Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-285407-0
Contemporary Romance, 2018
The Forever Christmas Tree is the first book in a series set in the small town Bell Sound, an insular “City bad! Small town good!” lot that is now trying to rejuvenate its economy by trying to prevent its neighborhood bell factory from being closed down permanently. As usual we have the “Pro-capitalism mayor bad! Small town people good!” nonsense here, because somehow capitalism is bad in a story in which the folks are trying to keep the economy going. I know, the irony is hilarious, if a little sad because it also exposes how the author is just following the tropes without checking first to make sure that everything fits together in a way that makes sense.
Oh, and don’t worry if you like the author’s brand of old ladies gone wild company: we still have meddling mothers here. That’s one issue I have with this story: the author doesn’t like to let her main characters sort out their issues on their own, it seems, as her last handful of books relied heavily on meddlesome Scooby-Doo-type secondary characters pushing the two main characters together no matter what. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, it just makes the romance seem like a puppet show instead. Here, the meddling is particularly a problem because it compromises the romance badly – the hero is such a me-me-me sort that he and the heroine really need to sort out the issues between them for the romance to work.
Alright, the story. Ages ago, Eeyore’s more whiny, passive-aggressive, sulky crybaby brother Ethan Rutledge and Wendy Patterson were in love. Then she decided to do something without him one weekend, and he went ahead and slept with – and knocked up – Beth Anne. Wendy left town, and for twelves years, Ethan sulks in his Christmas tree farm, constantly lamenting just how much Wendy had hurt him by leaving town. Oh, and he has a daughter with Beth Anne, Cassie, who is the usual precocious sort with bonus hip disease for the ooh-me-so-precious factor.
When the story opens, Wendy and her many, many sequel baits come back for some R&R – she is a WEAL or a female SEAL on a fortnight-long leave of sorts after attending the funeral of a team member – you can guess what happens next. She gets involved with Cassie, who wants to learn how to swim, and Ethan continues to bitch about how much Wendy hurt him – his penis somehow finding its way into Beth Anne is, of course, somehow irrelevant to the whole scheme of things – and bitch, bitch, bitch is all he does. Ethan wants her, of course, but she must stay by his side or else there will be no more pee-pee fun for Wendy, oh no, and hence, because Wendy will leave him again, he must never tell him how he feels about her, and then he acts offended when she doesn’t read his mind and assumes that he doesn’t want her.
Wendy is a WEAL who did a lot of kickass stuff to serve her country. He spent more than a decade sulking in a Christmas tree farm while wondering whether he should join the SEAL (because doing so is as easy as filling up an application form, I guess), but because he has a penis and hence the most important thing in any woman’s life, she eventually resigns to be with him and mother both him and his daughter forever. Oh, sod off.
This story has a number of hip, horny old people played up for laughs, although the author also occasionally gives the mothers of the hero and the heroine some semblance of humanity. But this only adds some cringe to the story – a bigger issue is how Ethan is such an unlikable package that spends most of the time sulking and being passive while resenting the world for not reading his mind. I really don’t like him. Wendy is a more likable heroine, but sadly, her WEAL background is pretty much cosmetic here: the plot doesn’t capitalize on her unusual occupation; she could easily have any other job and the story wouldn’t be much different. The fact that she is likable and her career is unusual for a romance heroine only makes her quitting her job to chain herself to that puke bucket with a sad face scrawled on one side ten times more painful to read.
Oh, and Cassie is exactly what you’d think she is, shudder.
Also, poor Beth Anne! She died of multiple sclerosis, which I’m sure we can all agree is not a nice way to go, and the story proceeds to tell me through various secondary characters that Ethan never loved her. This treatment of the poor dead woman only makes me loathe Ethan and his mother more. For all I know, she might have loved that douche factory, and this is the thanks she gets: everyone puts her down so that the whole world knows that Wendy is the woman Ethan deserves. Again, sod off. No, fuck off.
You need to be able to accept or at least tolerate self-centered douche factories like Ethan to get into The Forever Christmas Tree. Otherwise, like me, you’re going to wish desperately that that sod will be inflicted with a health condition that forces him to crap in his pants each time he feels horny.