TBR Challenge December 2023 – Festive

It seems incredible that another year is coming to a close, but here we are. This month’s prompt, “Festive“, calls to mind all manner of holiday fun. In years past, we’ve explored various holidays, but this year both Caz and Lynn picked up warm, charming Christmas reads. Caz went for a historical m/m romance, while Lynn went for a category romance from Harlequin’s medical line. What festive stories are you reading this season?

Summerfield’s Angel by Kim Fielding

Summerfield’s Angel is the second book in the multi-author Christmas Angel series from 2018. The seven titles (all novellas which can be read in any order) are set in different historical periods – from the Regency to the present day – and locations, and are linked by the eponymous angel, a Christmas ornament that brings the miracle of true love to those lucky enough to find it.

Just before Christmas of 1888, cowboy and former ranch-hand Alby Boyle has travelled from Nebraska to New York City in search of the family he was forced to leave at the age of thirteen. After seventeen years out west, the sights, sounds and smells of the bustling city streets are unfamiliar, but he is drawn to the window of a department store, where, atop a Christmas tree adorned with lights, glittering ribbons and baubles, sits a beautiful angel with shining red hair that appears to be smiling down at him. Having looked his fill, Alby turns away and steps off the curb, only to be yanked backward so violently he trips and lands on his backside, just as a horsedrawn trolley trundles past.

Looking up into the face of his rescuer – tall, handsome, well-dressed and perhaps a few years shy of his own thirty – Alby slowly gets to his feet and rescues his hat from the puddle it fell into. After offering his thanks, Alby asks the stranger if he can direct him to Baxter Street; the other man expresses concern and makes it clear just what sort of area Alby will be heading into, but he points out the way and they part.

That night, having had no luck in finding out what might have happened to his mother and siblings, Alby beds down in a dismal dormitory in the Bowery. Assailed by unpleasant memories of the brutal winter that led to his leaving the ranch he’d lived and worked on for more than a decade, Alby desperately seeks for something else to fill his mind – and thinks of the angel. In his mind’s eye, her golden gown shimmers and her wings flutter as she gestures for him to look beyond her to… the young man who had pulled him from the path of the trolley. Alby falls asleep with a smile on his face.

The next morning, Alby finds himself drawn back to the angel in the shop window, even though he knows it’s pure foolishness to stand outside daydreaming. He’s about to turn away when a hand grips his arm and a familiar voice jokingly asks if he’s trying to get trampled by horses again. The young man – every bit as handsome and vivacious as Alby remembers – introduces himself as Xenocrates Varnham-Summerfield – Xeno for short – and he suggests to Alby that rather than going to one of the Bowery flea-pits that night, he should go to the YMCA instead; he’ll get better accommodation and decent food for the same price. Alby is sceptical – but agrees to consider it, and the two of them go their separate ways. But not for long.

Summerfield’s Angel is a charming, magical story about two very different men from completely different worlds whose paths keep crossing ‘by accident’. The historical background to the story is fantastic – Kim Fielding really brings late nineteenth century New York to life, with its street-urchins and ruffians, the hustle and bustle of Broadway, the stench of the city, the miserable, run-down tenements of the Bowery, the simple but necessary work done by the YMCA in providing shelter for working men with no place of their own. It’s all fascinating and superbly done.

The story is told entirely from Alby’s PoV, and he’s a wonderfully rounded central character. His story is a tragic one – he stole in order to help feed his family, but was caught and shipped out West, ending up on a ranch where he worked until the devastating winter of 1886-7 (known as the Big Die Up) that wiped out all the cattle there. As he trudges around New York, searching for the place he grew up in, his loneliness and sense of isolation are palpable; life hasn’t been kind to him, but Alby is a survivor in the best of ways. He’s pragmatic and doesn’t look back and brood over all the bad things life has thrown at him because he knows it’s pointless. Instead, he tries to find the good in his situation and to make good memories to sustain him in the future.

I liked Xeno – he’s sweet and loving and irrepressible, a real force-of-nature type brimming with ideas and enthusiasm – but he’s not as well fleshed-out as Alby is, and unfortunately, their romance is rushed. In fact, the first half of the novella is so completely engrossing that it took me a while to realise that the romance hadn’t really started yet. They’re sweet together, and despite their differences, they just ‘fit’ – but I wish they’d had more page time together and that the author had had the time to build a deeper connection between them.

I’m not the greatest fan of Christmas stories in general, because they’re often far too syrupy sweet for my taste, but Kim Fielding manages to inject enough sweetness into this one without going completely overboard. Perhaps the ease with which Xeno’s father accepts his sexuality is unlikely given the time period, but, eh, it’s a story about a magical wooden angel helping people find true love, so why not?

Summerfield’s Angel is a poignant and heartwarming read that delivers everything you could want in a Christmas romance; a dash of magic, a soupçon of sweetness and a lot of love. The first half is definitely stronger than the second and things are perhaps a little too neatly wrapped up at the end, but it’s a lovely story that is well worth adding to your Christmas TBR.

Grade: B         Sensuality: Warm

~ Caz Owens

Buy it at Amazon

Christmas With the Single Dad Doc by Annie O’Neil

At this time of year, I love to curl up with a festive, lighthearted romance. My tolerance for cheesiness goes way up, just as I suspect a lot of other folks’ does as well. After all, there has to be a reason so many people like Hallmark holiday movies.  If you’re wanting a warm and exuberantly festive holiday romance, Christmas With the Single Dad Doc is a solid read.

Set in Cornwall, this book is first in a series called Carey Cove Midwives. As the book opens, we meet Kiara Baxter, a midwife getting ready to start her new job at Carey House. Right away we learn two things about her: first of all, she loves Christmas and all the holiday trappings. Even though she has just moved to Cornwall, she has thrown herself into over-the-top Christmas decorating both to indulge her love of the season and to spread cheer around the neighborhood. We also learn fairly quickly that Kiara has moved to Cornwall to start over. After a bad breakup in London, she felt the need to get away to an entirely new place.

As it happens, Kiara’s new home draws the attention of three-year-old Harry, who walks by every day with his father on their way to work and nursery school. Like many little kids, Harry is mesmerized by the Christmas magic springing up around Mistletoe Cottage. And as it also  happens, his father, Lucas Wilde, is a doctor working at Kiara’s practice.

Kiara and Lucas are immediately attracted to one another. However, Kiara is still smarting from the breakup and after losing his wife three years previously, widower Lucas hasn’t given a thought to dating or remarriage. So, even though readers can see the connection and chemistry between these two early on, there is plenty of believable tension.

I liked how the author keeps throwing Kiara and Lucas together in ways that let them build a friendship first before they feel comfortable enough to start a relationship. The two have a good working relationship at Carey House and since Harry adores both Kiara and her magical Christmasy house, their frequent meetings outside are sweet and believable. As Lucas and Harry start inviting Kiara to local events so that she can feel more at home in Carey Cove, I couldn’t resist a smile.

The romance in this book feels almost inevitable, but sweetly so. There is some tension in the story because both Lucas and Kiara have been hurt in the past. However, the tone of this book is more warm and cozy than dark and angsty. It’s a charming and comfortable Christmas read. I needed some warm fuzzies, and this one certainly delivered.

Grade:   A-       Sensuality: warm

~ Lynn Spencer

Buy it at Amazon

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