Review: The Christmas List by Chrissie Manby

xmaslistI found this novella on Audible while traveling by myself last November and wanted something short and comforting.

Millie Arnold is a young British woman who works in an office, loves Christmas about as much as I do, and loves loves LOVES her man, Duncan.

Seeing as how she starts the book utterly in love, you can guess what happens.

Millie is dumped on November 29th, and the crushing depression (and hangover from Bailey’s and orange liqueur) threatens to ruin Advent. But for the sake of her young nephews, she attends their family December 1 lunch to write letters to Father Christmas with the boys. And wishes start to come true.

Think of it like The Monkey’s Paw, but Christmasy. The wishes are not fulfilled in the way that Millie intended. Nothing dire (well, no one comes back from the dead), but they still aren’t exactly what she wanted. For example, one of her first wishes is for flowers. A week later, three dozen red roses show up at her door. Delighted, she takes them, but finds that not only are they NOT from her ex-boyfriend, they’re not even for her; there’s another woman’s name, an apology, signed “John.” The deliveryman got the address wrong. She calls the florist who urges her to keep the roses since she’s already arranged them.

Later, the way some of the wishes are granted are still far from the realm of intent Millie wanted, even though with her second letter, she tried to word everything very carefully.

This could easily be a book that tanks because, frankly, Millie is a wretched whiner to start out with. But her character is deftly balanced by her doting, but cynical, older sister Cal, who comforts her without coddling her. The florist is an angry agent of fate, determined to fire her deliveryman and punish the guy who bought the roses “He had his secretary order them! Just said to send something appropriate! You keep the roses and I’ll send chrysanthemums and maybe his girlfriend will have another think about him.” Then she goes on a tangent about dogs. And then there is the charming and slightly dorky Mark Clark on the radio, a local DJ and minor celebrity that they listen to at the office.

It also helps that, with the aid of Duncan’s next door neighbor (“I don’t mean to be lookin it’s just that he hasn’t replaced the curtain rod that fell down six months ago!”) and her friend who professes to be psychic (although the one bit of information she had on Duncan came through gossip, not the stars,) Millie does begin to not only get over Duncan but also discover that their relationship wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Like A Christmas Kiss, this is actually a story about a woman learning her own self-worth first, and finding love second. The love story is pretty minor, coming only at the very end. The climax is surprisingly exciting for an otherwise mundane tale of a broken heart, and the story is set up quite deftly with plenty of foreshadowing.

Flaws: I’d actually prefer this longer. I’d like to see more of Millie’s transformation, and somehow more with the florist. She was a hoot. I actually have no idea how old anyone is, which threw me off a few times.

Ratings:
Stars: N/A (audiobook)
Storytelling: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Closeness to Christmas Carol: 0
Feminism: 5/5
Romance: 2/5 (this is rating quantity, not quality)
Is Christmas Saved?: Definitely
Number of British car names I didn’t recognize: 3
Random thoughts: This is a Kindle single, so you can get the ebook, but if you like audio I HIGHLY recommend the Audible version, as the narrator is excellent with her different accents.

Review: 12 Dates of Christmas

12datesHere we go with another movie review:

One of my favorite romcoms. It edges out A Christmas Kiss, even.

This is our first “magic of Christmas” story. Kate is a woman hung up on her ex-boyfriend. She has a blind date for Christmas Eve, though: her step-mother’s (“-‘lady friend.’ They’re only married in the eyes of the law.”) godson, Miles. Before the date, she shops for the ex-boyfriend (nothing says love like cashmere) and is knocked out by a perfume sample spray.

She gets up, manages to be a distracted, rude ass on the (short) date with Miles, meets up with the ex (who is bringing her the dog they apparently share custody of), and discovers he’s heading to The Cabin with a new woman. Devastated she goes back home and at midnight, the clocks turn back and suddenly it’s Christmas Eve again and she’s getting up from being sprayed with perfume.

So, you think, this is a Groundhog Day-like story about how she lives each day over and over again to get over the ex and hook up with the blind date, right? You are only a tiny bit right. This story is very clever the way it interweaves small plots: everyone has a story, from the next door neighbor giving Kate a cherry-chip-loaf to the schlubby guy who looks up hopefully and says, “Phyllis?” every time she goes to the bar for her blind date. (“No, I’m not Phyllis. Phyllis is never coming!” she cries at him several days in.) There’s a guy building a tacky sculpture of Christmas lights. There’s a lonely older gentleman who helps her up after she falls in the mall. She has to mend things with her step-mom. Her best friend is also lonely. There’s EVEN A LOST ORPHAN BOY. AND TWO DOGS. Kate is responsible for tweaking everyone’s situation to make things work out.

