Tuesday 29 December 2020

Favourite Reads of 2020!


I thought creating my "favourite reads of 2020" list would have been super difficult but when flicking through my Goodreads list for 2020, I found it surprisingly easy... I don't know why, for I had loads of 4 and 5 star reads this year, but this bunch just jumped out at me immediately!

(It's probably worth noting that this list is my favourite reads of 2020 but some of them were published before 2020; I just hadn't read them before.)

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Druid Vices & A Vodka by Annette Marie

The Little Bookshop of Love Stories by Jaimie Admans

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Millar

The Switch by Beth O'Leary

Damned Souls and A Sangria by Annette Marie

Rhythm, Chord & Malykin by Mariana Zapata

The 12 Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss

Grave War by Kalayna Price

You Had Me At Hockey by Kelly Jamieson


What's on your "best of 2020" list?
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Saturday 26 December 2020

The Christmas Pact, The Little Christmas Shop on Nutcracker Lane & Duffy The Christmassy Dragon!


Three festive reads for the festive season!


Heat up the holidays with this sizzling new novella from New York Times best-selling authors Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward!

Riley Kennedy’s emails keep getting crossed with her colleague, Kennedy Riley.
The infuriating man forwards them along with his annoying commentary and unsolicited advice. At least she never has to see him in person since they work in different locations…until they come face to face at the office holiday party. As luck would have it, Kennedy turns out to be gorgeous…though still a jerk. Yet somehow he’s able to charm her out on the dance floor—and convince her to participate in his crazy scheme: He’ll go home with Riley for a Christmas party and pretend to be her boyfriend if Riley agrees to be his date to a wedding.
It sounds easy enough. But little by little, the act they’re putting on starts to feel like so much more than a Christmas pact—and Riley’s about to learn there’s more to Kennedy than she ever imagined.


This was a quick-to-read festive novella with a fun concept. It made me laugh and cringe and I enjoyed it but I could take or leave Riley and Kennedy as a couple. I'm unsure what caused the disconnect between me and the characters but I just wasn't invested in their story... This made the drama towards the end tediously annoying rather than something that added a little bit of spicy tension. Honestly, I expected more from these authors... Their full-length co-written books are very well done but maybe novellas just aren't their forte? That said, it was definitely better than most novellas and it was a fun way to pass a couple of hours so I'm not complaining too much.


It’s the most magical time of year, and anything can happen…
Nia Maddison has always believed that wishes come true on Nutcracker Lane. So, when she gets the opportunity to run her own Christmas gift shop on the most magical street in town, it feels like her wishes have been finally granted.
But working late one night, Nia discovers yet another boyfriend has cheated on her. As she trudges home – alone, again – she passes the (supposedly) magical nutcracker and half-joking thinks a wish can’t hurt. Cracking a nut in its mouth, she wishes to find Prince Charming.
The next day Nia gets to work to find another decoration shop has opened directly across the lane from her own, and she can’t resist having a nose around.
Whilst there, she accidentally backs into a human-sized Nutcracker, knocking it over and breaking it. Mortified, she flees from the store but when she gathers her resolve to go back and apologise, she stumbles across the gorgeous shop owner James, who looks exactly like Prince Charming…
Could her Christmas wish from the night before really be coming true?


I'm so conflicted over this book! On the one hand, it's delightfully festive, has a couple that I adored and a supporting cast of random characters that made me giggle. I enjoyed the slow burn of the romance, the hope and magic of Christmas that the author captured perfectly, and the simple joy it brought. However, it was so long-winded that it felt like a slog to get through it... I feel that it could have been shortened by a good amount and been a better, punchier, story.
I'd still recommend it though. Admans knows how to write Christmas. Her love for the holiday season bleeds through on every single page and I'm convinced that she could make the ultimate bah-humbugger feel festive.


Duffy The Dragon helps Santa one icy Christmas Eve.


