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review 2017-11-05 10:55
Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment In Relishing The Season by Alexandra Kuykendall
Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season - Alexandra Kuykendall

The Christmas season is a particularly difficult time for women to slow down and relish what's right in front of them. An annual marker for many, it is a holiday that can often remind us how life is not going as we'd planned. Our family relationships remain strained, our finances stretched, and our schedules stuffed with too much to do in too little time. Following the formula of her successful Loving My Actual Life, Alexandra Kuykendall shares with readers her own personal experiment to be completely present in her life as it is during the holiday season. Addressing the themes of Advent and Christmas, she reflects on hope, love, joy, peace, and relishing the season, with practical pullouts on common Christmas stressors, such as finances, schedules, and extended family. Kuykendall's signature candor helps women go easy on themselves, remember what truly matters, and find joy in their imperfect Christmases.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

It all started with Alexandra Kuykendall's previous release, Loving My Actual Life, in which for an entire year she challenged herself to slow down a bit and take in the actual life she was living rather than the one she was obsessively trying to achieve through insane schedules, a go-go-go lifestyle and maybe a touch of subconsciously trying to compete with friends and neighbors for a mythical "best life" award. Using the format of that experiment, Kuykendall challenges herself once again, this time tackling the seemingly inevitable stress that comes with each year's impending holiday season -- the days packed with endless holiday festivities, the decorating, the blown out holiday budget that depresses her come January. She explains that her inspiration this time around was the realization that she did not want her daughters to grow up and have their dominant holiday memories be of stressed out, edgy and resentful parents. Instead, she wanted to put the need for perfection aside and just try to be present and authentically capture the true magic of Christmas for her girls. This year, Kuykendall wants to put the focus back on true family togetherness, charity, kindness, all those warm fuzzy emotions we ALL desperately need a good dose of right about now. 

 

Can I do this? Create an experiment where I'm able to savor the season in front of me without ending up overwhelmed and bitter? Where I avoid needing a detox from the fa-la-la-la and the mistletoe? It is worth the try. Because hope, peace, joy, and love are certainly words I want to associate with this time of year. Rather than overspending, overeating, undersleeping and underrejoicing, I want to notice the goodness God has offered in the here and now. In this year. This Christmas. Regardless of the circumstances. Because I don't want to resent this actual Christmas. I want to love it. 

 

 

It's a tough year for Kuykendall, as it's the year her stepfather passed away, a man she had come to rely on as a loving, reliable male figure in her life (for more on the difficult relationship Kuykendall has with her birth father, check out her memoir, The Artist's Daughter). Hard as it will be to tackle a season of family gatherings without this important man there for her, Kuykendall works hard not to let the sadness tarnish the warm memories she wants to cultivate for her family. 

 

In Loving My Actual Christmas, Kuykendall admits from the very beginning that this round will be slightly different because she is not working within the luxury of an entire year. We are talking about a season. So she gets the ball rolling in November, jumping right into family gatherings and activities around Thanksgiving, Christmas right around the corner. After moving passed Christmas, the book closes out a few days past the New Year (this past January 2017, as she notes that she started writing this book during 2016 holiday season).

 

Though she may not have a full year to work through, to give herself some sense of structure to this experiment, Kuykendall plots out the time frame of the experiment using the window of Advent (the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas Day) as well as Christmastide (more commonly known as the Twelve Days of Christmas), carrying through to just after New Year's celebrations. This book has the same diary-like layout as Loving My Actual Life. From day one, Kuykendall makes entries for every day of every week, giving readers a rundown of what the day's activities looked like, what she hopes to accomplish with that day, what she comes away with (lesson-wise) at day's end, and what Scripture she used that day to ponder on as she worked through each day's schedule. The entries are divided by Advent week and for each week she gives herself an overall theme to focus on: 

 

  • Week 1 = HOPE
  • Week 2 = LOVE
  • Week 3 = JOY
  • Week 4 = PEACE
  • * and then a section that does an overview on her Christmastide experience

 

Each chapter closes on "Questions for Reflection", questions that help guide readers on their own journey of better appreciating the season. She also offers relevant scripture, so this book (as well as her previous experiment book) have potential to be used as devotional supplements. Kuykendall is quick to address that a lot of the issues / stressors she tackles in this book will likely come of as #firstworldproblems, but as she points out -- the experiments are called MY ACTUAL LIFE and MY ACTUAL CHRISTMAS... it might seem first world, but it is the life SHE is personally living, so we gotta let her do her thing. 

