A mysterious invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home may bring danger...and love?
England, 1851: When Clara Chapman receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet feels compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of five hundred pounds.
But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancé, Benjamin Lane.
Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar. Brought together under mysterious circumstances, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters.
What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love.
This is my top favorite Christmas read (right next to Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock). I read it every year at some point during the Christmas season.
I think the main reason that it’s worked its way so thoroughly into my affections is both the premise and the way it carries that premise out. The premise is so creative and holds my attention so naturally. Who wouldn’t want to read about a group of completely unrelated people basically playing Survivor in an old English manor where one of them seems to be a murderer and someone’s always watching them? It delivers on every promise it makes and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough—yet was sorry when it was over.
Oh, and that group of completely unrelated people? The author aced their personalities and interactions. Each one has something distinct and unique about them, something undeniably quirky. And getting even just two of them together promises a good show. She used tension and differences in personality to their fullest potential.
But they all have solid goals as well, and for most of them, you sincerely hope they all get what they want, even as you know that only one of them can. But who will it be? And what will become of those who don't get what they need/want?
The author’s prose is gorgeous. This book really does feel like a step back in time. The words she uses all lend that classic, distinctly English feel to it while still being an accessible read.
Twelve Days at Bleakly Manor is a Christmas read worth returning to every year. Everything about it just has the feel of reading a cozy mystery with a Christmas classic playing in the background and snow falling outside.
From the bestselling author of If I Were You comes a nostalgic and endearing holiday story that reminds us that sometimes the most meaningful gifts are the ones we least expect and don’t deserve.
Best friends Audrey Barrett and Eve Dawson are looking forward to celebrating Christmas in postwar America, thrilled at the prospect of starting new traditions with their five-year-old sons. But when the 1951 Sears Christmas Wish Book arrives and the boys start obsessing over every toy in it, Audrey and Eve realize they must first teach them the true significance of the holiday. They begin by helping Bobby and Harry plan gifts of encouragement and service for those in their community, starting by walking an elderly neighbor’s yellow Lab―since a dog topped the boys’ wish list for Santa. In the charming tale that follows, Audrey and Eve are surprised to find their own hearts healing from the tragedies of war and opening to the possibility of forgiveness and new love.
This is a really sweet story. Even though it’s not fast-paced, the story of a mom trying to teach her son that there’s more to Christmas and life resonates with a wide audience. It encouraged me to think of my own neighbors more, and how I could serve them and get to know them. To be willing to “meddle” in healthy ways. To be willing to give.
The way both Audrey and Eve wanted to be independent may have resonated with more deeply, though. Because we all know what it’s like to make a mistake, whether big or small, and feel like we have to pay it back somehow. We all know what it’s like to be treated as if we’re incapable and to want to show others that we have a place in the world.
Plus, the 1950's are just a time that isn't represented a lot in fiction.
This is a sequel to her novel If I Were You. However, nowhere on the book’s covers or title pages will you find this information. (As you can see in the blurb above, which came straight from the book’s back cover.) To get this, you have to read the author note and acknowledgements in the back.
As a result, I was a bit confused as to Eve and Audrey’s references to their backstory for easily two-thirds of the book. It also was hard to keep the characters straight especially at the beginning of the story—Eve and Audrey were both single parents, Bobby and Harry were both boys the same age, they both came from England, and otherwise were very similar. Once the story developed, some differences presented themselves and I was able to keep up.
If I had read If I Were You, I would already have all the character development I needed to actually care about these characters. (Although, to be clear, the author did a good job balancing the backstory with the current story going on.)
However, it wasn’t until three quarters of the way through the book that I saw that author’s note. So now I have a lot of spoilers for If I Were You that I wish I didn’t have.
To sum up, don’t read The Wish Book Christmas before If I Were You.
This is a sweet story with themes that will touch a few strings deep inside—a great year-round Christmas read. Just don’t read it before you read If I Were You.
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.
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.
*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.
What would you do if you had to put up with a scheming cousin with a name like Percy? What would you do if that scheming cousin and his wife had high hopes that your eccentric uncle would name them his heir? What if you desperately needed that inheritance? What if you found out that said scheming cousin has plans to send your eccentric uncle to an insane asylum to get said inheritance? And all around Christmas!
Why, it's only logical, of course. You'd ask that girl whom you know is infatuated with you to stand in as your wife just for one dinner--did I mention your uncle would give preference to you if you were married?
And that's exactly the conclusion that William Barlow arrived at. Perfectly logical, isn't it?
Honestly, when I first read the sample chapter for this novel in the back of the first book in the Once Upon A Dickens Christmas series, I wasn't thrilled. Mina seemed naive. William seemed arrogant. It seemed a letdown after book one.
All things aside, I decided to give A Tale of Two Hearts a shot. And I wasn't disappointed. By chapter two, I was in it for the long haul.
Just like the first book, A Tale of Two Hearts is quirky, comedic, and light-hearted. The characters are vibrant; their voices spring to life from the page. Just when you think things can't get worse, well, they do. The stakes are continually being upped. William's lie, which seemed like a fun trick at the beginning of the book, becomes a web. And getting to the truth might be more surprising than anyone suspects.
As for what that truth is . . . well, I'll leave it to you to sort out.
Hi there! Rachel again. Check out this section for book reviews and cover reveals of some of my favorites!