His Mistletoe Miracle (A Sugar Creek Novel)

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The holiday season has come and gone, but people still have their Christmas trees and other holidays decorations up. Wanting to keep the Christmas spirit for just a little longer, I got to reading Jenny B. Jones’ novel His Mistletoe Miracle. 

Television journalist Will Sinclair was held hostage for four years overseas after being captured during a terrorist bombing attack before being rescued by American troops. Overwhelmed with attention from his family and the public, he escapes to Sugar Creek, Arkansas to work on his memoir about his experience. But the small town folks quickly take an interest in him, and his family decides to join him for Christmas. Wanting to convince everyone he is doing fine, he turns to local Cordelia Daring to be his pretend girlfriend for a few weeks until Christmas. Cordelia accepts Will’s offer, knowing his payment will enable her to get her holiday decorating business off the ground. But their arrangement soon starts to feel not so much fake.

This holiday story contains several tropes- the small town, meddling family, and a fake romance. But it also focuses on more serious life situations. Cordelia is a foster mother to a baby named Isaiah. I haven’t read a lot of novels that have a foster parent protagonist. At the same time, Will is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his experiences and doesn’t want to let anyone in to his true feelings, especially his family. Yet Cordelia constantly reminds Will how lucky he is to have such a loving family, a contrast from her strained relationship with her widowed mother.

This novel also takes place in a “shared universe” and features settings and characters from Jones’ other novels. Will Sinclair’s sister Finley is the protagonist in There You’ll Find Me. Sugar Creek is the setting in a series of novels by Jones, the first of which I previously reviewed.

I recommend this as a feel-good novel that combines holidays with heavy life situations- foster families, survivor’s guilt and following your true passion.

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A Sugar Creek Christmas

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No holiday season is complete without watching the pleasantly clichéd holiday movies on Lifetime, Hallmark, and even Netflix. The tropes include estranged family, workaholic protagonists, and long-lost love. However ridiculous or unrealistic these films are, they can offer a nice escape from the sometimes stressful holiday season and be a guilty pleasure to share with your friends and/or family. Holiday novels can offer a similar opportunity. Having really enjoyed Jenny B. Jones’ other novels, I decided to go with her book A Sugar Creek Christmas. 

Thirty-one-year-old Emma Sutton has enjoyed a successful career as a TV news personality in New York City. When a viral video of her saying how terrible Christmas is puts her job on hold, Emma travels back to her hometown of Sugar Creek, Arkansas to fill in for the town’s event planner during the holiday season. There, she’s reunited with her ex-fiance Noah Kincaid, now the mayor of the town. Emma struggles to coordinate the town’s busy holiday schedule, cope with her estranged father’s return and reconnect with Noah.

While I was at first skeptical of why Emma didn’t like Christmas, her backstory offers some insight. Emma’s mother passed from cancer when Emma was just eight years old. Her father, overcome with grief and unsure of how to be a single parent, chose to focus on his job as a singer, pulling Emma along with him until she went to live with her Grandma Sylvie as a teenager. It’s a good example of how grief can overwhelm a parent and the lifelong effect it can have on the child. Even years later as an adult, Emma struggles to cope with her father’s absence in her life and the Christmas memories of her mother. Reading a protagonist’s story of losing both of her parents in different ways can make one realize just how important it is to spend time with them.

I also liked the theme of Christmas in a small town. The theme has been done plenty of times before, but this reminded me of my own hometown. Now that I live in D.C., there are endless ways to get in the holiday spirit- the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony, the Capitol Christmas tree, and more. Having so many options can make you feel excited but even a little indecisive at what to do or where to go. A small town’s holiday happenings can offer a more unique and personal experience, and less crowds.

I recommend this novel as a nice read about how a small town Christmas can offer one a break from city life and emphasize the importance of family and other loved ones.

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Always the Bridesmaid

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This past weekend I got to be a bridesmaid in a college friend’s wedding up near my hometown. It was a wonderful weekend, filled with reunions with old friends and the making of new ones. Being in the wedding mood, I found Always the Bridesmaid by Lindsey Kelk in the ebook selection of D.C.’s online library.