 

What I love about these experiments of hers is that Kuykendall gives it to her readers honestly, warts and all. She fully admits to being human, starting with the best intentions and then getting in the moment and seriously wanting to throw in the towel instead. Immediately from Day 1 of her Christmas experiment she hits a wall. Not a good start, but a humorous and relatable one! She talks of facing the living room mantel, realizing she has to take down all the "harvest" decor to set up the Nativity scene... and she's honestly just not feelin' it, y'all! Who hasn't been there!

 

Also on this day she's hit with the first wave of holiday family travel plans (orchestrating all that) as well as trying to find time to sit down to do the obligatory Christmas cards. Those Christmas cards haunt her through many of the days, leading her to tell a story of when she just decided to NOT do cards one year, and guess what? There was a little guilt involved on her part, but no one died and no one disowned her. This spoke to my soul as it's exactly where I was last Christmas, and frankly I don't know that I'm feeling much for the cards this year, so it was nice to get a sense of camaraderie from that. Kuykendall encourages readers to still do cards, but do them for the right reason. Do it because you honestly love and miss these people and WANT to connect, don't just make it a chore to scratch off because you don't want things to get awkward later. 

 

No big surprise, but one of Kuykendall's big takeaways from this project is that the best gift is really just giving someone time / attention / respect / love. If you love the act of bestowing physical gifts, just make sure that the gifts show you LISTEN TO THEM. Don't get caught up in getting what everyone else seems to be buying -- unless, I guess, your people have expressed that's truly what they want with all their hearts. But in general, it's nice to give gifts that give a nod to something said in passing that shows you were listening even when they thought you weren't! ;-)

 

Other main points:

 

* Decide on a holiday budget and STICK TO IT. Also, it might help to make an inventory of all expected costs for the season -- what you anticipate to spend on holiday meals, outings, travel, holiday clothing, etc. Factor that into the overall "holiday budget" at the beginning of the season and you probably won't have quite as much sticker shock come January. 

 

* As Kuykendall's husband kept telling her throughout this process: "No bad-mouthing Christmas!" Your season might still have an element of stress no matter what you do but don't blame the season, just find your zen again and remember the real "reason for the season".

 

As I carried out the experiment, I was reminded that this holiday becomes a circus because we are operating out of our longings. We long for memories and fun and happiness. We long for meaning and purpose. We know it must be hidden somewhere among the decorations and the fuss. And when I stopped and paid attention, this is what stood out to me about why we do all of this Christmas making in the first place. 

 

* Learn to say "no" sometimes and be okay with it. Much of the stress of the season comes from us allowing ourselves to be roped into doing every little thing to ensure everyone else has the perfect season. Once in awhile, stop and say no. And then go let yourself have some you time so YOU can enjoy the season. 

 

At the back of the book, Kuykendall also offers supplemental guides such as "Practical Tips and Strategies" where she outlines just how exactly she pulled off this experiment and how you can try it yourself. Within the guides she also encourages readers to engage in some moments of contemplation: evaluate family holiday traditions, WHY you still do them and should you continue with them or are you merely doing it out of habit? (Think: are the kids too old for it? Are there enough people that still enjoy the tradition or are you just forcing them through?). She gives you a really handy guide on ways to be more economical during the season as well as a pep talk on the power of "no thank you".

She closes with the plea to readers that while they go through this process (should they choose to, that is), in all things always strive to continually be kind, gracious and compassionate. 

