Category Archives: St Martin’s Griffin

Review: The Road to Enchantment by Kaya McLaren

Title: The Road to Enchantment by Kaya McLaren
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Summary:

As a young girl, Willow watched her mother leave their home in Washington State in a literal blaze of glory: she set the mattress of her cheating husband on fire in her driveway, roasting marshmallow peeps and hot dogs before the fire department arrived.

And with that, she and Willow set off to New Mexico, to a new life, to a world of arroyos and canyons bordering an Apache reservation. Willow was devastated. Her eccentric mother believed in this new life and set about starting a winery and goat ranch. But for Willow, it meant initially being bullied and feeling like an outsider. Today, as a grown woman, Willow much prefers Los Angeles and her job as a studio musician. But things tend to happen in threes: her mother dies, her boyfriend dumps her, and Willow discovers she is pregnant.

The DeVine Winery and Goat Ranch is all she has left, even if it is in financial straits and unmanageable back taxes. There is something, though, about the call of “home.” She’s surprised to find that her Apache best friend Darrel along with the rest of the community seems to think she belongs far more than she ever thought she did. Can Willow redefine what home means for her, and can she make a go of the legacy her mother left behind?

Told with Kaya McLaren’s humor and heart, The Road to Enchantment is a story about discovering that the last thing you want is sometimes the one thing you need.

Review:

Insightful and reflective, The Road to Enchantment by Kaya McLaren is a story of loss, healing and new beginnings.

Willow never quite forgave her mom for upending her life after discovering her husband was cheating on her.  Starting over near an Apache reservation in a very isolated location in New Mexico, life was a struggle as they barely eked out a living on a goat farm and fledgling vineyard.  Willow’s friendship with Darrel and his grandparents made life bearable growing up but as soon as she graduated from high school, she moved to Los Angeles to fulfill her dream of becoming a musician.  Her relationship with her mom remains contentious and after a particularly unpleasant visit three years earlier, Willow has not returned to visit.  This makes her mother’s unexpected death even more painful since she was never quite able to repair the rift between them.  Returning to the DeVine Winery and Goat Ranch to settle her mom’s affairs, Willow tries to make peace with her past while at the same time attempting to figure out what comes next after she discovers she is pregnant.

Willow is quite introspective upon her return to the childhood she has yet to come to terms with.  All these years later, she remains resentful of her mother’s decision to start over in a new place.  She cannot forgive her dad for “replacing” their family with a new wife and child.  She is disdainful of her mom’s dreams which left them scrambling to make ends meet.  Willow hates everything the DeVine Winery and Goat Ranch represents yet as she sorts through her mother’s belongings, she begins to understand her a little better.  Even more surprising is her altered perspective of her childhood home and the effect this has on her desire to continue pursuing her own dream in the midst of all of the changes that lie ahead of her as she makes a decision about her unplanned pregnancy.

While Willow is a likable and sympathetic  character, she is also quite frustrating as she tries to decide her future.  The answer is staring her right in the face all along, yet she continues to agonize over making the best choice for herself and her unborn child.  She is a little self-absorbed and unforgiving initially but as she sorts through the detritus of her mom’s life and her own past, she finally begins to see things from her mom’s viewpoint.  Willow stubbornly clings to the idea of returning to Los Angeles even as she acknowledges the problems she is facing if she follows through with her plans.  Thankfully she finally begins to open her heart and mind to the possibility that resisting change might not be in her best interests. However, whether Willow can completely resolve her issues with her past in order to find happiness remains far from certain.

Although a little slow-paced, The Road to Enchantment is an emotionally compelling journey of self-discovery.  This character-driven story is set against the harsh but beautiful New Mexico landscape and Kaya McLaren beautifully incorporates intriguing aspects of Apache heritage into the storyline.  An absolutely breathtaking story of coming to terms with a painful past and forging a new path when life takes an unexpected turn that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Kaya McLaren, Rated B, Review, St Martin's Griffin, The Road to Enchantment, Women's Fiction

Review: The Gift of a Lifetime by Melissa Hill

Title: The Gift of a Lifetime by Melissa Hill
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 383 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Summary:

From Melissa Hill, the internationally-bestselling author of A Gift from Tiffany’s comes another New York Christmas love story make you fall in love all over again.

