Tag Archives: holiday romances

Christmas in Rose Bend (Rose Bend #2) by Naima Simone Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

An ER nurse reeling from a shocking revelation about her father and the loss of her mother finds herself and her younger sister spending the holidays at the small town of Rose Bend, and discovering what it means to open their hearts in the process in author Naima Simone’s “Christmas in Rose Bend”, the second book in the Rose Bend series.

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The Synopsis

The holidays have never been her thing. But Christmas in Rose Bend has more than one surprise in store…

Grieving ER nurse Nessa Hunt is on a road trip with her sullen teen half-sister, Ivy, and still reeling from her mother’s deathbed confession: Nessa’s dad wasn’t really her dad. Seeking answers, they arrive in Rose Bend to find a small town teeming with the kind of Christmas cheer Nessa usually avoids. But then she meets the innkeeper’s ruggedly sexy son, Wolfgang Dennison.

Wolf’s big, boisterous family is like a picture-perfect holiday card. Nessa has too much weighed on her to feel like she fits—even though the heat between her and Wolf is undeniable. And the merriment bringing an overdue smile to Ivy’s face is almost enough to make Nessa believe in the Christmas spirit. But with all her parental baggage, including lingering questions about her birth father, is there room in Nessa’s life for happy holidays and happily-ever-after?

The Review

Now I know the new year has arrived and many people may be ready to move on from the holidays, but for me, the holiday season is the gift itself that keeps on giving, and the same can be said for holiday romances. What was so beautiful and emotional about this read was how the author managed to balance the Christmas magic that the town of Rose Bend embraced with the complex feelings and experiences both protagonists (Nessa and Wolf) have had coming into this narrative. The reader is able to connect with both characters through their shared sense of loss, whether it is the loss of a loved one physically or emotionally, and then heated and more intimate moments between the two that develop feel more passionate as a result of that shared past. 

The development of other characters was what brought a sense of belonging and togetherness to this narrative. Aside from the main characters, the way the narrative showed the rollercoaster of emotions that Nessa’s sister Ivy went through after losing her father, a man she and her sister have had very different experiences with, and the gap that has formed between the two women was so emotionally captivating and engaging that readers would be hard-pressed not to dive headfirst into this story.

The Verdict

A brilliant and sizzling romance that will heat up anyone’s holidays, author Naima Simone’s “Christmas in Rose Bend” is the perfect next chapter in the romance series. The story takes on so much more than a simple holiday romance as the story plays out though. It is a story of breaking down the barriers within ourselves, connecting the people closest to us when they need us the most, and coming to terms with our past to find a brighter future, and that is what makes this story so captivating. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today.

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

USA Today Bestselling author Naima Simone’s love of romance was first stirred by Johanna Lindsey and Nora Roberts years ago. Well not that many. She is only eighteen…ish. Published since 2009, she spends her days writing sizzling romances with heart, a touch of humor and snark.  She is wife to Superman–or his non-Kryptonian equivalent–and mother to the most awesome kids ever. They live in perfect, sometimes domestically-challenged bliss in the southern US.

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Here is an Excerpt For “Christmas in Rose Bend”

Nessa Hunt didn’t do Christmas. 

As an ER nurse, she’d seen the worst humanity had to offer during the holiday season. Electrocution injuries from plugging one too many Christmas lights into a single outlet. Shoppers with broken noses and blackened eyes from Black Friday fights that erupted over the newest must-have toy. Dads with busted backs from attempting to mount inflatable Frosties and reindeer-drawn sleighs on porch roofs.

And then there’d been that one memorable sex toy mishap— Santa had boldly gone where no Santa had gone before.

So, no, she was not a fan of Christmas.

Which meant the town of Rose Bend, Massachusetts, was her own personal version of hell. 

“It looks like Santa Claus just threw up all over this place!” her sister, Ivy, whispered from the passenger seat.

Now, there was a nice visual. But slowing to a halt at a stoplight, Nessa had to admit the twelve-year-old had a point. Who knew that three hours north of Boston and tucked in the southern Berkshires existed a town straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting? It seemed almost…unreal. If any place had that everybody-knows-your-name vibe, it was Rose Bend. Brick buildings housing drugstores, boutiques, a candy store, an ice cream parlor and diners lined the road. The long white steeple of a church towered in the distance. A colonial-style building stood in the center of town, the words Town Hall emblazoned above four columns. And everything was decorated with lights, garland, poinsettias, candy canes and big red bows. Even the stoplights sported huge wreaths decked out with miniature toys and elves—and the biggest pine cones she’d ever seen in her life. 

