St Martin’s Griffin, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-250-03514-1
Contemporary Romance, 2012 (Reissue)
Christmas with Holly was initially published as Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor back in 2010. It eventually was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame “television event”, and apparently this elevated the whole thing from mere “romance novel” to “mainstream women’s fiction”. Hence, its reissue with a new title and all.
Holly in the title is the six-year old brat that was raised by her mother Victoria in the faux-hippie dipstick community of the Friday Harbor area of Seattle, where, despite its “We’re all artists, dripping with the candle wax of love” overtones, are still filled with hot wealthy guys because, at the end of the day, all the artistic philosophies of love, peace, artistry, and gift stores full of quaintness and charm mean squat if a woman doesn’t have a wealthy husband whose money allows her to indulge in such nonsense. Victoria subscribed to the romance novel philosophy of single motherhood: nobody knows whom Holly’s father is, and Victoria never asked for child support. So she died in a car accident, leaving Holly in the care of her brother Mark Nolan whose bachelor lifestyle leaves him unprepared to raise that girl. Oh, and Holly refuses to speak, until she meets the heroine, because there is nothing more touching than using a child’s trauma as a potent matchmaking device in a romance novel.
The woman Holly opens up to is Maggie Conroy, a widow who opens a store selling artistic stuff. However, Mark is seeing Shelby, a city woman. If you think a woman from the big city can ever put up a fight against a small town woman whose only ambition is life is to be a mother and wife, you must be new to the genre – hello, and enjoy your idealism while it lasts. Will Mark and Maggie see each other’s private parts up close and personal in time for a Christmastime happy ending?
If you like stories that depend on sentimental mush rather than actual characterization or strong plot to carry it to the finish line, then this one is going to fit the bill nicely. Maggie and Mark are one-dimensional characters. Maggie is all sunlight, sweetheart, and empathy, while Mark spends his time waffling between Shelby and Maggie in a weak effort to create some kind of conflict in this story. The story is a pastiche of clichés found in stories of this sort, and the only surprise I have here is that Shelby is allowed to flee this story with her dignity intact. Holly is, predictably, annoying as the waif plot device created solely to get two adults together.
The most notable aspect of this story is that it is very, very sweet – sweet enough to give even the most hardened fan of Debbie Macomber diabetes with enough calories left over for a dozen clogged arteries. Other than that, the story is narrated in a flat tell-all, show-little manner, and the first few chapters are wasted on telling me the stories of Mark’s brothers when these guys are clearly not pivotal to the plot of this story. At the end of the day, I get this impression that the author must have been told to write a story designed to mimic the formula of Debbie Macomber’s books as fast as possible, or some unicorns would be killed. Christmas with Holly certainly feels enough like a rushed cash grab to fit that description.