Hollywood movies are Beth’s passion. She hopes her life will always be filled with classic movie moments, where magical things happen every day. Her boyfriend Danny has always been the embodiment of her perfect Hollywood hero—though after seven years together the initial silver-screen romance has settled into something more predictable.

Then one morning at work just before Christmas, Beth receives an anonymous gift of a take-out coffee cup with a cryptic message. From there, she is given a series of other gifts and riddles directing her to some of NYC’s most popular landmarks—a treasure trail using unique rom-com-related prompts perfect for a movie-lover like Beth to decipher.

And she is forced to wonder: has Danny realized their relationship needs a boost—or could it be that charming new work colleague Ryan with his intense gaze, flirtatious smile, and almost encyclopedic movie knowledge, wants to sweep her off her feet? How would she feel about taking a chance on a leading man who seems determined to give her the Christmas gift of a lifetime…

Review:

Set against the backdrop of iconic New York City landmarks, The Gift of a Lifetime by Melissa Hill is a sweet, mostly light-hearted holiday romance with a few serious undertones for a couple in a long term relationship.

A longtime fan of romantic movies, Beth Harper is gearing up for another Christmas season when she begins to realize her seven year relationship with her soul mate Danny Bishop might be in trouble.  As he grows increasingly distracted and busy with work, she cannot help but wonder if there is more to the sudden disconnect between them than the upcoming holidays and a hectic work schedule.  But with a desire to avoid conflict, Beth continues to ignore her suspicions as she indulges in a friendship with her new co-worker Ryan Buchanan.  When she suddenly begins receiving mysterious clues based on some of her favorite romance movies filmed in New York, she cannot help but wonder which man in her life is responsible for the scavenger hunt.  Has Danny suddenly decided to try to put the spark back in their relationship?  Or is Ryan trying to take their light flirtation to a new level?

Beth is a bit starry eyed as she views life filtered the lenses of her favorite movies.  Not one to face conflict head on, she ignores the growing problems between her and Danny as she gets to know Ryan and follows the intriguing clues she is receiving.  While Beth’s unfailingly upbeat and positive outlook is refreshing, it becomes somewhat irritating once she begins to realize her relationship with Danny is in trouble.  Luckily her close friend, Jodi Cartwright, refuses to let her continue to bury her head in the sand, but Beth is hard-pressed to take her friend’s advice to find out what is happening with both Danny and their relationship.  Growingly increasingly confused by Danny’s emotional and physical distance, Beth is conflicted as she tries to decide whether he or Ryan is behind the trail of clues she is following.

Danny is a bit of an enigmatic figure since readers do not know what is going on with him anymore than Beth does.  Some of the information revealed about him does not dispel any of the mystery and like Beth, it is easy to become suspicious of him.  Danny is keeping a huge secret from Beth but what that might be is anyone’s guess since his actions are a direct contradiction to his obvious love for her. This push/pull drives the plot but the uncertainty becomes a little tedious since neither he nor Beth are willing to discuss what is occurring in their relationship.

The romance movies and iconic New York landmarks are a fun aspect to their storyline and help make it stand out from other holiday themed romances.  Movie buffs are going to enjoy trying to figure out the perplexing clues and their significance to Beth.  The setting springs vibrantly to life as Beth, with a little assistance from Jodi, deciphers each message then follows them to their destination.