Mom would’ve lost her mind over all this. 

The thought snuck out of the steel door in her mind where she’d locked away all wayward, crippling memories of Evelyn Reed. A blazing pain stabbed Nessa in the chest, and she sucked in a breath. Briefly, she closed her eyes, blocking out the winter wonderland beyond her windshield. 

It had been eight long, lonely, bitter months since she’d lost her mother to uterine cancer. Since she’d last heard her mother’s pragmatic but affectionate voice that still held a faint Southern accent, even though she’d lived in Boston for over thirty years. Since she’d inhaled her mother’s comforting roses-and-fresh-laundry scent. 

Since her mother had rasped a devastating secret in a whisper thick with regret, edged with pain and slurred from morphine. 

Maybe the well-meaning friends who’d advised Nessa to see a grief counselor could also counsel her on how to stop being so goddamn angry with her mother for lying to Nessa for twenty-eight years. Maybe then Nessa could start to heal. 

’Til then, she had patients to care for. Now she had a sister to raise. 

And secrets to keep. 

“Oh wow!” Ivy squealed, jabbing the window with a finger. “There’s a real town square and over there is the biggest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen! Can we get out and walk around? Please?” 

Nessa glanced in the direction Ivy pointed, taking in the square, and in the distance, a massive tree. The idea of strolling around in the freezing weather to stare at a Douglas fir wasn’t exactly her idea of fun. But when she’d agreed to make this trip with Ivy, Nessa had told herself to make an effort to connect. This was supposed to be about bonding with the sister she barely knew. 

Emptiness spread through her and the greasy slide of guilt and pain flooded into the hole. She glanced at Ivy, Nessa’s gaze lingering over the features they shared…but didn’t. The high cheekbones that dominated a face Ivy hadn’t yet grown into. The thin shoulders that had become even thinner in the last six weeks, since her father had died. 

A scream welled up inside Nessa, scraping her throat raw. Ivy’s father—Isaac Hunt—was the man who had raised Nessa until he and her mother divorced when she’d been about Ivy’s age, and then he’d been more out of her life than in it. He had named Nessa as his daughter’s guardian. He had trusted Nessa to care for Ivy, because she was his oldest daughter and Ivy’s half sister. And though she and Isaac hadn’t shared a close relationship when he’d been alive, she couldn’t let him down. And Ivy… 

Ivy had lost her mother as a baby, and now her father. Nessa knew what it was like to be alone. She couldn’t take Ivy’s sister away, too. 

Even if Ivy resented the hell out of Nessa and begrudged her guardianship with every breath she took. 

But God… Months of bearing a secret weighed on Nessa’s shoulders. And they ached. These last six weeks had been a special kind of hell. 

She was so damn tired. 

Inhaling a deep breath, Nessa forced herself to push past the soul-deep ache. 

She could do this. 

One of the first things she’d had to learn when entering the nursing field was how to compartmentalize hurt, grief and anger. Not allowing herself to be sucked down in a morass of emotion. If she hadn’t acquired that skill, she wouldn’t have been any good to her patients, their families, the doctors or herself. So what if some people called her Nurse Freeze behind her back? She got the job done. Besides, as she’d learned— first, when her father left the family; second, when her ex had traded their relationship for a job in Miami; and third, when her parents died—loving someone, caring for them, was a liability. Feelings were unreliable, untrustworthy. Parents, lovers, friends, patients—everyone always left. Only fools didn’t protect themselves.

And her mother hadn’t raised a fool. 

“Let’s wait on that,” she said, answering Ivy. “We need to find Kinsale Inn first and get settled. Then maybe later we can come back and do the tourist thing.” 

“Right.” Ivy dropped against the passenger seat, arms crossed over her chest. The glance the preteen slid Nessa’s way could only be described as side-eye. Paired with the curl to the corner of her mouth, Ivy’s expression had gone from wide-eyed excitement to Eff you, big sister in three-point-five seconds flat. “In other words, no.” 