 

Near the end of the experiment, Kuykendall points out that throughout this process it is important to keep in mind that you can't (or at the very least, shouldn't) gloss over the hurts and struggles of the year with a simple dusting of tinsel, a few rounds of carols and a nice mug of eggnog (if eggnog is your thing). Kuykendall advises readers to remember the Nativity story: all the struggles that were going on in that time in history, how so many people craved a positive change for peace... and what happened? A star suddenly appeared in the night sky shining a light so bright as to leave any observer awe-struck, so bright as to be able to guide three wise men to a random manger. A light in the darkness. The darkness doesn't go away for good, but having your heart in the right place helps keeps the hardships at bay. That's the idea here. Acknowledge the struggles but embrace the joy and grace found behind them. We will likely always be trying to fight off one evil or another in the world, but Kuykendall encourages you, when faced with dark times, to allow yourself to still be in awe of the marvels & beauties in the world, because if you keep yourself open enough, they will remind you that they are still out there. As she says, "This is a year to celebrate the good news within the context of our actual lives."

 

 

FTC Disclaimer:  Baker Books kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2017-10-09 05:59
The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti by Annie Vanderbilt
The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti - Annie Vanderbilt

Lily has come to southern France in search of a new perspective, hoping that the sun's soft rays and the fragrant sea breezes will provide a relaxing respite from the demands of her lively daughter and her family's Idaho cattle ranch. Two years after her husband's sudden death, in the house that's been in his family for generations, she finally finds some stolen weeks to make sense of the past. To Madame Olivetti, her cranky old manual typewriter, Lily entrusts all her secrets, pounding out the story of the men she loved, the betrayals she endured, the losses she still regrets. And with the companionship of Yves, the seductive handyman who comes by to make repairs, Lily comes closer to understanding her exhilarating past and to discovering she has a new story to tell, one about the delights of starting over.

Amazon.com

 

 

Needing a break from the demands of family and her cattle ranch business, Idaho widow Lily Crisp decides to take a vacation in the South of France. While settling in at La Pierre Rouge, the home she inherited after her husband's passing, Lily journals her French-inspired / influenced thoughts and experiences using an old typewriter she's dubbed "Madame Olivetti". It's through the "Madame Olivetti papers" that the reader also learns the story of not only Lily's relationship with her late husband (how they met, how their romance developed, struggles in later years, etc) but also her more recent bedroom escapades with a certain French hottie handyman by the name of Yves Lebrun. Yves arrives one day to start work on repairing the roof of La Pierre Rouge, but over time his down-to-earth perspective on things (once Lily deciphers it through his limited English) helps our girl unravel twisted up mysteries within her heart and mind... by way of her lower regions ;-)

 

While much of this novel comes off very fluffy and surface level, there is something to be said for the topics it quietly addresses: the struggles of rebuilding a life after a spouse of decades passes away, the tricky navigation of dating after the age of 40, the side eye a woman might get for being so bold as to date an obviously younger man (Lily writes of her annoyance at the looks she gets for being in the Over 50 crowd but still happily living as a woman a good 20 years younger). There's something here that could easily appeal to those who've had late in life romances themselves.  Though I'm years away from those years myself, I still found a portion of Lily's story relatable when she speaks of younger years, having had her heart shattered over a failed romance but how that pain eventually led her to discovering how to open her heart again, which in turn led her to meeting her then-future husband, Paul. My romance with my own husband unfolded in a  similar way, in that respect. I even found myself nodding in understanding to Lily writing of her first time sleeping with Paul: "a sexual exorcism of one ex-wife and an ex-lover." That sense of joy and even relief, when you get that inkling in your mind that maybe, just maybe, you got things right this time! 

 

"I think she fell in love with my love for her. I was pretty well gone and I made her feel like an infinitely fascinating woman -- which of course I thought she was."

~Paul

 

The slow build of Lily and Paul's relationship made for sweet reading. Author Annie Vanderbilt also writes in a layer of realism to Lily and Paul's later years that I could appreciate. Vanderbilt illustrates that sure, over years of being together, doldrums can set in, things can get predictable, which can sometimes lead people to make poor choices in their fervent attempts to shake things up in their lives. Even the most outwardly perfect couplings take dedicated work behind the scenes to hold that foundation together.

 

He kissed her lightly on the cheek , then turned and walked down the alleyway toward his car. It's over, she thought, it can get no worse. 