The Gift of a Lifetime by Melissa Hill is a heartwarming holiday romance.  The novel is well-written with a refreshingly unique storyline.  Despite a few annoyances with Beth and Danny’s refusal to discuss their problems, they are likable characters that readers will find easy to root for.  Readers will need to exercise patience since none of the storylines are wrapped up until the novel’s surprising conclusion.  All in all, an engrossing story that movie lovers and fans of contemporary romances are sure to enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Melissa Hill, Rated B, Review, Romance, St Martin's Griffin, The Gift of a Lifetime

Review: We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen

Title: We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Historical (80s), Young Adult, Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

It’s the summer of 1982, and for Scott and Cath, everything is about to change.

Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends for most of their lives. Now they’ve graduated high school, and Cath is off to college while Scott stays at home trying to get his band off the ground. Neither of them realized that their first year after high school would be so hard.

Fortunately, Scott and Cath still have each other, and it’s through their letters that they survive heartache, annoying roommates, family dramas, and the pressure of figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they’ve ever wanted to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should think about being more than friends? One thing is clear, Change is an inescapable part of growing up, and we share unbreakable bonds with the friends who help us navigate it.

This funny, extraordinary, and deeply moving book—set to an awesome ’80s soundtrack—captures all the beautiful confusion and emotional intensity we find on the verge of adulthood…and first love.

Review:

We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen is a humorous, poignant and heartwarming novel.  Set in 1982, lifelong friends Scott Agee and Cath Osteen exchange letters as Cath goes off to college while Scott stays in their hometown to work in his family owned clothing store.

Although Cath is excited about attending college, she is a little homesick as she settles into dorm life.  Through her letters to Scott, she fills him on her somewhat quirky roommate, freshman shenanigans and her surprisingly close friendship with Jane.  From her first college romance to struggling to keep up in her classes, she humorously and sometimes sarcastically keeps her best friend apprised of everything going on her life.  Her letters take on an unexpected serious tone as her first holiday visit home approaches and Cath finds out unsettling, life changing information about her parents.

Back home, Scott is adjusting to working in the clothing store and while he is not exactly overjoyed with his career path, he is appreciative that working with his dad has improved their relationship.  With self-deprecating humor, he minimizes his decision to coast through high school but as the months pass, he is rather contemplative as he tries to understand why he chose not to focus on going to college.  Forming a band with some of his friends provides Scott the opportunity to try his hand at songwriting and they reach a measure of success performing gigs at local establishments.  While the majority of his letters are light-hearted and humor-filled, they become much more serious after an unexpected loss.

Although Cath and Scott do talk on the phone and see one another in person, these events are only referenced during letters they write after the fact.  Their letters occasionally cross in the mail so there are a handful of slightly confusing out of sequence exchanges but the next letter helps make sense of things.  The more serious aspects of their correspondence are deftly balanced with their playful banter and  personal jokes.  The occasional misunderstanding sometimes leads to angry exchanges but their longstanding friendship easily survives these squabbles.

An absolutely charming novel with a nostalgic vibe due to music references, mix tapes and letter exchanges, We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen has a refreshingly unique storyline and a wonderful cast of characters. While the overall tone of the novel is upbeat, Cath and Scott also undergo serious, life-altering events that strengthen their friendship.  All in all, it is a captivating read that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Historical (80s), Michael Kun, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Griffin, Susan Mullen, We Are Still Tornadoes, Young Adult

Review: The Best Possible Answer by E. Katherine Kottaras

Title: The Best Possible Answer by E. Katherine Kottaras
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 272 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

AP Exams – check
SAT test – check
College Application – check
Date the wrong guy and ruin everything you’ve spent your whole life working for– check

Super-achiever Viviana Rabinovich-Lowe has never had room to be anything less than perfect. But her quest for perfection is derailed when her boyfriend leaks secret pictures of her to the entire school—pictures no one was ever meant to see. Making matters worse, her parents might be getting divorced and now her perfect family is falling apart. For the first time, Vivi feels like a complete and utter failure.