“Did I say no?” Nessa asked, striving for patience. She’s a grieving preteen. You can’t bounce her out of your car. CPS frowns on that. With the mantra running through her head, she tried again. “Check-in at the inn was at twelve, and it’s now one thirty.” She hadn’t expected to hit so much traffic leaving Boston. Or to take the wrong exit halfway to the Berkshires and have to retrace her route. “We need to make sure they still know we’re arriving. The square and the tree will be there in a few hours.” 

“Uh-huh.” Ivy snorted. “And as soon as we get to the inn, you’ll find another excuse not to do anything. Especially with me. It’s not like you wanted to come here anyway.” 

“First off, kid, I’m not the kind of person who does anything she doesn’t want to do. Second, if I give you my word, I mean it. And third, what does ‘especially with me’ mean? Who else would I be up here with?” 

“Whatever,” Ivy muttered. 

Nessa breathed deep. Held it. Counted to ten. Released it. Then tried again. “Is this how the next month is going to be? You angry and me taking the brunt of it? Because I have to tell you, we could’ve done this dance back in Boston without carolers and hot chocolate stands.” 

“Don’t pretend like you did this for me. You don’t even like me. This is all for your guilt over Dad’s letter. Fine with me if we go back to Boston. I don’t care.” 

Nessa tightened her fingers around the steering wheel, not replying. Anything she said to Ivy at this moment would only end up in an argument. That’s all she and Ivy had seemed to do since the funeral. Nothing Nessa did could make Ivy happy. 

And as much as Nessa hated to admit it, there was some truth to Ivy’s accusation. Because a part of her—Jesus, she hated admitting it even to herself—didn’t like Ivy. Was jealous of her. For having more of Isaac’s love. For having him when Nessa hadn’t, even when she’d needed him. 

Even though Nessa had called Isaac Hunt Dad all her life, he was more or less a stranger to her…just like the silent, stiff twelve-year-old hunched on the seat next to her. He’d been an absentee parent since his divorce from her mother sixteen years ago, and Nessa had met her half sister maybe five times before their father died from pancreatic cancer. Hell, she hadn’t even known he’d been ill until the final time he’d ended up in the hospital. She hadn’t even had a chance to say…what? Goodbye? Where the hell have you been as a father for sixteen years? Why didn’t you love me as much as you loved your other daughter? 

I love you. 

Dammit. Damn damn damn

She fisted her fingers to keep from pounding the steering wheel. 

So yes, guilt had pushed her into taking a previously unheard-of short-term leave from the hospital. It’d goaded her into going up to Ivy’s school and letting them know the girl would be missing the last two weeks before Christmas break to take an extended vacation. 

She swallowed a sigh, and as the light changed, pressed on the gas pedal. A tense, edgy silence filled the car. Nothing new there either. Nessa snuck another look at the girl, noting the sullen expression turning down Ivy’s mouth and creasing her eyebrows into a petulant frown. 

Maybe their time in Rose Bend would give Ivy her smile back. Or at least rid Ivy’s lovely dark brown eyes of the sadness lurking there. 

And maybe Santa really did fly around the world. 

Yeah, Nessa had stopped believing in miracles and fairy tales years ago. Better Ivy learn now that life dealt shitty hands, and you either folded or played to recoup your losses. 

Soon, they left the downtown area and approached a fork in the road. As she turned her Durango left onto a paved road bordered by trees… 

“Oh wow,” Ivy breathed. 

“Good God,” Nessa murmured at the same time, bringing her vehicle to a halt in the driveway that circled in front of the huge white inn. 

Oh, Mom. You would’ve so loved this. 

A short set of stairs led up to a spacious porch that, according to the brochure, encircled the building. The wide lower level angled out to the side, with the equally long second floor following suit. The third, slightly smaller story graced the building with its dormer window, and a slanted roof topped it like a red cap. A broad red front door with glass panes along the top and dark green shutters at every window—and, damn, there were a lot of windows—and large bushes bordering the front and sides completed the image of a beautiful country inn. But it was the wreaths and bows hung on the door and walls, and the lights that twinkled along every surface, that transformed the building into a fairyland. A Christmas fairyland. 

