Maria Griffiths is almost thirty and works at a used bookstore in New York City while trying to stay true to her punk values. She’s in love with her bike but not with her girlfriend, Steph. She takes random pills and drinks more than is good for her, but doesn’t inject anything except, when she remembers, estrogenddd because she’s trans. Everything is mostly fine until Maria and Steph break up, sending Maria into a tailspin, and then onto a cross-country trek in the car she steals from Steph. She ends up in the backwater town of Star City, Nevada, where she meets James, who is probably but not certainly trans, and who reminds Maria of her younger self. As Maria finds herself in the awkward position of trans role model, she realizes that she could become James’s savior—or his downfall.
One year ago, recent Portland transplant Ellie Oliver had her dream job in animation and a Christmas Eve meet-cute with a woman at a bookstore that led her to fall in love over the course of a single night. But after a betrayal the next morning and the loss of her job soon after, she finds herself adrift, alone, and desperate for money.
Finding work at a local coffee shop, she’s just getting through the days—until Andrew, the shop’s landlord, proposes a shocking, drunken plan: a marriage of convenience that will give him his recent inheritance and alleviate Ellie’s financial woes and isolation. They make a plan to spend the holidays together at his family cabin to keep up the ruse. But when Andrew introduces his new fiancée to his sister, Ellie is shocked to discover it’s Jack—the mysterious woman she fell for over the course of one magical Christmas Eve the year before. Now, Ellie must choose between the safety of a fake relationship and the risk of something real.Back of the Book
This is my SPOILER-FREE Book Review for
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
This review was cross-posted over at the Fresno LGBT News Link website under the “Book Flow” tab. under “More”
Hallmark movies are a thing because people like them. Yeah, they might be “basic” and they might be corny, but they serve a definite purpose.
The same can be said of romance novels in general and holiday romance novels in particular. As a terminal curmudgeon who scoffs at romance novels and has never purposely endured more than four minutes of a Hallmark movie (sober), I was not terribly excited to be reading a queer holiday romance. In fact, I am pretty sure I rolled my eyes when Book Of The Month tried to sell it to me but then my personal Jiminy Cricket (who will remain nameless) told me to get over myself, stop being a Scrouge, and just let myself read a fun little book that isn’t trying to be anything more than a fun little book.
So I did And, honestly? It wasn’t half bad.
In fact, (I type begrudgingly) it was… kind of good.
Ok, time for the ASPECT Method review:
A: Atmosphere / Tone
I have already said “Hallmark movie” twice so I think this category might not need much more explanation. This book is rom-com gold. It is Christmas in the Northwest… snow, rain, snow, cold weather, snow, magic, liberals being liberal, snow, and situations that really only happen because the plot needs them to happen. It’s… a peppermint mocha with candy cane sprinkles on top.
S: Writing Style
Fun, breezy, conversational. This is an easy read. Totally in the first person by our protagonist whose interior monologue stays on the right side of cute without ever straying too far into cringe territory. I’ll talk more about our protagonist in a sec, but I will say that I like that this book had people talk like actual people talk. There is cursing. There are actual grown-up words for sex and sexual acts. It isn’t graphic or porny, but it is clearly written by an adult for other adults in a manner that feels genuine and appropriate.
The plot is… a vehicle for the fun scenes that Cochrun wants to show us. The lesbian meet-cute. The misunderstanding. The drunken plan. The inevitable snowstorm that locks our lovers into a remote cabin all by themselves with only one bed…. There is very little here that is original in terms of plot. The thing is, If you just relax into the goofiness of the situation, you realize the plot is actually not really all that important.
This is what is important and it succeeds. Yeah, the conceit of the book is silly, but the story is told well and it is fun to live in this weird little pocket universe where everything from the weather to people’s epiphanies comes on schedule and at the perfect time to keep this movie at a 90 minutes run time… or… a one day read, you know what I mean. And no, it isn’t entertaining because of the plot. We all know what is going to happen and when and pretty much how. It is very close to a story via paint-by-numbers. So, what saves it? The characters.
This is where Cochrun really shines. Ellie, our protagonist, is totally believable and sympathetic. Her love/hate relationship with the snow, her honest-to-a-fault inner monologue, and her deep aching desire to be part of a family and to feel loved… these things make her a fun and engaging character to watch and root for. Now, she isn’t perfect. I think that the way Coochrun handles her panic attacks is well written but I am wary of how easily they are “fixed” in the service of the plot. The same can be said for Ellie’s social anxiety which seems to get a bit forgotten about halfway through the book. BUT, her character arc, while a bit too fast to be totally believable in the real world, is executed well and fits the whole vibe of the book and her situation. (There is also the matter of her demisexuality that rings… a bit… “as seen on TV” and not quite real, but I think that is more a matter of the concept being a bit nuanced and new to the general public.)
The other characters are a delight. The cast includes the boozy grandma, a different grandma who is always high, the tightly wound but full of love matriarch who has a foil in the loser leech of a mom, the sexy playboy who might have hidden layers, the butch and very stereotypical baker lesbian, etc (I have to wonder if “Lesbian TikTok” or “Baker Lesbian TikTok” -yes, it’s a thing, why do you ask? – might have been an inspiration for this book). One of the best side characters is the nonbinary friend character named Dylan whose pronoun “they” is simply just… used. It is not a big deal to any of the main characters. It just… isn’t. Also, they have the absolute best holiday sweater… but I won’t spoil it for you. (And Dylan has more personality than just a pronoun. They actually matter to the plot and even get their own happy ending, hooray!)
Almost everyone is pretty queer in this book (it is set in Portland, so make of that what you will) and yet no one’s queerness is at issue… at all. This sort of commonplace diversity is a lovely bit of fresh air.
Unrealistic? Sure. But literature and art are not just here to put a mirror up to society… they can also serve to show us an ideal world, and give us something to aspire to. (The best sci-fi is like this… and maybe there are some aspirational messages that cross genres.)
T: Why This Book?
As I said earlier, I was told to get off my high horse and read something fun. I did, and I am glad I did.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. If you like romance, if you like cutesy, if you like holiday books, if you like happy endings…. Then reading this book is a no-brainer. However, this book will also work if you want a little bit of realism in your sapphic sex scenes, if you want to enjoy a fantasy world of acceptance and snow magic, or if you just need something cute to read while sipping your peppermint mocha, hopefully near a fire or at least next to that Yule Log youtube video.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?