Review: Merry Ex-Mas by Sheila Roberts

Merry Ex-Mas (Life in Icicle Falls, #2)

Imagine spending the festive holiday season with someone you despise – or at least thought you despised – you Ex-husband. Ummm, not so fun. That is what Cass Wilkes, Charlene Albach and Ella O’Brien find themselves dealing with this season. Each woman’s story is very different, however, and their close friendship is a soothing and healing balm as each works through their personal demons to find that light at the end of the dying, dead Christmas tree tunnel.

Sheila Roberts has long since been one of my absolute favorite authors. Her stories are amazing in the fact that with each one, her characters are like real-life friends. Each time I read one of her tales, I feel as though I am sitting at a cozy kitchen nook with a hot cup of coffee, fresh from the oven coffee cake, covered in cinnamon, sugar and lots of gooey icing and chatting with old friends. I am struck with how “at home” I feel with the stories and the characters that she creates. I especially cannot miss one of her holiday stories; they are essential to kicking of the season for me.

In Merry Ex-Mas, we meet three very different women. Cass, whose daughter has decided to get married on Christmas and include Cass’s ex-husband in on the big day; Charley (Charlene) whose cheating ex-husband re-enters the picture, claiming that he would more or less sell his soul if only Charley would take him back; and Ella who is sharing a house with her ex-husband until it sells and who cannot seem to shake her attraction and affection for her ex. Along with the main characters, there are several secondary characters that play a very important role within the story as well. Though I enjoyed each of the characters, I found myself really loving Ella, even at the times that I wanted to tell her to cut the mama cord. She is young and truly thought she found her soul mate, until her mother decided to plant a little seed of suspicion, leading to her divorce to inspiring country singer, Jake. The chemistry that these two have is amazing and I truly loved the interaction between them. Cass I was torn with. While I really liked her, there were a few times when I wanted to yell at her to not be quite so self-focused. That is not to say that she was a complete self-absorbed witch, which is the furthest thing from the truth. She just had a few, shall we say…issues. Charley was an ambitious woman who tries desperately to close her heart and keep it safe. It was her story that had me bouncing around emotionally and never knowing exactly where I stood.

With the three stories interwoven together, the transitions from each woman’s point of view were seamless and perfect. From the first page, I quickly found myself engrossed within the story and found it very difficult to put the book down for any reason – including a little thing known as sleep, lol. Another aspect of Merry Ex-Mas that I loved was the fact the each of the characters ran a shop/business within the town of Icicle Falls: Ella, a clothing boutique; Cass a bakery, and Charley a restaurant. Each person playing a vital part of the day-to-day running in this lovely little town.

Oh! Did I mention that there are also recipes included in the back of the book?! Mmmm….yummy recipes that are used within the story itself. My favorite is Cass’s Red Velvet Cupcakes! I cannot wait to give this a whirl – as well as an in-depth taste test!!

If you are looking for an amazing novel that has a touch of the Holidays and a lovely cozy feel to it, Merry Ex-Mas is one not to miss!! I do want to mention that this is the second book in “Life in Icicle Falls” series, however it is easily a standalone read. The characters in the first book, Better Than Chocolate also appear in Merry Ex-Mas, however they are part of the secondary cast and you will never feel as though you are jumping in the middle of something and feeling lost. Sheila Roberts has an amazing and true gift for storytelling and I anxiously await her next novel!

Rating 5

Blurb:

Christmas in Icicle Falls…

Cass Wilkes, owner of the Gingerbread Haus bakery, was looking forward to her daughter Danielle’s wedding—until Dani announced that she wants her father, Cass’s ex, to walk her down the aisle. Seriously? Even worse, it appears that he, his trophy wife and their yappy little dog will be staying with Cass…

Her friend Charlene Albach arrives at their weekly chick-flick night in shock. She’s just seen the ghost of Christmas past: her ex-husband, Richard, who left a year ago when he ran off with the hostess from her restaurant, Zelda’s. Now the hostess is history and he wants to kiss and make up. Hide the mistletoe!