Excerpted from Christmas in Rose Bend by Naima Simone. Copyright © 2021 by Naima Simone. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Mistletoe Season (The Carolina Girls Book 2) by Michelle Major Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Two former friends turned enemies find themselves back in each other’s lives years later, and a shared bond and goal forces them to examine what they truly mean to one another in author Michelle Major’s “Mistletoe Season”, the second book in The Carolina Girls series.

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The Synopsis

Spend the holidays in Magnolia, North Carolina, where two lonely hearts find exactly what they need for Christmas.

Angi Guilardi needs a man for Christmas—at least, according to her mother. What she really needs is to grow her fledgling catering business. Partnering with Magnolia’s Firefly Inn holds promise, but when her mother falls ill, Angi’s drawn back to the family restaurant. Balancing work and her eight-year-old son, there’s no time for romance… until Angi runs into Gabriel Carlyle.

Temporarily helping at his grandmother’s flower shop, Gabriel’s plan isn’t to stick around, especially after he runs into Angi, one of his childhood bullies. Sure, she’s all grown up and gorgeous now, and when they find themselves under the mistletoe, their chemistry is undeniable. But it’ll take more than a Christmas miracle for Angi to break through the defenses of Gabriel’s well-guarded heart and find a love built to last.

The Review

The tension between the two protagonists was palpable as the story began. The way the author explores the past these two characters share with one another and the impact their families have had on them as well was so intriguing and engaging and made the impact of their growing romance that much more meaningful. The pain of their pasts both tougher and individually elevated their character arcs to new heights and allowed the reader to feel connected to their emotional states overall.

The small-town vibe and history of the characters and area really made this story what it was. The intimate moments between the protagonists and the holiday romance felt much more alive due to the connected way the town and its citizens interacted with one another, and the connection each protagonist had to the wellbeing and overall happiness of Angi’s son brought out the best of each of them, making this such an emotionally-investing narrative.

The Verdict

A memorable, hopeful, and well-written holiday romance, author Michelle Major’s “Mistletoe Season” is the perfect read for romance fans this winter. The world-building and character development the author captured here in this narrative was entertaining and emotional all at once, and the twists and turns their relationship takes will keep readers on the edge of their seats. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Michelle Major loves stories of new beginnings, second chances and always a happily ever after. An avid hiker and avoider of housework, she lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains with her husband, two teenagers and a menagerie of spoiled furbabies.

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Social Links:

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Here is an Excerpt from “Mistletoe Season”

1

ANGI GUILARDI LET herself out of Il Rigatone, the restaurant her family had owned in Magnolia, North Carolina, for the past thirty years, and locked the door behind her. It was nearly eleven at night, and a brisk December wind whipped down Main Street. Although she should be wearing more than a white button-down, now stained with smatterings of red sauce, Angi welcomed the gust of air. At least it blew away the smell of sausage and tomato paste that clung to her like a barnacle.

Scents that seemed to be infused into her at this point, bringing back memories of years of a childhood spent in and out of the restaurant. It had been a long day, so she needed a shower and a glass of wine in equal measure.

She started toward her car, parked around the corner, but the sound of a door slamming nearby caught her attention. Downtown Magnolia rolled up the sidewalks early on a weeknight, so she didn’t expect anyone else to be out and about. She arched a brow at the woman approaching.

“Are you stalking me?”

Emma Cantrell gave an impatient snort as she moved closer. “That’s what it feels like, but it wouldn’t be necessary if you’d return my calls or answer messages.”

Angi turned to fully face her business partner—now former partner. “I’ve been busy,” she said, trying to make her tone dismissive. Instead, the words reeked of desperation.

“How’s your mom?” Emma asked gently, her annoyance with Angi temporarily put aside because, clearly, Emma was a good person. Too good for Angi to be ignoring her the way she had.

“Equally weak and ornery.” Angi dropped the oversize set of keys into her purse with a jangle. “The doctor says two more weeks, and then she can slowly begin to resume her normal activities.”

“Like running Il Rigatone?”

“We don’t know yet if she’ll ever return at the same capacity.” Angi bit down on the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood. “It doesn’t matter because I’m running it now.”

“But only temporarily,” Emma insisted. Or suggested, like saying the words out loud would make them true.

