This #SaturdaysAreBookish features #HarlequinHeartwarming | “The Secret Santa Project” (Seasons of Alaska, Book Eight) by Carol Ross

Posted Saturday, 18 September, 2021 by jorielov , , , , 0 Comments

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Happily, I was able to read two lovely novels in the Seasons of Alaska series this year!

Which was sweetened by celebrating my 8th Blogoversary, this March!

I blessedly read the eighth novel in this series, a month and one week after I celebrated my 8th Blog’s Birthday which was on the 6th of August, 2021. 8 is definitely my number now!

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Acquired Book By: I started hosting with Prism Book Tours at the end of [2017], having noticed the badge on Tressa’s blog (Wishful Endings) whilst I was visiting as we would partake in the same blog tours and/or book blogosphere memes. I had to put the memes on hold for several months (until I started to resume them (with Top Ten Tuesday) in January 2018). When I enquired about hosting for Prism, I found I liked the niche of authors and stories they were featuring regularly. This is how I came to love discovering the Harlequin Heartwarming authors & series as much as it has been an honour to regularly request INSPY stories and authors. Whenever I host for Prism, I know I am in for an uplifting read and a journey into the stories which give me a lot of joy to find in my readerly queue of #nextreads. It is an honour to be a part of their team of book bloggers.

I received a complimentary copy of “The Secret Santa Project” direct from author Carol Ross in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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Why I love reading Carol Ross & Harlequin Heartwarming novelists:

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You might have noticed these features & showcases throughout the years of Jorie Loves A Story. In truth, I have only been reading the stories by Ms Ross since [2018] – it has been such a wicked wonderful journey into her different series and seeing how she attaches us with the vision of her characters’ worlds simply by how she creates the drama behind their lives. I have felt dearly attached now to *Seasons of Alaska* as I had the pleasure of joy binge reading this series via interlibrary loan. One of these days I’m going to bring the series home to roost on my shelf in full point of pride as it has given me an infinite delight of happiness to discover, read and savour.

It is hard to capture *why!* I love Harlequin Heartwarming as much as I do except to say – if you’re seeking relationship-based Romances with a deepening centre of focus on family (biological, adopted, found, etc) and the strength of community – these are realistically told romantic dramas with a particular encaptured portrait of contemporary modern life within the backdrop of realistic characters living real lives. You can tell what inspires these stories by the authors who pen them and how much heart and soul of themselves they etch into the stories as you’re reading them. You don’t want to put these lovelies down – their #unputdownable, memorable and they knit themselves into your heart. The epitome of a #bookHUG if there ever were one to be had, too!

More than that even,.. Heartwarming stories give all of us singletons the hope of what tomorrow can bring when we least expect our lives to intersect with a bit of romance & the unexpected blissitudes of meeting someone who understands us without having to explain ourselves. Romance is an uplift for the heart and a pulse of inspired joy for the joy and that is why I love reading Harlequin Heartwarming stories. Their the kind of Romances I crave to read and the kind of Romances I cannot get enough of as a reader.

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This #SaturdaysAreBookish features #HarlequinHeartwarming | “The Secret Santa Project” (Seasons of Alaska, Book Eight) by Carol RossThe Secret Santa Project
Subtitle: Seasons of Alaska
by Carol Ross
Source: Author via Prism Book Tours

A gift he wasn’t expecting…

A special Christmas wish

Working with his best friend’s sister isn't how Cricket Blackburn had planned to spend his holidays. He’d tried to forget about sweet, beautiful Hazel James for ten whole years and now she's back, closer to him than ever. They have a Christmas charity to run—certainly that will keep Cricket’s mind off what might have been. Perhaps if he tells Santa his secrets, his ultimate wish might come true.

