Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review: Sugar and Spice by Fern Michaels, Beverly Barton, Joanne Fluke, and Shirley Jump

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Joanne Fluke's Story
Cons: Fern Michaels' Story
The Bottom Line:
Some Christmas romance
Not my normal genre
But I enjoyed most

Spice Up Your Christmas with These Tales of Yuletide Romance

Yes, that's right. I read Sugar and Spice, a romance novella collection. And I even enjoyed it for the most part.

This collection of tales is set during Christmas time. Each story is about 100 pages long, making for quick reads.

Opening the collection is "The Christmas Stocking" by Fern Michaels. Gus Moss has become a successful architect in California, but when he hears how his father has let the family Christmas tree farm go to seed, he returns home to reopen it for the holiday season. Meanwhile, Amy Baran has returned to the same town to bail her mother out of a mess. Her mother has started the ball rolling for a Christmas tree fund raiser that will loose money with Amy's help. Naturally, Amy and Gus collide and the sparks fly.

All four of the main characters in this story (Gus, Amy, and their two surviving parents) have tremendous emotional baggage that needs to be worked through. Just as the story was getting started, however, everything is resolved with a couple quick conversations. I was disappointed that the resolution came so quickly, leaving nothing for the final 30 pages of the tale, which dragged.

The second story is "The Ghost of Christmas Past" by Beverly Barton. Katie Hadley is fleeing the memories of happier Christmases with her late husband. She rents a cabin in the mountains and sets out in a snow storm. When her car goes off the road, she is rescued by Mack MacKinnon, a wounded Special Ops officer who has retired to life as a hermit. With the storm raging, the two are forced to share his cabin, where the sparks between them begin to fly. Will it be enough to melt their hearts?

I enjoyed this story. Both the characters were well drawn, and I could feel the tension between them. Considering the length of the story, their relationship progresses fairly realistically as well. This story is the only one to have any explicit material, but it is all contained in one chapter, making it easy to skip if so desired.

Next comes the reason I read the book, "The Twelve Desserts of Christmas" by Joanne Fluke. Joanne writes a series of mysteries I love, and she includes her series characters in this story. Julie Jansen and Matt Sherwood are two teachers who have been roped into chaperoning the kids left behind at a boarding school. The two have been leading a secret romance, and the flame only grows stronger over the break. However, the kids begin messing with the teachers. Will it break them apart?

This was easily my favorite of the four stories. The story plays out like a romantic comedy with lots of scenes that made me smile. Since there are two teachers, six kids, plus series star Hannah Swensen and other regulars, this is obviously the story with the most characters. Maybe because I already know the series regulars so well, I had no trouble keeping everyone straight, but this might present a problem for those who don't know everyone.

The Hannah Swensen mysteries are known for their wonderful recipes, and this story is no exception. There are twelve desserts recipes scattered throughout the story, with an index at the end to help you find your favorite. Nine of them are from previous books in the series, including all eight title recipes. I can tell you from personal experience they are all delicious. For loyal fans, there are three new recipes as well.

Finally comes "Twelve Days" by Shirley Jump. Natalie Harris' office is doing a secret Santa gift exchange, and she's gotten Jake Lyons, the boss and the man of her fantasies. She adds some spice to her gifts, hoping to peak his curiosity so she can win a date with him. She's not looking for more then a fling, but over the two weeks, things between them deepen. Will it lead to more?

Once again, this was a delightful story. Several of the plot points were predictable, but the ending was very heart warming. Both the main characters are well drawn, making us care about them. This story also includes a recipe, bringing the total for the book to an even baker's dozen.

As an added bonus, the book includes a 3-D Christmas ornament. It's folded plastic, but popped out it looks nice and will be fun to add to the tree for a year or two.

All four of the stories are well written. Since they're short, Sugar and Spice makes for quick reading sure to put anyone in the holiday spirit.

Looking for more?  Check out the Hannah Swensen Mysteries in order.

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