Her Holiday Man by Shannon Stacey

her holiday manWhy I read it:  I was provided with a review copy by the publisher via NetGalley.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Christina Forrester is starting over. After a financial scandal sent her ex-husband to prison, she’s left raising her young son without any of the comforts of their old life. Budgets, coupons, lawn care—you name it, she’s learning to do it all on her own. Well, almost on her own—she’d be lost without Gail Broughton, the kind widow across the street. But when Gail’s son comes home, Christina’s vow to never trust a man again is put to the test.

Will Broughton left town because he was tired of being “that poor man” who lost his wife and unborn child in a tragic accident. But years have passed and, with his dad gone and his mom alone, it’s time to go home. Only his mother’s not alone. She’s taken Christina under her wing, and the beautiful and determined single mother awakens something in Will he thought was buried forever.

As Will and Christina are forced to spend more time together, feelings that are more than neighborly grow between them. And with Christmas coming and a child filling both houses with holiday cheer, it becomes nearly impossible not to embrace the joy—and the love—in their lives.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Oh, man! I needed tissues for this book.  Of course it has a HEA (it’s a romance after all) but Will has been through the wringer after losing his wife and their unborn daughter shortly before Christmas a few years before the story begins. He’s stayed away from his hometown at Christmas since then but, after also losing his dad suddenly six months before, he feels he needs to come home to stay and make sure his mother is okay.  When he’s doing things like going through his dead wife’s hope chest – well, let’s just say I had convenient dust in my eyes.

Think of England by KJ Charles

Think of EnglandWhy I read it:  I bought this one a while ago and dug it out of the TBR of Doom when Willaful was rhapsodising about how good it was.  (I have chronic FOMO – fear of missing out). Here review is up (I haven’t looked yet, but you can read it here).

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Trigger warning Racial and Anti-Semitic slurs are used by some of the characters in this book. My sense was the narrative wasn’t approving but YMMV. h/t to Willa, Sunita and Janine for reminding me about this.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  What a delight this book was. I loved the Edwardian setting and the references to the (2nd) Boer War and the wonderful sense of place the story had. I enjoyed watching Archie begin to truly see Daniel and not just the facade he displays.   I liked how Archie, through Daniel, came to question things he’d not before even really thought about.  Archie is a stand up guy but he’s not a deep thinker.  It’s not until the second sexual encounter he has with Daniel that he even questions his sexuality.  He’s had a sort of “what happens at school/during the war, stays at school/on the field” kind of sexuality.

Because the story is told entirely from Archie’s point of view, we see his gradual awareness of Daniel, his sexuality and the people around him.  Daniel is cynical and sly and wears a mask (not a real mask) because it is easier to laugh at people before they laugh at you. It is easier to project an identity for people to laugh at or sneer at that protects the real you underneath the facade.  The barbs can’t damage as much if they are misdirected, yes?  Daniel is a character of wonderful depth and I enjoyed very much his slow reveal of character throughout the story.

When the Lights Go Down by Amy Jo Cousins

When the Lights Go DownWhy I read it:  I received a review copy from the author. It’s part of the Harlequin E Contemporary Boxset Volume 3.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Opposites attract, but then what?

Maxie Tyler is Chicago’s toughest stage manager. Her latest gig is just the break she needs, and she’s not going to let anyone get in her way. Not even the producer with dreamy blue eyes and bespoke suits that fit him perfectly in all the right places.

A successful venture capitalist, Nick Drake is used to calling the shots. He doesn’t care about art unless it turns a profit. This show might prove to be a good investment, but he’s not sure if Maxie Tyler will. Her need to control every detail of the show makes him nervous. So does the fact that they can’t seem to keep their hands off each other.

Scandal and disaster threaten her career, his reputation, and the success of the play. Two people accustomed to being in control will have to trust each other if the show will, indeed, go on. And they’ll have to trust their feelings if their passion is going to last after the last curtain goes down and the lights go up.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I was waffling a bit with what to read next – my reading mood was undefined and that never helps anyone.  So I started a couple books, just read the first page or so to see whether it might be “the one” for that day.  When I opened When The Lights Go Down, I found myself swiping to the next page and the next and so on until I realised I was 30 pages in. Given I was feeling kind of “meh” and had an Outlander Wedding hangover (this review has been in the queue for a while), that was a substantial feat.

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