Genres: Contemporary (Modern) Fiction (post 1945), Romance Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Christmas Story &/or Christmas Romance

Christmas Romance Book Icon made by Jorie in Canva.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 978-1335426352

Also by this author: The Rancher's Twins, Mountains Apart, A Case for Forgiveness, If Not for a Bee, A Family Like Hannah's, Bachelor Remedy, In the Doctor's Arms, Keeping Her Close, Second Chance for the Single Dad, Series Spotlight w/ Notes: Return of the Blackwell Brothers, Catching Mr Right, His Hometown Yuletide Vow

Published by Harlequin Heartwarming

on 27th July, 2021

Format: Larger Print (Mass Market Paperback)

Pages: 384

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A quick recapturing of the JOY I had reading the last novel in this series:

I found it wicked interesting how Ross started us off in this story by stepping into the joy of fishing! We do not have a lot of information about who is fishing but its how their fishing that means more than their name and identity! The care and attention they have to the sport of fishing as much as the mindfulness of releasing the fish after archiving data and evidence of the fish being caught. I was a compassionate fisherwoman myself – I never caught for anything more than the joy of the time I spent fishing. Between the natural environment and the quiet calm of the setting – there wasn’t any reason not to feel relaxed in that moment.

You can tell Ross has a passion for fishing herself – especially how she describes how her characters’ are fishing and the methods they are using to fish. There is an art to it – from the choices of bait to what you use on your lines to draw the fish to you. Everyone makes their own choices and of course, a lot of those choices depend on where you’re fishing, too. Reading the opening chapters of this novel brought back a wealth of happy memories and a childhood where there was still a lot of innocent joy to be found.

I surmised the Cajun ancestry in Victoria’s family even before it was disclosed and that is credit to Ms Ross who had tucked in subtle hints about her family’s origins. From the name she called her grandmother to the ways in which she spoke herself – she had such a distinctive tone and sound to her person, I knew her ancestry even before it was properly announced! This is one reason why I enjoy reading Contemporary and/or Historical stories set in and round NOLA. And, coincidently before the storylines went askew that is also why I loved that variant of NCIS. There is something special about stories set in the bayous of Louisiana and I felt Ms Ross did a chamption job in capturing but the history and the spirit of the setting.

I especially loved seeing how this story took on a role of ‘perspectives’ – from Seth and from Victoria and how dearly realistic and relatable their stories were from that angle. Ross makes the critical observation of how we sometimes get ‘stuck in our heads’ to the point where we’re either overthinking something or we’re nearly to the point of talking ourselves out of something without any rationality attached to that choice other than where our hearts and emotions are leading us. From this, Ross deepens their individual and conjoined journeys as they shift forward in their individual lives whilst attempting to test the waters if there is a way their paths can not just cross but continue to merge in a role neither of them are fully comfortable defining. For me, this was the most immediate joy of Catching Mr Right – it wasn’t a meet-cute circumstance nor was it an insta-attraction plot either – it was more of seeing two people re-discover what they want out of life and what they potentially had overlooked in what they might want in someone else.

The best takeaway from Catching Mr Right is that family stands behind family. You cannot get far in this world without people who will defend you at a moment’s notice and you cannot hope to survive this world without a family behind you. Whether your family is biological, adopted or found – family is EVERYTHING. And, this is the best part of reading this story – Ross champions FAMILY and gives us such a stirringly brilliant ending which makes our heart rejoice for having read it.

-quoted from my review of Catching Mr Right

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Seasons of Alaska series:

Bachelor Remedy by Carol RossIn the Doctor's Arms by Carol RossCatching Mr Right by Carol RossThe Secret Santa Project by Carol Ross

Mountains Apart (Book One)

A Case for Forgiveness (Book Two) | see also Reviews of Book One & Two

If Not for A Bee (Book Three)

A Family Like Hannah’s (Book Four) see also Reviews of Book Three & Four

Bachelor Remedy (Book Five)

In the Doctor’s Arms (Book Six) see also Reviews of Book Five & Six

Catching Mr Right (Book Seven) see also Review

The Secret Santa Project (Book Eight)

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Published by: Harlequin Heartwarming (@HarlequinBooks) | imprint of Harlequin

Formats Available: Paperback* and Ebook

*Harlequin has the luxury of offering Regular, Large & Larger Print editions which I personally can attest are lovely to be reading! Especially after a migraine or when my eyes are fatigued.

Converse on Twitter via: #ContemporaryRomance & #HarlequinHeartwarming
as well as #SeasonsOfAlaska and #CarolRoss

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About Carol Ross

Carol Ross

USA Today bestselling author Carol Ross grew up in small town America right between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains, in a place where you can go deep sea fishing in the morning and then hit the ski slopes the same afternoon. The daughter of what is now known as free range parents, she developed a love of the outdoors at a very early age.

