Review: Lighting the Flames by Sarah Wendell

Sarah Wendell is the main brain behind Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Her blog and podcast provide a myriad of fun to romance readers of all kinds. I mentioned in this post that Penny Reid was one of the reasons I got back into romance books. Sarah Wendell and her brand is the other. Her humor and unabashed love for the genre is infectious.

Besides Smart Bitches, Sarah has written a number of different books about the genre. She has also thrown her hat in the ring and written her own romance book. And I’m so very glad she did.

After complaining one too many times, and being relentlessly annoyed about the lack of romance stories for the OTHER holidays in December, Wendell decided to fix that. Because as she points out, not everyone is a Christian. Which brings us to today’s post. If you want to know more about the book and why she wrote it, listen here and read here.

The Book

Lighting the Flames is a Hanukkah romance weaving Jewish traditions with a contemporary romance. It follows two childhood best friends, Jeremy and Genevieve, as they reconnect. Every year they would meet back up at camp, getting into all sorts of shenanigans. That is, until one year Jeremy leaves unexpectedly in the middle of summer. And then Gen leaves to study abroad. They missed a year in each other’s company. Now it’s winter, they’re back at camp, and need to relearn where their friendship falls.

This book was wonderful. I loved the relationship between Jeremy and Gen. It was such an honest and good friendship that it had me rooting for them from the beginning. Not only that but I loved how Wendell wove in the different traditions surrounding Hanukkah. It wasn’t an overwhelming info-dump, but rather a subtle explanation about why these traditions are so important to people.

It was different than the previous two Christmas romances I’ve reviewed so far. In those, Christmas serves as a backdrop to the tales. In Lighting The Flames, the traditions of the holiday very much play a role in what makes this season important. It’s not just the magical Christmas feels from Shalvis or the reminder of family love from Balogh. It’s…well, it’s a reminder of why traditions are important, why they’re practiced, and how they can be shared between people.

This book spans eight days, which makes sense given that it’s a Hanukkah story and Hanukkah also lasts for eight days. During this time, Jeremy and Gen learn to grow together. I loved how Wendell wove together aspects of the holiday to their own-shared experiences. It was a great way to make the story both a romance and a holiday story.

If you couldn’t tell, I absolutely loved this part of the book. Loved it! I want more books like this.

The Romance

Anyway, time to back track to the lovers. I actually tend not to read too many childhood-sweethearts-turned-to-lovers stories. There are a lot of stories where the guy tends to leave or seriously mess up for, what seems to me, a rather stupid reason. It causes heartbreak and unnecessary drama. I don’t like unnecessary drama.

So even though there was a period of time in which these two were apart, it wasn’t for some unnecessary reason. It was actually for a very necessary reason for both of them. However, now that they’re back together at camp, they realize they need to get to know each other again. They need to figure who they are together as adults while at camp and while back at home.

I loved that these two remained best friends even with the year apart. It felt real. It felt like so many experiences I’ve had growing up and moving into adulthood. Maintaining friendships takes work and I think that is something Wendell explored well.

In addition to all that, this was, over all, a very sweet romance. Theirs wasn’t a story of full-blown passion and lusty stares. It was caring and nurturing. Supportive and tender. This is also a very safe for mom book, which made the kisses and touches even sweeter.

Grab this book for a great post Hanukkah read. It’ll give you all the wonderful warm fuzzies!

Swoon Worthy Quotes

He wanted to wake up with Gen beside him – maybe not on the ground outside, but with her next to him at the start of every day.

Was his voice saying her name always going to make her feel like fireflies had collected in the middle of her chest?

“The best times in my life have been with you.”


Genevieve and Jeremy have known each other since they were seven, and have been summertime best friends at Camp Meira, a Jewish overnight camp in the mountains. As campers, and then as staff, their friendship was a constant, something neither wanted to change, no matter how tempting those changes might be.

Then, last year, with little warning, Jeremy left camp early. After that summer, Gen left the country on a graduate fellowship.

Now, a little over a year since they were last at Meira, Gen and Jeremy are back together to help run a special Winter Camp during Hanukkah. Any water under the bridge is frozen this time of year, and with so much left unspoken and unexplained, this week may be their chance to rekindle their friendship, or turn it into something new.

Buy The Books


Review: Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis

The Book

What is it about Christmas that is so magical? More than any other season, I feel like this time of year always holds a sense of romance and wonder. Why is that? Is there actual fairy dust in the air? Is this really when Cupid comes out to shoot his bolts of love? I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve always felt that the holidays hold some sense of wonder that is entirely alluring.

And I am so thankful to the romance writers who so fantastically capture this romantic magic in the pages of their books.

Jill Shalvis being one of them.