When the woman successfully gets the guy in the first third of the movie (I think it’s Day 4 or 5?), you can wonder what’s left to tell. But this movie is incredibly clever at showing that there is more to your life than love, and you touch many lives with small actions. (also in future days she messes things up with him, proving she hasn’t found the “right” way to win him.)

With her actions helping out so many others, it’s almost as if she’s Santa, but no movie would be so subtle as to let you assume that without slamming you over the head with it over and over and over again.

There is also the requisite “This isn’t real, so I can do anything I want to” scene, with a tattoo, doughnuts, fancy car, and shopping for fur – and then giving the fur to a homeless woman. Also we have the “help me, doc, I’ve gone crazy” scene.

I think I have less to say about this movie than the others, because it’s rich with sub-plots and I don’t want to ruin them. I can’t ruin the HEA- you know it’s coming. But there’s a lot of surprising depth to this made-for-TV-movie and it’s highly worth watching. Also she isn’t locked into doing the same things every day. Some days she doesn’t even go to meet Miles. One day she shows up early, sees him arrive early too, and they “meet” as strangers (no names) and she finds out she likes him when they don’t have the “BLIND DATE” weight hanging over them.

My favorite use of the repeated days has nothing to do with the love story. She finds a runaway, recognizes him, and he runs from her. She can’t catch him in her current clothes so she stops, frowns, and says, “let’s try that again.” Then we cut to the next repeat where she hasn’t fretted about the date or the ex at all, but she’s in a track suit and appropriately dressed to run after the kid.

Flaws: A few people (mostly people of color) in the movie deserved bigger roles. I would have loved to see side plots featuring the woman who sprays Kate with the cologne, and the guy who hits on her friend at the office party in the first scene.

I think this is a rare “(wo)man vs (wo)man” Christmas plot. No one is working against Kate, except she has to learn to change. She’s not even Scrooge-level selfish and needs to think of others. I think she’s more of an Everywoman because we all struggle against change and often just need to open our eyes a little wider.

Ratings:
Stars: None that I recognized
Storytelling: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Closeness to Christmas Carol: 0
Feminism: 5/5
Romance: 5/5
Is Christmas Saved?: Yes!
Tattoos received: 1
Donuts eaten: 6
Makeovers: 2

Review: Marry Me For Christmas

Another review, another spoiler or two:

marrymeMarci is a high powered ad exec whose cousin begs her to come home for Christmas before she (cousin) goes off on a 5 year mission. It is… unclear why Marci won’t come home aside from being Very Busy. Apparently she loves her family. She relents and asks her employee, hunky Adam (what is it with this name?) to come with her to continue their Very Busy work, paying his airfare and doubling his Xmas bonus.

When they get home, the family (at least the female side, known as the “Chandler Women” – a title I seriously lost count of how many times they used it) barrages them with so many questions, demanding so much information about their relationship, that Adam blurts out that they are getting married. Everyone is delighted and Adam and Marci agree to pretend to be married in order to keep the holidays pleasant. After a casual suggestion from an aunt (ONE OF THE CHANDLER WOMEN) Adam realizes that if he marries Marci, he could become a partner in her growing business. So we see him call an unidentified person and talk about how he’s going to set this up to become her partner.

Enter Blair, also hunky, next door neighbor, childhood nemesis, and good friend of the family (not Marci tho). He is very clearly still in the hair-pulling stage of being in love with Marci, and is dating another woman who has one side: queen bitch. Seriously, writers. We know they’re the rivals, but at least show us a reason why romance target dude is with her in the first place! I mean, this woman arrives as Blair’s date to a big dinner at Marci’s family’s house, looks at Marci, and calls her “Mousy.” Who does that? With the target’s whole family watching? And what family would allow her woman to break bread at their table after that? Remember, writers. Successful evil characters are subtle. They don’t call names.

Regardless, the CHANDLER WOMEN and the men have their teasing and their adventures and they’re clearly one big happy family, except for Mom, who’s showing signs of a blood draw and limping a little. But don’t worry about her, she’s just glad her baby is home.

Marci discovers that the big client she’s trying to land is actually scum, and Blair is representing the whistleblowers in court. Adam presses to keep the client, Marci has to Make The Right Decision. Adam leaves in a huff.

