The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox

The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 45. A Book with Illustrated People on the Cover

Other Possible Prompts: 15. A Five-Syllable Title, 23. Author with An X, Y, or Z in Their Name

FRIENDS!! Happy 2022!!! I had no idea the relief I would feel at the new year would be so palpable. I’m so grateful to be here and to be sharing with you my first read of the new year: Maggie Knox’s The Holiday Swap.

Truthfully, I actually didn’t love this one. And I kind of didn’t expect to? I thought I would like it, and it would get me in the Christmas spirit, but I really am not a huge Christmas book person. Tessa Bailey’s Window Shopping is the closest I’ve come to loving one. That being said, The Holiday Swap was super cute and a great book to pick up periodically throughout the season.

Cass and Charlie are twin sisters, born and raised in the small town of Starlight Peak, but leading very different lives as bakers. Cass remained in Starlight Peak to run the family bakery, while Charlie went off to LA to be a baker on a television show, Sweet & Salty. After a head injury leaves Charlie unable to smell or taste (a rather important skill for a baker!), and a bad breakup leaves Cass wanting out of her small town, the twins swap lives, like they did as children, to get through the holiday season unscathed.

They soon find out it’s not as easy to last a week as an adult as it was to swap for hours as kids. And only complicating matters are two men…who are falling for a different twin than they think they are.

This book took me way too long to finish, especially considering it was a read I grabbed for Christmas, not the new year. I think this book, under the right circumstances, would be a breeze to get through: I read half of it in just two hours this evening to finish it up. However, the plot is somewhat slow, didn’t grab or hold my attention, and I frequently found myself putting it down after just a few pages. And that’s my main reason for only giving three stars, as the rest of the book is rather charming.

Starlight Peak is a town you can really see in your mind. I thought that setting was beautifully crafted and well constructed. Charlie, then Cass’ side of things in LA, however, was far harder to get into, and felt a little colder. I think you come to expect that of a book that takes place primarily in a city, but when you go from this charming small town setting, with its little bakeries and sweet neighbors where everyone knows your name, to the city of LA where everyone treats the twins like garbage…it’s not as enjoyable, to go back and forth. But I think that gets melded into the story well, and into its conclusion…without giving away too much!

The men folk were fun but forgettable. This book is improperly categorized as a romance, truthfully. I felt this story to be more about coming of age, sisters, and the theme of family – which is equally fitting to the Christmas season. That is to say, it wasn’t what I was expecting, but I liked it better than what I would have expected. Had The Holiday Swap lacked love or connection between Cass and Charlie, it would’ve been a much more dull book. The romance isn’t there, but familial connection? They’re all over it.

Would I recommend this book? Probably not. I can’t think of an instance where I would instantly gravitate toward telling someone to read this. I didn’t hate it, but I really didn’t love it. I don’t think I’ll be picking up anything else by Maggie Knox (which is apparently a pen name for a writing duo).

Happiest of new years to you all, friends! Let this first review of the year be an exciting start to this reading challenge, a full year of 52 books. Happy reading!

Window Shopping by Tessa Bailey

Window Shopping by Tessa Bailey

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I know, I know…another Tessa Bailey? It’s been like two weeks. Yeah, yeah. But it’s ~holiday Tessa~. If you have time to read this gem before Christmas this week (and it’s fairly short!), it’ll certainly put you in the holiday spirit!

Two weeks before Christmas, recently-released felon Stella finds herself in front of the Christmas window display at luxury retailer Vivant – judging their ridiculous array of penguins carting gifts around. When she judges it out loud for a complete stranger, she finds herself with the chance of a lifetime to dress the window herself – a second chance at life and her dreams. And it’s an added perk that that stranger – a bowtie-wearing southerner named Aiden – is her hot new boss.

Aiden is absolutely starstruck by Stella and her talent. Despite her background, he finds himself totally drawn to her, and willing to give her the chance of a lifetime. But the more they work together, the more they can’t deny the sparks flying between them. But Stella is still learning how to be herself, and Aiden fears he might just be too much of a “nice guy” for a girl like Stella.

I’m not sure where all the fanfare for this book is. It should be around. Should be in bookstores, online…but for some reason, Window Shopping is flying completely under the radar. And it’s not even bad! Everyone knows my feelings about Jasmine Guillory’s attempt at a Christmas novel. But this ain’t it! I got all the warm fuzzy Christmas feelings from Window Shopping, and it was an awesome Christmas romance. I like it for a book to get you in the cozy winter spirit.

