What was I reading in December 2022? Did I Meet My Reading Challenge?

December, so much going on, gifts to buy, events to attend, and more socialising. Luckily television provided me with few distractions so I kept up with my reading. As you can see it’s quite a mixed bag, some were Christmas themed, but the majority were not.

The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

Indulge in the perfect winter’s day treat and escape to the snow-fringed fjords of Norway with The Christmas Lights, a delicious tale full of drama and mystery, heartache and hope by Sunday Times bestseller Karen Swan.

Bo lives a life most people can only dream of. She and her boyfriend Zac are paid to travel the globe, sharing their adventures with their online followers. And when Zac proposes, Bo’s happiness is complete.

With Christmas coming up, Bo can’t wait to head to the snow-fringed fjords of Norway. Arriving at the picturesque and remote hillside farmhouse that will be their home for the next few weeks, Bo’s determined to enjoy a romantic Christmas under the Northern Lights. Everything should be perfect

But the mountains hold secrets from the past and as temperatures plunge and tensions rise, Bo must face up to the fact that a life which looks perfect to the outside world may not be the life she should be living…

My Review.

The Christmas Lights was not quite the cosy book I was expecting, as it had a darker, grittier edge to the story. Having visited Norway of course this book already appealed to me. I enjoyed its exploration of how an ‘Influencer’s’ life operates and can understand the blurring of fiction and reality. We can see how easy it is to be swept away by fame and skim the surface of your own life. After four years Bo wants to slow down and have some privacy and private life. Zac her fiancé wants more of the same, more fame, bigger opportunities. In this, he is seconded by their cameraman-Lenny the third and ever-present wheel in their success. Zac has made a deal without consulting Bo who is struggling with problems of her own. The remote location of their Norwegian shelf-farm hideaway gives everyone time to think. As does advice from Sigi, the grandmother who took their booking and Anders, her taciturn, and at times enigmatic grandson.

 Under a Venice Moon by Margaret Cameron

Life isn’t a sort of practice run, something you can afford to play around with. They don’t offer second and third chances to get it right. Use it better. Live it fuller.

A week in Venice ignites Margaret Cameron’s interest in the private city behind the tourist facade and the obscure tales from its history. Tantalised by stories of this lesser-known Venice she returns the following August for a month-long stay, determined to uncover the Venice of the Venetians.

Stepping out from her comfort zone, Margaret finds that friendships – unexpected and spontaneous – blossom within palazzi walls and she makes a discovery: life can lead you along rewarding paths, if you let it.

As each day passes, her time in Venice becomes more than just an interlude; soon, the city feels like home. Could she leave her satisfying life in Perth and start anew in Venice? The question becomes urgent when romance waits where she least expected to find it . . .

352 pages, Paperback

My Review.

Under a Venice Moon is hard to categorise, in part a travel guide and in part a memoir. Margaret Cameron has been visiting Venice for years and in that time, she has come to appreciate the Venetians’ contradictory attitudes to tourists and tourism.

Living in a neighbourhood that is off the tourist path enabled her to live a more authentic Venetian life. She understands the pressure that Venice and Venetians face. They are victims of Venice’s success, all other industry has gone, and their children have to leave to find work. While Venice itself is slowly sinking, unable to withstand the pressure of so many more people.

Margaret Cameron’s impressions of artworks and architecture are interspersed with the day-to-day realities of living in a foreign city. Could this be her lifelong reality or will it be a transitory dream?

City of Time and Magic: Book Four in the Found Things Series by Paula Brackston

Published February 23, 2022, Xanthe meets Paula Brackston’s most famous heroine, Elizabeth Hawksmith from The Witch’s Daughter, in this crossover story with all the “historical detail, village charm, and twisty plotting” of the Found Things series (Publishers Weekly).

City of Time and Magic sees Xanthe face her greatest challenges yet. She must choose from three treasures that sing to her; a beautiful writing slope, a mourning brooch of heartbreaking detail, and a gorgeous gem-set hat pin. All call her, but the wrong one could take her on a mission other than that which she must address first, and the stakes could not be higher. While her earlier mission to Regency England had been a success, the journey home resulted in Liam being taken from her, spirited away to another time and place. Xanthe must follow the treasure that will take her to him if he is not to be lost forever.

