Published October 4, 2022 by HQN, Harlequin Audio

Book Summary: #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery’s second book set in the small town of Wishing Tree, Washington is the witty and heartfelt story of two friends who expectedly find the person–and the place in which–they belong this Christmas, for fans of Elin Hildebrand, Robyn Carr, and Susan Wiggs.

This small-town life wasn’t supposed to be for Camryn Neff. But after her mother died, Camryn moved home to Wishing Tree, Washington to care for her teenaged twin sisters and run the family wrapping paper business, Wrap Around the Clock. She loves her sisters and would do anything for them but, when they head off to college, she’s excited to move back to Chicago and restart her real life, completely attachment-free. So when a prospective client schedules a meeting and announces Project: Jake’s Bride, a plot to find a wife for her son, Camryn is completely disinterested. And when this client announces that Camryn is a candidate, she’s horrified. Being tied down is the last thing Camryn needs right now. She has no choice but to tell Jake what his mom is planning. But Camryn never expected to genuinely like him so much…

River Best knows all about the danger of keeping secrets. After all, she’s had her heart broken and her world rocked by secrets a few times now and she won’t ever let it happen again. New to Wishing Tree and a little shy, River is looking to get involved in the community so she lets her friends talk her into running for Snow Queen, one of the town’s honorary hosts of all Christmas events. She never expected to be drawn to Dylan Tucker, her Snow King. As the season progresses, River starts to trust him more and more and wonders if he’s the one. But little does River know that Dylan is keeping a secret from her, one that threatens everything between them.

4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Susan Mallery has penned another Christmas story set in Wishing Tree. This is the second book in the series and although it can be read as a standalone, it continues on from the first book. River has decided to stay and make a home in Wishing Tree after moving there to see her sister settled. She wants to get to know more people besides just her small circle of friends, so they decide to nominate her for Snow Queen. Their goal is that she will get to know more people, and become accepted by more people in town. Her friend Camryn has also returned to Wishing Tree after the death of her mother. She is going to run the family’s business, “Wrap Around the Clock,” a store that provides wrapping services with personalized and unique gift wrap, and raise her younger twin sisters. She has no plans to remain in Wishing Tree beyond three years, but plans can change. Jake Crane is a single, handsome hotelier, whose mother plans on finding him a wife. She is actually interviewing ex-girlfriends and setting him up, something he does not want. He and Camryn decide to “date” for the season and get him mother off his back. Meanwhile, Dylan Tucker, Jake’s best friend and surrogate brother, is also single and Jake’s mother sets him up as Snow King. Will Dylan and River hit it off?

This is a romance with a dual happily ever after. It is full of Christmas magic and fun, so if that is not your cup of tea, you probably won’t enjoy this book. It is a story of secrets, self-doubt, friendship, family and all their meddling and romance. The characters are sweet, caring and easy to like. Of course the guys are handsome and swoon worthy. I love how everyone supports each other and doesn’t judge based on their past. I have to mention Helen Crane, Jake’s mother, town patriarch and gold medal meddler. She loved both Jake and Dylan (her surrogate son that she raised when his mother left town and gave her guardianship) and thought she always knew what was best for everyone, in most cases, she was right. With humour, witty banter and some emotional scenes, Susan Mallery has once again, written a wonderful Christmas romance with great characters, a fun plot and two happily ever afters. I highly recommend this one for those looking for a sweet, uplifting, Christmas romance.

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Susan Mallery Holiday Blog Tour Q&A

What inspired Home Sweet Christmas?

Inspiration is interesting—it can come from anywhere, or from seemingly nowhere. In the case of Home Sweet Christmas, the season itself inspired the story. The town of Wishing Tree, Washington, is all about Christmas, so every book set in Wishing Tree has a Christmas theme. (The first book in the series, The Christmas Wedding Guest, came out last year. Each book can be read as a standalone.)

So that was my starting point, knowing that this book would have a holiday theme. To me, it’s important for a Christmas book to be intrinsically Christmas-themed, not just a story that could happen at any time of year. I brainstormed lots of possibilities.

I landed on ideas for the two heroines (Home Sweet Christmas is two romances in one). In one storyline, Camryn’s mother passed away last year, so Camryn gave up everything—her career, her condo, her fiancé, and her big-city life in Chicago—to move home to care for her sisters and run the family business, a gift-wrapping specialty store called Wrap Around the Clock. She plans to get back to her “real life” as soon as her sisters graduate high school, so the last thing she wants to do is to fall in love. Still, a little temporary romance with Jake, her teenage crush, sounds like a welcome distraction.