As for tension, there’s not much. Even when Adam leaves (stealing a peach cobbler in the process, again, what is the logic here? Do you think you can eat that whole thing on the way to the airport? Do you think you can take that with you on the plane? Your spite is stupid, Adam.) it doesn’t feel that tense. When Blair and Marci declare their love, it’s not that tense. But it’s a tolerable movie. I could watch it, and there are some that can’t pass that test.

Flaws: HOLY SHIT WALMART PAID A BUCKETFUL OF MONEY TO SPONSOR THIS MOVIE. They had Wal-Mart shopping bags, they talked about Christmas shopping there, when the family went to get a tree, Adam asked why they just didn’t go get one at Wal-Mart. Stop hitting us over the head with it. Character-wise, while Blair’s girlfriend (I can’t even remember her name, and her character isn’t worth the effort to look it up) was another cardboard bitch, antagonist Adam was interesting with different facets ultimately showing a rotten mercenary underside.

This movie did do two things I didn’t expect: While the career-woman lost her big client because she had to do the right thing, and she got together with the boy next door, she didn’t necessarily give up her job as an ad exec. It was very clear that she had found what she was good at and loved doing it. Also, and I’ll leave this one thing unspoiled, the sub-sub plot about the Mom’s health was an honest surprise.

Ratings:
Stars: No one I recognized, although one woman did look like Jackee, but was too young.
Storytelling: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Closeness to Christmas Carol: 0
Feminism: 4/5
Romance: 3/5
Is Christmas Saved?: I guess. Was it ever threatened?
Wal-Mart References: 5
“The Chandler Women” References: Let’s just say in drinking game terms, you’d be dead.

Review: A Christmas Kiss

Here is the first review, there may be swear words, there may be spoilers:

Made for TV, featuring a girl who is super focused on career, this seems like it might be a nightmare. However it’s become one of my favorite Christmas romcoms.

This poster is kind of a big fat spoiler. I mean, yeah, it’s a romcom, but Wendy never wears a wedding dress in the movie. Note: if you’re viewing on Netflix this isn’t the same poster you’ll see.

Wendy is a young woman who has landed the dream job for a hot Boston designer. Her boss is the best designer in town, but is a hardass who asks her to do everything from clean her apartment to turn on the heat at her apartment on a Saturday night before she (boss) gets home.

Wendy’s friends work in the theater where she used to build sets, and one night they dress her up in glitter and fancy dress to go to a party. She stops by her boss’s apartment to turn the heat on, and on the way down from the apartment, a chiseled man gets on the elevator with her. There’s a hiccup with the mechanism and the elevator begins to fall. They stumble into each others’ arms and, in a heat of the moment, a we-might-die-in-a-second passion, they kiss. The elevator slows and gets to the first floor (obv. or else it would be a real short movie) and when the doors open, a big group of carolers are outside. Instead of politely letting them off, the carolers (while singing) barge onto the elevator (breaching all kinds of etiquette: rude!), and Wendy rushes off.

The next day, her boss introduces her to her boyfriend, and Wendy, who is unglittered and in sensible clothing, is shocked to realize it’s her stranger from last night, and further shocked into dismay that he doesn’t recognize her at all. (It’s the glasses. Always the fucking glasses.)

Evil boss Priscilla says they must decorate Adam (chiseled boyfriend)’s house for a Christmas party (that — pst — will become engagement party if Priscilla has her way) After one conversation with him, Wendy comes up with a perfect design to fit his house and personality, and Priscilla says it’s crap. Adam hates Priscilla’s design and then she shows Wendy’s taking credit for it. He loves it.

Adam has a scene with someone in the theater, saying he was questioning the relationship with Priscilla, and feeling very guilty for the kiss with the mysterious stranger, but when he saw the designs he realizes she knows him well and is the woman for him.

Then Wendy’s friend breaks Priscilla’s nose and she flees to New York where apparently they have magic plastic surgeons to make bruising go away. Wendy now has to decorate Adam’s house all by herself, spending time with him and bonding in the process. They even eat figgy pudding together (apparently it’s believably foul) and go Christmas tree shopping.

Then Priscilla comes back, there is drama, there is a Christmas Eve showing of the Nutcracker, and true love conquers.

