12 Days of Christmas Reads — A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong by Cecilia Grant

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day 11, I’m sharing a charming historical romance Christmas novella.

IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SIMPLE...

With one more errand to go--the purchase of a hunting falcon--Andrew Blackshear has Christmas completely under control. As his sister's impending marriage signals the inevitable drifting-apart of the Blackshear family, it's his last chance to give his siblings the sort of memorable, well-planned holiday their parents could never seem to provide.

He has no time to dawdle, no time for nonsense, and certainly no time to drive the falconer's vexing, impulsive, lush-lipped, midnight-haired daughter to a house party before heading home. So why the devil did he agree to do just that?

IT COULDN'T BE MORE DELICIOUSLY MIXED-UP...

Lucy Sharp has been waiting all her too-quiet life for an adventure, and she means to make the most of this one. She's going to enjoy the house party as no one has ever enjoyed a house party before, and in the meanwhile she's going to enjoy every minute in the company of amusingly stern, formidably proper, outrageously handsome Mr. Blackshear. Let him disapprove of her all he likes--it's not as though they'll see each other again after today.

...or will they? When a carriage mishap and a snowstorm strand the pair miles short of their destination, threatening them with scandal and jeopardizing all their Christmas plans, they'll have to work together to save the holiday from disaster. And along the way they just might learn that the best adventures are the ones you never would have thought to plan.

Sometimes someone recommends a book to you so strongly that you avoid it because you don’t want to be disappointed when it doesn’t live up to your expectations. Or maybe that’s just me.

Well, Lindsay Emory, I owe you an apology. I thought A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong couldn’t live up to all of the glowy things you said about it. I was wrong.

This was my first Cecilia Grant novel (technically a very long novella) and it will not be my last. I found Grant’s writing so fresh, intelligent, and warm that I was completely won over. The hero and the center of this book is stuffy and proper to the extreme—not usually my cup of tea. However, the undoing of him by a heroine who is his perfect foil and who makes him an infinitely better man was delicious to watch. The book also features forced proximity and “we must pretend to be a married couple” which are two of my favorite romance tropes.

I don’t want to say much else and take away from the story, except to say that you should absolutely give this one a try.

Excuse me now, while I disappear for the rest of December to read the rest of Cecilia Grant’s back list.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — Tied Up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day 10, I’m sharing an English house party murder mystery.

Christmas time in an isolated country house and, following a flaming row in the kitchen, there’s murder inside.

When a much disliked visiting servant disappears without trace after playing Santa Claus, foul play is at once suspected – and foul play it proves to be. Only suspicion falls not on the staff but on the guests, all so unimpeachably respectable that the very thought of murder in connection with any of them seems almost heresy.

When Superintendent Roderick Alleyn returns unexpectedly from a trip to Australia, it is to find his beloved wife in the thick of an intriguing mystery…

Nothing says the holidays like a little murder. English house party murder, that is.

I grew in a household where British murder mysteries were in very heavy rotation on our TV and the shelves were backed with paperbacks. Crime shows and books are still a large part of my pop culture consumption, so it’s no surprise that I love nothing more than a good murder mystery to break up the sweetness of holiday stories.

This one has all of the things I could hope for in a classic Golden Age detective novel. A group of people who don’t necessarily all get along descend on an isolated country house that’s staffed—of course—by a bunch of reformed convicts. Then someone goes missing and the whole house is under suspicion. Conveniently, one of the house guests happens to be the wife of Superintendent Roderick Alleyn who is on the case.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — One Day in December by Josie Silver

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day nine, I’m sharing a romantic women’s fiction set in my adopted hometown.

Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist. After all, life isn't a scene from the movies, is it? But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.

Laurie thinks she'll never see the boy from the bus again. But at their Christmas party a year later, her best friend Sarah introduces her to the new love of her life. Who is, of course, the boy from the bus.

Determined to let him go, Laurie gets on with her life. But what if fate has other plans?