And bring out the hot buttered rum, because the holidays aren’t easy for Ella O’Brien, either. Ella, newly divorced, is still sharing the house with her ex while they wait for the place to sell. The love is gone. Isn’t it?

But watch as Christmas brings all kinds of surprises…

Merry Ex-mas, ladies!

Excerpt:

Once in a while, if a woman is really lucky, the perfect day she envisioned turns out to be just that. This was going to be one of those days, Cass Wilkes thought as she set the platter of carved turkey on her dining table.

She surveyed her handiwork with a smile. Everything was Martha Stewart lovely from the china and crystal to the Thanksgiving centerpiece she’d bought at Lupine Floral, and her old Victorian home was filled with the aroma of herbs and spices. The dining room window framed a greeting card-worthy winter scene: her front lawn with its trees and shrubs draped in frosty white and snow-capped mountains looming beyond.

The snow had done what all good snow should do; it had stopped in plenty of time for road crews to clear the way for travelers. Unlike this time last year the town of Icicle Falls was humming with visitors looking for a holiday getaway. Good for business, especially when you owned a bakery. This weekend, gingerbread boys and girls would march out the door of Gingerbread Haus in droves and money would march right into Cass’s bank account – a good thing since she suspected she was going to have a wedding to pay for in a year or so.

A whoop of male excitement came from the living room followed by cheers. The football game on TV was nearing its end and obviously the favored team had scored a touchdown.

“Okay, that’s everything from the kitchen,” said Dot Morrison, Cass’s mentor and former boss, as she placed a serving bowl heaped with stuffing along with another full of mashed potatoes on the table. NOrmally Dot would have been celebrating with her daughter Tilda, but Tilda was on patrol, keeping Icicle Falls safe from … who knew? Their town wasn’t exactly a hotbed of crime.

Dot had dressed for the occasion wearing jeans and a white sweatshirt decorated with a turkey holding a sign that said, “Think outside the box. Serve ham.” Dot, who owned the Breakfast Haus, had encouraged Cass to think outside the box years ago, even lent her money to start her bakery. Cass owed her Thanksgiving dinners for life.

“Get those clowns in here,” Dot said. “There’s nothing worse than cold food.”

Cass could think of a few things: taxes, yeast infections, exes.

Oh, no. She wasn’t’ going to ruin a perfectly good holiday with even a hint of a thought about her ex-husband. That man, that self-centered, undeserving rat who’d tried to lure the kids away this weekend with a trip to Vail, who… No, no. No thoughts about Mason. It was Thanksgiving, after all, a time to count her blessings.

Three of those blessings were sitting out there in the living room – - her kids Danielle, Willie and Amer. Dani’s boyfriend, Mike, was there, too, tucked beside her in an overstuffed easy chair.

Twenty-year-old Dani was Cass’s oldest and her right-hand woman at the bakery. She’d inherited Cass’s passion for creating in the kitchen, and after a are of community college had opted to work full-time at the bakery. Cass had hoped she’d put in at least another year, but she’d had no interest. “I can learn more from you than I can from any college professor,” she’d told Cass. When it came to baking, well, what could Cass say? Dani was right.

Amber, fifteen going on twenty, sat curled up on one end of the couch, texting. A few months earlier she’d been adding to Cass’s gray hair collection, hanging out with the kind of kids no mother wanted her child to be with or, worse, become. Thank God (and, possibly Cass’s pal Samantha Sterling) Amber had changed direction and found some new and improved friends.

Willie, Cass’s high school jock, was sprawled on the floor, holding the favorite toy of high school boys everywhere: a football. The only trouble she had with Willie was keeping him full. The boy was a two-legged locust.

Then there was her younger brother, Drew, who’d come over from Seattle. Recently divorced (was this tendency toward divorce something in their genes?), he’d been more than happy to spend the weekend hanging out with her family. He’d never had kids of his own, so she’d shared. He’d made a great uncle and a better father figure than her ex. No, no, no. NOt giving him so much as a thought today.

