All Is Calm
It’s going to be an unexpectedly romantic Christmas at Bluebird Ranch.
Brendan Waddell has always considered Bluebird Ranch a little piece of heaven: an idyllic ranch that pairs abused children with abused horses, run by one of his Marine buddies. Now, it seems just the place to spend Christmas recovering from an on-the-job injury.
Lauren Everman first came to the ranch as a foster kid, but now knows it’s the perfect hideout. As the witness to a murder, Lauren needs somewhere to lie low. Her beauty immediately catches Brendan’s attention—but so does her secretive behavior. This Special Ops Intel man knows a woman on the run when he sees one. Can he trust her, or is she putting the ranch at risk? One thing is certain: he’s going to do everything he can to keep her safe so he can see what magic Christmas brings.
All Is Bright
A romantic Christmas wedding at Tidewater Inn gives Delilah’s unique gifts a chance to shine. But will her light be snuffed out before the bride and groom say “I do”?
As manager of the Tidewater Inn, Delilah Carter has been planning a spectacular Christmas wedding for her friend, Elin Summerall. But when Delilah’s car is forced off the road and into the ocean, she finally has to admit that the strange phone calls she’s been receiving lately may be more than just pranks.
Sheriff Tom Bourne has always had a soft spot for Delilah, and he’s determined to protect her. He hopes to win her heart by giving her the surprise gift of a lifetime . . . but first he has to make sure nothing happens to her before Christmas Day.
It’s the season of miracles. But will both Elin and Delilah get the ones they need this holiday season?
All is Calm
It’s hard to get a whole mystery into one novella. It felt like it moved a little fast to me, but that had nothing to do with the writing and everything to do with the amount of words she had to do it with. Lauren and Tonya’s relationship was very intriguing. And the villain blew me away—I could have never guessed.
However, on the romance side, everything seemed to happen a bit fast to be entirely plausible. I mean, Brendan hadn’t even met this girl before, and he knows she’s suspected of murder. So he falls in love with her within a couple days? Decides to believe her within a couple hours? It was probably condensed so it fit in the novella, but still had me a little unconvinced.
There really isn’t that much to do with Christmas in this novel. I guess I was just expecting something that really had Christmas vibes, instead of just a novel that happens to occur at Christmas.
One final note—if you haven’t read the Bluebird Ranch series, you may be lost on some connections. For instance, I thought the person who wound up being the villain (an original character to the novella) was just another random callback to the series until I reached the end.
All is Bright
As with All is Calm, it moved a bit fast simply due to the fact that it was a short story. The relationship in this one felt more natural, since Delilah and Tom had known each other for a while before the story opened. It didn’t feel as rushed or forced. While the villain wasn’t quite as out of the blue as the first one, it did make perfect sense and provided for a wild ride. It has a few more Christmas vibes than the first, but again, it seems more like a story that happens to occur around Christmas. If the setting had been moved to summer, not much would have changed. As with the first, if you haven’t read the Hope Beach series, you may be a little lost like I was.
All is Calm, All is Bright features two sweet novellas, that, while they probably won’t blow you away, still make for a perfect read under the Christmas lights, especially for fans of her earlier novels.
Top 10 Reads of 2021
Last year, I started a bit of a tradition. I went back through all the books I read over 2020 and compiled my top ten favorites—the top ten best reads of the year. Why not do it again this year? So here you have them—the top ten best reads of 2021. (You can look up my reviews or watch for them coming in the next couple months.) I’ve arranged them in the order I read them, because ordering them in how “best” they are is impossible.
The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill—January 2021
I got this 20’s era mystery for Christmas last year and loved it. Piper is a spunky, smart heroine who actually uses her head. (I’m heading into a dangerous part of town? Might want to take an escort.) But what grabbed me and made it one of the best reads this year is the honest, raw look at grief that this book gave.
Veiled in Smoke by Jocelyn Green—March 2021
I got this book for my birthday and was amazed at how much it drew me in. All the characters were so well-developed. But Meg and Sylvie’s dynamic and tension as sisters (and the tension with their father as well) was what made this one of the best reads of 2021. And it was that tension that made it impossible for me to put it down.
The Nature of a Lady by Roseanna M. White—May 2021
This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021. As soon as it came out, I was at the mailbox eagerly awaiting my preordered copy. It did not disappoint! I had never heard of the Scilly Islands, and what could be better than a treasure hunt? The characters all lived up to the unique voices she sets up in all her novels. I’m especially excited to see the next book focuses on my personal favorite character, Sheridan. But what made it one of the best reads of 2021 was how it touched me with its message—that everyone is known by someone far bigger than them, that everyone belongs.
