Love is in the air at Christmas by various authors – book reviews –

Winter’s Wishfall by Ceri HoulbrookWinter’s Wishfall by Ceri Houlbrook
Winter’s Wishfall by Ceri Houlbrook
Forget the weather and curl up with an escapist winter romance as the reigning queens of hearts roll out their Christmas goodies.

Winter’s Wishfall

Ceri Houlbrook

Put some magic into your countdown to Christmas with this thoroughly enchanting festive feast of mystery, romance and comedy from debut novelist Ceri Houlbrook.

Houlbrook, who lives in Manchester, is a folklore and history lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, and has published academic books and articles on contemporary folklore and domestic rituals.

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But Winter's Wishfall is a whole new venture for this exciting writer who has succeeded in blending to perfection her academic interests and knowledge with a love of magical realism and a gift for creative writing.

So meet Ellie Lancaster who has lost her job, her boyfriend and her flat with only a few weeks to go before Christmas. It has forced her to make three resolutions... 1. Exact revenge on her ex. 2. Be unboring. 3. Find a job.

With number one on the list complete, Ellie manages to tick off both two and three simultaneously by accepting a mysterious archiving job on a tiny Scottish island that doesn’t seem to exist on any map. And come the new year, Ellie’s equally new bosses – celebrity baker Clementine Jones and her strait-laced twin brother Cole – introduce Ellie to the archives.

What she doesn’t expect is the archives to be a vast network of underground caverns, filled with scrolls and letters dating back centuries, and each addressed to the same person, in a multitude of languages... Dear Father Christmas. Despite the strangeness of it all, Ellie quickly falls in love with her new life but things are never simple and just as she and Cole seem to be overcoming their mutual distrust, Ellie makes a fourth resolution... one that threatens everything she’s come to hold dear. As the big day itself draws near, she has one chance to put things right and bring about her own Christmas miracle.

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Even the hardest of hearts, and the most ingrained Christmas sceptics, will find themselves melting into this intriguing and entertaining festive extravaganza in which folklore and adventure jostle comfortably with all the warm and cosy vibes of the season of giving and kindness.

Set against the magical backdrop of a mysterious island, complete with its own special secrets and history, and with an alluring romance at its beating heart, Houlbrook’s vibrant and creative storytelling convinces us that maybe, just maybe, you’re never too old to believe!

(Black & White Publishing, paperback, £8.99)

Christmas By Candlelight

Karen Swan

You know that the festive season is well and truly here when a Karen Swan Christmas cracker appears enticingly on the bookshelves.

And this year, the queen of epic romances sweeps us away to a snowed-in family mansion in the wilds of North Yorkshire where a group of old university friends discover that the past has a bad habit of catching up when there’s no means of escape.

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It’s three days before Christmas and starting to snow when high-flier Libby and her new boyfriend Max reluctantly attend her university reunion. Hosted by Archie Templeton – the hell-chasing libertine and heartbreaker of their group – at his grand family estate in Yorkshire, the night is a great success until they go to leave and find the road is now blocked with snow.

At first, being snowed in together is fun. But as the hours pass, everyone grows restless and then the power goes off. Hunkered down together by candlelight, they reminisce about old times and tensions soon start to rise. Secrets from the past begin to unravel and Libby is confronted with a truth that she has long tried to deny.

Author of big festive hitters like Midnight in the Snow, The Christmas Party, Christmas Under the Stars and The Christmas Postcards, Swan is an expert at delivering sack-loads of love, mystery and drama… and this enchanting story about past pain and misunderstandings sparkles like a frost-filled morning.

From first page to last, this is a captivating wintertime odyssey which moves seamlessly between past and present to reveal old – and sometimes painful – truths about fractured friendships, and treats readers to a dazzling array of superbly portrayed characters.

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Sprinkled throughout with Swan’s trademark twists and turns, insight, cosy charm, and eye for comedy, this is the perfect warm-up for the Christmas holiday.

(Pan, paperback, £8.99)

A December to Remember

Jenny Bayliss

Can a father’s final act reunite his three estranged daughters? Sit back and indulge your senses in this gorgeous rom-com which is guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart.

Jenny Bayliss, whose gorgeous wintertime novels have made her one of the reigning queens of feel-good, serves up a tasty festive treat with this beautiful, funny and joyful celebration of sisterly love, second chances, and community spirit.

Wildly different half-sisters Maggie, Simone and Star have hardly seen each other since their idyllic summers spent in the charming village of Rowan Thorp, the home of their eccentric father, Augustus. Known for the fruitful ways in which he and his bustling curiosity shop kept the town’s tongues wagging and ladies swooning, Augustus North was loved by all and known by none, not even his daughters.

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Now, years later, the three estranged women are unexpectedly reunited at the reading of Augustus’s will. Maggie, Simone and Star are shocked to find out that Augustus has engineered a series of hoops through which the three women must jump to unlock their inheritance... the last thing any of them want to do. But each sister desperately needs the money and they are in no position to rebel against their father’s final wishes.

Spending the winter months at Rowan Thorp stirs up feelings with forgotten flames, and makes the sisters confront the lives they have left behind. As old wounds resurface and long-buried secrets come to light, the sisters must learn to work together if they hope to succeed. Sometimes the only way to move forward is to go back to where it all began.

Bayliss has fun with this cosy winter-warmer which brings us a memorable cast of quirky characters, an entertaining slice of family drama, a delicious serving of romance, and a hearwarming reminder that it’s never too late to have another go at life... and love.

(Pan, paperback, £8.99)

Wreck the Halls

Tessa Bailey

You’re always guaranteed a happy-ever-after ending when Tessa Bailey is in charge of the action, and this sassy, sexy rom-com has everything a romance lover could want this Christmastime.

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Wreck the Halls – which features the adult children of two former rock stars who team up to convince their estranged mothers to play a Christmas Eve concert – delivers what US author Bailey does best... dazzling dialogue, raunchy fun, and human chemistry that positively crackles.

Melody Gallard may be the daughter of music royalty, but her world is far from glamorous. She spends her days restoring old books and avoiding the limelight (one awkward tabloid photo was enough, thanks). But when a producer offers her a lot of money to reunite her mother’s band, the Steel Birds, on live TV, Mel begins to wonder if it’s time to rattle the cage, shake up her quiet life… and see him again. Him being the only other person who could wrangle the rock and roll divas.

Beat Dawkins, the lead singer’s son, is Melody’s opposite... the camera loves him, he could charm the pants off anyone, and his mum is not a potential cult leader. Still, they might have been best friends if not for the legendary feud that broke up the band.

When they met as teenagers, Mel felt an instant spark, but it’s nothing compared to the wild, intense attraction that builds as they embark on a madcap mission to convince their mothers to perform one last show.

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While dealing with rock star shenanigans, a 24-hour film crew, brawling Santas, and mobs of adoring fans, Mel starts to step out of her comfort zone. With Beat by her side, cheering her on, she’s never felt so understood. But Christmas Eve is fast approaching, and a decades-old scandal is poised to wreck everything... the Steel Birds reunion, their relationships with their mothers, and their newfound love.

Expect passion with a capital P as Bailey fires up the festive scene with this unforgettable Christmas cracker. Sugar, spice and all things nice are never far from the action as Mel and Beat play their parts with all the humour, heart and unexpected moments of tenderness that are the hallmarks of this author’s delightful books.

A must read for all rom-com fans!

(Avon, paperback, £9.99)

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