As a writer, Carol loves to breathe the life she has lived into the characters she creates, grateful for the “research material” that every questionable decision, adrenaline-charged misstep, and near-death experience has provided.

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a note about the author’s note:

All I will say is that I’ve been wicked eager to see Cricket’s story expand and unfold into his own novel. This is a series where all the characters involved become the characters’ you want to find out more about and see their storylines featured next through the new installments. One thing is definitely for sure – Rankins is one small towne and community which once its knitted itself into your heart, it won’t let you go! Definitely wicked happy about reading this installment and finding out how Cricket and Hazel come to terms with both their present and their past. As theirs is a romance which took a long time to come back round and perhaps, even, be sweeter for it!

My review for the secret santa project:

Throughout the opening sequences of The Secret Santa Project, we anguishing are chasing after Cricket’s texting fiasco wherein the words he desires to use and the words in which end up in the text he sends to Hazel are not entirely equal to the message he was attempting to communicate to her in the end! You can tell this by her own reaction to the actual text which was finally sent but also in the ways in which that particular text infuriated her to another level of realising that Cricket isn’t the best texter on the planet but nor is he the best at communicating. Their entire relationship is fractured in their communication department because both of them have things which need to be said and other things which need to be discussed but to get both of them together to actually communicate what is affecting their friendship is a bit of an uphill climb! Plus, their both a bit stubborn in regards to taking the reins and just breaking the ice to get the conversation started. I felt Hazel wanted Cricket to take the lead and be more open with her about his own feelings before she would feel more comfortable revealling her own state of mind.

As I did a small bit of cave exploring when I was a teenager, I knew exactly how exhilarating it felt for Hazel to be in the stillness of the dark in the cave she was exploring. There is something quite wicked about how you can feel encased inside of a cave, surrounded by the rock of its formation and yet feel completely free at the same time. I miss exploring caves but I also know you have to go with people because without that extra layer of security, caves can turn deadly. My own explorations were quite a bit more tame than most as I didn’t go into caves which took hours to climb and hike out of as I preferred the shorter adventures and the chance to experience the caves which might have seemed simple to explore but proved to be their own challenge.

I loved following Hazel’s experience into the cave – Ross described her observations in such clarity, you felt immediately pulled into that cave and I definitely felt as if I were standing beside Hazel, seeing what she saw and feeling the cave as she had herself. It was one of my favourite sequences of the story. From there, we shifted back to Rankins, caught in the throes of the charity project which would give both young and old a surprise at Christmas spearheaded by Hazel’s Mum and of course, with the assistance of her siblings and Cricket, too. I have fond memories of participating in those kinds of projects or other projects which required a lot of organisation and gathering of donations. The generosity of spirit and the giving of goodwill are two components most fitting in a Christmas story like this one which is co-anchoured to the community of Rankins as much as it is in featuring its residents and their personal lives.

I even loved how Ross gave Cricket his voice once he found himself betwixt knowing where Hazel was at one point and how that text he sent to her I had a feeling would give Hazel quite a bit to contemplate once she realised its fuller meaning! Again, the issues those two face in communication are both dramatic and hilarious depending on which side of the unfolding drama your peering into their lives. And, of course, you seriously want to have both Cricket and Iris, one of Hazel’s triplet siblings in your life because she is one powerhouse of a woman! It was so entertaining watching what happened when Hazel realised that going offline and disconnecting yourself from all communication outlets isn’t entirely what its worth in the end! Especially if your from her family and have Cricket in your pocket. You might think you want to disappear from the life you’ve always lived but at what price is that going to cost you in the end?!

Whilst Ross pulled us back into Rankins, giving us the feast of being with this beloved family and watching as Hazel and Cricket worked through their issues, it felt like such a wonderful holiday reunion for us as readers. The irony of course, is how misconstrued the circumstances fast became from both their perspectives – as their relationship has a more solid foundation of misunderstandings and missed opportunities than most! I thought for sure Cricket was going to ‘catch on’ a bit quicker than he seemed to be and of course, there was Iris in the background with almost a playful smirk of understanding on her face once Hazel confided in her! I felt that was a the ‘ah ha’ moment for Iris – where she might have felt a bit left in the dark but once Hazel provided the light so to speak, everything just clicked together for Iris. I felt she had the best seat in the family to better understand the dramas surrounding Cricket and Hazel because she took the time to pull the information out of Hazel, whom for her own part, is just as reserved and stubbornly private as Cricket at times! (though perhaps not as reserved and private as Abby O’ Brien! (ie. from “Chesapeake Shores”)