The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron—June 2021
This was a surprise best from 2021. Our library (where I volunteer) got it, and, having just come off her session at the Story Embers Engaging Plot Summit, I quickly processed it and snatched it up. (No self-serving motive in processing that one . . . ) I’ll admit—it confused the heck out of me. She has essentially four plotlines running at once—two in the present and two in the past. So the whole story doesn’t really come together until the last page—at which point, I promptly went back to read it again. The plot is brilliant, as are the characters. My only complaint? She killed my favorite character. :(
Shadow by Kara Swanson—July 2021
Another anticipated read for 2021! The first novel in the duology, Dust, made my Best of 2020 list, and since then, I’ve been awaiting the next one. (That ending, Kara! Why?) I honestly think Shadow might be better than Dust (but of course, you have to read Dust to have any idea what’s going on). The magic system is so creative and vibrant, and characters old and new exploded onto the page. But what made this one a best for 2021 was the theme. It came very close to some things I was experiencing this summer and showed me the light in the shadows.
The Lines Between Us by Amy Lynn Green—September 2021
You guessed it—I’d been looking forward to this one, too, after her debut novel made my Best of 2020 list. The style and characters in this one were very unique to the style and characters of her debut. It was a wonderful novel with a dash of mystery mixed in. What made this one a Best of 2021 was how she presented all viewpoints equally. The novel deals with the conscientious objectors on one hand and the women’s army corps on the other. She showed the good people and the bad people of EVERY side. One of the most equal representing books I’ve ever read.
Numbers 7, 8, and 9
If I Run Trilogy (If I Run, If I’m Found, If I Live) by Terri Blackstock—October 2021
(REVIEW COMING SOON)
This one had been recommended to me many times, but I finally read it this year. And. Couldn’t. Stop. Reading. It. It’s a contemporary suspense, unlike the historical and fantasy I normally read. Her protagonist, Casey, is both sweet and smart, but it was Dylan that stole the stage for me. What made this one a Best of 2021 is not only the brilliant plot (and it was BRILLIANT) but the sensitive portrayal of mental illness and PTSD. I hope someday I can handle deep and needed topics in my own novels in the same way.
The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers—November 2021
(REVIEW COMING SOON)
This book was given to me by a friend, and I honestly didn’t know what I would think of it. I’d never read Francine Rivers and was not familiar with this book. It honestly was a hard and heavy book to read. I haven’t been that angry at a character’s parents in a long time. (I’m referring to both Cadi and Fagan’s parents by the way.) These kids truly went through horrible things. That being said, I honestly did like Fagan better than I did Cadi. This is also a very explicit Christian book (long Christian messages/monologues, long passages of Scripture in the novel, etc.). And yet, it was done in a way that didn’t feel preachy, forced, or awkward, despite the large amount of content in there. Those two things are what made this a Best of 2021 read.
Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin—April 2021
Alright, this addition is going to make this list eleven, but we’ll just only count If I Run as two. And don’t feel bad, Anchor in the Storm—it’s not your fault that you were up against Shadow and The Paris Dressmaker this year. While scrolling through my reviews, I realized I’d forgotten to list this gem of a book. What made this book a Best of 2021 was Lillian Avery. I related a lot to her struggle of not wanting to be seen as weak. Add on to that the realistic portrayal of anxiety, PTSD, and disabilities and a mystery plot involving a drug ring within the Navy? Count me in.
And there you have it! What about you? What were your best reads of 2021? Have you read
any of these books? What did you think of them?
If you want to see more “Best of” books, read the 2020 installment here (https://racheljleitch.weebly.com/rachels-reads/top-10-reads-of-2020), or click the “Best of” category in the sidebar!
Siblings forge new paths and find love in three stories filled with the wonder of Christmas.
Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.
In Cara Putman’s White Christmas, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements—until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help.
Abigail’s brother Pete is a fighter pilot hero returned from the European Theater in Sarah Sundin’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas, trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. But when he encounters a precocious little girl in need of Pete’s friendship, can he convince her widowed mother that he’s no longer the bully she once knew?
In Tricia Goyer’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Meredith Turner, “Merry” to those who know her best, is using her skills as a combat nurse on the frontline in the Netherlands. Halfway around the world from home, Merry never expects to face her deepest betrayal head on, but that’s precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.
The Turner family believes in God’s providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and His plan for a future?