Then she gets a job working at the community pool, where she meets a new circle of friends who know nothing about her past. That includes Evan, a gorgeous and intriguing guy who makes her want to do something she never thought she’d do again—trust. For the first time in her life, Vivi realizes she can finally be whoever she wants. But who is that? While she tries to figure it out, she learns something they never covered in her AP courses: that it’s okay to be less than perfect, because it’s our imperfections that make us who we are.

E. Katherine Kottaras once again captures what it means to be a teenager in The Best Possible Answer.

Review:

In The Best Possible Answer by E. Katherine Kottaras, a teenager’s lapse in judgment results in a heartrending betrayal that soon pushes her to the breaking point.

Viviana “Vivi” Rabanovich-Lowe is an overachiever whose parents’ unrealistic expectations are quickly escalating into an impossible burden for her to bear.  The oldest daughter, she is under intense pressure to get accepted by her father’s alma mater, but a scandal with a vindictive ex-boyfriend ruins her reputation and sets the stage for her downward spiral.  With an enormous amount of pressure on her to do well in her AP classes, excel on her college entrance exams and  turn in college applications, Vivi briefly lands in the hospital which results in her doctor ordering her to relax and stop pushing herself.  When her best friend Sammie Salazar gets her a summer job working with her at their apartment building’s swimming pool, their friendship is tested when Sammie’s crush Evan Witlock expresses interest in Vivi.  Finally learning to let loose, Vivi’s world is upended by summer’s end after she discovers a shocking family secret and she learns about a few other unexpected changes.

Vivi always followed her family’s strict rules until she fell for her ex-boyfriend.  In the aftermath of their breakup, her father moved out and her mother put her on an even tighter leash.  Under extreme stress due to her classmates’ bullying and resentful of her parents’ inability to forgive her, Vivi begins experiencing panic attacks. Still trying to live up their unrealistic expectations, she continues pushing herself to excel in her classes and ace her exams but her exhaustion leads to a bike accident that ends in a brief hospital stay.  Still feeling like she is too blame for all that is wrong with her family, Vivi has a difficult time speaking up about her frustrations and the pressure she is under to excel.  Even when she does work up the courage to voice her opinions about what is important to her, her parents overrule her objections which just adds to her ever growing feelings of hopelessness. At first dreading working at the pool, Vivi is delighted by her newfound friendships with her co-workers but she is determined to ignore her growing feelings for Evan for Sammie’s sake.

Vivi’s friendship with Sammie easily withstands all of their various ups and downs but it is not always picture perfect.  They are one another’s sounding boards and they unconditionally support each other no matter what.  Their bond is tight enough to withstand the conflict surrounding Sammie’s crush on Evan and his subsequent interest in Vivi.  Tempers flare and feelings are hurt, but when Vivi needs Sammie’s help navigating the new “normal” for her family, Sammie is there for her, no questions asked.  Sammie has Vivi’s best interests at heart and she selflessly encourages her bestie to act on her feelings for Evan.  Sammie also gives Vivi advice that she might not want to hear, but in the end, it is what she needs to hear in order to make positive changes in her life.

The Best Possible Answer is an engaging young adult novel that will resonate with readers who have dealt with betrayal and high expectations from family members.  The friendship between Vivi and Sammie is incredibly heartwarming and it is quite refreshing seeing such a positive portrayal of teenage friendship.  The story arc about Vivi’s family secrets is a little overly dramatic but this discovery is the impetus for much needed changes in their lives.  Although there is a slight romantic element to the storyline, it is very understated and it plays a very minor role in the novel. This latest release by E. Katherine Kottaras is an entertaining and insightful novel of healing that I highly recommend to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Contemporary, E Katherine Kottaras, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Griffin, The Best Possible Answer, Young Adult

Review: How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You by Tara Eglington

Title: How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You by Tara Eglington
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin/Thomas Dunne
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance, Humor
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Sweet sixteen and never been kissed . . .

That’s Aurora Skye’s big secret. And the way she wants it to stay. She’s not going to give away her first kiss to just anyone. Busy dodging suitors and matchmaking for her best friends, Aurora (not so) patiently awaits her prince.

