Come Tree! Holiday Book Shopping List

So last Friday, I talked about the seasonal creep and as Halloween gets that much closer (3 days!), candy canes and singing Santa Clauses will be exploding all over the place super soon.

When I started getting emails about seasonal books releasing in the last few months of the year, I realized a list might be handy. That is what I have compiled below. Books I am preparing to read during the holiday season; some that will end up as reviews on this very blog in December. If you like to be ahead of the game and get your shopping on, I’m hoping what’s below is helpful. In addition to these, I’m adding a few more recommendations with the text. (I’m a bad influence, I know.)

Merry, er, Tuesday! (Have a good Halloween if I forget to tell you!)

Holiday Book Shopping List from Rather Be Reading Blog

⇒ The Christmas Wedding Ring by Susan Mallery (Harlequin HQN)
Also recommending: A Fool’s Gold Christmas by Susan Mallery (there’s a cute cat in this one!)

⇒ The Reluctant Elf by Michelle Gorman (Notting Hill Press) Christmas in Britain anyone?

⇒ My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins (St. Martin’s Press Teen)
Also recommending: Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle

⇒ ‘Tis the Season by Robyn Carr (Harlequin MIRA) Three novellas!

⇒ Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan (Harlequin HQN)
Also recommending: Sleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan (admit to owning this and haven’t read it yet)

⇒ Snowflakes on the Sea by Linda Lael Miller (Harlequin HQN)

⇒ The Mistletoe Melody by Jennifer Snow (Harlequin Heartwarming)
Also recommending: Cowboy, It’s Cold Outside by Katherine Garbera

⇒ Her Holiday Man by Shannon Stacey (Carina Press)

⇔

Would love to hear your suggestions below! Never enough holiday books, I say!

Thanks for reading! ♥

Estelle: In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins (Blog Tour)

In Your Dreams by Kristan HigginsIn Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins ( web | tweet )
Part of the Blue Heron series.
Date: September 30, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 480
Target audience: Adults/romance fans
Keywords: old loves, new loves, small towns, California, cops, wine
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Emmaline gets an invitation to her ex-fiancee’s wedding, she lands a “date” with the most eligible bachelor in Manningsport — Jack Holland. They play hockey together, see one each other at the town bar, but it’s never gone further than friendship. Jack is dealing with the aftermath of his efforts to save some teenage boys in a horrible accident, and needs a break from being treated like a hero when all he can think about is the one kid left in a coma. Can these two overcome their pasts and look toward the future together?

Kristan Higgins continues to weave her magic spell on me, folks. I’m totally hooked.

In Your Dreams brings us Emmaline and Jack — two people who live in the same town and are just passing friends. Over the course of the book, we learn that both characters are thrown into situations where they are forced to see the rawest part of the other. For Emmaline, she’s the cop on duty when Jack saves teenagers from an accident, when their car plunges into water. Later, Jack agrees to accompany Emmaline to the wedding of her ex-fiance and sees for himself the tension caused by her family and her insecurities sparked by her ex-fiance.

This is another area where Higgins excels. It’s not all about the chemistry or pushing her couples together but she really creates a backstory for each of her characters. Jack’s heroic gesture connects to his past, and is also affecting his present. He’s having nightmares, some shady things are going on, and he can’t confide in anyone. Not even his clingy ex-wife who is back in town and hoping to make amends. Jack is just SO nice. Too nice. Even Hadley’s reappearance doesn’t bother him (on the outside). He’s so polite, and helpful that it’s pretty much a curse because she is not one to get a hint.

For Emmaline, her parents are constantly on her case about her job as a cop and how they know she’s gay, and why doesn’t she come out already? They’re therapists and very judgmental and so frustrating. I was continually flabbergasted by how heartlessly they treated Emmaline, and how quick they were to disregard how she really felt. No wonder she had so many walls built up. Her parents paired with her ex-fiance (now that was a story)? It’s amazing she didn’t move to Fiji and change her name. (Okay, that’s dramatic but still. I felt bad for her.)