First off, I loved the illustrations for this book! There is something so incredibly old-worldy and timeless about them... They just make you feel all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic.
Secondly, the story is utterly charming! It flows lyrically and tells the story of how Duffy the Dragon helps Santa on Christmas. It gave me Night Before Christmas vibes in how it flowed from one verse to the next... It's a perfect story to read to the little ones on Christmas Eve!


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Wednesday 23 December 2020

A Netflix Christmas (Take Two!)


A couple of years ago, I went on a binge of Netflix Christmas movies
Last year, I only watched a couple (too busy running around like a nut) but what with England in a second Covid-related lockdown throughout November - and things being far from normal throughout December - I had time, once again, to get a Netflix Christmas binge on!
Thus, this post: A Netflix Christmas - Take Two!

Holidate


Not looking for love? Sick of never-ending dating? Been hurt in the past?
 What you need is a holidate! A date only for the holidays - all holidays. 
But beware... You may develop a pesky attraction. You may become infected by feelings. 
You may even... Fall in love.

I laughed so hard throughout this one I swear I almost died! 
I actually couldn't breathe from laughing so hard at one point. It was amazing. Ridiculous, cute, sexy, sweet... I recommend it very muchly!

A Christmas Made To Order


Oh, what a delightfully wonderful and festive cheese-fest!!
I adored this one! An overworked architect hires a holiday decorator/designer when he becomes the last-minute host for his family for the holidays.
I loved how the overworked architect (Steve) wasn't an asshole, he was just a workaholic, and with proper motivation (his family and the pretty designer!) he learns what's important in life... And finds love. Obviously!

Christmas Inheritance


This one wasn't bad... It just wasn't all that great. 
Honestly, the people were judgemental and frustrating and it ruined the holiday buzz.
. Interestingly, Ellie was likeable even though she was a Manhattanite princess completely out of her depth in a small town but Ellie's fiance was frustrating, angry and a bit of a tool. The "small town" love interest (yep, there's a bit of a triangle situation) was judgemental af and, I dunno... It just didn't have that irresistible festive sparkle that festive movies tend to have. 
That said, it ended pretty strong so... Yeah. Mixed bag. 

Operation Christmas Drop


This one was a nice example of Christmas in tropical locations and of non-traditional Christmases.
I really enjoyed it. 
It was full of banter and had a touching story but I found the romantic element sorely lacking. I turned to my husband after it finished and said, "that's a relationship that's going to fizzle out and die the minute it comes into contact with reality" and I stand by it... But since it's a holiday movie the credits roll at the kiss so I guess we'll never know! 
(Unless they make a sequel.)
 What I liked most was that it highlighted a real-life thing that the US, Aus and Japanese militaries do to support isolated communities in Micronesia. Oh, and that it had Bjorn from Vikings in it. Bonnie from The Vampire Diaries was also awesome. 
 
Nativity


This is an old one now that has spawned a West End musical and three sequels but I'd never seen the original until three days ago. 
It was sweet, funny, cringey and had a surprising amount of bah-humbug for a festive movie.
I enjoyed it but I have no idea quite why it's so wildly popular... 

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The thing I love about Netflix Christmas movies is that some are Netflix originals, others are from places like Hallmark and others were cinematic releases but all of them are delightfully festive.

I'll probably squeeze more in - along with the traditional re-watches - before the season is out but those are the notable "new" ones for me. 

What about you? Have you seen any of these? Any other recommendations?
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Monday 21 December 2020

The 12 Dates of Christmas & Christmas Every Day


Festive lovelies for it's the season to be jolly!!

When it comes to relationships, thirty-four-year-old Kate Turner is ready to say "Bah, humbug." The sleepy town of Blexford, England, isn't exactly brimming with prospects, and anyway, Kate's found fulfillment in her career as a designer, and in her delicious side job baking for her old friend Matt's neighborhood café. But then her best friend signs her up for a dating agency that promises to help singles find love before the holidays. Twenty-three days until Christmas. Twelve dates with twelve different men. The odds must finally be in her favor . . . right?