Oh, how Angi wanted them to be true.

She gave a small shake of her head. No more time for fanciful thoughts or big dreams about making her life her own. Unable to meet Emma’s sympathetic gaze, she looked across the street to the storefronts decorated in festive holiday cheer.

Colorful twinkle lights danced in the darkened window of the hardware store, and she could make out the shadow of garland wound through the sign for the dance studio. Boughs of greenery with bright red bows hung from every light post on either side of the street. Magnolia had gone all out on the holiday cheer this year.

Too bad Angi didn’t feel much of the holiday spirit. Sure, she’d gone through the motions of assembling the fake Christmas tree that had graced the corner of the restaurant’s small waiting area each December for as long as she could remember.

During a lull in customers yesterday, she and one of the waitresses had pulled out the totes of decorations from the storeroom, but nothing managed to conjure up the magic of the season. Not for her.

“I’m sorry I let you down,” she told Emma, thankful her voice remained steady. “I’ve got calls in to a couple caterers in the area to see if they can—”

“I don’t want another caterer.” Emma stepped forward. “You’re it, Ang.”

“I can’t…” She swallowed when a lump of sorrow lodged in her throat. “I should never have deserted my mom in the first place. If she hadn’t been working so much and upset about me as well, maybe the heart attack wouldn’t have happened.”

“Sweetie, you aren’t to blame for that.”

“She almost died,” Angi insisted, needing to make it clear. “Less than a year after my father. She collapsed in the restaurant’s storeroom, and I wasn’t here.”

“You were at the inn.”

“Having a grand old time, not a care in the world. My mom was fighting for her life, surrounded by employees until the EMTs got there, and I wasn’t with her. When she needed me the most—”

“Stop.” Emma held up a hand. “I remember that day, Angi. It was the McAlvey wedding, complete with the bride’s niece and her tiny Irish dancer friends pounding away on the parquet floor we assembled in the backyard. You made food for over a hundred guests. Plus lunch baskets for the Thompson reunion and their picnic at the beach. Five of the six online reviews that came from those two events mention the food being a highlight. You care a lot, so don’t pretend otherwise. Not with me.”

Emma still didn’t get it.

“I should have cared more about my mom. The way she did when I needed her. She looked so pale, Em.” Angi crossed her arms over her middle, squeezing tight. “I kept waiting for her eyes to pop open so she could start ordering me around or give me some kind of guilt trip, but she was still in the hospital bed with the monitors beeping and the smell of antiseptic permeating everything. She needs me now, and I can’t let her down.”

“What about letting yourself down? What about your happiness?”

Angi sniffed. “Doesn’t matter.”

“It should.”

“I’m sorry,” Angi said again.

She’d met Emma in the spring when the other woman bought an old mansion in town with a plan to turn it into a boutique inn. Emma had had her share of setbacks, but Angi admired her dedication to her dream. She also knew that leaving behind her old life had cost Emma her relationship with her mother.

Angi’s mom had been outspoken in the way only Italian mothers can manage when Angi walked away from the restaurant to partner with Emma on the inn. But Angi assumed that her mom would get over her disappointment. That they’d find a way to bridge the emotional distance between them. She loved her mom, even if Bianca Guilardi could be overbearing and autocratic. The willful matriarch had good intentions.

But they never got the chance to mend their fences because, a month earlier, Bianca had suffered a massive heart attack that led to double bypass surgery. In an instant, all of Angi’s plans changed.

She’d moved from her cozy apartment back to her childhood home, along with her ten-year-old son, Andrew, in order to care for her mom. She’d also stepped in at the restaurant, and in doing so, she’d left Emma in a pinch.

For that, she felt sick to her stomach with regret.

“If you can’t find someone to take care of the holiday events, I’ll still manage it,” she offered now, absently thinking about ways to clone herself.

“You can’t do both.”

“I will.”

Emma sighed. “My intention for tonight wasn’t to guilt you into more work.”

“Come on, I’m a master of guilt.”

“I know.” Emma gave her a pointed look. “That’s why I don’t want to add to it. I thought we were friends—business partners, as well. But you cutting me off as a friend is what hurts.”

