Friday, November 19, 2021

Book Review: Four Christmas Novellas

Just in time for the holidays, we have some bite-sized treats to share with you today. Amazon has published four holiday novellas by authors we all know and love. See what we thought of these stories and get your hands on as many as you want!

Like all Amazon Original Stories, these four separate holiday reads are available for free to read or listen to with Prime, and included in Kindle Unlimited membership. (They are $1.99 each otherwise.)

Oh. What. Fun. by Chandler Baker

Reviewed by Jami Denison

A perfect follow-up to her novel The Husbands, Chandler Baker introduces us to the Clauster family in the novella Oh What Fun. If you love the Family Guy Christmas episode where Peter gives the presents to charity, Brian burns the house down, and Lois remains in the holiday spirit until the paper towels run out… or the Saturday Night Live Christmas short about the mom who gets a robe, this is the story for you.  

Claire Clauster, mother to three adult children and grandmother to four-year-old twins, is the backbone of her family when it comes to Christmas. She cooks their favorite meals, buys the perfect gifts, and plans elaborate distractions for the twins. And her family doesn’t notice any of it. 

All Claire wants for Christmas is to win a contest sponsored by her favorite morning talk-show host. And all her children want is for Claire to leave them alone while they do their thing—as long as she’s always ready to cook or babysit. And she is. 

Until the night they realize that she has vanished. 

Narrated by Claire’s children, as they retrace the steps that led up to their mother’s disappearance, the disdain they have for all the effort she puts into their holiday is obvious. (“She loves wrapping presents at 2am!”) They prefer Dad. Dad is the fun one. After he comes home from work, he’s always available for an impromptu snowball fight or video game session. 

Of course he’s available! Because Mom is in the kitchen making dinner, or in the laundry room ironing shirts. 

Oh What Fun is a funny story, in the way Homer Simpson might say, “It’s funny because it’s true!” Come for the laughs, stay for the playing-out of emotional labor and how the women who perform it are ignored and taken for granted. This isn’t a story for women—this is a story for women to give to their husbands and older children, in the hopes that they’ll recognize everything she does for them. 

But will they even bother reading it? 

Model Home by J. Courtney Sullivan

Reviewed by Sara Steven

Not happy? No problem. Fake it. From New York Times bestselling author J. Courtney Sullivan comes a sharp-witted short story about the reality of reality TV.

Judging by the popularity of her home-makeover show, Katie has it all: a sweet-natured husband, Damian, as her cohost; adorable tween daughters; a designer mansion; and a just-folks appeal that has made the happy couple home-renovation royalty. Out of the spotlight, it’s a different story. Katie’s marriage is disintegrating, her spoiled daughters despise her, and her money can’t do anything to repair her personal problems—or her professional ones. With a contract up for renewal and Damian ready to bail after one last holiday special, Katie can kiss her artificial world goodbye too. But if there’s one thing a pro like Katie knows how to do, it’s negotiate. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Satire? Check. Reality TV? Check. A home-makeover and renovation show-like plot featuring characters who aren’t really who they claim to be? Double check. Model Home was short, but sarcastically sweet, giving its reader the potential truthfulness behind some of our most favorite home renovation shows. While I felt that Katie and Damian were drawn from shows like Fixer Upper or Property Brothers, I could also see snippets of shows like Flip or Flop, primarily due to the way they are when the camera is on, versus the way they really are when the cameras are off.  

I couldn’t help but side with Damian. He’s tired of not living the life he feels he was meant to live; freedom from a made-up persona. Privacy and anonymity from society. They might not be Hollywood walk of fame celebrity level television personalities, but everyone knows them, and that means Katie can’t even run errands without the paparazzi on her tail. But while that doesn’t bother her, it bothers Damian a whole lot. Katie more than appreciates the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to. She can’t imagine going back to the way things were, when they were struggling. And while I can appreciate having your own television show to call your very own, I would hate not feeling like I can navigate my life without the input of a manager, a director, an agent, or society. The whole world, really. When is enough, enough?