Let me begin by saying that I would strongly recommend One Day in December to anyone who enjoyed David Nicolls’ 2009 book One Day, a romantic story that follows two people’s story by checking in with them one the same day year after year. My only caveat is to say that I didn’t love One Day, just as I didn’t love One Day in December. However, just because something wasn’t quite right for me doesn’t mean that it won’t find readers who adore it.

This story is a long, slow burn of a romance that is really more women’s fiction than anything else because it follows Laurie’s story. She meets the boy from the bus, she’s disappointed to find that he’s dating her best friend, and she tries to get on with her life. The story sees her promoted, falling in love, and moving through the world, but the boy on the bus who was a fantasy has become a very real part of her life and he’s always there. Understandably, their story becomes even more complicated as the years go on until finally they get their happily ever after in a very Christmasy way.

I find stories like this problematic because I feel that often they can leave the women pining after the men for too long, waiting for them to wake up and see them for the perfect-for-you women that they are. I’d love to see the narrative reversed with the hero feeling as though he’s the one who is simultaneously thrilled and held back by the presence of the longed-for heroine in his life. However, for readers looking for a very long, slow building of a romance and a story of a woman coming into her own life, this book should do the job well.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day eight, I’m sharing a sweet historical romance set at a grand country house.

Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He's grim and silent. A man of little emotion--or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she's ready to put an end to things.

But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn't as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there's Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What's a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there'll be no false formality. This time they'll get to know each other for who they really are.

If you breakdown the historical romances I love to read, there really are two kinds. The first are high concept, super fast-moving romps with scandal and sex and big emotions. The second kind, however, is much, much quieter. The hero and heroine might dance around each other in courtship, but I never once think they might be caught kissing behind the library drapes because they would never find themselves in a position where they would slip behind said drapes. Instead, all of their tension comes from the very fact that they are still strictly following society’s rules despite—if they were being completely honest—wanting each other very, very badly.

A Holiday by Gaslight is one of the latter kinds of novels. Meticulous in its research and lovely in its sweetness, it follows two characters who have gotten off on the wrong foot. It’s a second chance romance without dramatic breakups and deeply guarded secrets of the past. The more time they spend together, the more Edward and Sophie realize that their original assessments of each other were shallow at best. Their coming together felt real and sweet and perfectly appropriate for the time period and their class status. You can see a young lady of the gentility and a man who has pulled himself up from humble beginnings actually having these conversations and misunderstandings and finally standing in front of one another at their most vulnerable.

The historical detail Mimi Matthews weaves into this book—short though it is—make it all the more pleasurable to read. It’s a quick read that will find a good audience with readers who like their historical romances accurate and sweet.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — Love and Lies at the Village Christmas Shop by Portia Macintosh

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day seven, I’m sharing a romantic comedy for holiday movie lovers.

Ivy loves Christmas. As the owner of Christmas Every Day, the year-round festive store, you'd expect nothing less!

The only thing missing in Ivy's life is a dash of romance – something her twin sister Holly will not let her forget…

When her mother passed away, Ivy vowed to take over the running of her mother’s store and keep the Christmas spirit alive in the idyllic seaside town of Marram Bay.

But all this changes when an enigmatic businessman moves to the town, threatening to bulldoze her beloved shop to make way for a holiday complex.

Can Ivy save her shop before Christmas? Could there be a different side to the newest resident of Marram Bay that would make all her Christmas wishes come true?

Love and Lies at the Village Christmas Shop is a Hallmark movie on the page, and for those who love the sweet romantic comedies that play on that channel around this season it’s perfect to scratch that itch or play a rom com drinking game with!

Ivy is the owner of the local year-round Christmas shop (drink) who inherited it from her beloved mother (drink). The hero is a city slicker developer (drink) who has rolled into town because he’s buying up the lot on which the Christmas shop sits from Ivy’s landlord (drink). There are quirky characters, a bit of misunderstanding, and some holiday lessons for all (drink, drink, drink!).

For me, these comfortably familiar stories need to deliver something unusual in the form of side characters in order to stand out. As I’m writing this review, the only character whose name I can remember without looking it up is Gaz. He’s a rough-around-the-edges mall Santa who comes to work for Ivy in her shop. He’s charming—if in need of a lot of character growth and perhaps some reminders of workplace appropriate behavior—and he helps ground the story.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

One Month Until You're Transported into the Sweeping World of the Ack Ack Girls

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In just one month, my first World War II historical fiction The Light Over London comes out. Whether you're a print, ebook, or audiobook reader, you'll be able to sink into this sweeping story.

It’s always been easier for Cara Hargraves to bury herself in the past than confront the present, which is why working with a gruff but brilliant antiques dealer is perfect. While clearing out an estate, she pries open an old tin that holds the relics of a lost relationship: among the treasures, a World War II-era diary and a photograph of a young woman in uniform. Eager to find the author of the hauntingly beautiful, unfinished diary, Cara digs into this soldier’s life, but soon realizes she may not have been ready for the stark reality of wartime London she finds within the pages.

n 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene’s life had been decided for her—she’ll wait at home in her Cornish village until her wealthy suitor returns from war to ask for her hand. But when Louise unexpectedly meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a dashing RAF pilot stationed at a local base, everything changes. And changes again when Paul’s unit is deployed without warning.

Desperate for a larger life, Louise joins the women’s branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit as a Gunner Girl. As bombs fall on London, she and the other Gunner Girls relish in their duties to be exact in their calculations, and quick in their identification of enemy planes during air raids. The only thing that gets Louise through those dark, bullet-filled nights is knowing she and Paul will be together when the war is over. But when a bundle of her letters to him are returned unanswered, she learns that wartime romance can have a much darker side.

Illuminating the story of these two women separated by generations and experience, this heartbreakingly beautiful novel through forgotten antique treasures, remembered triumphs, and fierce family ties.

AmazonApple Books | Kobo | Nook | Google Play

12 Days of Christmas Reads — The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day six, I’m sharing a cozy women’s fiction with sisterhood at its heart.

All Suzanne McBride wants for Christmas is her three daughters happy and at home. But when sisters Posy, Hannah and Beth return to their family home in the Scottish Highlands, old tensions and buried secrets start bubbling to the surface.

Suzanne is determined to create the perfect family Christmas, but the McBrides must all face the past and address some home truths before they can celebrate together . .

I’m an unabashed fan of Sarah Morgan’s. Her backlist is impressive so I’m not even close to reading it down, but I’ve been enjoying picking up her books over the last few years because there’s always something satisfyingly layered about her characters and their stories.

It should be no surprise then that The Christmas Sisters was one of the first books I picked up to read for this year’s 12 Days of Christmas Reads.

The story follows three sisters who’ve drifted apart over the years. However, this year they all wind up at their adoptive parents’ home in the Highlands. Stuck together, for better or worse, they’re with their biological parents’ tragic deaths while also addressing their sometimes rocky relationships.

I’m incredibly close with my sister (Why else would I do a podcast with her?) and I love seeing sisters portrayed on the page. But it isn’t just the sisterly relationships that are explored. Each woman is at a crossroads of sorts, and they work through their obstacles—sometimes making mistakes—until they understand that what they think they want isn’t necessarily what they actually want. Watching fully realized characters work out for themselves what they need to do to come to terms with their own happiness is one of the great joys of reading a women’s fiction novel.

Plus, being a Sarah Morgan book, there’s also a bit of romance for each of the girls. What’s not to love?

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — Not Just For Christmas by Natalie Cox

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day five, I’m sharing a romantic comedy featuring a bit of a grinch and a lot of dogs with big personalities.