Once you disappear into this story, you don’t want to exit until you’ve found the very last page! For me, what was most endearing is how all of the James’ siblings and parents were integral into the storyline!! Especially of course how Mrs James had a very special part in the story and how wisdom and love helped ease a lot of tensions and confusions by the time we had to find a way to say goodbye to this lovely family once again! The entire series is wonderfully built round trust, family, friendship and goodwill. The James’ are a large family who sincerely care about each other but they also look out for others in their community. The situation with Cricket’s past and his brother were a wonderful addition to the backstory of the romance between Cricket and Hazel because it showcased why he’s struggled with his emotions, his feelings for Hazel and his place within the James’ family.

For Cricket, he always felt he had found his family early-on in his childhood, when his path first crossed with the James’ family and that was wayy before Hazel was even around. (as she’s one of the youngest) His story was such a sweet one to read because he had a lot of issues in sorting out where he stood within the framework of the family but also what he was able to allow himself to feel as well. Cricket wasn’t the kind of guy who liked to put himself above others or to allow himself the grace of feeling something that in turn would effectively seem selfish in his own eyes. In many respects, Cricket had as much to work through as his brother Lee, who happily is restored to his life in this installment in the series. Lee and Cricket didn’t have the best upbringing but what they did have were each other and a willingness to rise through their adversities. They each took different routes towards that end but overall, their two brothers who tried to fix their own lives in the best ways they each knew how and that is what made their story heartwarming.

There were a few instances where I felt Ross was contemplating the next stories for Seasons of Alaska as who could miss that flirty play Lee was making towards Ashley? And, how interesting it would be if Lee (Cricket’s reformed brother) and Ashley (who has a difficult relationship with most of the James’ siblings!) would become a couple? There were other small gestures and hints towards future stories but this particular storyline perked my interest because it would be built off what was given foundation in The Secret Santa Project. I look forward to seeing where we take things from here because the best bit for me reading the Seasons of Alaska series is the longevity of the series and the interweaving continuity which continues through each novel.

on the continued joy I have reading a carol ross contemporary romance:

Ms Ross tapped into what I remember about exploring one cave in particular which turnt my jeans into red clay and happily knowing a few tricks about laundering clothes, didn’t leave a residue behind once I properly washed them out again! Laughs. The cave I explored was the kind which required a bit of climbing down inside and a bit of kissing the dirt to climb back out again once you reached the back entrance of it! Of course, I was the kind of adventuring teen who thought that was the bonus of it, and yes, kept going back over and over again until the group I was with finally felt we had exhausted the time we had for that particular cave’s explorations! Laughs. How Ross describes the cave and how Hazel was approaching exploring it herself was exactly how I had felt too. You get to be in these places few experience – where the air smells differently and due to the lack of light, your seeing a place without light and that in of itself is an interesting sensory experience, too. I felt Ross captured it brilliantly to be honest.

I was excited about how the title eluded to a special project within the family themselves rather than the community charity project they all worked on together. It was a tradition similar to the one I grew up with in my own family; wherein, you had to pick a name at random and everyone took extra care to surprise the person whose name they had drawn by Christmas. The difference with our tradition is we only selected one to three small gifts as they had to fit on our Christmas dinner table in a special place of honour. It was always a lovely addition to our holiday traditions and as our family shrank over the years, this was one tradition which was a bit harder to pull off as you need at least four if not six people in order to pull it off properly. I miss a lot of the little things we used to do as a small and mighty family but the more interactive traditions were harder to maintain as foresaid and as I read Hazel and her family playing Secret Santa for each other, it brought back a lot of lost memories of my own past Christmases. I can only hope others share similar memories because it is a bit tricky at times to surprise someone you love and care about with a gift which will arrive at just the right time but be completely unexpected too!

Being able to see all the siblings together again was fantastic as well. As you read through the series itself, you’ve getting closer to each of the siblings in turn, but to see them all interacting and sharing moments together all in one place is also a special treat. They’re all productively busy in their individual lives but they always strive to find ways to connect and stay reconnected to each other as well. This was one of the best surprises though was having so much time with each of them and having those moments all shared through the dramas Cricket and Hazel needed to work out for themselves. It also helped reaffirm how much this series is built round family and how important family is to each of the siblings.