The twist at the end was really clever, and something I’d imagine could happen in real-life, particularly within the realm we live in today with how glamorized social media is. I liked how the ending was its own, with no claim to any sort of happily-ever-after, because again, life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. And the truth isn’t always evident on the small screen. Chances are, what we see really isn’t what we’d get if we encountered half the people who entertain us on reality shows. This acerbically witty short story is a definite five-star read!

If the Fates Allow by Rainbow Rowell

Reviewed by Melissa Amster

Social distancing came easily to Reagan. Maybe a little too easily. She’s always liked people better from afar. But Reagan doesn’t want her grandpa to be alone for Christmas this year—he’s already spent too much time on his own in 2020. So she heads back to her hometown with a dish of holiday Jell-O salad, hoping they can have a little normalcy. Hoping it will be safe…

She isn’t expecting to run into the boy next door. Mason is all grown up now. He’s considerate. He’s funny. He doesn’t mind how prickly Reagan is—he maybe even likes it. And it makes Reagan feel like her defenses are falling. She needs her defenses, doesn’t she? In a time when six feet is close enough, how long can they keep their distance? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I haven't read anything by Rainbow Rowell in a while. (Unfortunately, I'm not into the Simon Snow books, but that's just a personal preference.) So it was really nice to read this story. I also found out after I finished it that it featured Cath's roommate, Reagan, from Fangirl. It's been so long since I read that book. 

If the Fates Allow was a cute story. I could totally relate to Reagan with how she's being careful to avoid getting Covid, but no one else in her family is. I caught so much flack for my husband, kids, and I wearing masks when we were in town to visit family this past summer. Four-fifths of us were vaccinated and we weren't taking any chances. 

This was a refreshing treat from Rainbow. Her snarkiness was funny and she made great use of description to bring everything to life. The dialogue was spot on and completely genuine. I wish there had been more time to explore things between Reagan and Mason. Maybe this can expand into a full story someday? I would love for Rainbow to write more adult novels! (I did enjoy the two YA novels I read though.)

Overall, a cozy holiday story that is true to the time we are living in now.

Casting ideas:
Reagan: Nikki Blonsky

by Suzanne Redfearn

Reviewed by Melissa Amster

When Ava Barnes’s boyfriend, Justin, proposes after a whirlwind romance, the young couple embarks on a quest that will test their love. For generations, engaged couples in Ava’s family have traveled into the Everglades to retrieve the egg of the magnificent frigate bird in order to bake it into a marriage cake. Those who succeed live happily ever after, while those who fail are destined for heartbreak. With Ava’s beloved grandmother gravely ill, never has the marriage tradition meant so much. Ava’s dream is to pass the test so her grandmother can attend Ava’s holiday wedding to the man she loves.

So Ava, Justin, and their best friend Walton as a witness set off on a remarkable adventure that will challenge the true depth of their character and devotion. An emotional, heartrending journey of self-discovery, The Marriage Test turns out to be far more than any of them imagined.

Is there any test more challenging than a test of love? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I haven't read anything by Suzanne Redfearn yet. I have some of her books and have been intending to. This story was a nice appetizer though. It displays her beautiful writing style and has shown me what else she is capable of producing. I'll definitely have to add some of her books to my queue soon!

The Marriage Test was a good story overall. It was set up nicely and was engaging and thought-provoking. The descriptions helped me visualize everything that was going on without detracting from the narrative. The characters were really interesting, especially the supporting ones like Esther and Aylan. I loved Ava's connection with her feisty Granmama. I also loved the descriptions of baking cakes and the contrasts between the different techniques being used. 

I didn't really see a Christmas connection aside from her plans to have a wedding around that time, so I was surprised at it being used for this holiday set. I felt like there were some gaps that could have been filled in better, like more backstory about Walton and Justin having a falling out. What was Walton's motive for not wanting Justin to be with Ava? The story did not go in the direction I was expecting and now I want it to continue to see what comes next. 

Casting ideas:

Thanks to Amazon for the books in exchange for honest reviews.

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us.

No comments: