there is a murder of a village youth at the village festival. Solving this mystery will take them some time to find out who is who they claim they are and who is not being entirely truthful.

This is another good cozy mystery and I have enjoyed the series. I will say that book 5 in the series, An Act of Villainy, has the biggest surprise ending. I will admit that I don’t usually spend any time trying to figure out “who done it”, when I am reading a mystery. When I get to the end, I generally am not surprised but I don’t put any effort into trying to solve the mystery. I just want to be entertained. I was surprised by the end and I was pleased to be surprised. I thought the author did a good job.

As I seem to have this thing about reading books that are in a series in order, I would suggest that you do the same. By doing so, you see the progression of the relationship between the two main characters. These mysteries are set in the 1930s so they are mysteries written to be from that era. The main characters are very rich. It is a time between the World Wars and the characters seem light and breezy.

Thanks for reading!

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