Somehow Higgins makes Jack and Emmaline’s pairing as unexpected and natural as possible. Emmaline knows that Jack is going through some rough stuff, and he has seen firsthand what kind of crap she is trying to dig herself out of. But it’s the resistance from Emmaline that makes this relationship so freaking sexy. Jack practically has to beg for her to go out on a date with him, and it’s pretty adorable and delectable. I loved how sarcastic and funny Emmaline was amongst the town, but also in her own head. That’s the thing about Higgins’ books. You have to be prepared to be swooning one minute to giggling the next. I can’t think of another romance author who succeeds at both so well. Jack and Emmaline made me fall in love with her work all over again.

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⇒ ⇒ GIVEAWAY! ⇐⇐

Hi! Little Bird Publicity has one copy of In Your Dreams for me to provide as a giveaway! Please leave a comment below to be entered. I will pick a winner on October 10, 2014 11:59pm EST. You must be 13 years old to enter and live in the United States. Good luck!!

Estelle: Looking for Trouble by Victoria Dahl

Looking for Trouble by Victoria DahlLooking for Trouble by Victoria Dahl ( web | tweet )
Book 1 in Jackson: Girl’s Night Out series.
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 352
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: librarians, loner, motorcycles, tattoos, family secrets
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: By day, Sophie is a librarian in Jackson Hole, taking care of her dad, her brother, and their farm. By night, she loves to have very secretive sexy moments with strangers. Not wanting anyone in town to actually discover that side of her. Enter Alex. The last person in the world she should be attracted to or want to go out on a date with. But oops. They can have fun, but do they really have what it takes to get serious?

I love Victoria Dahl. Here’s a bit why.

Never have I read a female in a romance novel that was so sexually empowered. Sophie prided herself on looking like a good girl on the outside but, on the inside, she knew what she liked. She feared showing her sexual side to anyone who was tied to her town because she felt very strongly about keeping her reputation in check. This meant very sporadic hookups with men she’d probably never see again.

Let me say this. If you are not a fan of the love-me-harder dirty talk, Looking for Trouble might not be right for your nightcap. Sophie shocked me a little bit at first because I was not expecting her to be so direct about her sexual needs and part of me hates that I was surprised by that! Obviously, more female characters should feel comfortable enough to know what they want and express it!

Anyway. In a sort of Romeo and Juliet twist, Alex returns to Jackson Hole to reunite with his older brother and mom. Turns out his deceased dad cheated on the family with Sophie’s mom. Their extramarital escapades still haunt the small town and the two families years and years later. But Alex has no idea who Sophie is and Sophie isn’t planning to make their “thing” something frequent but this changes (!!) with feelings and fiery sex and realizations.

Not only can I count on Dahl to spice up my reading list, but she always provides such detailed histories for her characters. Why hasn’t Sophie left Jackson Hole? Why wasn’t Alex more curious about his brother and mother over the years? Can they both overcome the town gossip and the hurt feelings to make their relationship work? There’s a lot more to the story than two people falling in love. Plus Dahl introduces some great girlfriends, and I’m always a fan of those candid moments shared with gal pals.

It’s true I haven’t been disappointed by a Dahl novel yet, but I think Looking for Trouble is my new favorite.

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Estelle: Waiting on You by Kristan Higgins (Blog Tour)

Waiting on You by Kristan HIgginsWaiting on You by Kristan Higgins ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 464
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: first love, matchmaking, small towns
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: Colleen is part owner and bartender at O’Rourke’s, one of the busiest restaurants/bars in town. She loves her clientele, adores meddling in their love lives, and is basically renowned as one of the friendliest people in town. But her matchmaking skills haven’t quite landed her her own guy. Instead, as hard as she tries, she’s still fixated on her first love, Lucas. With his uncle in terrible shape, Lucas is suddenly back in town and back in her life. Feelings that never went away are consuming her even more, and it seems like she can’t make one move without Lucas being in the vicinity. For Lucas, even with all the distractions in his life (getting his uncle’s affairs in order; straightening out his cousin, Bryce), he’s still drawn to Colleen. But is there too much between them to warrant them a second chance?