Cue the remorse, Angi thought. She didn’t need anyone to lay it on her. She could do that very well for herself.

“It seems like all I’m doing lately is disappointing people. You and my mom.” She hitched a finger at the restaurant. “The staff who can tell I don’t want to be there. Andrew.”

“Wait. What’s going on with Andrew? I know you’re an amazing mother. That kid thinks the sun rises and sets on his mommy.”

Angi’s throat tightened again at the thought of her sweet, awkward, lanky string bean of a boy. He was everything to her, and now he was struggling and she didn’t know how to make it stop.

“He’s being bullied at school,” she confided. As difficult as it was to talk about, she appreciated the flash of supportive fury in Emma’s dark eyes.

“Give me the kid’s name.” Her buttoned-up friend spoke as if she were some kind of avenging angel.

“I don’t have it. Andrew won’t say anything, and his classmates are keeping quiet, as well. But he came home with a split lip and scrapes on his hands. I talked to the teacher and met with her and the principal. They said all the right things, but kids can be such jerks. Maybe if we lived in a bigger town or someplace where differences were more accepted, it would be easier for him to find his way. I hated growing up in Magnolia, and now I’m doing the same thing to him.”

Her nails dug into the fleshy part of her palms, and she welcomed the pain. At least it distracted her from the telltale scratchy eyes that foretold a bout of tears. She wasn’t going to break down in the middle of the sidewalk, even if it was deserted.

“How is it possible to hate it here?” Emma shook her head. “It’s idyllic.”

“Not for the Italian cannoli princess,” Angi muttered.

“Is that like a Midwestern Corn Queen at the state fair?”

“Not exactly. Never mind. My point is that I’m screwing up in every aspect of life. I’m sorry I ghosted you, Em. We are friends, but I didn’t want to admit that I was ditching the inn. You gave me the new start I wanted, and I can’t keep up my end of the bargain.” She let out a humorless laugh. “Here comes the guilt again.”

“I didn’t give you anything. You earned your place in our partnership, which I refuse to believe is over. At least until your mom fully recovers and we see what happens next. I’ll find someone to help with the nitty-gritty food prep and serving, but I’m going to take you up on your offer to manage things for the holidays. As long as it’s not too much. We can reassess in the new year.” She enveloped Angi in a gentle hug and couldn’t have known how much it helped. “Either way, the friendship stands.”

“Okay.” Angi couldn’t help but agree. She wasn’t ready to let go of her dream, even though she knew she had to. She dashed a hand over her cheeks. “Do you believe in Christmas miracles?”

“Not really.”

“Me neither,” Angi agreed with a wry smile. “But I sure could use one.”

Excerpted from Mistletoe Season by Michelle Major. Copyright © 2021 by Michelle Major. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Two life-long best friends find their relationship tested during the holidays as buried feelings come to the surface and their focus on other relationships take center stage in author Sarah Morgan’s “The Christmas Escape”.

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The Synopsis

This Christmas, be whisked away by USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan in this uplifting novel of friendship, the festive season, and risking everything for the biggest gift of all…

Christy and Alix are forever-friends. Not even Alix’s well-meant but badly-timed intervention the night before Christy’s wedding has put a dent in their bond. There’s nothing Alix won’t do for the woman who helped fill the hole in her heart left by her own family’s rejection. But taking Christy’s boisterous little daughter Holly on holiday to Lapland, days before Christmas, is a huge ask. Marketing whizz Alix might know how to turn toys into million-dollar Christmas bestsellers, but the responsibility of parenthood terrifies her. And unfortunately, she’ll have a witness to her ineptitude, in the annoyingly delicious shape of Zac, Holly’s father’s best friend, who will also be there…

Christy had hoped this year would be her dream Christmas, in her dream new family house. Instead, it’s turning into the nightmare before Christmas, with a frightening list of household repairs, no money, and a make-or-break crisis in her marriage. Even worse, it’s a crisis of her own making, and one that is on her shoulders to fix. With best friend Alix coming to the rescue and looking after Holly, Christy will finally have time to focus on rebuilding her relationship.

As Alix confronts her fears and finds unexpected romance under the Northern Lights, and Christy fights to save her marriage, could it be that their Christmas holiday opens their eyes, and their hearts, to what they’ve always wanted?