Cass stood in the archway like a lady butler and announced, “Dinner, guys.”

Of course, no one was listening. Another touchdown happened in TV Land.

“My team sucks,” Willie muttered, giving his football an irritable bounce.

“My dinner’s going to suck if you don’t get out here and eat it right now,” Cass warned.

“The game’s as good as over anyway,” Mike said, demonstrating good boyfriend etiquette. He stood, pulling Dani up with him. He was a big boy, a former football star and her son’s new hero. Mike was currently employed at the local hardware store, which, as far as Cass was concerned, was ideal. Once he popped the question, he and Dani would get married and live in Icicle Falls, near family and friends, a win-win for everyone.

“You’re right,” Drew agreed. He shut off the TV and led the parade to the dining room table.

Cass only had to look at a cookie to gain five pounds. Her brother, lucky dog, was tall and reedy, and could eat anything. He was a better dresser, too, always had been. And better looking. But he couldn’t cook, and when he came to town he was her best customer. He was also her best friend.

The only ones missing as everyone settled around the table were Cass’s mother and stepfather, who had become snowbirds and were with his family in Florida. But Mom and Fred planned to come out for Christmas, and if Cass had to choose she’d rather have her mother with them for that holiday.

Drew reached for the turkey and Cass rapped his hand with a serving spoon. “Grace first, you heathen.”

Willie snickered, which earned him then privilege of offering thanks. He barely had amen out of his mouth before he was into the dressing, piling it high on his plate.

Any other day she’d have reminded him that other people might actually want some, too, but not today. Thanksgiving was for resting and she’d made plenty. Besides, she planned on taking an extra serving herself.

For a while conversation consisted of comments like, “Pass the rolls,” and “Where’d the olives end up?” As plates and then stomachs filled, new topics arose: whose fantasy football team was going to win, how well Cass and DAni’s new gingerbread necklaces were selling, Dot’s upcoming bunion surgery.

Then it was time for pie. In spite of how crazy-busy Cass had been with work she’d managed to bake pumpkin, pecan and her brother’s favorite, wild huckleberry.

“This will be enough for me,” he joked, grabbing the whole pie.

With dessert came another tradition, one Cass had started when the kids were small. “Okay,” she said once everyone had been served, “it’s gratitude time. Who wants to start?”

Gratitude. Sometimes the challenge to be grateful had been as big as the word. Often she’d been a first-class hypocrite, encouraging her children to look on the bright side while she indulged in resentment.

It seemed like she’d spent most of her married life in that particular mental state. She’d resented Mason’s decision to join the navy when they were engaged. They’d barely set up housekeeping when he shipped out for the first time. He’d missed his daughter’s birth; Cass’s childbirth partner had been her mother. Better her mother than his, she’d told herself. There was something to be grateful for. And she’d been grateful when he got out of the navy. Not so much when he went back to school and neglected his family for his studies. Not so much when he carved out a career that seemed to keep him gone more than it allowed him to be home. Mason had been determined to find the path to success but that path had left little room for his family. She was the one who’d always been there to soothe every heartbreak, puzzle over every math problem, cheer at every ball game. And what had he done?

Gratitude, remember? Okay, she had something to be grateful for. She wasn’t with him any more.

“I’m grateful for something,” Dani said. She reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out a diamond ring and slid it on her finger.

“Oh, my gosh, you’re engaged!” cried Amber.

Cass set down her fork and gaped. Of course, she’d known this was coming, but she was surprised her daughter hadn’t told her before everyone else. “When did this happen?” she asked.

Dani was beaming now, her brown eyes sparkling with excitement. She looked at Mike and the;y shared the smie reserved for a man and women in possession of newly minted love. “Last night. We wanted to wait and surprise everyone.”

Well, they had.

“Don’t know how surprised anyone is,” Dot said, “but I think you made your mother’s day.”

Of course she had. Why was Cass sitting there like a turkey in a pan? She jumped up and went to hug her daughter and future son-in-law. “This is wonderful You two are going to be so happy.”