Just as last week’s book was my first Mary Balogh, this week, Chasing Christmas Eve, was my first Jill Shalvis book. And it was a great introduction to her works. Chasing Christmas Eve is such a wonderful example of Christmas magic. This is Shalvis’ latest full-length novel in her Heartbreaker Bay series and it was absolutely wonderful. Set in the bustling city of San Francisco, the book returns to a group of friends, more like family, who have made a home in the historic district of Cow Hollow.

After running away from her life and responsibilities in New York City, young adult author, Colbie Albright, finds herself right in the center of Cow Hollow searching for a legendary fountain said to help people find true love…into which she takes an unexpected swim thanks to an over exuberant dog. She’s fished out by San Francisco’s fourth most eligible bachelor and tech genius, Spencer Baldwin, who, for his own reasons, has been avoiding that fountain like the plague. They’re smitten at first sight.

This is one way to be welcomed to a new city.

And what starts as some initial flirting leads to a fast and passionate fling. Colbie comes with a time limit. Spence has sworn off committed relationships. They both have responsibilities that come with a deadline and the more time they spend with each other, the less time they work on their projects. They don’t see where the other can fit in their lives permanently. And this is, of course, the hurdle they must climb over.

The Romance

Since they have such limited time together, the relationship between Spence and Colbie is fast and furious (ride or die! (RIP Paul Walker) (Fast & The Furious movies are a guilty pleasure.)). And while they say they aren’t going to get serious, while they say they this isn’t going to last, the more time they spend together, the more they fall in love.

One thing I liked about their relationship was that they didn’t try to fix each other’s problems. Yes, they both are focused on something important, yet they give each other the space needed to work on it, albeit, in Colbie’s case, after realizing Spence wasn’t being quite as honest with her about the scope of his project. I know this might seem like an odd thing to appreciate about their relationship, but it reminded me so much of my relationship with my husband. So many romance stories focus on how much time a couple spends together, they’re constantly wrapped up in each other both in time and space. And I get it, I do. In the beginning, that’s ALL you want to do. Yet, I have found that I need those moments alone so I can work on my own stuff. That’s the same with my husband. We’ve been married for almost five years now, and most of our evenings are spent half together, half working on our own projects. That’s why I liked this part of Colbie and Spence’s relationship so much. I understand the need to be apart from someone to work on necessary things…even when I want to be with my person.

I love how easily these two learned to trust and lean on each other when needed. While yes, it was a fiery affair, I loved the quiet moments between them even more. The moments they took to lean on each other, literally and figuratively, up on the roof, taking a moment for themselves and supporting each other. It was simple and beautiful.

The Rest

Let’s also not forget the wonderful cast of characters that also come with the whole Heartbreaker Bay series. I knew I would be missing out on some past knowledge on the supporting friends, however, it never felt as though I was missing information. It just felt like I was missing out on some great stories, which I plan on rectifying over Christmas.

I loved the rest of the Heartbreaker Bay cast because of their supportive friendship. They got in each other’s business because they care deeply for Spence. They want to see him happy. And when they see that Colbie makes Spence happy, they make sure to embrace her (with a few mishaps on the way). This is a goofy bunch and I can’t wait to get my hands on their stories.

Chasing Christmas Eve was such a wonderful Christmas read. The romance, the characters, and the story all make this book magical. Go read it. And if you’re a stickler for reading in order, I’m going to hazard a guess that all the other Heartbreaker Bay books are equally as wonderful as this on is. It’ll fill that need for Christmas romance.


And God, when she looked at him like that, he was a goner. She’d offered him her friendship. Her body. And he’d taken both.

“I’m not trying to play fair. I’m playing for keeps.”

“My life doesn’t work without you in it.”

“I determined on day one that I was never going to get tired of you.”


Meet cute…

Run for the hills—temporarily. That’s Colbie Albright’s plan when she flees New York for San Francisco. Wrangling her crazy family by day and writing a bestselling YA fantasy series by night has taken its toll. In short, Colbie’s so over it that she’s under it. She’s also under the waters of a historic San Francisco fountain within an hour of arrival. Fortunately, the guy who fishes Colbie out has her looking forward to Christmas among strangers. But she’s pretty sure Spencer Baldwin won’t be a stranger for long.

Make merry…

Spence’s commitment to hiding from the Ghosts of Relationships Past means he doesn’t have to worry about the powerful—okay, crazy hot—chemistry he’s got with Colbie. Just because she can laugh at anything, especially herself… just because she’s gorgeous and a great listener…just because she “gets” Spence immediately doesn’t mean he won’t be able to let Colbie go. Does it?

…and hope for a miracle.

Now the clock’s ticking for Colbie and Spence: Two weeks to cut loose. Two weeks to fall hard. Two weeks to figure out how to make this Christmas last a lifetime.