Charlie hates the holidays, and this year is shaping up to be her worst yuletide ever. Her boyfriend has left her for his personal trainer, her flat is out of bounds after a gas leak, and her mother has gone to spend Christmas in Melbourne with her fifth husband. Finding herself single, mildly concussed and temporarily homeless, Charlie hesitantly agrees to dust off her wellies and spend the festive season in Devon, looking after Cosy Canine Cottages, her cousin Jez's dog-care centre.

However, her plans for a quiet rural Christmas with only the four-legged friends for company are dashed as soon as she meets Malcolm the deaf Great Dane, Hugo, his gorgeous (but engaged) owner, and Cal, the undeniably attractive but unbearably haughty and patronising local vet...

There’s nothing like a grinch story at Christmas. From Scrooge to…well…the Grinch, literature is full of them.

Meet Charlie. She doesn’t really do Christmas by choice. But when her upstairs neighbor’s boiler explodes (one of my flat residing nightmares) and her London home quickly becomes unlivable, she finds herself thrust on her dog boarder cousin during the festive season. Except the cousin has plans of her own, absconding to Lapland for a romantic rendezvous with an Arctic researcher and leaving Charlie in charge of the luxury kennel.

Enter a cranky, hot vet and a charming, hot Great Dane owner and we have ourselves a rom com live triangle set against Christmas.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas by Katie Riggle

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day four, I’m sharing a Colorado-set romantic suspense.

When firefighter and single dad Steve Springfield moved his four kids to a Colorado Christmas tree ranch, he intended for it to be a safe haven. But he never expected danger to follow them to his childhood home...

Or that he would come face-to-face with the one girl he could never forget.

Folk artist Camille Brandt lives a quiet life. As the town's resident eccentric, she's used to being lonely—until Steve freaking Springfield changes everything. Brave and kind, he's always had a piece of her heart, and it doesn't take long before she's in danger of falling for him again. But as mysterious fires break out across the sleepy Colorado town, Steve and Camille will have to fight if they want their happy family to survive until Christmas...

I’ve always liked a good Western United States-set romance novel, so Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas was a blind pickup from me based solely on the man in a cowboy hat, flannel, and denim on the cover. (I love the genre and its covers, but I’m glad to see that there was no snowy shirtless cowboy on this one. Poor man would’ve frozen to death.)

This light romantic suspense is unusual in that it flips the reclusive hero on his head and casts the heroine in that role. Camille isn’t comfortable around people, and that manifests not through physical awkwardness and clumsiness but pure dread at crowds, strangers, anything really. But Steve is a good solid man and father who shows her from the beginning that he poses no threat. He accepts her fear and discomfort for what it is and, suitably, the relationship progresses on her terms. This makes for a slow building romance that is ultimately believable and satisfying.

One of the most deft pieces of characterization in this book centers around the watching Camille becoming fully comfortable in Steve’s life. She relaxes and interacts and shows who she really is around him and his children gradually. The fact that she doesn’t automatically slip comfortably Steve’s life is a credit to the author. Steve doesn’t make her a social butterfly but helps her become a better version of herself in a realistic way.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and much, much more! For day three, I’m sharing a favorite cookbook that’s about so much more than just cooking.

The Christmas Chronicles is the story of Nigel Slater’s love for winter, the scent of fir and spruce, ghost stories read with a glass of sloe gin, and beeswax candles with shadows dancing on the ceiling. With recipes, decorations, fables and quick fireside suppers, Nigel guides you through the essential preparations for Christmas and the New Year, with everything you need to enjoy the winter months.

Taking you from 1 November all the way to the end of January, The Christmas Chronicles covers everything from Bonfire Night, Christmas and New Year to Epiphany. Throughout the season, Nigel offers over 100 recipes to see you through the build-up, the celebrations and the aftermath. Here are much-loved classics such as goose and turkey (and making the most of the leftovers), mincemeat and the cake; recipes to make the cold months bearable, like ribsticker bread pudding with Comté and Taleggio, salt crust potatoes with blue cheese and goat’s curd, and hot-smoked salmon, potatoes and dill; as well as bright flavours to welcome the new year, including pink grapefruit marmalade, pear and pickled radish salad and rye, linseed and treacle bread.