Xanthe is certain that Mistress Flyte has Liam and determined to find them both. But when she discovers Lydia Flyte has been tracking the actions of the Visionary Society, a group of ruthless and unscrupulous Spinners who have been selling their talents to a club of wealthy clients, Xanthe realizes her work as a Spinner must come before her personal wishes. The Visionary Society is highly dangerous and directly opposed to the creed of the Spinners. Their actions could have disastrous consequences as they alter the authentic order of things and change the future. Xanthe knows she must take on the Society. It will require the skills of all her friends, old and new, to attempt such a thing, and not all of them will survive the confrontation that follows.

My Review.

I was pleased that I hadn’t had to wait for this last instalment and that the events of the previous books were clear in my mind. I’ve enjoyed this series and the gradual transit through time. Xanthe has help, but ultimately, it’s her choices and her decisions that will affect both the past and the future. It was a fitting conclusion although I will always have a soft spot for Samuel from the first book.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

In every person’s story, there is something to hide…

The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Libr

The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.

Award-winning author Sulari Gentill delivers a sharply thrilling read with The Woman in the Library, an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship and shows us that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.

My Review.

This is the first book I have read by this author and all I can say is why did I wait so long? It ticked almost all my boxes, set in a library, a book about a writer and writing and a mystery. It was compelling and intriguing. I didn’t want to put it down and kept changing my mind as to who could be responsible as information was revealed.

Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop by Rebecca Raisin.

’Tis the season for mulled wine, mince pies, and magic under the mistletoe…

Flora loves Christmas more than anything else in the world, so she’s gutted when her Scrooge-alike boss fires her from Deck the Halls Christmas emporium. But now she finally has a chance to follow her dreams – and what better place to start than the home of Christmas?

Before she can say ‘sleigh bells’, Flora’s on her way to Lapland in a campervan-cum-Christmas-shop. She can’t wait to spend her days drinking hot chocolate and taking reindeer-drawn carriage rides, but something Flora didn’t expect was meeting Connor, a Norse god of a man who makes her heart flutter and snowflakes swirl in her stomach. There’s just one problem: Connor hates Christmas.

Can Flora convince Connor of the joys of Christmas – and will she find a festive romance along the way?

My Review.

Flora loves Christmas and wants to help everyone enjoy it too. A kind-hearted gesture leaves her boss cold and gets her fired.  It feels like her whole world is collapsing, but Flora is cheered on by her friend to follow her dreams.

There is no one more passionate about Christmas than Flora so why can’t she open a travelling Christmas shop?  She can and is soon on her way to Lapland, having mishaps and adventures along the way.

There is a definite Hallmark Christmas Movie vibe about the story, and it’s even referenced in the plot. Meeting Connor, a brooding Norse man, makes Flora think all her Christmases have come at once. Except, Connor is grumpy, and Connor doesn’t like Christmas. Flora is convinced he just needs a little persuasion to see things her way. Connor is a hoot as he sees through many of Flora’s schemes. But as its Christmas surely, she is going to get her happily ever after

Around the Kitchen Table: Good things to cook, create and do – the whole year through by Sophie Hansen and Annie Herron.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.” – Annie Dillard

A giftable and inspiring source book for easy-to-integrate-into-a-busy-life projects and inspirational ideas to bring more little moments of joy into our lives. Includes seasonal recipes, creativity prompts, craft and seasonal planting and garden ideas. Around the Kitchen Table will deliver inspiration and encouragement on a daily basis – ideas for rituals, repetitions, family traditions, small and big ways to count the days, from the joy of sourdough starters, growing herbs from seed, to making your own Christmas wreath or the liberating act of morning journaling, these are simple pleasures that will fill you up with goodness and encourage you to step even a little outside your comfort zone, grab a pencil and paper and start to draw.

My Review A great book to dip into for inspiration and ideas. The recipes sound delicious, and the illustrations are stunning. Made me grab my pencils and try a sketch or two. A real treasure.

A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder by Dianne Freeman.

Frances Wynn, the American-born Countess of Harleigh, returns in Dianne Freeman’s charming, light-hearted mystery series set in Victorian England, and finds her wedding day overshadowed by murder . . .

On the eve of her marriage to George Hazelton, Frances has a great deal more on her mind than flowers and seating arrangements. The Connors and the Doyles, two families of American robber barons, have taken up residence in London, and their bitter rivalry is spilling over into the highest social circles. At the request of her brother, Alonzo, who is quite taken with Miss Madeline Connor, Frances has invited the Connor family to her wedding. Meanwhile, Frances’s mother has invited Mr. Doyle, and Frances fears the wedding may end up being newspaper-worthy for all the wrong reasons.