The Review

This was such an emotional and well-rounded holiday read. The author did a perfect job of conveying the protagonist’s friendship and struggles both apart and together. The tension that can build between two longtime friends when living their own separate lives was perfectly illustrated here, and the struggle to find a balance between the friendship you once had and the evolution that it has taken was explored expertly here. 

The heart of the narrative was the relationship between all of the characters, not just the protagonists. While the friends were the driving force of the story, getting to see how each interacted with others in this vacation setting was interesting, from Alix’s budding romance to Christy’s fragile marriage and the struggles with her own past, this novel really allowed the characters to shine while still keeping a bit of the magic of the holidays with such a wintery setting.

The Verdict

A gripping, heartfelt, and engaging holiday story, author Sarah Morgan’s “The Christmas Escape” is a must-read women’s fiction and holiday romance bundled up into one novel. The captivating character developments and the emotional journey that these protagonists take during this holiday retreat make this story such a powerful narrative, and one not to be missed. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction. Her trademark humour and warmth have gained her fans across the globe and three RITA® Awards from the Romance Writers of America. Sarah lives with her family near London, England, where the rain frequently keeps her trapped in her office.

Buy Links: 

BookShop.org

Harlequin 

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Books-A-Million

Powell’s 

Social Links:

Author Website

Facebook: @AuthorSarahMorgan

Instagram: @sarahmorganwrites

Twitter: @SarahMorgan_

Goodreads

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Here is an Excerpt from “The Christmas Escape”

1

Robyn

She hadn’t dared hope that this might happen.

Someone less cynical might have thought of it as a Christmas miracle, but Robyn no longer believed in miracles. She was terrified, but layered under the terror was a seam of something else. Hope. The kaleidoscope of emotions inside her matched the swirl and shimmer of color in the sky. Here in Swedish Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle, the unpolluted skies and clear winter nights made for frequent sightings of the northern lights.

She heard the door open behind her, heard the soft crunch of footsteps on deep snow and then felt Erik’s arms slide around her.

“Come inside. It’s cold.”

“One more minute. I need to think…” She’d always done her best thinking here, in this wild land where nature dominated, where a human felt insignificant beneath the expanse of pink-tinted sky. Everything she’d ever done that was foolish, selfish, risky or embarrassing shrank in importance because this place didn’t care.

Trees bowed under the weight of new snow, the surface glistening with delicate threads of silver and blue. The cold numbed her cheeks and froze her eyelashes, but she noticed only the beauty. Her instinct was to reach for her camera, even though she already had multiple images of the same scene.

She’d come here to escape from everything she was and everything she’d done and had fallen in love with the place and the man. It turned out that you could reinvent yourself if you moved far enough away from everyone who knew you.

Erik pulled the hood of her down jacket farther over her head. “If you’re thinking of the past, then don’t.”

How could she not?

Robyn the rebel.

Her old self felt unfamiliar now. It was like looking at an old photo and not recognizing yourself. Who was that woman?

“I can’t believe she’s coming here. She was three years old when I last saw her.”

Her niece. Her sister’s child.

She remembered a small, smiling cherub with rosy cheeks and curly blond hair. She remembered innocence and acceptance and the fleeting hope of a fresh start, before Robyn had ruined it, the way she’d ruined everything back then.

Her sister had forbidden her to ever make contact again. There had been no room for Robyn in her sister’s perfect little family unit. Even now, many years later, remembering that last encounter still made her feel shaky and sick. She tried to imagine the child as a woman. Was she like her mother? Whenever Robyn thought about her sister, her feelings became confused.

Love. Hate. Envy. Irritation. She hadn’t known it was possible to feel every possible emotion within a single relationship. Elizabeth had been the golden girl. The perfect princess and, for a little while at least, her best friend in the world.

Time had eased the pain from agony to ache.

All links had been broken, until that email had arrived.

“Why did she get in touch now, after so long? She’s thirty. Grown.”

Part of her wanted to celebrate, but life had taught her to be cautious, and she knew this wasn’t a simple reunion. What if her niece was looking for answers? And what if she didn’t like what she heard?

Was this a second chance, or another emotional car crash?

“You can ask her. Face-to-face,” Erik said, “but I know you’re nervous.”