Buy The Book


Review: A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh

Randolph Pierce, Earl of Falloden has recently inherited his title, as well as a mountain of debt due to his spendthrift cousin. He’s scrapping for every penny when a new proposition comes across his table: marry the daughter of a rich, self-made businessman and his debt will be forgiven. It’s an offer he cannot refuse.

Through the whims and wishes of her dying father, Eleanor Transome finds herself engaged to marry the destitute Earl of Falloden, Randolph Pierce. She’s never wanted to marry for money or title, she wants to marry for love. But her father desires to see her secure before his passing, and she will honor his wish.

They both wanted to marry for love. Instead, they’re marrying a stranger for money.

This isn’t a good start to this match.

Mary Balogh’s A Christmas Promise is sweet book filled with the promises of Christmas magic. There is something to be said for arranged marriage tropes. It’s the slow burn, the promise of eventual love, and “do they really like me” that keeps me coming back to this trope. As we all know in the romance world, there is a happily ever after on the horizon. We just have to get there.

Now, I won’t lie, I really wanted to knock Eleanor and Randolph’s heads together at the start of the book. Miscommunication, lack of affection and loyalty, and misunderstood intentions all work to keep these two apart at the start of the book. They fight and are stand-offish, being downright cold and indifferent to each other. Eleanor is as prickly as a hedgehog toward Randolph. And Randolph himself is about as warm as a snowman. There were so many times I wanted to shake them by the shoulders and yell, “TALK AND LISTEN TO EACH OTHER YOU NINNIES!!!” Sadly, they are fictional characters on the printed page and I could not.

It isn’t until they get out of London, surrounded with people they trust, in which they start to soften towards each other. In honor of her father, Eleanor and Randolph agree to host a joyous Christmas celebration with Randolph’s closest friends and Eleanor’s boisterous family. It is between the gaiety of all these people that the ice between them starts to thaw.

The more he witnesses the genuine affection between his in-laws, Randolph comes to realize that he doesn’t want to repeat the cold, distant upbringing of his youth. He comes to realize that Eleanor is the perfect Lady Falloden for him. She is warmth and sunshine and love. And he wants to win her affections for himself.

As for Eleanor, she realizes that she desires the steadfast strength of her husband. Her father was her greatest champion when he was alive and she begins to recognize that is a role Randolph will gladly fill for her.

However, before they get to that part, they need to overcome their doubt in each other, recognizing they love each other for who they are. Eleanor loves Randolph, not for his title but for himself. Randolph loves Eleanor, not for her money, but for herself. It’s like the historical romance version of the song, Hey Leonardo.

And in between those moments, they have friends and family purposely shoving them under the mistletoe to help them get going. Really, what is family for if not that?

This book was a delight. Between the Christmas scenery and the meddling family members, there was a constant sense of wonder found on these pages. As this was my first Mary Balogh book, I know I’ll need to find more.

Swoon Worthy Quotes

For the first time in a long while he had someone who was his. His own family. His own to bring him comfort and companionship. His own to cherish and to love. My God! He was holding a treasure in his arms.

How do I love you? With my body. With my heart. With my soul.


A love that cannot be bought or sold proves to be the greatest gift of all, in this heartwarming classic that demonstrates once again why New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh is among the most celebrated authors of historical romance.

Weddings are supposed to be joyous occasions—especially when a couple seems as well matched as Randolph Pierce, Earl of Falloden, and his bride-to-be, Eleanor Transome. Ellie brings to the marriage a vast dowry, while Falloden, though distant, is handsome, tremendously desirable, and possessed of a title most young ladies can only dream of sharing.

Yet Ellie is not most young ladies. She knows that she must honor her dear father’s dying wish for her to wed the proud earl, but she dreads a lifetime in a union without love—and how can Falloden claim to love her when he married her only for her fortune? As Christmas descends upon the Falloden manor, the warmth of the season may yet melt away the trappings of duty and wealth, leaving behind only a man and a woman destined for each other’s arms.

Buy The Book

I feel like I should slightly apologize for this review. I still stick by what I said, but I’m sick. I just started a new job. Both of these things are giving me a fuzzy brain.


Happy Holidays!

The Holiday season is upon us! Christmas music is playing, mall Santas are mall Santa-ing, and my urge to find all the Hallmark Christmas romance movies is upon me!

You may have guessed, but I’ll be reviewing some holiday themed books for the month of December. I have them all picked out and they are a delight! My main posts, as usual, will be on Tuesdays, but I am (hopefully) going to sneak in a few extras.

I will be taking a small break for the end of the year and will not post anything on December 26 or January 2. Though I will probably be active on social media. Make sure to follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr for more shenanigans.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!