How could they help but be? Unlike her mother at that age, Danielle head been wise and thoughtful when selecting a mate. She hadn’t rushed into a relationship with her hormones on fire and her brain dead from smoke inhalation. She’d held out of the right man. They even looked perfect together, Mike with his dark hair and eyes and that big frame, her with her lighter coloring and sandy hair and perfect willowy figure. In their wedding garb they’d look fit for the top of a wedding cake.

“This calls for more pie,” Drew said with a grin and helped himself to another piece.

“I’m going to be a bridesmaid, right?” Amber asked her sister.

“Of course,” Dani said.

“You’d better dig out your Armani,” Cass said to Drew. “Dani’s going to need you to walk her down the aisle.”

Dani’s face lost some of its bride-to-be glow and she bit her lip.

“Hey, I’m cool with sitting in the front row with your mom,” Drew said quickly. “I don’t have to be the one.”

Oh, yes, he did. Who else was going to? Oh, no. Surely not…

“Actually, I was hoping Daddy would walk me down the aisle,” Dani said.

The undeserving, absent father? The man who had been M.I.A. for most of Dani’s life? Cass fell back against her chair and stared across the table at her daughter.

Dani’s cheeks bloomed with a guilty flush and she studiously avoided her mother’s gaze.

“Daddy?” Cass echoed. It came out frosted with scorn. Way to be mature and poison your daughter’s happy moment, she scolded herself.

With her sunny disposition and eagerness to please, Danielle was normally easy to get along with, but now her chin jutted out at a pugnacious angle. “I know he’ll want to.”

Oh, he always wanted to be there, but he never had been.

Until lately. Now that their children were practically grown. He and his thirty-two-year old trophy wife Babette seemed to think they could lure the kids over to Seattle any time he swooped in from his business trips and buy their affection with shopping trips and Seahawks tickets.

Obviously it was working, and that made Cass want to break the wishbone she’d been saving into a thousand pieces.
Once in a while, if a woman is really lucky, the perfect day she envisioned turns out to be just that. This was going to be one of those days, Cass Wilkes thought as she set the platter of carved turkey on her dining table.

She surveyed her handiwork with a smile. Everything was Martha Stewart lovely from the china and crystal to the Thanksgiving centerpiece she’d bought at Lupine Floral, and her old Victorian home was filled with the aroma of herbs and spices. The dining room window framed a greeting card-worthy winter scene: her front lawn with its trees and shrubs draped in frosty white and snow-capped mountains looming beyond.

The snow had done what all good snow should do; it had stopped in plenty of time for road crews to clear the way for travelers. Unlike this time last year the town of Icicle Falls was humming with visitors looking for a holiday getaway. Good for business, especially when you owned a bakery. This weekend, gingerbread boys and girls would march out the door of Gingerbread Haus in droves and money would march right into Cass’s bank account – a good thing since she suspected she was going to have a wedding to pay for in a year or so.

A whoop of male excitement came from the living room followed by cheers. The football game on TV was nearing its end and obviously the favored team had scored a touchdown.

“Okay, that’s everything from the kitchen,” said Dot Morrison, Cass’s mentor and former boss, as she placed a serving bowl heaped with stuffing along with another full of mashed potatoes on the table. NOrmally Dot would have been celebrating with her daughter Tilda, but Tilda was on patrol, keeping Icicle Falls safe from … who knew? Their town wasn’t exactly a hotbed of crime.

Dot had dressed for the occasion wearing jeans and a white sweatshirt decorated with a turkey holding a sign that said, “Think outside the box. Serve ham.” Dot, who owned the Breakfast Haus, had encouraged Cass to think outside the box years ago, even lent her money to start her bakery. Cass owed her Thanksgiving dinners for life.

“Get those clowns in here,” Dot said. “There’s nothing worse than cold food.”

Cass could think of a few things: taxes, yeast infections, exes.

