Book Review: The Old Lace Shop

The Old Lace Shop
Once Upon a Dickens Christmas #3
by Michelle Griep
read by Nan McNamara

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance, Christmas fiction

Recently widowed Bella White spent almost a decade with a man who frightened and abused her. Now that he’s gone, she’s free to make her own path. Keeping one of the businesses her husband owned, Bella decides to help run the lace factory. Her business partner, though, who owns 49% of the business and is used to running it alone, is not so pleased. And since that partner is Edmund Archer, who was once Bella’s beau, things are quite awkward when Bella arrives to help run the factory. And the lace manufacturing business is a lot more cut-throat than Bella expected.

After the disappointment of book #2 in this series, I was glad to be able to enjoy this one more. I applauded Bella’s desire to earn her own money, rather than just live on what her husband left her. And her heart for local women who’d gone blind working in the lace factories was a really nice side plot. The overall story was decent, if not a little too cluttered for a short novel.

Right off the bat, it was strange going into this book after reading the first two in the series, because they were both told in 3rd person past tense, while this one is in 1st person present tense. This is an odd choice for a book with alternating POVs, and I’ll admit to being a little confused a few times when I’d forget whose perspective we were in at the time. Also, there’s more pressure to make sure both characters’ voices are unique, since they’re obviously not the exact same person, and that wasn’t necessarily done well enough here. It didn’t help that I listened to the audiobook though, which I’ve now decided to avoid for romances if at all possible. And that may have been why the romance in this story felt a little weak, or it may have been the story itself, but I don’t think I can say for sure.

The epilogue of this story was about the 2nd-chance coin that shows up in all 3 books. This is a shame, because I wasn’t as connected to that coin as I could have been, and so the epilogue mostly fell flat for me. Be that as it may, I still liked the story in general, and I do recommend this book for anyone looking for a quick Christmas read, or for a historical and/or Christian romance.

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**As far as I can tell, this story is not available in any format by itself. It is only available as the third story in the collection titled Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, which contains all three stories in this series.

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Book Review: A Tale of Two Hearts

A Tale of Two Hearts
Once Upon a Dickens Christmas #2
by Michelle Griep
read by Nan McNamara

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance, Christmas fiction

When William Barlow, the man Mina Scott has a huge crush on, asks her to pretend to be his wife so that he can remain in the running to be chosen as his uncle’s heir, she jumps at the chance. But things get complicated when Uncle Barlow puts off the decision, William’s rival and cousin starts to play dirty, and Mina begins to regret deceiving the kind uncle.

I really liked the previous book in this series, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, so I was excited to start off my Christmas-season reading by continuing the series. Unfortunately, I didn’t like this one nearly as much. There were some tropes and cliches that I’m a little tired of, I don’t think I liked any of the bigger characters, and the plot was pure contrivance. Obviously any plot is going to be full of contrivances–they are made up by the author, after all. But it felt so much more like it was only a vehicle for the romance this time, and a lot of it seemed unrealistic.

One of the things that bugged me most while reading this book was the amount of times that William and Mina decided to tell Uncle Barlow the truth, and even started to, but couldn’t follow through for some reason. Frankly…they didn’t try very hard. Especially one moment in particular, when the uncle was up late and having a conversation with a woman who knew about the lie and knew they were looking to tell him the truth…rather than say he needed to have a moment alone with his uncle, at which point the woman in question would likely have agreed to leave, William just left. And on it went, dragging the plot on. And it turned out there were other secrets that were even worse for the uncle to have dropped on him.

Overall, I think what I really saw is that the story lacked much heart. Characters paid lip service to their morals and values, but didn’t follow through very well. And Mina’s dad was really hard to get a handle on. I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator’s voice took me some time to get used to, but in the end, I think it was the characters themselves, along with the plot, that made this book a bust for me. I plan to listen to the third book in the series later this month, and I have high hopes that it recaptures the charm of the first book in the series.

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Book Review: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor

12 Days at Bleakly Manor
Once Upon a Dickens Christmas
#1
by Michelle Griep

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery, romance, Christmas fiction

With Christmas 2 days away, this will be my last Christmas review for the year! So sad, and yet, I had so much fun focusing on holiday-related fiction and will definitely do it again next year! Now, onto the review!

When seven people are invited to spent the 12 days of Christmas at Bleakly Manor and offered some sort of reward for staying the entire time, the clash of personalities, not to mention the lack of food and heat, provide the backdrop for the re-igniting of a relationship. Clara Chapman is offered enough money to save her from the poor house. Her ex-fiance Ben Lane is offered his freedom from a prison sentence that he doesn’t deserve. They’ll have the chance to discover the truth behind what broke them up, but only if they can survive the other guests–especially after the revelation that only one of the guests can get the prize.

This is a nice Christmas-adjacent mystery with some romance, set in 1850. I enjoyed the way the guests interacted, for the most part, and while the mystery elements were fairly predictable, I still liked the way it all came together at the end. I liked the atmosphere that was built both with the descriptions and in the writing itself.

One of my biggest disappointments with this book was the way both Ben & Clara were so quick to assume the worst of each other. Even when they began to understand their misconceptions, they still took longer to let go of them than I thought they should. I know that 9 months of believing the worst of someone else can sour the mind, but…in the end, 9 months isn’t really all that long. And even later, without spoiling anything, both of them had opportunity to trust in the other after they have had a chance to get past their issues, and both failed, at least to some degree. It’s not the most solid basis for a relationship.

There was one particular guest that I really didn’t like–both his personality and how he acted, but also how he was described and portrayed in the text. And in the end, he was barely involved in much and left without making much of an impact. There were a few other things here or there that never ended up making much sense for the story, but they were mostly minor things.

Overall, it was a fun read, short and sweet. I liked the old-fashioned traditions involving Christmas that were shown, and there was one particular thing that was revealed at the end that I felt like I should have guessed, and think many would, but I didn’t, which made it better for me. It definitely has some Christian elements scattered throughout, and the romance is clean (there are some physical desires brought up, but not acted upon). I recommend this book for anyone looking for a quick Christmas read, for a historical book with mystery elements, or for a Christian romance.

Find out more about 12 Days at Bleakly Manor

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