 

Blessedly, the future is all delusion. Only the past is known, and even then we tamper, we distort. But that moment she saw clearly: the heart's great pulse of desire, undiluted. Nothing more. So she watched him leave, and when he had left, she closed and latched the blue door behind her. 

 

All in all, some nice observances about long term (I'm talking decades here) relationships. The writing has a nice, easy flow and the contents within these "secret papers" will likely resonate, even if just a small bit, with a good many female readers... at least those past their freshman college years! 

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review 2017-10-09 02:33
San Diego: Four Sun-Kissed Romances by Cathy M. Hakes & Joyce Livingston
San Diego: Four Sun-Kissed Romances -

Contemporary Romance: Couples-to-be seek love and romance in this uplifting four-story collection. Vanessa is surprised to feel her heart beating madly when a father and son with matching soulful brown eyes enter her pet store. Valene is startled to realize that handsome Navy fighter pilot, Jordan, shows a strong interest in her, despite social disparities. Della realizes that fairy tales come true when Brandon wanders into her bridal shop, and Tessa learns that even when pride and unforgiveness have torn a marriage apart, love can make a comeback. Will these couples find the key that unlocks lasting love? couples find the key that unlocks lasting love?

Amazon.com

 

 

A quick rundown of the interconnected stories themselves:

 

"Love Is Patient" and "Love Worth Finding" are written by Cathy Hakes while Joyce Livingston contributes "Love Is Kind" and "Love Worth Keeping". 

 

The stories, in the order they appear:

 

"Love Is Patient" : Pet shop owner Vanessa gets involved with widower / single dad Nathan after his young son visits her shop and becomes interested in a dog. 

 

"Love Is Kind" : Remember Vanessa from the first story? Well, now her twin sister, Val, gets the spotlight. Val's neighbor, Jordan, accidentally hits her dog with his truck. The dog survives, Jordan steps up and offers to help cover the cost of the dog's post-op care (as well as lending a hand with the dog's in-home recovery process as well). Spending so much time with Val, Jordan starts to see himself developing deep feelings for her. 

 

"Love Worth Finding" : The story of a romance between "always the bridesmaid, never the bride" type bridal shop owner Della and former Navy SEAL Brandon Stevens (of course, these romances seem to almost always feature a SEAL somewhere nowadays!) who now works in construction. The bridal shop is located next to Vanessa's pet shop (from "Love Is Patient") and Brandon's construction job has him working with Vanessa's love, Nathan. This story is also set about a year and half after Vanessa's story takes place. 

 

"Love Worth Keeping" : You met Vanessa's twin sister, Val, in "Love Is Kind". Now Val's best friend, Katie, is in the process of planning her own Christmas Day wedding. Katie's parents have been separated for 8 years now and even now are not on the friendliest of terms. Still, Katie hopes she can bring them together and get them to get along for her special day. 

 

MY TAKE:

 

Having been born and raised in San Diego County myself, I'm naturally always curious to try out stories set in my home turf. Deciding to pick up this collection prior to a trip back home this summer, I was sadly let down. These were SO not my cup of tea. 

 

I somehow missed the fact that these were Christian romances. It's not all that advertised on the covers, though looking back on the back cover synopsis after finishing the stories, I do see one of the story blurbs makes one mention of "God's love" but I guess my eyes glanced over that part in my excitement to get into San Diego stories. Guess I should've taken a clue from the titles of the stories themselves (a nod to the famous "Love is patient, love is kind," etc, etc Bible quote used at nearly every wedding I've ever been to, including my own LOL) but it escaped my notice until I finished the book. These stories having a Christian theme generally wouldn't deter me from enjoying them. It's just that every one of these was SO heavy-handed with the preachy tone (IMO) that it was off-putting! That, combined with the fact that I just honestly didn't find the stories to be all that well-written made this whole collection a general NOPE for me. And what was up with Nathan knocking Vanessa's love of Doris Day movies? "Great woman but her taste in movies stinks." Seriously? You're going to fault your girl for liking some of the cheeriest movies on the planet? So she likes her some solid HEA in her life. Catch of a guy right there. 