In the second storyline, River is new in town and very shy. To coax her out of her shell, her new friends nominate her for Snow Queen, a crown that River is reluctant to accept—until she meets the very handsome Snow King, Dylan. But River has been burned before by a man with too many secrets, and Dylan is hiding something big.

You’re so wonderful at writing emotional scenes. Do you have any tips for writers who want to portray difficult issues like betrayal or loss of a loved one in their books?

The emotion springs from character. Every person will react differently to betrayal or loss, so it’s important that you fully develop your characters so that they essentially take over. Emotions are nuanced and infinitely complex, and our reactions are colored by everything we have experienced and observed throughout our lives. Put yourself inside your character’s mind and heart fully before you start writing the scene.

If I’m not feeling something as I write the scene, readers won’t feel it as they read. Writing these scenes is not an intellectual exercise—it’s visceral, emotional. If the feeling isn’t there for me, I stop writing and take a few minutes to get myself there. I have to be fully immersed in a character’s point-of-view in order to write these pivotal scenes.

Your novels are always gripping, realistic and romantic. How do you come up with your plots?

In the world of fiction-writing, there’s a spectrum of plotters versus those who write “from the seat of their pants,” or pantsers. I am on the extreme plotter end of this spectrum, meaning that I write a very detailed plot for a book before I begin writing it. Far from limiting me, this roadmap frees me to immerse myself in the emotions of the characters because I’ve already untangled any snags in the story.

I start to develop a story idea in my head, jotting down notes but mostly just giving my mind the freedom to roam. At this stage, it’s mostly about thinking about the characters and their backstory.

Then I write one scene for each point-of-view character. In the case of Home Sweet Christmas, this meant that I wrote one scene each for Camryn, Jake, River and Dylan. I write until that character clicks in my head and feels like a real person with thoughts and feelings of her or his own. Then I stop writing and plot that character’s storyline onto index cards. I do that for each character, and then I sit down with the index cards and weave the storylines together. Then I number the cards and start writing.

My plotting is essentially the world’s shortest first draft. There are bits of dialogue, but mostly it’s a scene-by-scene synopsis of what’s going to happen in the book.

In case you’re curious, here are the first few paragraphs from Home Sweet Christmas:

“Your teeth are lovely, Camryn. Did you wear braces as a child?”

Camryn Neff reminded herself that not only was the woman sitting across from her a very wealthy potential client, but also that her mother had raised her to be polite to her elders. Still, it took serious effort to keep from falling out of her chair at the weirdness of the question.

“No. This is how they grew.”

Hmm, that didn’t sound right, although to be honest, she didn’t have a lot of experience when a conversation turned dental.

Is it difficult to come up with a specific Holiday themed novel every year?

It’s definitely a challenge! Not only because the story needs to be holiday-centric but feel different from all the other Christmas books I’ve written, but because of the very tight timeline. Home Sweet Christmas starts a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, so that gave me a little breathing room, but for all intents and purposes, when you write a Christmas book the characters have to fall in love in about four weeks. And it needs to happen in such a way as to feel completely genuine, so readers feel confident that the love will last forever.

What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

I love to adopt a family through a local program. Mr. Mallery and I take great joy in finding special gifts that are unique to every family member—some from their wish list, and some surprises that we hope they’ll enjoy.

Rumor has it that you’ve created a cookie cookbook that you’re giving away for free. True?

True! The Wishing Tree Cookie Cookbook is available for free in the Members area at SusanMallery.com to anyone who wants it. It includes 160 recipes submitted by readers, with lots of pictures. It’s a PDF file, but I will also be giving away a printed copy of the cookbook every Tuesday from October 4 through December 20 on my Facebook page. I’ll also give away three as door prizes at my virtual event with Debbie Macomber on November 9. Details and registration at https://bit.ly/debbieandsusan

What’s next for you?

The Sister Effect will be coming in March. It’s both one of the most emotional stories I’ve ever written and one of the funniest. Finley and Sloane were really tight when they were growing up. Their mom kept leaving them with their grandpa while she went on the road with theatre troupes, so they had to watch out for each other. But as they grew up, they made different choices that drove a wedge between them. The Sister Effect is a beautiful, uplifting story of forgiveness and reconciliation and the importance of family.

About the Author: SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women’s lives—family, friendship, romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations,” and readers seem to agree—40 million copies of her books have sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live. Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She’s passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the ragdoll cat and adorable poodle who think of her as mom.

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