As an event planner assistant, Madeline “Maddie” Fraser has spent the past ten years organizing dozens of weddings, birthday parties and a host of other events. Now, at 31, Maddie is starting to feel restless in both her professional and personal life. She is craving more responsibility at work and hopes to be promoted to an event manager, even if it means continuing to suffer under her strict boss Shona. In her personal life, she is serving as a bridesmaid for her engaged best friend Lauren, which is contrasted by the divorce of their mutual friend Sarah. Soon, her personal life comes crashing into her professional life when Lauren insists that Maddie plan Lauren’s wedding in three short months. Maddie’s life is further made difficult by her successful family’s disapproval of her lifestyle, although she finds relief with her involvement with handsome and charming lawyer Will.

This novel actually takes place in the United Kingdom, which I discovered after reading the first chapter. I spent some time in the UK during college, so I understood most of the vocabulary. For the words I didn’t know, Kindle’s built-in dictionary helped, as did good old-fashioned context clues.

Kelk did a great job of incorporating modern day and relatable issues. One of the biggest ones was the expectations that Maddie’s family had toward her that she should be “settled down” by age 31. This reflects the pressure that most females are supposed to be married and have kids by a certain age. I couldn’t relate to this more, with a Facebook feed full of weddings and kid announcements (although neither are in my near future.) The juxtaposition of Lauren’s engagement and Sarah’s divorce provided an interesting perspective of the opposite ends of a relationship, and added development to Maddie’s character as she struggled with having to comfort Sarah and be excited for Lauren at the same time. The stress affects all of them at several times throughout the story, an accurate portrayal of juggling work and personal life.

The plot also explores the idea of a toxic work environment. Maddie has been in the same job position for over a decade, and has to decide whether it’s worth remaining in it or moving on. Kelk sends the important message of how an unfulfilling job can affect one’s well being.

I definitely recommend this novel because of its accurate depictions of everyday struggles.

Girls in White Dresses

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Continuing my interest in reading wedding-related stories, I found Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer E. Close. Her most recent book The Hopefuls wasn’t my favorite, but I decided to give this one a try.

From it’s title, I expected Girls in White Dresses to be a story about friends being bridesmaids in a mutual friend’s weddings. Instead, I found a series of vignettes that involve the same group of friends from college. The short stories cover several years of their lives, including moving out of their houses and to New York City, experiencing  relationships, getting married and having kids.

I did find some of the topics to be relatable. Reading about being in your 20s and watching friends and classmates get married and have kids describes a majority of my life right now. But that was really the only part of the “novel” that I liked. The female characters were one-dimensional and boring, and they all seemed to blur together after awhile. They were constantly described as uncertain about whether they like their boyfriends or not, and their passive attitudes drove me crazy. Not to say that people aren’t like that in real life, but I’m not sure if every single 20-something feels that way, which is what Close seemed to imply. I’m pretty sure that if you are to marry someone, it should be based off of how you feel and not what others tell you.

I would recommend borrowing this one from the library like I did.

 

 

The Wedding Date

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Now that it’s May, wedding season is in full bloom. Since mid-to-late-20s seems to be the age people get married, my Facebook and Instagram feed are full of pictures of friends’ and former classmates’ weddings and friends tagged in pictures of their friends’ weddings. I myself am set to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding three weeks from now, which I am excited about. Feeling in the wedding mood, I picked up The Wedding Date, the debut novel of Jasmine Guillory, from my local bookstore.

This book is about two strangers, Alexa Monroe and Drew Nichols, who meet by chance in San Francisco when the hotel elevator they’re in breaks down. Drew is in town from Los Angeles to be a groomsman in his best friend’s and ex-girlfriend’s wedding, while Alexa is in from Berkeley visiting her sister. Not wanting to show up to the wedding minus a plus-one, he asks Alexa if she’ll be his date to the wedding. Although it’s supposed to be a fake date, the two soon find they are attracted to each other.

The story employs just about every cliché of the romantic genre. The meet cute, ex-girlfriends, one-night stand, the subsequent sort-of relationship and conflicting feelings that follow, complete with the confidante friends that each person spills their guts to. In this case, Alexa and Drew do a long-distance deal that means flying back and forth each weekend, something I didn’t find too realistic (wouldn’t it drain their bank accounts?)  The plot has definitely been done before, in different forms. The elevator trope has even been done before too, like in the Hallmark movie Elevator Girl, which follows a similar storyline.

Guillory did add a unique aspect by making the relationship interracial, with Alexa being African American and Drew white. But I was hoping for some more originality, like the ending not being super predictable.

I wouldn’t recommend purchasing this book like I did, but if you like cute clichéd fluff, it might be worth checking it out.

The Wedding Date