Packed with feasts, folktales, myths and memoir and all told in Nigel’s warm and intimate signature style, The Christmas Chronicles is the only book you’ll ever need for winter.

I love cookbooks, and I frequently read them cover-to-cover in the same way that I would a novel. I’ve been a fan of Nigel Slater’s ever since I started watching his quirky cooking shows on the BBC. Then I read and started cooking out of The Kitchen Diaries series, and I absolutely fell in love with his lyrical style and beautiful observations about cooking, gardening, and lifestyle.

The Christmas Chronicles is a mixture of recipes, observations about the holiday season, and entertaining tips. Slater can be particular and picky, but that just adds to the whole “thing” that he’s doing. I recently gave a copy of this book to my mother, and we’ve both been cooking—and reading—our way through the holidays.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — Christmas at the Palace by Jeevani Charika

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day two, I’m sharing a very royal romance.

Not even in her wildest imaginings did Kumari ever think she'd become a princess. But having fallen for Ben - or rather Prince Benedict, sixth in line to the throne - it looks like nothing will ever go as planned again. And as Christmas rapidly approaches the distinction between family festivities and Royalty becomes ever more apparent.

With the paparazzi hounding her, her job on the line and some rather frustrating royal training, Kumari feels panic set in.

Does loving Prince Charming mean she'll get her fairy tale ending - and on her own terms?

This sweet, albeit thinly veiled retelling of Harry and Meghan’s engagement is more “run up to the royal wedding” than strict Christmas book. However, what worked best for me was watching Kumari struggle and learn to cope with the overturning of her entire life because the man she loves just happens to be sixth in line for the British crown. She deals with paparazzi and press, realizing that her job is no longer going to be viable, changing relationships with friends and family, and more. When she decides that being with Prince Benedict is worth all the bother—spoiler that you could’ve guessed—you understand the enormity of her decision.

If you’re looking for a royal escape this Christmas, this one is worth picking up.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

We're Giving Away Books Again!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

My publisher is feeling very generous this holiday season and has decided to give away 25 advance reader copies of The Light Over London. All you have to do is click on this Goodreads link between now and December 10th and enter.

The fine print? This giveaway is open only to US readers. (European readers, I’ve got some special things planned for you very soon.)

Good luck!

12 Days of Christmas Reads — How the Dukes Stole Christmas

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day one, I’m sharing an anthology of historical romances that are sure to make you smile.

Christmas magic is in the air... From the ballrooms of London, to abandoned Scottish castles, to the snowy streets of Gilded Age New York, four bestselling authors whip up some unforgettable romance...with a little help from some enchanted shortbread.

The trouble with anthologies is that I always rank the stories. It’s human nature to try to bring order to things with lists and ranking and, despite my best efforts to enjoy each story on its own terms, I always fall victim to the temptation and end up disappointed in at least one of them.

You can image my happy surprise then when I discovered The Dukes Who Stole Christmas. Each story in this anthology is enjoyable and each offers a little something different for romance fans. Between the charm of Tessa Dare’s “Meet me in Mayfair”, the lush lyrical prose of Sarah MacLean’s “The Duke of Christmas Present”, Sophie Jordan’s classic enemies-to-lovers “Heiress Alone” set in the Scottish Highlands, or the refreshing change of Joanna Shupe’s Gilded Age novella “Christmas in Central Park,” al of the stories feel unique and fresh.

The conceit that ties all of these stories together—other than the Christmas timeframe and the “dukes” of the title—is a shortbread recipe. In some stories, the characters acknowledge that this shortbread has magical properties. In some, it’s incidental—more gesture of love than love potion. Either way, it’s used to reveal elements of character and draw the hero and heroine closer together.

