Holiday Folly Reviews: The Little Christmas Teashop of Second Chances, Happily Ever After at the Dog & Duck, Christmas on Mistletoe Lane, The Christmas Heirloom

So a little while back I was having kind of a downer day and then I realized that there were a TON of holiday-themed romances dropping on NetGalley and...this is the last one! And only slightly after Christmas proper, oops.

The Little Christmas Teashop of Second Chances by Donna Ashcroft
title: The Little Christmas Teashop of Second Chances
author: Donna Ashcroft
pages: 310
format: eARC
rating: 3/5
topics: Holiday, Christmas
A very shy young woman learns to deal with her feelings of abandonment and the way it's hampered her ability to take chances. She navigates a fraught re-connection with her long-absent mother, comes out of her shell enough to chase her dream job of being a chef, and discovers her inner strength. Oh, also, there's a jerk hanging around and for some reason she falls in love with him.

As you can probably tell, I was very much not a fan of Josh, the hero of this story. He was self-absorbed and dickish, and when he got called out on his behavior the only reaction was "I'm sorry you were hurt by my being right all along, but if you live more like me it wouldn't be a problem." Also, I did not buy at all that his point-and-click antics were those of a celebrated photographer. Never met an artist worth his salt who didn't spent a full hour at least in a single spot just to get one usable shot. Or understand the value of self-promotion. What a f*ing snoot.

But as much as I didn't like Josh, I did like Lily and her emotional journey. Her wallflower ways were slightly irritating at times, but it was always very clear where her fears came from. She's obsessed with following instructions to make things perfect because she worries about being abandoned if she goes off-book in anything, and a lot of her journey is learning to trust her friends not to leave and trust herself to experiment. Her relationship with her mother is rather heartbreaking, but the love between her and her father and brothers makes up for it with heartwarming. And fortunately, she spends more time with them than Josh.

Happily Ever After at the Dog & Duck by Jill Steeples
title: Happily Ever After at the Dog & Duck
author: Jill Steeples
pages: 358
format: eARC
rating: 3/5
topics: Holiday, Christmas
Ellie and her fiance, Max, deal with whole bunch of drama while planning their wedding. That's...that's it. Sorry, there's a lot that goes on here but not a lot that could be summarized, which is kind of the problem. It's just one event after another, all piling on top of each other, until a happy ending comes around. A huge cast of characters and the fact that this is the last in a series kind of compounds the problem. Normally I don't mind coming in late to a romance series, but the Dog and Duck series follows the same couple through all four books, not four different couples. It really felt like the story was trying to one-up what came before it, just getting worse and worse drama, rather than having room to tell more fresh story. I felt so bad for Ellie and everything she had to deal with, and overwhelmed by the number of side characters and references to previous books.

It did have a very festive air, with lots of aspects of the holiday season worked in, and a satisfyingly final ending, but that's about all I could say to recommend it.

Christmas on Mistletoe Lane by Annie Raines
title: Christmas on Mistletoe Lane
author: Annie Raines
pages: 432
format: eARC
rating: 5/5
topics: Holiday, Christmas
Kaitlyn comes to Sweetwater Springs, expecting to inherit her grandmother's bed and breakfast and eager to make a fresh start by moving in and running it. But there's a catch. Her grandmother left the B&B to her and handsome neighbor and former marine Mitch. The two have to run the B&B together for two months, or forfeit the B&B entirely. Mitch doesn't want to stay in town because of skeletons in his closet, but he agrees to stay for Kaitlyn's sake when he sees how much the B&B means to her. Over the course of fixing up the place and getting the business profitable again, they grow much closer.

A really cute story with a pair that have a lot of chemistry. I'm a huge fan of gruff-but-secretly-squishy heroes matched with overly cheerful heroines, so it was perfect for me. I thought Mitch's 'terrible past' was kind of weak, especially the resolution of it, but his cranky reactions as a result of his internal conflict were a wholly appropriate kind of tension for this story. The side lines about Kaitlyn getting to know her grandmother through running the inn and Mitch learning to be less overprotective over his mom were both sweet as well, and the townspeople and side characters are quirky and nicely set up for getting their own novels in the series.

CW - Sexual assault as backstory, not on page.

The Christmas Heirloom by Karen Whitemeyer
title: The Christmas Heirloom
author: Karen Whitemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, Sarah Loudin Thomas, and Becky Wade
pages: 374
format: eARC
rating: 4/5
topics: Holiday, Christmas
The four novellas in this collection follow four women from different time periods that all inherit the same heirloom brooch and then find love around Christmas time. It's from a Christian fiction publisher, so there are frequent references to God, faith, church, and bible passages, and all of the romances go no further than a kiss on-page, but overall the religious elements are fairly mild.

Legacy of Love by Kristi Ann Hunter - Set in 1827 England with the first woman to inherit the brooch, Sara Gooding is a paid companion to a dowager countess who is hopelessly infatuated with her employer's grandson. Randall may be a third son, but third son of an earl still puts him out of her reach. The story is very sweet, with the countess character cast as a joyous, irreverent matchmaker between her grandson and employee. The relationships between all three principles is great, and themes of grief and finding one's own purpose are also touched on.

Gift of the Heart by Karen Witemeyer - Set in 1890 Texas, a widow named Ruth and her young daughter move into a resort town to take a new job as a cook. She catches the eye of the local hotel owner, Bo, and uses her family heirloom brooch as collateral for a loan on a house. Her determination to pay off the loan as quick as possible and get the brooch back for her daughter warms Bo's hermit heart and draws him out of his shell. Bo is a great 'gruff exterior, squishy center' type of hero, and I greatly enjoyed it, but I felt like there was more page time devoted to him and the daughter than to him and Ruth. Still, a sweet little found family story only marred by some atrocious "not like other girls" tropes sprinkled throughout. CW: Bo has a physical impairment and there are some ablest comments from side characters. 

A Shot at Love by Sarah Loudin Thomas - Set in 1958 West Virginia, a young woman named Fleeta is an expert marksman and artist with dreams of opening her own gunsmithing shop. Hank is in town on business to by timber for the logging company he works for. The two meet and have a perfectly ordinary romance. Despite Fleeta claiming to be staunchly anti-love, that didn't really have an effect outside of her internal dialogue and a lot of the short story was given over to her family interactions. Which is fine (the first two stories didn't have a LOT of conflict, either) but a pretty big source of potential tension is introduced late in the story and then never resolved. Just seemed an odd choice.

Because of You by Becky Wade - Set in present day Washington state, Maddie is hopelessly in love with a widower named Leo. The only problem being that Leo's deceased wife was Maddie's best friend, so she's been repressing her feelings for Leo since they met and that's a hard trend to reverse. But when Leo and Maddie are matched up for a Christmas charity event, feelings start to change. None of the stories in this anthology have a whole lot of impediment to the relationship, but this was the one story where...they kind of really needed it. The other couples had 'get to know you and grow closer' arcs, but Maddie and Leo didn't. And they replaced that with...nothin. Shopping for toys. A little bit of waffing and guilt over Leo's first wife, but it has barely any impact. I found it all kind of dull.

Note: I received these copies from the author/publisher in exchange for honest reviews. The price of the books and their origin in no way affected my stated opinions. 

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