Yet with each new date more disastrous than the one before--and the whole town keeping tabs on her misadventures--Kate must remind herself that sometimes love, like mistletoe, shows up where it's least expected. And maybe, just maybe, it's been right under her nose all along. . . .


This book was absolutely delightful! From start to finish I was completely enchanted. Kate is an artist and I enjoyed how it was woven throughout the book. I adored the small tight-knit community she lives in, her relationship with her father, her whacky mother, her best friends and the entire concept of a dating agency that organises 12 dates over December for the participants of the "12 Dates of Christmas". Each date was different, each man was different, and I was in stitches of laughter as Kate wove her way through the various shenanigans. I wasn't remotely surprised with who Kate was with at the end (it's obvious) but for a good chunk of the book, I could not see the path to getting there and that journey - along with the dating antics - kept me engrossed. It's a warm, cozy, and funny read that is packed full of Christmas magic. I definitely want to re-read this next Christmas... Or maybe whenever I need a little pick-me-up.


When Jenny inherits her estranged grandmother’s cottage in Sherwood Forest, she has nothing to lose - no money, no job, no friends, no family to speak of, and zero self-respect. Things can only get better...
Her grumpy, but decidedly handsome new neighbour, Mack, has a habit of bestowing unsolicited good deeds on her. And when Jenny is welcomed into a rather unusual book club, life seems to finally be getting more interesting.
Instead of reading, the members pledge to complete individual challenges before Christmas: from finding new love, learning to bake, to completing a daredevil bucket list. Jenny can’t resist joining in, and soon a year of friendship and laughter, tears and regrets unfolds in the most unexpected ways.
Warm, wise, funny and utterly uplifting, what one thing would you change in your life before Christmas comes around?


This was a weird one. I enjoyed it but I wouldn't really call it a Christmas book. It begins in December, it ends in December, and it has references to Christmas (including a 'Christmas in July' moment) but it is not a festive read. Not really. It's a book that works its way through the seasons and takes you on a journey with Jenny as she rebuilds her life and, for the first time in her life, finds out the meaning of friendship and a "found" family. There is a dilapidated house, a rowdy book club and a host of random, interesting and wonderful characters whose stories you get caught up in alongside Jenny's. The romance element was present but honestly? That was the weakest element of the book! I mean, I loved Mack as a character, I adored his grumpy kindness and how he looked out for Jenny but their romance was anything but plain sailing and I didn't enjoy the complications of his (not quite) ex-wife. It didn't stop me rooting for them to get together, I guess it just came too late for me to bask in the happiness of it? I don't know but it was honestly irrelevant as the friendships and community of the characters is what made this story so engaging. It was a book that had me laughing and almost crying with the way it all unfolded and I wouldn't change anything about it. It was touching, heart-warming, frustrating and felt so very real... I'm definitely on board for more from this author and if you haven't read Christmas Every Day I suggest you check it out! Just don't expect a "festive" read!


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Friday 18 December 2020

A Tale of Christmas Ornaments!


Today's Book Blogger Hop question is about whether you have any bookish Christmas ornaments on the tree and my very simple answer is yes... But I don't want to give a simple answer!
My Christmas tree ornaments are a source of absolute joy and there is a story attached to each of them.

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My husband and I have been together since we were 18/19 years old. The first Christmas we celebrated together was a year later. 
We bought an artificial Christmas tree that the professor hated (he wanted a real tree) and we bought some "special" individual ornaments to go along with bulk bought, plain, baubles and made the "fake tree" our own.



A reindeer, a Christmas tree and two different snowmen were the ornaments we bought. 
They weren't expensive - £3-6 each - and we bought them in a garden centre/hardware store but we still have them and we love them. 
(The bulk-bought baubles are LONG gone!)

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After we left University, we moved from our flat in Edinburgh down to the Southwest of England and the professor finally got to have his real tree! (Every. Single. Year.)
His dad had been storing some of his childhood tree ornaments for him and gave them to us. 



There's a little book with a story about a bear (and you can actually read it), a tiny little sock, a stuffed stocking, and a metal train. 