 

The banter between the couples was often of a very boring, vanilla quality and the romance aspect was ruined for me when SO MUCH EMPHASIS was being put on getting the "non-believer" one in a couple to pray more or start attending church. Having strong faith is an admirable quality, I just get annoyed at this idea that you have to walk away from someone you otherwise find absolutely perfect for you JUST because their spiritual beliefs might be a shade different from yours. And this idea came up repeatedly in these stories.

 

I don't mind a beautiful story of someone coming to find faith if it has a natural flow to the process. These characters were just too strong-armed in their methods for me to like them. Val's story especially illustrated this. Val's parents came off pretty hypocritical, the way they said they raised their girls to only be in relationships with Christians, even though the father started out as a "non-believer". Also, Val basically using blackmail to get someone to attend church was unbelievably messed up. 

 

The last story, "Love Worth Keeping", (for me) had the most warmth to the writing, but that's not saying much, given how little I liked the rest of the stories. This one won't be a keeper on my shelf of hometown stories. 

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review 2017-01-25 22:53
A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay
A Portrait of Emily Price - Katherine Reay

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . . Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love. But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart. Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

Amazon.com

 

 

Art restorer Emily Price is sent on a business trip to Atlanta, Georgia to help an Italian family revive some of their family heirlooms. It's there that she meets Benito (Ben) Vassallo, the nephew of her clients, newly arrived from Italy. He's temporarily staying with his aunt and uncle while he helps them try to breathe life back into their restaurant, which has quietly but steadily losing business of late. As their respective areas of work have them frequently running into each other, they find themselves caught up in a whirlwind romance with each other. Ben spontaneously proposes to Emily, she agrees with equal spontaneity, and within hours they're on a patch of grass getting married by the nearest justice of the peace they could find!

 

The newlyweds fly off to Benito's hometown of Montevello, Italy (back cover synopsis mistakenly has it as "Monterello") where it doesn't take long for some of the luster to fall off the rose.  Sure, Emily found almost immediate love & friendship in the arms of Ben, but it won't be so easy when it comes to his family. She quickly starts to feel very much out of her element. Though Emily tries to make herself as amiable and helpful as possible at every turn, it just seems like anything she attempts she royally ruins. Ben feels bad for her, things are not unfolding quite as he envisioned either... but he has his own special blend of stress, being caught in between a sense of loyalty to his family as well as to his new wife. Even outside of the shock of Ben coming back married, the family has additional sources of stress and strife they're all trying to work through. It's a rocky homecoming all around!

 

Emily becomes concerned with her developing feelings of alienation from the rest of the family. That is, until she finds herself surprisingly bonding with Ben's quiet father, Lucio. But is having one ally other than her husband enough to make forever work?

 

This is only the second of Katherine Reay's works that I've picked up. I was surprised to find how deep some of the themes in this one got, as I remember the first book I tried -- The Bronte Plot -- was cute but as far as meat in the story, didn't really get too deep past surface level coziness & fluff.

 

Ben was quite the charmer and will likely have the "hopeless romantic" type readers of all ages swooning, even if just a little bit. :-) I liked that Ben had layers to his character. He could be a charming flirt one minute but the next could just as easily show some serious emotional turmoil, trying to hold the family together. It was also nice to see that his love for Emily was not rash or merely physical, he was honestly always about her well-being, making her as comfortable and appreciated as possible at all times. Who's not going to want to get to know a character like that! I also awwed over the relationship between Ben's parents, Lucio and Donata. Donata could be a fiesty one, a bit of a prickly exterior, but around Lucio? A big ol' bowl of melted butter. And Lucio always seemed to know just how to round off her sharp edges when Donata had her claws out. The sense of warmth, patience and love that radiated between them was a real joy to experience. 

 

The symbolism of the sunflowers was the standout take-away for me. I love the idea of the field of girasoli (Italian for sunflower), where Ben explains to Emily that one has to allow them to turn to the light on their own. If you force it, you snap the stem and potentially kill the flower. 