But everything changes when Aurora is coerced into a lead role in the school production of Much Ado about Nothing. Which means she’ll have to lock lips with her co-star Hayden Paris—the smart and funny boy next door who also happens to be the bane of her existence, always around to see her at her worst.

Now Aurora is more determined than ever to have her first kiss with the one who’s truly worthy of it. But first she’ll have to figure out just who that person is.

Romantic and funny, Tara Eglington’s How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You is a feel-good tale of finding love where you least expect it.

Review:

How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You by Tara Eglington is a cute, giggle-inducing young adult romance with a (mostly) fantastic cast of female characters.

With a fairy tale view of romance, Aurora Skye expends a lot of energy avoiding parceling out goodnight kisses to her dates.  With an arsenal of evasive maneuvers at her fingertips, she is waiting to bestow her first kiss on her “Prince” much to the amusement of her next door neighbor and personal nemesis Hayden Paris.  Despite never having been in a relationship, Aurora dispenses plenty of romance advice to her close circle of friends. Aurora is the teensiest bit annoying since she is a little controlling, a lot nosy and a tad irrational where Hayden is concerned, but she is surprisingly likable. She is loyal, protective and willing to do just about anything to make her friends and family happy.  Although she is popular and well-liked, Aurora is not a “mean girl” and she is willing to stand up for anyone she thinks is being treated unfairly.  All in all, she is an all around enjoyable and sympathetic character despite her faults.

The secondary cast of characters is fairly large but they are well-developed and relatable.  Cassie Shields is Aurora’s best friend and she always has Aurora’s back.  Their other close friend Jelena Cantrill is trifle shallow and a wee self-centered, but she offers a nice foil for Aurora’s niceness.  Lindsay is in the midst of a sudden break up with her long term boyfriend Tyler and with Aurora’s advice, she is rediscovering her individuality while resisting Tyler’s attempts to reconcile.

Landing the lead role of Beatrice in the school play Much Ado about Nothing takes Aurora out of her comfort zone and puts her in near daily contact with Hayden, who is playing Benedick. No one can understand her sudden dislike of the boy who was at one time her closest friend and she is incredibly prickly with him every time their paths cross.  Hayden is a genuinely nice young man who always shrugs off Aurora’s unpleasantness and offers her shoulder to cry on when she needs one.  As the premiere of the play looms ever closer, so does the all important kiss between Beatrice and Benedick, and hilarious hijinks ensue as Aurora tries to avoid giving her first kiss to anyone other than her “Prince”.

Although How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You is a light-hearted young adult novel, Tara Eglington does manage to impart a few serious messages to readers.  While Aurora’s desire to wait for her first kiss seems a little silly, the idea behind not wasting her first kiss on someone who does not like or respect her is actually quite refreshing.  In a time when casual relationships are the norm, it is nice to see that she wants her first kiss to have significance.  The other important lesson stems from the storyline involving Lindsay’s breakup with Tyler and how their lives were so enmeshed while they were dating that they were essentially viewed as one person.  The time apart provides Lindsay the opportunity to embrace her independence while discovering the things she enjoys doing on her own.  And last but not least, Aurora does not let a misunderstanding destroy a friendship and she demonstrates the importance of forgiveness even when suffering from hurt feelings.

How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You by Tara Eglington is an engaging and entertaining young adult novel.   With a cast of appealing characters, a humor-filled storyline and subtle yet important messages, this fast-paced story will charm readers of all ages.

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Filed under Contemporary, How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You, Humor, Rated B+, Review, Romance, St Martin's Griffin, Tara Eglington, Thomas Dunne Books, Young Adult

Review: Christmas in Paris by Anita Hughes

Title: Christmas in Paris by Anita Hughes
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Roamnce
Length:288 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Anita Hughes’s Christmas in Paris is a moving and heartwarming story about love, trust, and self-discovery. Set during the most magical week of the year, the glorious foods and fashions of the most romantic city in the world are sure to take your breath away.

