Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners

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Thank you to Harlequin- Hanover Square Press for providing me with a copy of Gretchen Anthony’s novel, Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- Cerise Baumgartner is pregnant with her first child and her parents are thrilled. Thrilled and very involved, especially Cerise’s over-bearing mother, Violet. Violet likes Cerise’s girlfriend, Barb, but is left feeling concerned and nosy over how the child was conceived, a personal issue that neither Barb nor Cerise is willing to disclose.

As Violet tries to interfere with her daughter’s life, she has other concerns to contend with, such as her recently retired husband, Ed, who doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. Her best friend, Eldris is also going through a crisis. Eldris’ husband, Richard, has lost his job and is acting very secretive. Their son, Kyle, who is also Cerise’s best-friend and the would be godfather to her baby, is being investigated for domestic terrorism. To top it all off, Violet is desperate to please Barb’s parents, who, at least on paper, seem to be the perfect family.

LIKEEvergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners is a delightful novel. It’s funny and has a lot of heart. I appreciated the complexity of Violet and how the truth of her character unfolds. She is quite a lot to handle early in the story, but Anthony does a fine job of teasing out the details of her inner-life and I finished the story with a very different impression of Violet. One of the overriding themes of the story is love and despite the many flaws that the characters have, there is a lot of love to be found.

I think most people have a Violet Baumgartner in their life. She is a force of nature, but also someone who is very sensitive and hides it behind her controlling behavior. She loves fiercely, but also drives people away with her take-charge attitude. I have relatives that are so similar to Violet, that it was very relatable. I could easily understand Cerise’s reaction to her mother and I’ve been in her position.

I’m a big fan of the Christmas card letter. I even save my favorites that are sent to me, certain families have a way with words. I enjoyed the way that Anthony used Violet’s Christmas card letters to give us backstory about the Baumgartner’s life. It really works well with the story. Although I finished reading Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, in February ( on a snowy afternoon), it is definitely an ideal book to read during the Christmas season. It will put you in a holiday mood.

The disastrous dinner party scene at the end really made me laugh. I also found that Anthony had some great plot twists that I did not anticipate.

DISLIKE- Nothing to dislike. Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners is not a life-changing read, but it is a very cozy, charming story.

RECOMMEND – Yes! If you are looking for a family drama with a strong dose of comedy, Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners is a great pick. I throughly enjoyed it. It’s a feel-good story that will give you the warm fuzzies!

Once in a Blue Moon Lodge

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Thank You to the University of Minnesota Press for providing me with an advanced copy of Lorna Landvik’s novel, Once in a Blue Moon Lodge, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Set in both Minnesota and Norway, spanning decades, Lorna Landvik’s latest novel, Once in a Blue Moon Lodge, continues the story of Patty Jane and her family. Patty Jane’s daughter, Nora, finds herself falling in love with a Norwegian doctor, just as she discovers that she’s pregnant with triples from a one-night stand. Ione, Patty Jane’s mother, visits Norway to see her dying cousin and rekindles a romance with a boyfriend from her youth. Patty Jane has shut down her salon and is enjoying retired life with her long-time boyfriend. She also has a new venture, helping Nora start her lakeside lodge, including the reboot of Patty Jane’s popular   learning series, where locals attend such things as lectures, concerts, and dance classes.

LIKE– I’ve been a longtime fan of Landvik’s writing and I’ve enjoyed her previous novels. There is a sweetness to her storytelling, that I compare to something akin to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. Both are filled with relatable, likable characters, and they each balance the heartbreak and joys of life.

My favorite part of Once in a Blue Moon Lodge, was the flashbacks to Ione’s childhood in Norway. This was the storyline that packed the biggest punch with regard to drama and mystery. I also enjoyed the setting of Norway. I have distant relatives in Norway, that like the characters in Landvik’s novels, immigrated and ended up settling in Minnesota. Her characters, their gentle humor and world view, feel like home to me. It’s this aspect that probably draws me towards Landvik’s novels the most.

Landvik peppers her story with Norwegian words and phrases. “Uff Da” is a phrase that my mom used all of the time, but I was surprised by how many Norwegian words were similar or flat out the same, as ones that I know from being around my Swedish step-children. I’ve never been great with learning foreign languages, so it was exciting to make those connections.

DISLIKEOnce in a Blue Moon Lodge is not as compelling as Landvik’s previous novels. I was unevenly interested in the various plots. For example, Silvia and Harry’s courtship and Broadway musical aspirations/success felt forced. I wasn’t very interested in the triplets. I thought about why this might be the case and I suspect that it had to do with the glut of plot lines and characters. There was so much going on, that I didn’t have a chance to invest deeply in any one character or plot. I would have rather had less and felt more. My focus waning, I actually set Once in a Blue Moon Lodge, aside, and finished another book, before going back to Landvik.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. Yes, if you’ve read Landvik’s other books and need to find out what happens with her beloved characters. However, if this is your first time reading Landvik, I’d like to direct you to Patty Jane’s House of Curl instead. Read Landvik, but don’t start with this one!