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review 2018-12-27 22:58
24 Festive Tasks: Door 18 - Winter Solstice / Yuletide, Task 2 (Neverending Book)
Murder at the Old Vicarage: A Christmas Mystery - Jill McGown

I'm going with the book I read yesterday for this: Mind you, this is by no means a bad book (I gave it 3 1/2 stars); the characters are well-developed, the story gets going fairly quickly, and while it does, it's an engaging read -- even if I didn't like all the characters I was supposed to like quite as much as the author probably hoped.  Also, if you haven't made up your mind early on about the "who" (and the probable "why"), and if you like an author twisting your tail round and round until you get to the solution, you'll certainly get your fill here.  Alas, the latter wasn't true for me in this instance, though; and as a result, from a certain point onwards the story's twists and turns felt a bit like the manipulations of one of those "three caps and a pea" shell game operators, but one where you've twigged the main sleight of hand early on and are just half-heartedly following the motions and waiting for the big reveal.  As a result, the final 100 or so pages of the book took me about twice as long as they would have if I had still been fully engaged at that point -- and in a 230 page book, that equates to almost half the contents.

 

Side note: While PanMacmillan's (and it always seems to be them) insistence on republishing mysteries set during or even only in the vicinity of Christmas with a new title (and matching cover) shouting "Christmas mystery", "cozy", and "Golden Age tradition" is seriously getting on my nerves at this point, here they've actually hit the bull's eye in a sense -- which will become clear very fast to any reader who's also read the book after which this mystery's title is obviously fashioned, and to which it pays hommage to a certain extent; i.e., Agatha Christie's first Miss Marple mystery.  Unfortunately, the new title indirectly also shines a light on precisely those clues and constructive elements of the book that, to me, made it clear fairly early on where we were headed ... and of course now I'll never know whether, if I had read the book under its original title (Redemption), those clues would have stood out to me quite as much as they actually did.

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review 2018-11-20 13:28
24 Festive Tasks: Door 18 - Winter Solstice / Yuletide, Book
The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield
The Thirteenth Tale - Juliet Stevenson,Diane Setterfield

Somewhat too self-involved for my taste, though in a first novel dealing with identity and the autobiographies we create for ourselves that probably shouldn't have come as a total surprise ... and I'll grant Setterfield that it doesn't exactly have "first novel" written right across its forehead.  The story's central underpinning is one of my absolute no-go tropes, however

(a secret baby)

(spoiler show)

-- and I'm sorry, but the days when I would have found the two (!) generations of Angelfield / March children's upbringing and childhood, or the household as such for that matter, anything even approaching romantic, wild or desirable are long gone. 

 

Far and away the best scene is the one summed up in isanythingopen's 70% mark status update -- a doctor's prescription of Sherlock Holmes as a cure for a cold and for getting overly romantically caught up in an identification with 19th century women's literature.  (Writer, heed thy own words, I'm bound to add.)

 

3 1/2 stars because I'm feeling generous and the writing actually is quite atmospheric whenever it isn't trying too hard.

 

The framework narrative mostly takes place in December, so I'm counting this book towards the Winter Solstice / Yuletide square of 24 Festive Tasks.

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review 2018-11-19 21:03
A Festive Re-read
Winter Solstice - Rosamunde Pilcher

I read this book nearly every year in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I have loved Rosamund Pilcher's sagas since I picked up The Shell Seekers at a Barnes and Noble somewhere around 20 years ago. I passed it onto my mother, who fell in love with her writing.

 

I don't know if Winter Solstice is my favorite Pilcher, but it is such a comfortable read for me that I can't give it less than 5 stars. I love all of the characters, and I love the theme of the book, which really acknowledges that sometimes your most important family is the family that you create. The relationship that grows between the lonely Lucy, whose self-centered parents are wrapped up too deeply into their own lives to give her the attention she deserves and Elfrida, her great-aunt, a former actress who never had children, but whose peripatetic life was endlessly fulfilling, is perfect. 

 

This is one of those books that I can't see clearly, because it has become a part of my bookish DNA. I've read it probably dozens of times, and each time I pick it up, it's like saying hello to a group of old friends that I've not seen for a while. The best kind of comfort read.

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review 2018-11-11 19:06
Just....No. Things Fall Apart, the Center Does Not Hold
The One You Really Want - Jill Mansell

I want to kick something. This book didn't work at all, and the ending just cobbles together happy endings, that make zero sense when you read what has come before. I am all for happy endings in my romance books, but not with partners who come out of nowhere and or partners that have zero chemistry with the objects of their affection. I kept hoping Mansell would switch things up a bit and have Carmen and Nancy not do what is typical for these types of books, it just doesn't work. 

 

"The One You Really Want" has best friends Nancy and Carmen dealing with Christmas and changes to their lives. Nancy expected that her husband was buying her some fancy jewelry, instead she gets the surprise of her life when she finds out he has been having an affair. Carmen is still grieving the death of her rock star husband, three years later. When her brother-in-law comes to visit (and stay) for the holidays, she finds she is not going to be able to shut the world away anymore. 

 

I wish that Mansell had actually shown Nancy and Carmen hanging out solo more than she did. Instead we have Nancy working, dealing with her mother Rose, and crushing on Carmen's next door neighbor. I wish I had gotten a better sense of her character. She doesn't even care that her husband is cheating on her. She just pops smoke from Edinburgh to go and live with Carmen in her mansion in Chelsea. I don't know if I wanted her sobbing throughout the book, but she's not even grief stricken. And her mother and Carmen tell her how they never liked her husband anyway. 