This is a keen reason why I love reading Christmas Romances – their set round one of my top favourite holiday seasons and with the [Christmas] music in your ears as you’re reading Ross’s latest, you can’t help but feel cosy comfortable even if the weather outside is less than stellar and more Summer’s wrath than Winter’s lush chill. The story is a warmth cuppa of joy and I couldn’t have been happier to read this now than if I had waited for the weather to turn cooler. It was one of those best cuppa joys to visit with a family you already love visiting with and seeing how they spent their Christmas.

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I usually try to read Christmas and Holiday Romances between November-January every year, but every odd moon I find myself tucking inside one outside those months, as the release dates do not always align with the seasons in which I love residing inside these novels. Being September, it is nearly Autumn but with a fixed mark of unrelenting lightning storms still plaguing me to the brink I ache and crave some cooler temperatures, chilly breezes and a reduction in humidity! The grey skies can stay, my aversion to sunshine remains. With the rain on full throttle, it makes disappearing into a holiday romance a bit more inviting — I can pretend its late Autumn or early Winter. Whilst I can listen to a playlist such as “Christmas Coffeehouse” via Spotify which can allow me to soak into the theme of the story with music in my ears which make it feel even more Christmassy!

If you listen to certain songs/bands/playlists whilst you’re reading – I’d love to know which ones are your favourites and which ones you’ve enjoyed recently. Let me know if you make selections based on the story or on a particular musical ‘mood’ which lets you drift blissfully into the pages whilst time no longer seems to be erasing itself off the clock.

(*) For portions of the story, I listened to artists like Johnnys Swim, Allie Peters, Jillian Edwards, Tore, Caroline Pennell, and Mindy Gledhill.

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I am blessed to host for: Prism Book Tours
as they first introduced me to Harlequin Heartwarming!

Prism Book Tours

Sharing on behalf of the review tour for August/September:

The Secret Santa Project Review tour banner provided by Prism Book Tours and is used with permission.

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Why I am wicked thankful I could read this eighth novel in the series:

Although, the timing for me to read this lovely novel was a bit pushed forward due to a clustering of migraines which derailed all efforts to both read & blog for the first two weeks of September this year. Last year, I was fully consumed with migraines in September – as I had a harder month facing 8x migraines back to back – this year, although my migraines have been a bit more dormant than usual in the past several years, their like volcanoes. Just because the activity is limited or you think your going through a period of dormancy, the migraines aren’t extinct and unfortunately tend to erupt at times which blindside you. At least, this is always true for me. I had a difficult two weeks shifting through these and was out sick from work as well this past week alone. Just to breathe in a story on the weekend of the 18th felt like an achievement because the rest of the days were long, hard and arduously exhausting. It is a gift as a reader to return into a series you love reading and for me, Seasons of Alaska, and the Butterfly Harbour series this weekend were the best companions for a migraine-wreary reader. Blessings to Ms Ross and Ms Stewart for giving me cosy comforting reads!

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LibraryThing banner provied by and used with permission.

This review is cross-posted to LibraryThing.

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{SOURCES: Book covers for “Bachelor Remedy”, “In the Doctor’s Arms”, “Catching Mr Right” & “The Secret Santa Project” as well as the author photograph of Carol Ross, author biography as well as the Prism Book Tours badge and Review Tour badge for “The Secret Santa Project” and the novel’s synopsis were provided by Prism Book Tours and are being used with permission. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. LibraryThing banner provided by LibraryThing and is used with permission. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Seasons of Alaska series Books 1-4 Book Photography Credit: Jorie of Photo edits and collage created in Canva. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: #SaturdaysAreBookish banner, Christmas Romance icon graphic and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2021.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

read more >> | Visit my Story Vault of Book Reviews | Policies & Review Requests | Contact Jorie


Posted Saturday, 18 September, 2021 by jorielov in 21st Century, Blog Tour Host, Book Review (non-blog tour), Christmas Romance &/or Holiday Story, Contemporary Romance, Family Drama, Family Life, Life Shift, Modern Day, Passionate Researcher, Post-911 (11th September 2001), Prism Book Tours, Romance Fiction, Small Towne Fiction, Wordsmiths & Palettes of Sage

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