So. The important stuff.

I really appreciation that Kristan Higgins took the time to create an impressive microbrew list for O’Rourkes. Empire Cream Ale is one of absolutely favorites and I was happy to see it make an appearance. The author did her homework and I was giddy with excitement (and quite parched while reading — for multiple reasons!). Bravo!

In addition to the main character’s dedication to a varied beer list at her bar, Colleen is known for her matchmaking skills, her flirting, her affection for her half-sister, Savannah, and her warm and welcoming personality. I can’t forget to say she is hilarious. I was literally snorting / laughing out loud while reading about the crazy antics she got herself into. (With or without Lucas involved.)

This is what I appreciate about Higgins’ romance novels: this balance between the sexy stuff and the funny moments in life, while still maintaining the “will they / won’t they” tension. This style makes her novels and her characters feel much more well-developed and down to earth. Can’t complain about either of those things.

Waiting on You is all about first love. When Colleen and Lucas were in high school, they fell for each other so hard and even college couldn’t get between them. (These flashbacks were integrated so well.) But one moment changed everything, and their relationship fell apart. Lucas gets married, and Colleen stays in her hometown. Even though 10 years pass, they don’t ever forget each other. So with Lucas back in town, Colleen is determined to keep her heart safe from Lucas. She can’t risk letting him break it again.

BUT HE IS SO HOT AND SO NICE AND SO HIM.

We all know where this is going.

In addition to all of these feelings, Lucas is going through a tough time. His uncle (who took him in when he was a kid) is dying and needs his help getting his affairs in order. Part of which includes getting his cousin, Bryce, on a track to be more independent. (Shockingly Bryce and Lucas are the same age but since Bryce has been babied by his mom his entire life… he hasn’t exactly amounted to much. Sidenote: he’s a REALLY nice guy, even if he is naive.)

I have to applaud Lucas and Colleen for holding out on me for so long. I don’t think I would have been able to handle it if I were the two of them because I was practically drooling over my Nook, waiting and waiting for the big moment. They are the kind of couple you root for because not only are they super nice but they have this major history and it makes so much sense for them to be together in the present.

Higgins incorporates great side stories too, really giving us a full picture of this town and the people who live there — Colleen’s mother (who was super menopausal… this was very funny) who is having issues getting over her first husband (Colleen’s dad, and a total cheater), the sweet relationship Colleen and Connor have with their half-sister (who is a total tomboy),  the complicated friendship between Paulie and Colleen, and the well-developed relationship Lucas has with his ex-in laws.

I got such a kick out of Waiting on You! It felt so good to laugh so hard and feel so much for the main characters. With each book of hers I read, Higgins is creeping up into my slot for #1 romance writer.

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Blog Tour: The Perfect Match by Kristan Higgins

The Perfect Match by Kristan HigginsThe Perfect Match by Kristan Higgins ( web | tweet )
Part of the Blue Heron series.
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 448
Target audience: Adult/romance
Keywords: winery, marriage of convenience, family
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Other books by Kristan reviewed on RBR: Somebody to Love

Summary: On her 35th birthday, Honor decides she is ready to propose marriage to her best friend/friend with benefits. When he turns her down and her desire to have a family grows, Honor is ready for anything. Even marrying Tom, a cute British guy she just met who needs a visa to stay in the States and care for his unofficial stepson.

You know what’s great? Reading a romance novel and feeling just as excited for the funny times as the sexy ones.

Kristan Higgins is awesome at injecting humor into The Perfect Match, the story of Honor who feels jolted by her 35th birthday and the knowledge that her eggs are getting on the old side. She wants to get married! She wants to have kids! And she decides to ask her best friend from forever turned occasional lover to finally make their romance public and walk down the aisle with her. When he says no, she’s totally devastated and decides to appease her grandmother (what a cute lady) and meet a guy who needs to get married to stay in the country.

So she goes.

And the first meeting is pretty terrible. Like possibly one of the worst first meetings ever.