I couldn’t finish this recommendation without spending a little more time on the standout story in the anthology. MacLean’s “The Duke of Christmas Present” delivers the wonderful yearning and slow-burning heat that I’ve come to rely on her for over the years. What the characters do is far more powerful than what they say after more than a decade apart. The language is beautiful, weaving around the reader as it guides one through pain and longing and—eventually—reconciliation.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

Your First Look at an Entrancing, Heartbreaking Novel of World War II

Told from the present-day perspective of a British antiques dealer who specializes in helping families sell the contents of estates, The Light Over London transports readers to World War II London through forgotten treasures. Please enjoy this early look at this entrancing, heartbreaking novel, reminiscent of Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls.

The 12 Days of Christmas Reads

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It’s the most wonderful time of year—and the most wonderful time of year to be a reader!

Last year I celebrated the Christmas season with my 12 Days of Christmas Reads. I highlighted 12 books with holiday themes that I thought readers would enjoy, from romance to historical mystery. This year I’ll be bringing the 12 Days of Christmas Reads back with an brand-new selection of books from an even wider range of genres.

The 12 Days of Christmas Reads kicks off on December 3rd. You can catch all of the Christmas cheer by checking in every day, keeping an eye on my 12 Days of Christmas Reads page that’s updated with a new post every day, or by signing up for my newsletter.

The Women Who Rode Bikes for Britain

In researching my upcoming release, The Light Over London, I was continually amazed at the many—often unsung—ways women contributed to the war effort in Britain during World War II. The Lightseekers is an ongoing series of articles that highlights some of their work and the ways they brought light to Britain in one of its darkest times.

If you’re looking for bravery and glamor in equal parts, look no further than the motorcycle dispatch riders of the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS), popularly known as the Wrens. This group of women played a vital role during World War II, providing reliable communication for the Royal Navy and admiralty in a time when technology could too easily fail. 

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The history of female dispatch riders starts far earlier than World War II. The first group of Wrens who rode motorcycles for Britain was formed in 1917 during the World War I. They were disbanded in 1919, but the service was revived in 1939 when Britain again found itself at war. All able-bodied seamen were needed in the Royal Navy, and the women’s auxiliary adopted the famous slogan “Join the Wrens and Free a Man for the Fleet.” 

Seen a posh and glamorous with their flattering uniforms and upper-crust recruits, many girls who wanted to join up clambered to become a Wren. But when it came to becoming a dispatch riders, only those women with prior motorcycle riding experience were initially selected. (This was in part because riders had to be able to maintain their bikes as well as ride.) That meant that before World War II, which so many of us see as a turning point in the activities that were acceptable for women, women were riding bikes—including some well-known competition riders from local race circuits. 

The primary role of a dispatch rider was to ferry orders and messages between the Royal Navy and admiralty’s offices and bases. They worked in sometimes harrowing conditions, during Blitz conditions and in all weather. 

One story of a Wren’s bravery is that of Wren McGregor. She set out to deliver a message to her commander in Plymouth, which was under a bombing raid. En route, her motorcycle was hit by a bomb. Incredibly, she was uninjured and left the destroyed motorcycle by the side of the road, running a half mile to her headquarters to deliver the message with bombs falling around her. With her task complete, she volunteered to go back to work. Unsurprisingly, McGregor was awarded a British Empire medal for bravery.

The accomplishments and importance of the dispatch riders was so great that they became the subject of parliamentary debate on July 6, 1943. Lord Brabazon of Tara criticized the Royal Air Force (RAF) for not making use of women as dispatch riders. “We, who live in London, see many members of the W.R.N.S. going about on motor bicycles in all sorts of weather,” he said. “We see them on the streets of London every day. Figuratively, whenever I see one I take my hat off to her—but only figuratively.

Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

More than 100 Wrens who were motorcycle dispatch riders lost their lives riding through the Battle of Britain and other conflicts. The subjects of photo spreads and press interest just as they were the recipients of medals for bravery, they became famous across the world as an example of the work women did during the war. 