On the day itself, Frances is relieved to note that Madeline’s father is not among the guests assembled at the church. The reason for his absence, however, turns out to be most unfortunate: Mr. Connor is found murdered in his home. More shocking still, Alonzo is caught at the scene, holding the murder weapon.

Powerful and ruthless, Connor appears to have amassed a wealth of enemies alongside his fortune. Frances and George agree to put their wedding trip on hold to try and clear Alonzo’s name. But there are secrets to sift through, not just in the Doyle and Connor families, but also in their own. And with a killer determined to evade discovery at any cost—even if it means taking another life—Frances’s first days as a newlywed will be perilous indeed . . .

My Review.

I fell for the title and the cover and didn’t realise this was book five in a series. The perils of making a quick book swoop at the library. There was enough information to enable me to follow the story, but obviously, it would have been preferable to have read the previous books. Frances is a resourceful woman, but her love of family is a danger in itself.

Keeping Up Appearances by Tricia Stringer.

As tensions simmer in a small country town, three women are going to need more than CWA sausage rolls and can-do community spirit to put things right. From a bestselling Australian author comes a delightful novel full of practical wisdom and dry humour that examines female friendship, buried secrets and why honesty is (usually) the best policy.

Privacy is hard to maintain in Badara, the kind of small Australian country town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. So discovers single mum Paige when she and her three children arrive from the city seeking refuge. Paige’s only respite from child care and loneliness is the Tuesday gym club, where she had feared the judgement of the town matriarchs, but she is met only with generosity and a plethora of baked goods. Besides, both the brusque Marion and her polished sister-in-law Briony are too busy dealing with their own dramas to examine hers.

Well-to-do farmer’s wife and proud mother Briony is in full denial of her family’s troubles. Even with her eldest daughter’s marriage in ruins and her son Blake’s recent bombshell. Suddenly Briony and husband Vince have a full house again – and the piles of laundry aren’t the only dirty linen that’s about to be aired.

For Marion, the unearthing of a time capsule – its contents to be read at the Celebrate Badara weekend – is a disaster. She was only a teenager when she wrote down those poisonous words, but that doesn’t mean she won’t lose friends and family if they hear what she really thinks of them – especially as the letter reveals their darkest secrets to the world.

When the truth comes out for Badara, keeping up appearances may no longer be an option for anyone …

My Review.

  • Keeping Up Appearances is both readable and relatable. Many of us try to keep up a perfect façade when dealing with personal problems and anxieties. How much harder to do that in a place where your family have been for generations? Where everyone knows- or thinks they know, your backstory. Even so, secrets have been kept in Badara and for some the fear of what will be revealed is devastating.

 Window Shopping by Tessa Bailey

A sizzling, standalone, feel-good holiday romance from Tessa Bailey, New York Times bestselling author of It Happened One Summer.

Two weeks before Christmas and all through Manhattan, shop windows are decorated in red and green satin.
I’m standing alone in front of the famous Vivant department store, when a charming man named Aiden asks my opinion of the décor.

It’s a tragedy in tinsel, I say, unable to lie.
He asks for a better idea with a twinkle in his eye.
Did I know he owned the place? No. He put me on the spot.
Now I’m working for that man, trying to ignore that he’s hot.
But as a down-on-her-luck girl with a difficult past, I know an opportunity when I see one—and I have to make it last.

I’ll put my heart and soul into dressing his holiday windows.
I’ll work without stopping. And when we lose the battle with temptation, I’ll try and remember I’m just window shopping.

My Review. A quick read with a bit of holiday hotness.

Miss Morton and The English House party Murder by Catherine Lloyd.

Catherine Lloyd, author of the critically acclaimed Kurland St. Mary mysteries debuts with the first book in a new series set in Regency England, where circumstances compel one Lady Caroline Morton to become a lady’s companion whose duties will soon entail solving a murder . . .

The options for the penniless daughter of a deceased earl are few indeed in Regency England. So, following the suspicious death of her father, the Earl of Morton, and the discovery that she and her much younger sister have been left without income or home, Lady Caroline takes a post as a lady’s companion to the wealthy widow Frogerton.