Oh, no. She wasn’t’ going to ruin a perfectly good holiday with even a hint of a thought about her ex-husband. That man, that self-centered, undeserving rat who’d tried to lure the kids away this weekend with a trip to Vail, who… No, no. No thoughts about Mason. It was Thanksgiving, after all, a time to count her blessings.

Three of those blessings were sitting out there in the living room – - her kids Danielle, Willie and Amer. Dani’s boyfriend, Mike, was there, too, tucked beside her in an overstuffed easy chair.

Twenty-year-old Dani was Cass’s oldest and her right-hand woman at the bakery. She’d inherited Cass’s passion for creating in the kitchen, and after a are of community college had opted to work full-time at the bakery. Cass had hoped she’d put in at least another year, but she’d had no interest. “I can learn more from you than I can from any college professor,” she’d told Cass. When it came to baking, well, what could Cass say? Dani was right.

Amber, fifteen going on twenty, sat curled up on one end of the couch, texting. A few months earlier she’d been adding to Cass’s gray hair collection, hanging out with the kind of kids no mother wanted her child to be with or, worse, become. Thank God (and, possibly Cass’s pal Samantha Sterling) Amber had changed direction and found some new and improved friends.

Willie, Cass’s high school jock, was sprawled on the floor, holding the favorite toy of high school boys everywhere: a football. The only trouble she had with Willie was keeping him full. The boy was a two-legged locust.

Then there was her younger brother, Drew, who’d come over from Seattle. Recently divorced (was this tendency toward divorce something in their genes?), he’d been more than happy to spend the weekend hanging out with her family. He’d never had kids of his own, so she’d shared. He’d made a great uncle and a better father figure than her ex. No, no, no. NOt giving him so much as a thought today.

Cass stood in the archway like a lady butler and announced, “Dinner, guys.”

Of course, no one was listening. Another touchdown happened in TV Land.

“My team sucks,” Willie muttered, giving his football an irritable bounce.

“My dinner’s going to suck if you don’t get out here and eat it right now,” Cass warned.

“The game’s as good as over anyway,” Mike said, demonstrating good boyfriend etiquette. He stood, pulling Dani up with him. He was a big boy, a former football star and her son’s new hero. Mike was currently employed at the local hardware store, which, as far as Cass was concerned, was ideal. Once he popped the question, he and Dani would get married and live in Icicle Falls, near family and friends, a win-win for everyone.

“You’re right,” Drew agreed. He shut off the TV and led the parade to the dining room table.

Cass only had to look at a cookie to gain five pounds. Her brother, lucky dog, was tall and reedy, and could eat anything. He was a better dresser, too, always had been. And better looking. But he couldn’t cook, and when he came to town he was her best customer. He was also her best friend.

The only ones missing as everyone settled around the table were Cass’s mother and stepfather, who had become snowbirds and were with his family in Florida. But Mom and Fred planned to come out for Christmas, and if Cass had to choose she’d rather have her mother with them for that holiday.

Drew reached for the turkey and Cass rapped his hand with a serving spoon. “Grace first, you heathen.”

Willie snickered, which earned him then privilege of offering thanks. He barely had amen out of his mouth before he was into the dressing, piling it high on his plate.

Any other day she’d have reminded him that other people might actually want some, too, but not today. Thanksgiving was for resting and she’d made plenty. Besides, she planned on taking an extra serving herself.

For a while conversation consisted of comments like, “Pass the rolls,” and “Where’d the olives end up?” As plates and then stomachs filled, new topics arose: whose fantasy football team was going to win, how well Cass and DAni’s new gingerbread necklaces were selling, Dot’s upcoming bunion surgery.

Then it was time for pie. In spite of how crazy-busy Cass had been with work she’d managed to bake pumpkin, pecan and her brother’s favorite, wild huckleberry.

“This will be enough for me,” he joked, grabbing the whole pie.

With dessert came another tradition, one Cass had started when the kids were small. “Okay,” she said once everyone had been served, “it’s gratitude time. Who wants to start?”

Gratitude. Sometimes the challenge to be grateful had been as big as the word. Often she’d been a first-class hypocrite, encouraging her children to look on the bright side while she indulged in resentment.