Read every story of the The Lightseekers in the series archive. You can also learn more about their stories by following the hashtag #TheLightseekers on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

What I Read: July to September 2018

What a three months of reading!

I mentioned the other day that I’ve started a brand-new podcast with my sister Justine, who is the woman behind the blog I Should Read That. I’ve been reading a lot for project, PLUS I also handed in the first draft of a new book to editor. That means I’ve been binging all of the books I haven’t been able to read while working.

Here’s a look at what I’ve read (and loved) this last quarter:

If you want to follow along with me as I read my way to the end of the year, you can find me on Goodreads. And please, if you’ve read any of these books or have a recommendation for me, leave a comment!

The Women Who Delivered Planes

After the greatest darkness...There is light. (2).png

In researching my upcoming release, The Light Over London, I was continually amazed at the many—often unsung—ways women contributed to the war effort in Britain during World War II. The Lightseekers is an ongoing series of articles that highlights some of their work and the ways they brought light to Britain in one of its darkest times.

The men of the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm were not the only pilots who flew during World War II. Thanks to the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), a group of civilian flyers otherwise considered unsuitable for service because of age, ability, or gender made an incredibly important contribution to the war. 

While the ATA may have originally been conceived of as a support group to transport personnel, mail and medical supplies, it soon became clear that pilots were needed for a serious role: transporting the RAF’s aircraft from factories to bases. They were delivering the planes that protected the Home Front in the Battle of Britain and fought over seas.

Before the outbreak of the war, there was major resistance to the idea of women flying planes. Although women could and did fly before the war, critics believed that they would be taking men’s jobs f they were used for this purpose in the ATA. However, a few months into the war, in December 1939, the ATA caved. Pauline Gower was appointed to head up a newly formed women’s section of the service. An accomplished circus pilot between the wars, Gower was firm in her belief that women could and should fly. 

 The first female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary from the collections of the  Imperial War Museums .

The first female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

“Some people believe women pilots to be a race apart, and born ‘fully fledged,’” she said. “Women are not born with wings, neither are men for that matter. Wings are won by hard work, just as proficiency is won in any profession.”

Gower selected the first eight women to be appointed to the ATA. They were accepted on January 1, 1940, and were trained up at Hatfield. Over the course of the war, their numbers swelled to include over 160 female pilots. Nicknamed the “Attagirls,” these women hailed from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the U.S., the Netherlands, Poland, Argentina, and Chile. 

Although they were restricted to non-combat roles in their duties as trainers and transporters, the Attagirls flew every time of aircraft used by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm. This included some of the war’s most famous planes, Hurricanes and Spitfires. 

 ATA personnel Lettice Curtis, Jenny Broad, Audrey Sale-Barker, Gabrielle Patterson, Pauline Gower.

ATA personnel Lettice Curtis, Jenny Broad, Audrey Sale-Barker, Gabrielle Patterson, Pauline Gower.

While their roles might have been restricted, that didn’t mean that the danger was any less. The women in the ATA were flying aircraft in open skies, and 15 of them lost their lives during the war.

If you’re interested in the incredible Attagirls and the work they did, British Airways has created a photo gallery featuring archive images of them.

Read every story of the The Lightseekers in the series archive. You can also learn more about their stories by following the hashtag #TheLightseekers on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

A Brand-New Podcast for Booklovers

One of the best things about having a sister who is also a booklover—and the blogger I Should Read That—is that we’re never at a loss for book recommendations. But when it comes to actually reading those recommendations, we are both guilty of major failure.

To solve that problem (and tackle our growing TBR lists), we’re launching a new podcast. It’s called You’re Never Going to Read This. Each episode we recommend a book each from one of the many genres we love in hopes that we can convince the other to finally sit down and read it.

You can listen to a trailer of You’re Never Going to Read This on Apple Podcasts and all major podcasting platforms. You can also click here to find out a little more about the show on our website.