“Yes.” She had no secrets from him, although it had taken her a while to reach the point where she’d trusted their relationship not to snap. “She’s a stranger. The only living member of my family.”

Her sister was gone, killed instantly two years earlier while crossing the road. There was no fixing the past now. That door was closed.

Erik tightened his hold on her. “Your niece has a daughter, remember? That’s two family members. Three if you count her husband.”

Family. She’d had to learn to live without it.

She’d stayed away, as ordered. Made no contact. Rebuilt her life. Redesigned herself. Buried the past and traveled as far from her old life as she could. In the city she’d often felt trapped. Suffocated by the past. Here, in this snowy wilderness with nature on her doorstep, she felt free.

And then the past had landed in her in-box.

I’m Christy, your niece.

“Was it a mistake to ask her here?” It was the first time she’d invited the past into the present. “Apart from the fact we don’t know each other, do you think she’ll like this place?” For her it had been love at first sight. The stillness. The swirl of blue-green color in the sky, and the soft light that washed across the landscape at this time of year. As a photographer, the light was an endless source of fascination and inspiration. There were shades and tones she’d never seen anywhere else in the world. Midnight blue and bright jade. Icy pink and warm rose.

Some said the life up here was harsh and hard, but Robyn had known hard, and this wasn’t it. Cold wasn’t only a measure of temperature, it was a feeling. And she’d been cold. The kind of cold that froze you inside and couldn’t be fixed with thermal layers and a down jacket.

And then there was warmth, of the kind she felt now with Erik.

“Christmas in Lapland?” He sounded amused. “How can she not like it? Particularly as she has a child. Where else can she play in the snow, feed reindeer and ride on a sled through the forest?”

Robyn gazed at the trees. It was true that this was paradise for a Christmas-loving child, although that wasn’t the focus of the business. She had little experience with children and had never felt the desire to have her own. Her family was Erik. The dogs. The forest. The skies. This brilliant, brutal wilderness that felt more like home than any place she’d lived.

The main lodge had been handed down through generations of Erik’s family, but he’d expanded it to appeal to the upper end of the market. Their guests were usually discerning

travelers seeking to escape. Adventurous types who appreciated luxury but were undaunted by the prospect of heading into the frozen forest or exploring the landscape on skis or snowshoes. Erik offered his services as a guide when needed, and she, as a photographer, was on hand to coach people through the intricacies of capturing the aurora on camera. You couldn’t predict it, so she’d learned patience. She’d learned to wait until nature gave her what she was hoping for.

Through the snowy branches she could see the soft glow of lights from two of their cabins, nestled in the forest. They were five in total, each named after Arctic wildlife. Wolf, Reindeer, Elk, Lynx and Bear. Each cozy cabin had floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a breathtaking view of the forest and the sky. The Snow Spa had been her idea and proved a popular addition. The focus here was wellness, with an emphasis on the nature that surrounded them. She and her small team used local resources whenever they could. Guests were encouraged to leave phones and watches behind.

Erik was right. It was the perfect escape. The question she should have asked wasn’t Will she like it here? but Will she like me?

She felt a moment of panic. “The last time I saw Christy—well, it wasn’t good.” The kitten incident. The memory of that visit was carved into her soul. Despite all her good intentions, it had gone badly wrong. “What age do children start remembering? Will she remember what happened?” She hoped not. Even now, so many years later, she could still remember the last words her sister had spoken to her.

You ruin everything. I don’t want you in my life.

Robyn pressed closer to Erik and felt his arms tighten.

“It was a long time ago, Robyn. Ancient history.”

“But people don’t forget history, do they?” What had her sister told her daughter?

Robyn the rebel.

She wondered what her sister would say if she could see her now. Happy. Married to a man she loved. Living in one place. Earning a good living, although no doubt Elizabeth would see it as unconventional.

Christy, it seemed, was happily married and living an idyllic life in the country, as her mother had before her.

What would Elizabeth say if she knew her daughter was coming to visit?

Robyn gave a shiver and turned back toward the lodge.

Elizabeth wouldn’t have been happy, and if she could have stopped it, she would have done so. She wouldn’t have wanted her sister to contaminate her daughter’s perfect life.

Excerpted from The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan. Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Morgan. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.