Quick Look: A Countess by Christmas

"Countess by Christmas" by Annie BurrowsI’ve been determined to write up at least quick reviews or comments on the books I’ve read. For one thing, it’s going to help me keep track of what I am reading, especially since I’m trying to do a book a week. For another, since I’m doing the TBR 2011 Challenge, it’s good practice is writing reviews that don’t take me two days to prep. And, yes, if I’m doing a book a week, that means I expect to have 52 books listed on my Books Read page by the end of 2011. Scary thought.xLet me say right off the bat that I’m a big sucker for Christmas books and films. I eagerly await the first winter-themed books appearing in the bookstores around October and I can buy them by the bushel-full. I don’t read with a critical here; I curl up on the couch and just indulge.

For that type of reading, A Countess by Christmas by Annie Burrows is an absolutely perfect type of book. It has a good pace, it’s charming, and everything is wrapped up in a neat bow at the end. The basics of the story are that Helen Forrest and her Aunt Bella have come to Alvaney Hall for Christmas because Bella needs to ask a favor of her relative, the Earl of Bridgemere. Bridgemere is reputedly a very brooding, unpleasant man since the death of his wife and only opens his home to his family for the Christmas season. At that time, they descend like the veritable plague of locust to beg favors and/or money. Bella has been estranged from the family since she adopted Helen years ago, and is only coming back now because the bank in which all her funds were place has failed. Things are bad enough that Helen has found a position as a governess which she is to take up after Christmas and Aunt Bella will be forced to live on the charity of her extended family (Bridgemere is some sort of cousin, close enough to claim kinship, but not so close that they know one enough well.)

Not surprisingly, when Helen and Bridgemere meet, sparks fly and we proceed from there. There are the nasty relatives one gets at any large family gathering, charming children, and chances for misunderstandings and our hero and heroine to show one another their first impressions were mistaken. All of it is sweet, light, and frothy, exactly what I want at this time of year. My only quibble is that a number of the roadblocks to romance in the book are based on misunderstandings and not saying what one means. In a longer book, or one that wasn’t so otherwise light, I might have well given up on these two. But froth shouldn’t have deep emotional conflict; look at one of my favorite films, Singin’ in the Rain. The Black Moment there last about a minute and mostly consists of Debbie Reynolds saying, “I never want to speak to you again,” followed by Gene Kelley singing to her and we fade out on a happy ending. I wasn’t looking for deep conflict here and the fact everything could easy be resolved once the characters actually said what they meant fit the tone quite nice. It’s a lovely little Christmas bon-bon that won’t add inches to your hips.

Review: Money, Honey by Susan Sey

"Money, Honey" by Susan SeyI bought this book based on a review over Dear Author, right at the moment when I deciding that I wanted to try doing some reading on the Kindle App on my iPad. Didn’t actually get to it until recently, but I stopped counting my TBR pile some time ago.

The short version: enjoyed it and will definitely be buying “Money Shot” when it’s released next June.

The longer version: Very entertaining suspense. FBI Agent Liz Brynn reluctantly has to work with informant Patrick O’Connor on cracking a counterfeiting case that involves the restaurant and casino run by Patrick’s sister and brother-in-law. Complicating matters is not just Patrick’s old partner in crime who’s out for revenge, but Liz’s feelings for him.

The attraction is really what drives the story forward, but I didn’t mind at all because the characters were so engaging. Not just Liz and Patrick, but the supporting cast as well — yet at no time did I get the sense of “Look! I’m setting up characters who can spin off into their own book!” At the end of the book, there were folks I wanted to see in a sequel, but they were definitely here to serve the story. (The villain is not one of them; Villanueva is a genuinely nasty piece of work with no redeeming qualities to soften his edges.)

The pacing is swift, and the moment when Liz and Patrick — finally! — come together combustible. They fall into bed at the right place in the story, too, where the stakes are high and an emotional attachment only adds to the problems, not solve them. The aftermath is believable and fits with the characters. It also sets up very nicely for the book’s last scene in how they finally start moving past their personal baggage to move forward together. There were call backs there which had me smiling, something I’d done frequently while reading.

If I have one quibble, it’s about the back story for Liz. The revelation was teased too long for me and by the time it arrived, I was actually a bit annoyed. As such, I ended up with a bit of an eye roll at the secret in Liz’s past, which didn’t tie into the rest of the story as well as I would have like. Despite that quibble, I had a great time reading this.