Just as Caroline is getting accustomed to her new position, her aunt, Lady Eleanor Greenwood, invites her and her employer to a house party in the countryside to celebrate her youngest daughter’s birthday. Mrs. Matilda (Matty) Frogerton sees this as an opportunity to introduce her own rather wild daughter, Dorothy, to the ton, and Caroline is eager to see her sister, who as a child lives with their aunt.
But all is not well at the Greenwood estate. For one thing, Lady Caroline’s former fiancé, Lord Francis Chatham, is a guest and refuses to speak to her. Far worse, after a series of troubling harassments of the staff, an elderly family member is found stabbed by a knitting needle.
As Caroline and an unexpected ally—Mrs. Frogerton—attempt to solve the chilling crime, they discover the culprit may be leaving bizarre clues as to who will be next in the nursery. But they must make haste, for this heartless killer is engaged in anything but child’s play . .

My Review.

Again, I was intrigued by the title and the fact that it was set during the Regency years. Caroline is just a bit too saint-like for my taste, but she is at least attempting to forge her way without relying on her relations and becoming beholden to them. Her employer Mrs Frogerton, a forthright Northern wealthy widow is by far the most interesting character. The murders are calculated and bizarre, finding out who is responsible and why will tax Caroline and Mrs Rogerson’s ingenuity if they do not wish to become the next victims.

The Christmas Postcards by Karen Swan

Set in a chocolate-box village, a woman makes a surprising connection with a pen-pal that will change her life – and warm your heart – in the new novel from Sunday Times bestselling author Karen Swan.

It had been a make-or-break holiday for their marriage, but Natasha and Rob’s rekindled romance is short-lived when their daughter’s beloved soft toy disappears on the journey home.

As Natasha comforts the distraught child, she turns to social media for help. Miraculously, the toy is found, but it has become the lucky mascot of a man named Duffy, who is thousands of miles away.

When Duffy promises to keep Natasha updated with pictures, the pair begin a correspondence that soon becomes more meaningful to both of them. Sometimes, Natasha feels this stranger understands her more than the man lying next to her.

But as the weeks pass and Duffy heads deeper into the mountains, Natasha begins to notice a change in him. Then one day, the messages stop. Too late, Natasha wonders why he had ever needed a lucky mascot at all.

From the picture-perfect Cotswolds to the majesty of the Himalayan foothills, The Christmas Postcards is a novel about how the closest connections can be the furthest apart.

My Review.

I was reading this book during a heatwave, so escaping to the Himalayas was quite enjoyable. The story spans the recent past and two main locations in the present. Natasha is apparently living an ideal life in The Cotswolds, while Duffy is about to tackle a great mountaineering challenge. Their paths crossed when Mabel, Natasha’s daughter, left her toy cow Moolah behind in the Viennese apartment. Duffy who is there overnight. found it and decided it will be his lucky mascot.

Mabel is inconsolable without Moolah and can’t sleep. In desperation, Natasha posts to social media and Moolah is tracked down to Duffy in Nepal. He knows he should send Moolah back, but that is getting more difficult by the day. And he has a superstitious belief that he was meant to find Moolah. Instead, he starts to send pictures of Moolah having adventures.

Natasha and Mabel look forward to hearing from him until the messages stop. How have two strangers become so connected? The final pages will keep you glued to the story. Although some plot points were a little obvious, overall, it’s an enjoyable read.

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman.

Thursday Murder Club 3 Goodreads Choice Award

Nominee for Best Mystery & Thriller (2022)

It is an ordinary Thursday, and things should finally be returning to normal.

Except trouble is never far away where the Thursday Murder Club are concerned. A local news legend is on the hunt for a sensational headline, and soon the gang are hot on the trail of two murders, ten years apart.

To make matters worse, a new nemesis pays Elizabeth a visit, presenting her with a deadly mission: kill or be killed…

While Elizabeth grapples with her conscience (and a gun), the gang and their unlikely new friends (including TV stars, money launderers and ex-KGB colonels) unravel a new mystery. But can they catch the culprit and save Elizabeth before the murderer strikes again?

My Review.

They say that easy reading comes from difficult writing and this story just flowed along. Richard Osman knows his characters well but allows them to keep surprising us, too. Elizabeth’s husband is gradually progressing into dementia and yet he is acute enough to provide a valuable clue. It’s hard not to have a favourite character among them. While I can admire the steely Elizabeth, gossipy Joyce ( a Mrs Everywoman) is a favourite of mine. Considered Ibrahim, and Ron round out the group. This is a fast-paced story with a conclusion that should surprise most readers.