And I really loved both Stella and Aiden. I loved Aiden’s goofy disposition and his silly bowties, but also the pain behind his continuous smile and kindness. The feeling of rejection from his family and being an outsider from his own staff is something Stella picks up on immediately. The lesson he learns in this book is a good one for the holidays, a reminder to take care of ourselves before others. Stella, too, even though her sort of goth vibe isn’t for me…she’s a good character. Her growth is incredible and her own obstacles to overcome are great, but I like that from the very start she’s making strides to better herself. Taking chances on herself. And I like that her windows reflect that; in a way, what happens in the windows in this book is what we should be taking away from it ourselves this Christmas.

I have to say as well, that I hate the use of “Christmas magic” in holiday romance novels. I feel like they all have just a little bit of them, and as a grown-ass adult reading it, I do cringe. I know that that does it for some people, but it’s not for me. And I LOVE that Window Shopping contains absolutely no paranormal, “perfect coincidence” nonsense. It’s just a damn good story taking place with a background of the holidays! There are no elves or glitter or Christmas magic.

My only complaint, and the reason for the loss of my half star, was that Aiden and Stella regularly had these pretty big misunderstandings that I couldn’t quite get a grip on the basis of, then they would instantly be fine again without really talking about it. Little strange. Mostly I chalked it up to Stella’s reintroduction to life, and trying to understand other people’s perception of her and their way of speaking. I don’t think either of them really messed up at all, except for maybe not listening properly the first time.

In terms of basis in reality, I’m giving this a thumbs up. The friendships were authentic. The characters were flawed but growing. The romance is super cute but not overdone. I just really enjoyed this quick read, right in time for Christmas.

And speaking of: I hope you all have a wonderful holiday. Enjoy this time with friends and family. Thank you for reading along with me this year and I’m looking forward to writing my last review of 2021! ❤

Book List: Holiday Reads

Book List: Holiday Reads

Happy Friday, friends. 🙂 If you’re ready to cozy up with your next great holiday read, I have the list for you today!

Technically, I do not start celebrating Christmas myself until Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday after Halloween, and no one gives it enough credit. However, I’m sure many people are pouring their eggnog and picking out Christmas gifts long before me…and I know this because they’re all over my Facebook timeline (you know who you are, people). So, I give you: my favorite reads for the holiday season (not necessarily Christmas specific!).

The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

This book is such an adorable twist on A Christmas Carol. This will honestly probably end up being the most Christmas-y book on this whole list. Holly Chase has a whole lot of money, but not a lot of love. She’s perpetually mean – until she’s hit by a car and becomes to the new Scrooge. The whole thing ends up being pretty trippy and kind of a strange story, but it’s done well so that you get into the Christmas mood while you read it. It’s a quick read…and you can’t beat that adorable cover art. Get a copy from Gibson’s Bookstore here.

Humans by Brandon Stanton

If The Afterlife of Holly Chase is the most Christmas-y book on my list, Humans is the least. BUT, I will fight forever to keep this title on the list. There’s a reason these books have come out closer to the holidays: not only do they make great gifts, they are simply wonderful stories of humanity that make you feel more human around the holidays. Reading Humans is like a refresher course in how to connect with people, and it’s done in an absolutely amazing way. The books are based off and pulled from the Humans of New York social media accounts. Some are short, one sentence captions, and some are long and flowing stories of strangers. I adore these books and the warmth they bring me around the holiday season. Get a hardcover.

My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins

I’m going to admit right up front that it’s been many a year since I read My True Love Gave to Me. I think I actually purchased my ebook the day it came out, like seven years ago (holy crap!!). I’m noticing as I’m making my selections that I don’t actually read a lot of holiday books? Do I hate Christmas?? I don’t think so, but apparently I’m not overly enthusiastic about it, either. So this is one of the few *outright holiday books* I’ve ever read, ever, and it felt wrong not to include it when fourteen year old me felt like it deserved at least four stars. *shrugs* I remember particularly enjoying Rainbow Rowell’s story, as I was kind of obsessed with her at the time (as you will see momentarily…). Pick up a copy.

The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler

This one I can actually attest to, lol. The Tourist Attraction was a fave of mine last year, when I devoured the whole thing in like a day. It’s very cute and very Christmas-y, and it’ll totally make you want to move to Alaska! We’ve got the whole grumpy-one-falls-for-the-sunshine-one trope small-town-everyone-knows-each-other nonsense…it’s good stuff. I didn’t enjoy the sequel as much as the first, which is why I specifically chose this guy here. You can check out my full review here, and get a copy from Gibson’s here.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Look, people, I’m going to ruthlessly defend this one too. Fangirl is my type of Christmas book. In fact, I often reread it right around Thanksgiving and Black Friday, because it gives me that cozy winter feeling. Last year, I opted for the manga version, and it was just as good. This story takes place primarily around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but love and family is the main focus. And if you don’t relate to Cath looking “tarred and sweatered” in every knit body garment imaginable, then we can’t be friends. I hope you find it puts you in the same state of mind it does for me. Get your paperback at this link.