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Each and every year, we've added to our collection. 
Some are from Christmas shops and Christmas markets. Some are from craft fairs, some from garden centres. Some are from department stores. 



 Some are from museum gift shops, some from holidays (Disney World, Kennedy Space Center etc.). 



Some are from Harrods... And cost way too freaking much for an ornament.



Some are traditional, some are quirky. Some are beautiful and elegant, some are butt-ugly (and garish). 

There's a long-standing tradition of my father-in-law taking the little dude into London to buy an ornament and he bought the little dude whatever caught his eye... Thus the ugly cheetah, weird gingerbread house, ball of fluff, freaky owl... I could go on, but he has chosen some awesome ones too.

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Some, we've made ourselves.



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Some the little dude made in the early school years. 



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As we accumulated more, the professor tried to impose a "one a year" rule but that's more of a one each a year rule... And sometimes we still break it. 

This year, I bought myself a stack of books ornament



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This isn't all our ornaments but it's a good sampling. 
Basically, our Christmas tree is the story of us in some ways. 
I don't think we have two ornaments that match, but our tree matches us.
Our only complaint is that we're running out of tree to put them all on!
(I keep saying we just need to buy bigger trees, but does he listen? Nope.)

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Do you have a thing for individual Christmas ornaments?
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Friday 11 December 2020

You Had Me At Hockey by Kelly Jamieson

 

*eARC granted in exchange of an honest review.*


Can a spirited, down-to-earth influencer get an uptight hockey player out of his shell?

Josh
I am a warrior. That’s been my motto since I recovered from a near-death accident when I was younger. Now I enjoy my nice, settled life in Dallas playing pro hockey—a boring life is better than being dead. I’m not a party guy or an adventurer; I like my routine and peace and quiet. So being traded to New York is the worst possible change that could happen. And meeting unfiltered and fascinating Sara Carrington throws my life into even more chaos.

Sara
I’ve been considered weird my whole life, which is why I’m still a virgin, but I’ve turned it into a career with my YouTube videos. Who knew people would love watching me talk about my zits, taste test meatless burgers, and try to learn TikTok dances! Now I’m launching a podcast. Getting hockey star Josh Heller as a guest will help gain listeners for sure. I expect a bearded jock with no teeth and nothing to say, but I get a hot as H-E-double-hockey-sticks grouch with a surprisingly dirty mind. My mission to make him laugh is successful, but I want to know why he’s so uptight underneath that panty-dropping smile. Maybe I can teach Josh to have some fun . . . and maybe he can teach me a thing or two along the way. . . .


This is my first novel by Jamieson and it won't be my last! I've already started adding her backlist to my TBR and I'm so excited to read them... You Had Me At Hockey was wonderful! It had me hooked from the first chapter. I couldn't put it down to the point I started and finished it on the same day. The characters - both Josh and Sara - were so relatable and likeable and the chemistry between them was smoking hot and effortless! I adored them together and as individuals. They made me laugh, they tugged on my heartstrings, the sex scenes were fire and placed against the backdrop of hockey?! Yep, this book was a massive hit for me. The book was character-driven perfection especially because neither character was perfect but they both grew and evolved throughout the story.
I actually felt sad when it was over and really hope they crop up again in future books...

If you love a good sports romance with a couple you can believe in then do not miss out on this!

PS - This is the second book in a series but you don't need to have read book one to read this one. Characters from book one do appear in You Had Me At Hockey but the spoilers only go so far as they get a HEA which is a requirement of romance so... Not really a spoiler!



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Tuesday 8 December 2020

Holiday Things That Make Me Get My Grinch On


It is the most wonderful time of the year and all that jazz but that doesn't mean that it's all twinkly lights and candy canes... The holidays can be annoying. 
Today, for Top Ten Tuesday, I'm listing things that make me get my grinch on... But don't worry, I've tried not to make it too depressing. 