 

"Girasoli - Piovene Rocchette, Vicenza" by Renzo Pietribiasi

 image from Trek Earth

 

 

All in all, I'd deem this a fun read for lovers of Italian food, culture or landscape. Author Katherine Reay does a nice job having her characters make connections between the layering of art and the layering of culinary flavors, as well as the overall importance of always coming back to that strong family bond. You're bound to have a good time getting to know Ben's clan! :-)

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2016-12-15 23:20
Ex-Mas by Kate Brian
Ex-mas - Kate Brian

Seventeen-year-old Lila Beckwith's parents just left for vacation, and Lila's all set to throw the holiday party of the season. But when her Christmas-obsessed little brother, Cooper, discovers that global warming is melting the North Pole, he and his best friend, Tyler, take off on a runaway mission to save Santa. Lila has to get Cooper safely home before her parents get back on Christmas Eve. But the only person who can help her is Tyler's older brother, Beau — a.k.a. Lila's musician, anti-everything ex-boyfriend. It'll take more than a Christmas miracle for Lila and Beau to overcome their differences and find their fugitive brothers. But could a journey destined for disaster help these polar opposites fall in love...all over again?

~from back cover 

 

 

 

 

Seventeen year old Lila Beckwith's parents are taking off on a trip for part of the holiday season. Lila will be left home to house-sit as well as care for her eight year old brother, Cooper. She has plans for a blow-out party waiting in the wings but those plans are shot down when her brother decides to get little-brother petty and rat out her secret. To get back at him, Lila "accidentally" leaves out an article she got from her Earth Science class that hypothesizes how global warming might spell trouble for Santa this year. Lila knows her little brother still believes in Santa so she figures the article will hurt him a bit, but she has no clue just how far lil' Coop is about to take things!

 

Cooper, under the guise of hanging out at his best friend Tyler's house, manages to sneak out from the watch of his sister and board a train with Tyler (who just happens to be the little brother of Beau, Lila's grunge-lovin' ex-boyfriend that she currently has rather acidic feelings toward). Cooper and Tyler have a plan to travel to the North Pole to help Santa fight global warming and keep Christmas on track. So with two boys under the age of ten on the loose on the California railway system, Lila and Beau will have to set differences aside and round up their brothers before wind of the impromptu roadtrip gets back to their respective parents. Over the course of days that they find themselves on the road trying to catch up with their brothers' train schedules, Lila & Beau get to talking and discover that maybe they've always understood each other better than they realized and maybe just maybe there's a chance wrongs can be made right just in time for a magical, romantic-in-the-most-unlikely-of-ways Christmas. 

 

Beau swung back out through the door of the little store, and Lila watched him walk toward her. He had a way of walking like the world owed him something, and he wasn't afraid to hold out for it no matter what. It was a laid-back yet prickly saunter.

 

This is the first of Kate Brian's works I've tried, though I've heard of her Private series. Given the premise and the cutesy cover, it might be easy to initially dismiss this one as an easy breezy forgettable holiday fluff piece {confession: at least that's about as high as MY expectations going in were...}. While this is most definitely holiday fluff, it's of the best sort, in my book! You have your share of warm & fuzzy feels here, but I also like that it's balanced with families that aren't necessarily Christmas card perfect -- the tree might be up but these guys still argue, get stressed out, annoyed with each other... I can respect that realness!

 

I think having Beau and Lila start the story at a point where they can barely make eye contact they're so disgusted with each other was a good move as far as plot goes. The reader doesn't immediately have insta-love dumped on them from the first chapter and the build up of the "get a room already" kind of bickering was really well done, I thought. Beau and Lila start off each having their own way of exuding somewhat shallow or judgmental tendencies, but I'm impressed that for such a short story, author Kate Brian found a way to have them both go through emotional growth that seemed to unfold at a reasonable pace.

 

There was also a fun personal connection for me (being a born & raised Cali girl) having these characters be put on a roadtrip up the coast of California as I got to vicariously re-experience sights I grew up knowing so well but have been away from for quite some time. 

 

If you're looking for that fun & breezy Christmas read that's not SO sweet it'll feel like chugging a carton of nog, I'd definitely recommend giving this one a try. Coming from someone who has always considered Christmas her favorite holiday, I still say we need all the comic relief we can get this time of year and this one pulled some solid smiles out of me :-)

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