But you know how these stories go. A few things changes, and the key players end up together. Tom is a teacher. He has a British accent and tattoos. He likes to box. He also likes whiskey. He honestly has no idea what he did in his lifetime to have someone as nice and willing as Honor to sacrifice so much to agree to marry him. When they barely know each other. Just so he can stay. And why does he want to do that? His deceased ex-fiance’s son (that’s a mouthful) is the apple of his eye, and he wants to be around to stay in Charlie’s life because he has very little support.

Isn’t that terribly noble?

If only Tom wasn’t so hard to get to know. If only Honor felt like she could be honest with him about how she feels as this charade continues. A marriage of convenience affects so many more than just the two getting married, and Higgins does a great job of expressing the confusion that Honor’s family feels and the pressure that the two could be found out. It’s a lot! And the counterbalance provided by Honor’s family (they own a vineyard) is so welcoming.

While I loved Tom and Honor together and I couldn’t wait to find out just how they would make things work, it was really Tom’s devotion to Charlie that made me warm up to him. Charlie is this typical teenager, totally traumatized from his mother’s sudden death and the fact that he feels so out of place everywhere. Their relationship really grew throughout The Perfect Match and that journey was as touching to follow as Honor and Tom’s. (There’s also an adorable dog!)

Another top read from Kristan Higgins! I could not put it down.

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The lovely folks at Little Bird Publicity have a copy of THE PERFECT MATCH waiting for a lucky winner! Be sure to enter!

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Estelle: My Favorite Mistake by Chelsea M. Cameron

My Favorite Mistake by Chelsea CameronMy Favorite Mistake by Chelsea M. Cameron
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 400
Target audience: New adult
Keywords: college, secrets, love/hate relationship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Taylor’s sophomore year has a surprising beginning when she finds out housing has paired her with the tattooed Hunter. She immediately can’t stand him and the way he looks at her, and she’s not sure how she can get through the year with him living in her room. Still reeling from an event that happened during her childhood, she has put up a lot of walls but no matter where she seems to turn, Hunter is right behind her. Will she lose control and fall for him? Does he have some secrets of his own?

I haven’t had the best luck with “new adult” books. There are already so many books I love with college-aged characters without slapping a label on it. But that was before the cliche of new adult began. The bad boy, the smart girl, the sex, and more than likely, the secrets from their past.

I know My Favorite Mistake seems to check off all of those things one by one, but after a decent Publishers Weekly review, I decided to give it a whirl. I’m happy to say that Cameron certainly gave me the well-rounded characters I’ve been looking for in this genre. Taylor is a self-sufficient sophomore in college who loves to read (she works in the library) and is super close to her sister. While Hunter may be tattooed and hot (even Taylor comments how typical this is), he can cook up a storm, play Taylor Swift on his guitar, and is really good with kids.

When they get stuck in the same room together (though Hunter doesn’t see it this way), Taylor is beyond bothered and Hunter comes up with a simple solution: prove to me that you either love or hate me and I’ll move out for good.

I never did get this ultimatum. It was so open-ended, but oh well. It seems Taylor is sort of scratching her head over it too and the tension between the two, the sweltering chemistry, builds and builds and builds until I thought I was going to crack. Cameron definitely excels in the slow burn romance, lighting little fires here and there. All their friends know they are into each other but they resist for so long.

There is the bad stuff though. Hunter and Taylor bond over their pasts, even though they don’t know each other’s stories. When they realize they both have pretty bad nightmares, some of their baggage seems to give way and they start to form (gasp!) a friendship. (Not without that whole attraction thing though.)

Unfortunately, more than halfway of the book, a book that I was more than addicted to and couldn’t stop thinking about, My Favorite Mistake lost a little steam. Was the book too long? Probably. Why did Taylor and Hunter speed things up when they took so so long to get somewhere? I have no idea. The reveals of the secrets didn’t bother me as much as the sudden caricatures Taylor and Hunter became. I needed them to put on the brakes a bit.

As far as New Adult goes, I’m definitely going to keep up with Cameron and what she writes next. My Favorite Mistake really had a ton of promise and kept me preoccupied throughout a lot of travel time, and I’m hoping she takes the plunge in book 2.

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