Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler (2019)
Ad executive Haley has to attend a Christmas Camp before her boss will let her pitch a big account that could help her become partner.
This book was basically the perfect book to get into the holiday spirit. Haley, who isn't real big on Christmas, attends a Christmas camp at a picturesque inn, and it was so fun to watch her open up and enjoy herself, despite her insistence that she just wants to complete the camp tasks and get back to work. Everything you could love about Christmas is here - decorating the tree, making cookies, sledding - but it's really nice that the whole purpose of the camp is about connecting with loved ones and creating memories and traditions. The cast of characters is so sweet and lovable - I think if I had read this at any other time of year, it would have felt too saccharine, but I didn't mind it here. One standout character was Ben, the owner of the inn, who always seems to have a magical twinkle in his eye, and my heart just felt for Gail, whose son is a deployed soldier. There is a romance that develops (actually maybe more than one?!), but it doesn't take over the story. It fits in really well and feels natural. 4 stars
25 Days 'Til Christmas by Poppy Alexander (2019)
Kate and her son Jack have had a difficult life since Kate's husband, a soldier, died, but she is determined to make this Christmas their best one ever.
I was expecting a sweet holiday romance and a feel-good story, but this book was actually really heavy. Kate has just been scraping by since losing her husband, but she's tired of that and wants to put together the perfect Christmas for Jack, one that will hopefully kick-start a new life for them both. I liked the idea of Kate using the advent calendar to plan fun activities and give Jack something to look forward to - and especially show that you don't necessarily have to spend money to have a good time. I was also rooting for Kate and Daniel, who has also experienced loss, to find love because I could see how good they could be together.
However, there was just too much going on in this story, so many storylines, that it felt unfocused at times. This book wasn't even that long, but I kept forgetting about some of the threads. Almost everything bad that could happen to a person all seemed to pile on Kate, and it was a bit unrealistic. For a Christmas book, it was oddly depressing. The writing, and especially the dialogue, felt stiff and stilted at times. 3 stars