Flaws: Priscilla is a flat, cardboard bitch. She has no depth, nothing redeeming: she treats Wendy like shit and her one goal is to trick Adam into marriage because they are both high society and attractive. We see nothing else to her, nothing sympathetic or redeeming.  Adam is strange: a poor little rich boy whose grandmother was apparently poor (she spent all her money to buy him an early edition of A Christmas Carol) even though his family was crazy rich, and he apparently loves Christmas but has never seen a Christmas movie. And he says the words “true meaning of Christmas” unironically, which only Linus Van Pelt is allowed to do.

But what I love about this movie is Wendy. While it’s called Christmas Kiss, and the movie does focus on her falling in love with Adam, the movie is really about her getting the strength to stand up to her boss and learn that she doesn’t need a powerful designer to aid her career because she’s already damn talented. The romance payoff (Come on, it’s a romcom, you know you’re going to get a HEA) comes after the climax, after she has made her decision to wash her hands of the whole world of high society designers and the stupid men who can’t tell the difference between a woman covered in glitter without glasses and one dressed for work. Also how could he not figure out Priscilla stole the designs for his party?

This features a woman who starts out focused on her career and the Christmas lesson she learns is that she doesn’t need anyone else to succeed. The love is a nice side bit, but it has nothing to do with her leaving her career to focus on family. Rawk.

Ratings:
Stars: That cop from Angel and a model who was in Roswell and CSI Miami.
Storytelling: 4/5
Characters: 2/5
Closeness to Christmas Carol: 0
Feminism: 5/5
Romance: 4/5
Is Christmas Saved? Yes
Broken Noses Magically Fixed: 1

 

Christmas Reviews

It is not a secret that I’m a big Christmas softie. I’m not fond of romances* but I devour Christmas romances. Christmas romcoms? Even better. I’ll tear up at any movie above 2.5 stars. It’s just who I am.

One of the few things I regret about losing cable is missing out on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas programming. All the other stuff I can get eventually via Netflix, Hulu, DVD, or Amazon Prime. But it’s hard to keep up with 25 days of programming on a channel you don’t get.

So anyway, a few years ago I reviewed Christmas songs, and this year I’ve watched several movies and read several books and I will be bringing them here so you don’t have to wonder which you shouldn’t waste your time with.

I will rate on several levels:
Stars
Storytelling
Characters
Closeness to Christmas Carol
Feminism **
Romance
Is Christmas Saved?
Any other misc categories I come up with

Hope you enjoy them. This should be fun.

Some future reviews (And I will take requests):

Movies:

Christmas Kiss
Marry Me For Christmas
12 Dates of Christmas

Books:

Trading Christmas
Miracle (And Other Christmas Stories)
Call Me Mrs. Miracle
The Christmas List
Bah! Humbug
Dashing Through the Snow

* I’m not putting down romances, not at all. I love a good romance subplot in a book, but I rarely pick up a straight romance that doesn’t have other genres woven in.
** If a Christmas movie stars a woman, it almost inevitably has to do with her career, an old love left behind, or giving up on her childhood home. Movies that encourage women to quit the high profile job to come home to high school crush and her small town family really piss me off. And there are some that are surprising in their pro-woman storytelling.

Merry Christmas from the Heartbreakers and Other Stories

My collection!

I have finally gathered my dozen Christmas short stories into a collection, and have published them via ebook! Fans of Escape Pod’s holiday stories, of which i’ve been part for years, will hopefully appreciate this collect, as it comes with seven I’ve published through them, and five that have only been read by people who donated to the EP fundraiser last holiday season. You can find

  • Merry Christmas from the Heartbreakers (obviously!)
  • Santa in My Pocket
  • Zuzu’s Bell
  • 750,000 of Your Friends Like This
  • Citytalkers
  • As Solitary as an Oyster
  • MESSAGE REDACTED (which is based on Jonathan Coulton’s song “Chiron Beta Prime“)

and several others. If you want to ask “Is XXX in there?” It probably is, as I’ve left nothing out.

You can buy directly from me, epub and mobi for the cost of a caloric bomb of a Gingerbread Latte from Starbucks ($3.99).





(Note, I am no longer using the site I was using before. This is paypal –> download page. No waiting!)

You can also buy from the Kindle store.

I’m a big fan of Christmas and loved writing these, and hope you love reading them!

(Thanks to my buddy Matt Wallace for the intro to UploadNSell, which will take the money, distribute the files, and not charge a dime. Matt has used it for his awesome book launch, The Failed Cities (definitive edition), which everyone should buy right after they shop here.)