Welcome to Book Chat with Julie! I have two recommendations for you this month and both of them highlight celebrations—one at a house party in Victorian England and one is a collection of Christmas celebrations! Perfect to start off your holiday season.

My first recommendation is To Capture His Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen. This is the second book in the Matchmaker series, (but can be read stand-alone) and will definitely be going on my favorites shelf.

Eva Caldwell is a photographer who has often assisted Detective Nathan Winston in his investigative work. He admires her care for others and her calm in the chaos and she admires the way he treats those around him and his logical mind when tracking down criminals. But Nathan’s mother has planned a house party at their Seaside residence, and Nathan is caught in a web of his own making. He tells his matchmaking mother that he is interested in Eva—which isn’t a lie—but then he asks Eva to pretend an interest in him so he can avoid any entanglements at the party. Eva agrees, but there are too many real feelings between them for the pretense to last long. Before they can declare their feelings for one another, however, danger rears its head and Nathan and Eva must figure out who and what the criminal wants—and hope they can stop him before anyone gets hurt.

This story is one that will keep you turning pages long into the night. Not only is it a witty and tender romance, but the element of intrigue and mystery adds an extra layer of excitement. Eva is living in a time period where women are starting to branch out from their traditional roles that Society has always given them and Eva embraces that. She is an accomplished photographer, she is interested in suffragette causes, and she isn’t afraid to share her opinions. When it comes to romance, though, Eva has been hurt in the past and she is afraid to let herself love again, but Nathan is a patient man and is willing to work to win her heart. I loved Nathan’s attention to detail, his regard for his mother and sisters, and the way he loved Eva but never pushed her for anything until she was ready. The author truly gives the reader a detailed glimpse into this couple’s feelings and fears, making it feel as if we truly know them. Their romance will make you sigh with the beauty of it. The danger aspect is seamlessly blended to the romance as they trust each other and work together to catch the criminal. It all intertwines for a wonderfully entertaining romance that you won’t be able to put down!

My second recommendation is The Holly and the Ivy, a Yuletide collection that includes novellas from four authors—Sarah Eden, Esther Hatch,, Dana LeCheminant, and Anneka Walker.

The first story is The Holly and the Ivy by Sarah M. Eden and features Adam, a young Duke of Kielder, who is struggling with the death of his father and the abandonment of his mother. His neighbors, Lord and Lady Jonquil invite him to their home and shower love on the little boy—including a Yuletide party that he’ll never forget. Adam’s nursemaid Robbie also features in the story as she finds love in the most unexpected place. A sweet story of finding family and what love truly means.

The second story is Hiding Christmas by Esther Hatch. This one was a fun adventure as Kirstine is hiding her trip to London to celebrate Christmas, but gets tangled up when a little white lie turns into her pretending to be married—to Isaac, who is the only Englishman in her Scottish village, and her enemy! But as they are thrown together on their trip to England, she begins to realize that maybe the things she’s thought about Isaac aren’t true and her feelings may have turned to something she never thought she’d feel for an Englishman. Such a fun and light-hearted story.

The third story is A Twist of Christmas by Dana LeCheminant. This is a story with a lot of twists and turns as two couples hide their real identities at a house party. Elizabeth has entered society and is already weary of being treated so differently just because she’s a duke’s daughter, so she convinces her companion to take her place. Graham is also tired of his position in society and how his brother is always overlooked, so he convinces his brother to take his place. Mayhem ensues in this multi-faceted and complicated romance of who’s really romancing who and if anyone or everyone will find their happily-ever-after!

The last story is A Season to Love by Anneka Walker. Alice is praying that God will help her find a husband before she’s forced into a marriage she might not find happiness in. When her prayer is overheard by her rector, Thomas Perry, he agrees to help her find a husband. There was a lot of unexpected humor in this story as Alice and Thomas come to realize how perfect they are for each other. And the children in this story were adorable and stole all of their scenes! A sweet and surprising romance.

This month’s recommendations will definitely put readers in the celebrating mood and get us ready for the upcoming holiday season!

Behind the Scenes—A Chat with Nancy Campbell Allen

Nancy Campbell Allen is one of my favorite authors and I was so excited to get to chat with her about her new book and what she has coming up! I included several questions here, but if you’d like to hear more of our chat, you can tune into my Book Chat with Julie podcast.

Julie: This book is set in Victorian times where society’s view of the role of women is changing. What is the biggest change for women in those days do you think?

Nancy: I think the biggest change for women in those days was feeling the freedom of the notion that they could do things for themselves that were ordinarily reserved for men. They owned their own property, gained inheritance rights, were able to have jobs and begin building careers outside the home. Education was huge. If you want a society to improve itself, educate its girls.

Julie: Where did you get the idea for this story?

Nancy: This story was a natural progression of the first in the series, and once I had Eva photographing crime scenes in that first book, I knew what her course would be. It has been so much fun writing her story, and also including elements that many romance readers love, including the “fake relationship” trope. Always a classic!

Julie: Eva’s profession is photography which was quite involved back then. How much research did you have to do? Did you find out any unique or weird details during your research?

Nancy: There really was so much to taking a simple picture back then! The process has been fascinating to learn about, and I was happy to find YouTube videos of people who still take photos using the original equipment and development processes. I hadn’t realized that from the time the photo plates are treated with the necessary chemicals to the time it must be exposed is around 15 minutes. That’s not a lot of time!

Julie: If this book was made into a movie, who would you want to star as Nathan and Eva?

Nancy: Oh, wow, hmm. I think Zac Efron would be an awesome Nathan, and an early 20s Natalie Portman for Eva.

Julie: What are you working on now?

Nancy: I’m working on the third book of the series, Charlotte Duvall’s story. She’s the third cousin of the trio; she’s just graduated from medical school in America and returned home to England for her father’s funeral. Shenanigans are ensuing!

Thank you so much for joining me for our book chat today. I hope you’re able to really get into a celebratory spirit as we get ready for the holidays!

To Capture His Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen, published by Shadow Mountain Publishing, 278 pages, available in hardcover, audio, and ebook.

The Holly and the Ivy by Sarah M. Eden, Esther Hatch, Dana LeCheminant, and Anneka Walker, published by Covenant Communications, 469 pages, available in softcover and ebook.

After winning $10 in a second-grade writing contest, Julie Coulter Bellon knew she wanted to be a published author someday. That dream came true and she is now an award-winning author of thirty books. She is also a podcast host for Authors Off the Page and Book Chat with Julie.