Carmen's story jumped all over the place. She has three love interests in this book and the first one fails miserably and the second is ruined because she lies about her history and how much money she has. It made no sense to me, and I felt annoyed about it. The worst for me is that Mansell has you rooting on one of these guys for most of the book, and throws a third person in the ring for her and it didn't work at all. 

 

Carmen's brother-in-law Reenie did not read as realistic to me at all. He's a rockstar and has a new girl every day it seems, but it stretched realism that he was living with Carmen, Nancy, and Nancy's mom Rose and has zero friends it seems. 

 

Nancy's mother Rose was okay, but not that exciting a character.

We also get the next door neighbor Conner and his 16 year old daughter Mia. I didn't really like Conner and thought him not actually standing up for his daughter more due to his BS relationship was eye-roll inducing. I didn't get why Nancy even liked this guy. 

 

The setting of this book take place over Christmas. What's weird though is it doesn't read like a typical Christmas romance book. Also the book jumps ahead a few months here and there so I don't even know what month things ended on. It was summer I think. 

 

The ending was a bit of a mess. We have Carmen deciding to start a relationship I didn't root for at all and then she fades away from the book. We switch to Nancy and she gets her totally not realistic happy ending too. 

 

Winter Solstice / Yuletide (December 21): Read any book that takes place in December OR with ice or snow on the cover OR that revolves around the (summer or winter) equinox OR a collection of poetry by Hafez.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-30 16:39
A Time for Healing and an Impromptu Family
Winter Solstice - Rosamunde Pilcher

I ended up enjoying the two books of Pilcher I read so much I decided to read this one and hang waiting until this Fall. "Winter Solstice" touched me a lot. I can see why Moonlight re-reads this one every year. I can see me re-reading this come December. It was a really delightful book and I have to say that everyone in it was fantastic. I am also glad that Pilcher didn't give the characters of Sam and Carrie a happily ever after with romance linked to it. If anything, I see these two as friends, and believe that is probably things will stay due to Carrie's job. I for one am thrilled we didn't have some mess with a woman giving up her sense of self and job for a man. 

 

I am going to give a word of warning here for those who think this is typical romance. There is adultery in this one, and even a situation where we have something going on between a recently widowed man and one of the main characters. I was a bit surprised at first, but rolled with it since it just worked. Moving on to the book now. 

 

Elfrida is a retired actress who has recently moved out of London and is determined to start over again for the last time. She has adopted a dog (Horace) and is determined to be more involved with her nephew and his family. She is taken in by a local family, the Blundell's anf feels a kinship with the father, Oscar, and his daughter, Francine. She realizes she is in danger of it turning into something more and goes away for a month in order to be with her family. When she returns, she finds out that Oscar's wife and daughter have been killed, and he is subsequently being turfed out of his home by his stepsons. Elfrida is taking into Oscar's uncle's confidence and is told about half a house he owns in Scotland. She decides that is where she and Oscar will go so that he can heal away from the village that has so many memories of his dead wife and child. 

 

The book then flips back and forth between Elfrida's nephew's daughter Carrie, a businessman named Sam, Oscar, and Carrie's niece Lucy. All of these people have something going on in their lives that will cause them to be in Scotland for Winter Solstice (and Christmas). 

 

Carrie is getting over a love affair that went south. Moving back to London has her realizing that her mother and sister are still selfish. She ends up taking the reigns on being there for her niece Lucy after her sister is insisted on going to the U.S. for the holidays and her mother refusing to cancel her holiday plans. When Carrie reaches out to her aunt to stay with for the holidays (they really have no place else to go) they join her and Oscar in Scotland with the promise that no one will be celebrating the holiday.


Lucy is a teenager and is frustrated that her father has pretty much disappeared into his new life with his new wife and no her mother is trying to do the same. Her Aunt Carrie coming to the rescue with them going to Scotland for the holidays is just what Lucy needs. She meets a boy named Rory Kennedy and finds herself getting some confidence and finally someone to champion her. 

 

Sam is English, but had lived in New York for years. Newly separated, he is back in England with the proposition of a new job that will have him living in Scotland. I was meh on Sam. He wasn't a bad character or anything. I just didn't find him as engaging as everyone else in this book. And I thought it was pretty bad taste for him to try things on a bit with Carrie. I am glad that got the needed push back it deserved. 

 

I loved each and every piece of this. I also loved Elfrida actually being frustrated with Oscar at times (it's believable) with him wanting to hide from the world and the church and being at first upset that Elfrida's nieces are forced to come to them for the holidays. 

 

The book's settings move from a village in England and then mainly to Scotland. The whole place seemed quite magical. We get to read some what about the inhabitants of the place, but not too much though. We get insights into the Kennedy clan, a widowed and ill man, and Elfrida's housekeeper and her husband. 

 

I do think that the ending made sense for this book. There are still troubles thrown characters way, but they are doing the best that they can with what they got. I would have loved a sequel to this just to see how Elfrida, Oscar, and Lucy end up with Elfrida and Oscar in essence deciding to raise Lucy cause her mother has pretty much abandoned her.  

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