As much as I hate to admit it, we are actually getting into the holidays. I much prefer my spooky season, but friends, I would like to wish you an absolutely wonderful holiday; enjoy your parties and delicious food; cherish the love and warmth of being with friends and family. Have a wonderful end to your year. ❤

Mistletoe and Mr. Right by Sarah Morgenthaler

Mistletoe and Mr. Right by Sarah Morgenthaler

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Book two of Moose Springs focuses on Lana Montgomery, a rich vacationer looking to invest in the town, and Rick Harding, the town’s local barkeep struggling to keep the doors open. Lana is crushing hard on Rick, and the feelings are mutual…but Rick’s friends are worried he’ll fall too hard for a girl who won’t be around forever. I loved Rick’s shy but passionate demeanor, and his sassy cat. Lana, however, was harder to love…I wish I could have, because I think she has a big heart and a whip-smart mind, but I had a hard time relating to her situation and her choices.

This book in the series took me far longer to get through then her first, and I think it was because I didn’t love the characters as much as the first one. I dragged through it, but I still gave it three and a half stars because “it’s not you, it’s me!”. I don’t think there was anything wrong with this romance, per say, I just really wasn’t digging it and it took me months to finish. The story was slower paced and didn’t hook me from the start like Graham and Zoey’s story did.

I will still highly recommend this book, and I love that it still held the charm and wintery holiday cheer of the first one. These make for a great little holiday read and I think I’ll love them more next year if I wait until November or December to pick them up. I will continue to be a fan of Morgenthaler’s, for sure! Moose Springs is such a charming little town with charming characters that I can’t wait to jump back into next winter.

Sorry for the short review – trying to catch up on all the books I’ve picked up in the last few months that need some love and attention! Thanks to the publisher for the advance copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review. 🙂

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Ugh. Dude. This book was soooo underwhelming! I usually adore Jasmine Guillory’s work, but Royal Holiday was a serious let-down.

Maddie Forest’s mother Vivian goes with Maddie to England for Christmas, as Maddie has a styling job for the Duchess over the holiday and they still want to spend Christmas together. Vivian is up for a big promotion at work, and she believes this will be the last time she can truly relax once she takes it, so she goes along. On their glorious vacation, she meets Malcolm Hudson, private secretary to the queen, and they have a whirlwind romance, but with an expiration date.

Even as I’m writing it, I know that summary is dry. But I honestly can’t spice it up! This is one of the driest and most boring books I’ve read in a while! I have several complaints, but I want to start by prefacing: it feels like this is the book Guillory’s publisher was pushing for, to release for the Christmas season, so she just kind of threw it together and called it a day. I mean, The Wedding Party only came out in July! An October release, just two and a half months after the third book in the series??? That’s quite literally all you need to know about why this book was so bad, but I’ll continue.

Guillory rose to fame, I believe, because her books were meet-cutes with sparks. Characters were really likable, but they had depth, and their romances captured that depth. She infused a good degree of humor, and it was like she reinvented the wheel. But I’m telling you, if you’ve enjoyed any of Guillory’s books in the past, skip this one. Vivian and Malcolm had no magic. NONE. There was no romantic tension, no reason in my bones to believe they could possibly not work it out, and therefore nothing to get excited and anxious about while I read. It was like some picturesque romance where everything is perfect all the time. It was bizarre and totally out of left field for Guillory.

Which brings me to another point: this plot line was so unoriginal, it produced absolutely nothing noteworthy. Take-vacation, meet-new-man, fall-in-love, so-on-and-so-forth, I’m-not-spoiling-this-trash-plot-for-you-because-I’m-nice-like-that. I think they were hingeing on “she’s older and he’s older and they’re not teenagers anymore so they can’t fall in love like that!” being their main redeeming plot point, but I’m telling you, it was not. In fact, they still acted like totally irrational teenagers by the end of the book. Like I said, Guillory’s characters are often really well-rounded and therefore, their actions in the climax of the book make sense – and are believable. However, I had zero understanding of who Vivian and Malcolm are as people. I understand some of their attributes, the circumstances of their life, et cetera… but nothing about those revealed anything about the way they acted in the last fifty or so pages of the book. It seemed out of character when I first read it, but after a time, it seemed like I didn’t really know the characters at all.

I just all around didn’t enjoy this book, really. I think they relied too heavily on it having some sort of Christmas magic for people, or on the characters being older, but it gave the whole thing a light and flouncy air that was more reminiscent of old romances, which I just can’t buy into. Really not a fan. The more I criticize it here, the more my opinion of it is lowering.

A copy of Royal Holiday was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be available on October 1, 2019.