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Christmas cards, decorations and other Christmas paraphernalia in the shops from August. 
I love Christmas but not before October! Halloween comes first.
If you're in doubt, pop on the Nightmare Before Christmas and see what happens when the natural order is interfered with.
(FYI - I love that movie.)

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The crowds! 
Everywhere, all the time... And people are rabid and super grumpy!
It affects parking, eating, browsing, buying... Everything. I leave the house full of festive cheer and return ready to burn down the Christmas tree.
But not to worry! I'll pop on some well worn festive jingles and eat some mince pies (no I won't, I don't like mince pies) and I'll be happy again.

(Although, this year, Covid has made this some only semi-applicable so I suppose that's one good thing...)

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The prices. 
A body wash and a loofah in a festive bag. £10. Two days after Christmas, £4.
Talk about festive price gouging!

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Elf on The Shelf
I hate it. He's creepy and it just puts unnecessary pressure on parents at an already busy and pressured time of year!
(And I'm grumpy about this despite the fact that monstrous little monster has never been "a thing" in my house!)

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People getting bent over the phrase Merry Christmas.
I don't even want to start on this one honestly... But I guess I'm going to?
Yes, not everyone is Christian and, Christian or not, not everyone celebrates Christmas. Many people of no faith or other faith celebrate Christmas as a family day. (At least here in the UK.)
No matter where you sit on this topic, is it REALLY a reason to lose it on a shop assistant being polite? It is REALLY a reason to rant at people?
Is it?! I don't think so.
(She says while ranting.)
It comes down to basic humanity and not being an asshole and taking something in the spirit it is intended. Not everybody is out to insult people.

Swallow some festive spirit (maybe some mulled wine or eggnog?) and chill out!

PS - Don't get me started on those who try to weaponise Merry Christmas... Oh, do I have words for that bunch.

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It hardly ever snows here.
It rarely snows where I am at any point in the year so snow at Christmas?! Super super rare.
But in all the books, all the movies, on all the cards and in all the songs - snow! Snow everywhere. 
I think I'm so bitter about it because I love snow and I'd love a snowy Christmas... I haven't seen one since I was a kid. 

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People criticising how people choose to do gifts.
For some reason, this topic erupts on social media every single year and it drives me bug-fucking crazy.
It always starts with an innocent post about what someone is buying their kid(s) or a picture of a pile of presents, and then suddenly everyone thinks they're allowed to pile on with their opinion. 
It's usually focussed around accusations of "making other parents feel bad they can't do that for their kid(s)" and affordability/debt but sometimes it veers in the direction of new vrs second-hand or sustainability and it never fails to irritate me because it's nobody's business! 
Seriously, stop harshing people's happy! 
Everyone's circumstances are different. Circumstances vary year-by-year for most people. Everyone has different attitudes and beliefs. You do you and let others do what they do and, generally, just live and let live! It's Christmas! Be kind. 

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People when they complain about socks or books as presents.
I live in fluffy socks. I live and breathe books. Do I really have to explain why this one irritates me?
And seriously, even if you're not a bookworm, why are you complaining about getting a book someone put thought into buying you? Why complain when someone spends any of their hard-earned cash on you, regardless of what they've purchased? Talk about ungrateful. 

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The pressure to be happy, jolly and festive.
I'm not going to lie, I'm one of those people who has two modes at Christmas: Elf or Grinch. I often swing between the two (probably because of some of what I've listed) but one thing I dislike more than just about anything is when people say things like, "Cheer up, it's Christmas." Or just expect you to be happy because... It's Christmas. 
There are a lot of things to be happy and excited about at Christmas but Christmas can also be a tough time for people. Some people have to work all the way through it. Some people have no one to celebrate with. Some are gutted with pain over those who are no longer with us. Some feel sadness and guilt because they can't afford to "do" Christmas. Some don't have their kids with them because they're separated and the kids are with the other parent. Some have to spend the holidays with people they don't like because their loved ones like/love them. People are allowed to feel sad at Christmas. People are allowed to feel a big confusing mess of all the things! 
Accept people are nuanced and they don't have to feel how you think they should feel.
And be nice!