Dastardly Deeds at St Brides by Debbie Young.

When Gemma Lamb takes a job at a quirky English girls’ boarding school, she believes she’s found the perfect escape route from her controlling boyfriend – until she discovers the rest of the staff are hiding sinister secrets:

– Hairnet, the eccentric headmistress who doesn’t hold with academic qualifications
– Oriana Bliss, Head of Maths and master of disguise
– Joscelyn Spryke, the suspiciously rugged Head of PE
– Geography teacher Mavis Brook, surreptitiously selling off the library books
– creepy night watchman Max Security, with his network of hidden tunnels

Even McPhee, the school cat, is leading a double life.

Tucked away in the school’s beautiful private estate in the Cotswolds, can Gemma stay safe and build a new independent future, or will past secrets catch up with her and the rest of the staff?

With a little help from her new friends, including some wise pupils, she’s going to give it her best shot…

Previously published by Debbie Young as Secrets at St Bride’s

My Review.

A chatty fun read, the story was fast-paced and easy to read. To say the school is peopled with eccentric is putting it mildly. It was slightly reminiscent of Saint Trinian’s although the staff appear to be more eccentric than the pupils.

Lonely in Paris by Lisa Stanbridge.

Jane’s #1 rule in Paris: Don’t fall in love

After ending a disastrous relationship, Jane accepts a job in the City of Love. The trouble is she speaks very little French, has no friends to enjoy Paris with, and she’s awfully lonely.

Then she meets Jacques DuPont.

Rich, handsome, and the cream of the Parisian crop, Jacques is living the dream. Just not his own. His father wants him to follow in his footsteps, but Jacques wants to earn his success. Trapped in a life chosen by his family, he’s always been alone.

Until he meets Jane.

He’s from money. She’s not.
He’s a planner. She’s impulsive.
He’s serious. She’s definitely not.

They couldn’t be more different, but they will fall. Hard.

Together Jane and Jacques will learn why Paris is the City of Love. But when an expiring visa, a jealous colleague, and manipulative family threaten their fledgling relationship, their loyalties will be tested to breaking point.

Jane broke her #1 rule, now they must decide what they are willing to sacrifice for love.

Expected publication January 16, 2023


My Review.

This short, sweet romance is perfect escapist reading. Paris is the City of Lovers, but only if you have someone to love. Jane is single, far from home and lonely. An unexpected meeting changes that, when she meets gorgeous Jacques. She intrigues him, as she is so unlike any of the women he’s met before. It’s perfect until things go wrong. Can they find their happily ever after? I read an Advance Reader Copy of the book, before voluntarily leaving a review.

News!

I will be interviewing Lisa later in the month, so watch out for that. I am always intrigued to find out what inspired a book, how long it took to write and get a glimpse ‘behind the scenes ‘so to speak. Is this stuff you want to know too?

That Reading Goal.

For me, relaxation is a good book.

In 2022 I set myself a goal of reading at least a couple of books a week. I am not in competition with anyone else, only myself. I want to read books I enjoy, and I won’t hesitate in abandoning a book if I am not enjoying it. If I review a book, then I have read it. I don’t post reviews of books I didn’t enjoy and gave up on.  I accept that we all have different tastes and they weren’t my book and that’s ok too.

How Did I Get On? My goal for the year was 100 books and eventually, I had read 147. So what is this year’s goal? It is still at 100 books. I want to read and enjoy books, not mindlessly consume them to meet a challenge that I have set myself.

Additionally, I have other goals in mind. I want to publish at least one book this year and possibly two. More about that next time. Until then, read what you want, when you want for pure enjoyment

Author: soniabellhouse

Sonia Bellhouse loves writing and reading stories with a ‘happily ever after ’ending. She believes we all need love in our lives. Sonia writes Regency and Viking steamy romances. Her book Fire & Ice is a contemporary and Viking romance, with plans to reissue. She’s a member of Romance Writers of Australia. An ex-pat Brit, Sonia happily calls Australia home. She will always ignore the ironing in favour of playing with her cats. You can find her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/soniabellhouse.author/ Or her Chatting with Authors page https://www.facebook.com/groups/1031642857187598

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