Isabel Lawson is standing on the balcony of her suite at the Hotel de Crillon as she gazes at the twinkling lights of the Champs-Élysées and wonders if she’s made a terrible mistake. She was supposed to be visiting the Christmas tree in the Place de la Concorde, and eating escargots and macaroons with her new husband on their honeymoon. But a week before the wedding, she called it off. Isabel is an ambitious Philadelphia finance woman, and Neil suddenly decided to take over his grandparents’ farm. Isabel wasn’t ready to trade her briefcase for a pair of rubber boots and a saddle.

When Neil suggested she use their honeymoon tickets for herself, she thought it would give her a chance to clear her head. That is until she locks herself out on the balcony in the middle of winter. Thankfully her neighbor Alec, a French children’s illustrator, comes to her rescue. He too is nursing a broken heart at the Crillon for the holidays. With a new friend by her side, Isabel is determined to use her time in the “city of lights” wisely. After a chance encounter with a fortune teller, and a close call with a taxi, she starts to question everything she thought was important.

Review:

Set against the glimmering holiday lights of Paris, Christmas in Paris by Anita Hughes is a whimsical romance.

Realizing she and her fiancé Neil Harmon want completely different things in life, Isabel Lawson cancels her wedding just a few days before the ceremony.  Now, instead of enjoying her honeymoon with her new husband, she is reflecting on her failed engagements and exploring Paris with Alec Braxton, the jilted groom in the room next door to hers.  A chance encounter with a fortune teller convinces Isabel that her future husband is a French aristocrat so, with a little help from Alec, she sets out to find the man of her dreams.  Believing her future lies with a dreamy comte she meets at a ball, Isabel is nonplussed by her sudden awareness of Alec.  However she ignores her growing feelings for him as she awaits a marriage proposal from the man Isabel believes she is destined to share her life with.

Isabel might be a successful career woman but she also wants a husband and children. Now with two failed engagements behind her, she begins to doubt her judgment since she was absolutely certain that Neil was the right man for her. So, it makes perfect sense to her to believe the fortune teller’s prediction about an imminent proposal from a titled Frenchman.  This somewhat fanciful belief is a little at odds with her somewhat analytical mind but Isabel is soon busy dreaming up some very elaborate plans starring her future fiancé, the comte.  Needless to say, reality sometimes falls a bit short of her fairytale dreams yet she has an intractable belief the fortune teller’s prediction will come true.  When not mooning over her would be suitor or reminiscing about her past, Isabel enjoys quite a few very down to earth, fun-filled adventures with Alec.

Jilted by his beautiful fiancée,  Alec is nursing a broken heart while working on the illustrations for his next children’s book starring an adventuresome dog named Gus when he meets Isabel.   He is quite sweet but he definitely feels sorry for himself for much of the story.  He has a bit of convoluted issue with his family but he quite devoted to widowed mother.  Alec’s frustrations with his family and his ex manifest themselves in some hilarious (and sometimes dire) situations for Gus  but once he meets Isabel, his fictional character begins starring in some very familiar fairy tales.  Dismayed to realize he is beginning to fall for Isabel, he initially resists his feelings but after getting a little helpful advice from his best friend, Alec decides to woo her.  But with Isabel pinning all her hopes for her future on the comte, will she give Alec a chance?

With Paris serving as a glamorous backdrop for this magical holiday story, Christmas in Paris is an enchanting romance that provides readers with a decadent escape from everyday life.  A hallmark of a novel by Anita Hughes is a lush, extravagant setting which springs vibrantly to life and in this latest release, readers will have no trouble visualizing famous Parisian landmarks during Isabel’s explorations of the city.  Although the storyline is somewhat unrealistic, this charming tale is a fanciful adventure that will delight readers who enjoy light-hearted love stories.

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Filed under Anita Hughes, Christmas in Paris, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, Romance, St Martin's Griffin