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So... What makes you grumpy this time of year?
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Wednesday 2 December 2020

Miracle Creek Christmas and Snowflakes At The Little Christmas Tree Farm


One made for Hallmark, the other a quirkily festive British delight!


When Riley Madigan moves to the sleepy mountain town of Miracle Creek, she hopes her new job as a high school art teacher will help her mend her recently broken heart. A little peace and quiet would be a gift this Christmas season. The last thing on her mind is love.
Former firefighter Mark Rivers has spent the last year recovering from burns sustained during a rescue operation. He’s been trying to piece his life back together but still struggles both emotionally and psychologically. When he meets Riley, he finally sees something that might bring some light back into his life.
When Mark asks Riley to work on a special nativity project, he finds himself falling for her quirky, unaffected ways. Riley doesn’t seem bothered by his scars, but is her affection for him real, or is this just another act of charity? One thing’s for certain, in a small town that views Mark as a fragile hero, it’s hard to pursue a relationship without everyone in his business. And although Riley has sincere feelings for Mark, is she ready to risk her heart?
Broken hearts and lives are mended as the town of Miracle Creek comes together to celebrate a Christmas to remember.


Miracle Creek Christmas is pretty much a Hallmark movie in a book. It's got a story that tugs on the heartstrings, all the festive trimmings, good people, a smarmy pseudo-villain, and a happy ending. It's a "clean read" and it makes you feel toasty and contented inside.
I absolutely adored Mark! He was that solid, dependable and kind book boyfriend that would make anyone a wonderful partner. He'd been through absolute hell but he still had hope and a desire to help others while fighting his own recovery battles. I admired him and wanted him to be happy from the beginning. I can't say the same for Riley... It's not that I disliked her - I didn't - it's just that she was much harder to like. She had her own stuff to deal with but her constant need to hold people at a distance - and run - got old quickly. However, I was happy watching the change and healing Mark inspired in her.
If you're looking for a wonderful, warm, festive read then give it a try!


All she wants for Christmas…
Leah Griffiths has woken up after a few too many glasses of Prosecco with a hangover – and discovers she’s accidentally bought a little Christmas tree farm in Scotland!
At first she’s horrified, but perhaps it’s the perfect way to forget all about her cheating ex.
And when she meets grumpy (but ridiculously gorgeous) pumpkin farmer Noel underneath the mistletoe, Leah begins to believe that at Christmas time, anything can happen…


This book was almost the perfect festive read for me!
It had a woman of relatable age drunkenly buying a Christmas tree farm and completely changing her life - for the better.
There was a delicious, unbelievably lovely, but slightly grumpy hero to help her find her feet in her new life, whacky and wonderful secondary characters - who didn't take up too much page time - and lots and lots of festive goodness!

This is very much a Christmas book but Noel - Mr lovely grumpy pants - is predominantly a pumpkin farmer so you could read this any time from September onwards and just feel happy inside... Actually, you could read it anytime and feel happy inside but you get what I mean. It would give you happy autumn/winter vibes at point of the year, and since Sept-Dec are my favourite times of year, it's not surprising that I adored this book really.
Add to that Adman's usual warmth and laughter and you have a marvellous book.

So, why four stars instead of five? Well, there was a revelation towards the end of the book - that was fairly obvious from the beginning of the book - that was blown massively out of proportion by the main character (Leah) and I seriously wanted to jump in the book and slap her for her stupidity and ridiculousness. Like, she's spent weeks... Months... with Noel by the point she finds out the 'grand reveal' and she knows him so how she could react the way she did?! It was mystifying. Nothing but drama for the sake of drama. It annoyed me so badly that I seriously wanted to scream. Not all books need something pulling the couple apart just so they can come back together again. You can have a drama free romance without it being boring, you know? But whatever. I got over it because the rest of the book is so flippin' delightful.
I loved this book, with this one exception, and I'll definitely be reading it again at some point.


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