It seemed like she’d spent most of her married life in that particular mental state. She’d resented Mason’s decision to join the navy when they were engaged. They’d barely set up housekeeping when he shipped out for the first time. He’d missed his daughter’s birth; Cass’s childbirth partner had been her mother. Better her mother than his, she’d told herself. There was something to be grateful for. And she’d been grateful when he got out of the navy. Not so much when he went back to school and neglected his family for his studies. Not so much when he carved out a career that seemed to keep him gone more than it allowed him to be home. Mason had been determined to find the path to success but that path had left little room for his family. She was the one who’d always been there to soothe every heartbreak, puzzle over every math problem, cheer at every ball game. And what had he done?

Gratitude, remember? Okay, she had something to be grateful for. She wasn’t with him any more.

“I’m grateful for something,” Dani said. She reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out a diamond ring and slid it on her finger.

“Oh, my gosh, you’re engaged!” cried Amber.

Cass set down her fork and gaped. Of course, she’d known this was coming, but she was surprised her daughter hadn’t told her before everyone else. “When did this happen?” she asked.

Dani was beaming now, her brown eyes sparkling with excitement. She looked at Mike and the;y shared the smie reserved for a man and women in possession of newly minted love. “Last night. We wanted to wait and surprise everyone.”

Well, they had.

“Don’t know how surprised anyone is,” Dot said, “but I think you made your mother’s day.”

Of course she had. Why was Cass sitting there like a turkey in a pan? She jumped up and went to hug her daughter and future son-in-law. “This is wonderful You two are going to be so happy.”

How could they help but be? Unlike her mother at that age, Danielle head been wise and thoughtful when selecting a mate. She hadn’t rushed into a relationship with her hormones on fire and her brain dead from smoke inhalation. She’d held out of the right man. They even looked perfect together, Mike with his dark hair and eyes and that big frame, her with her lighter coloring and sandy hair and perfect willowy figure. In their wedding garb they’d look fit for the top of a wedding cake.

“This calls for more pie,” Drew said with a grin and helped himself to another piece.

“I’m going to be a bridesmaid, right?” Amber asked her sister.

“Of course,” Dani said.

“You’d better dig out your Armani,” Cass said to Drew. “Dani’s going to need you to walk her down the aisle.”

Dani’s face lost some of its bride-to-be glow and she bit her lip.

“Hey, I’m cool with sitting in the front row with your mom,” Drew said quickly. “I don’t have to be the one.”

Oh, yes, he did. Who else was going to? Oh, no. Surely not…

“Actually, I was hoping Daddy would walk me down the aisle,” Dani said.

The undeserving, absent father? The man who had been M.I.A. for most of Dani’s life? Cass fell back against her chair and stared across the table at her daughter.

Dani’s cheeks bloomed with a guilty flush and she studiously avoided her mother’s gaze.

“Daddy?” Cass echoed. It came out frosted with scorn. Way to be mature and poison your daughter’s happy moment, she scolded herself.

With her sunny disposition and eagerness to please, Danielle was normally easy to get along with, but now her chin jutted out at a pugnacious angle. “I know he’ll want to.”

Oh, he always wanted to be there, but he never had been.

Until lately. Now that their children were practically grown. He and his thirty-two-year old trophy wife Babette seemed to think they could lure the kids over to Seattle any time he swooped in from his business trips and buy their affection with shopping trips and Seahawks tickets.

Obviously it was working, and that made Cass want to break the wishbone she’d been saving into a thousand pieces.

Picture

About Sheila Roberts:

Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. She’s happily married and has three children. She’s been writing since 1989, but she did lots of things before settling in to her writing career, including owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Her band days are over, but she still enjoys writing songs. Sheila’s books are best sellers and often appear as Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Her novel “On Strike for Christmas” was a Lifetime Network movie and she has since optioned more books for film.

When she’s not speaking to women’s groups or at conferences or hanging out with her girlfriends she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.

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