Cara Putman starts the collection off well. I was a little confused by Abigail at the beginning—in the first chapter, she seemed to be the shy fearful type, but in the next one, she was talking it up with a random guy she met on the bus. First chapters are hard, though, and those two facets of her personality were an interesting clash. While we often hear that Jackson felt responsible for his father’s death, we never hear just what happened, which made it hard for me to discern why he felt guilty. I loved the inclusion of the candy shop—it was a fascinating piece of history that lent some serious Christmas vibes to the story. And lastly, while I love Abigail wanting to be a lawyer, and believe there should be females thinking of the future in historical fiction, I did have to wonder if that was even an idea that crossed anyone’s mind in the 1940’s. It was a nice inclusion all the same, and the little mystery to this book definitely kept me turning pages.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas
I love Sarah Sundin’s writing, and this one did not disappoint. The characters all have distinct personalities and voices, the humor is brilliant, and her word images are, too. I love how after the big disagreement, both Pete and Grace had to sacrifice to make it up to each other. They didn’t just come back, say they were sorry, and cry a little and all was good. The backstories of both characters were solid.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Tricia Goyer takes us out of the Christmas vibes of Lafayette, Indiana and into the nursing battles of the Netherlands. The glimpse inside an army hospital is sad, but intriguing as well. The “identity reveal” (and you’ll know what that means when you get there) wasn’t really a surprise for me—I knew who he was from page one. I understood how Merry and Daaf’s misunderstanding came about, though, and saw the logic on both sides. Merry and Nancy's friendship goes deeper than many of the other friendships in the collection and is well developed. A sweet story about finding Christmas even in the dark.
This book nailed Christmas vibes in the atmosphere as well as the feel of the forties through the little details (like what going to see a movie was like, or getting a soda at the candy shop). All the novellas contain strong family and friend characters, each uniquely developed for their role in the novella (or if they were in all three, staying true to the other novellas). Honestly, the idea of a novella collection based on Christmas songs is just too cool.
This is another of my favorites and a collection of sweet stories that I return to each Christmas.
Catching Christmas By Terri Blackstock
*This review is part of my series of favorite Christmas reads. Click the Christmas category on the sidebar to see the rest.*
An overworked attorney’s grandmother will stop at nothing to find her a date for Christmas in this heartwarming holiday love story about finding what really matters in life.
As a first-year law associate, Sydney Batson knows she will be updating her resume by New Year’s if she loses her current case. So when her grandmother gets inexplicably ill while Sydney is in court, she arranges for a cab to take her grandmother to the clinic.
The last thing cab driver Finn Parrish wants is to be saddled with a wheelchair-bound old lady with dementia. But because Miss Callie reminds him of his own mother, whom he failed miserably in her last days, he can’t say no when she keeps calling him for rides. Once a successful gourmet chef, Finn’s biggest concern now is paying his rent, but half the time Callie doesn’t remember to pay him. And as she starts to feel better, she leads him on wild-goose chases to find a Christmas date for her granddaughter.
When Finn meets Sydney, he’s quite certain she’s never needed help finding a date. Does Miss Callie have an ulterior motive, or is this just a mission driven by delusions? He’s willing to do whatever he can to help fulfill Callie’s Christmas wish. He just never expected to be a vital part of it.
If you take a look around my reads, you’ve probably noticed I don’t read a lot of contemporary. I can’t put my finger on why, but despite all the brilliant books in the genre, it never held much appeal for me. I’ve tried multiple books only to get bored a few chapters in.
But not with Catching Christmas.
This book took me about two days to read. I read it over 2019 and then again this year. I honestly want some film company to pick this one up and make it a Christmas movie so I can watch it and read it every year.
This book is definitely a detour from Terri Blackstock’s usual style, but that doesn’t slow it down at all.
And as I reread it this year, I realized so much of what kept me in it were the characters.
People. How do you not love Finn?! He’s so gruff and sarcastic, and yet he can’t turn down an elderly lady (who has dementia and probably won’t pay him when he really needs money) who needs a cab ride. He gets mad and yells at her daughter over an answering machine for leaving her by herself—because he cares for this lady he just met that much. And he feels his regret of the past very deeply. While Sydney was a great character herself, Finn was who sold the book for me.
The book also rocks the tension and stakes. The further this ridiculous predicament went—Callie having Finn drive her around to try and hunt down a boyfriend for Sydney—the more I wanted to see just how it all settles out.
But don’t think it’s all fun and games here. Part of the sweet element of this book is definitely a bittersweet note. Even in that, the author realistically depicted grief and regret.
I can literally think of nothing negative about this book. I guess that it’s so short? But if it were any longer, maybe it wouldn’t work so well.
This sweet book is one of my favorite Christmas reads and one I’ll read every year. Now if you know of a film company in need of their next Christmas film, let me know, I could help with that.
Hi there! Rachel again. Check out this section for book reviews and cover reveals of some of my favorites!