A Kiss Before Christmas

A Tale as Old as Time

Alternate time plots are very popular. And for good reason. As oft-repeated ad nauseum as they are they also automatically offer a lot of opportunity for and promise of drama, comedy, wonder, suspense, and emotion. Usually, at least at Hallmark, a woman is dissatisfied with her current circumstances, and magic happens. She goes back in time to a fork in the road. This time she takes the other fork and experiences what her life would then have been like. In the end, no matter what the permutations in this basic plot, she ends up embracing the importance of family and during November and December, “The true meaning of Christmas.” It’s a tale as old as time.

In this one, in a change of pace, it is the man who takes a time trip. Joyce and Ethan are a happily married couple in their mid-’40s. Teri Hatcher and James Denton are each pushing 60, but they are very attractive and it was a suspension of disbelief I was happy to roll with. I believed them. James is a successful lawyer, but he is overworked and is not at the top of his profession. So he has a middle-class lifestyle rather than the affluent, luxury-filled position of his colleague, Sean. He is an ethical good guy, and not willing to be ruthless and unscrupulous in his pursuit of success. But now financial concerns and family tensions due to his lack of family time are starting to get to him. Enter magic Santa. He goes back to that turning point and takes the other path. He now has the luxurious home, the fancy car and the big office. But no family. Luckily Ethan’s two kids were adopted so they still exist and are not wiped off the face of the earth. So that metaphysical and spiritual dilemma is avoided, thank goodness. His wife is no longer a school teacher but a high-profile lawyer who is constantly at loggerheads with Ethan’s firm. She wants to save things, they want to tear them down. He enlists her help, to her consternation, because she is the only one he knows he can trust.

He can’t go back to his old life until he learns his lesson. Actually, he learns his lesson pretty early, but magic Santa shows no mercy until the pain and horror of losing his family brings him to the brink of despair. Magic Santa ain’t playing.

Adding to the enjoyment is Marilu Henner, the owner of the law firm who is there to ensure Ethan will still get his promotion while doing the right and ethical thing and that Sean, his corrupt bully of a colleague gets his comeuppance. Teri and James had great chemistry (no surprise there) and took a well-worn plot to the next level.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 23, 2021

Five More Minutes

No Beer, Trucks, Guns, or Jesus

I approached this one with a lot of misgiving. I mean, a story based on a country song? By Scotty McCreery? But to my surprise, it was pretty good. Nikki Deloach, who is good as always, is a dedicated Art teacher who is losing her job and is having doubts about her relationship with her boyfriend. She wishes she could have just five more minutes with her beloved late Grandpa who always gave her great advice.

When she goes home to celebrate Christmas(?) Thanksgiving (?) I don’t remember, she finds a journal written by Grandpa when he was a young man detailing his first lost love.  She gets together with an old ex-boyfriend, and they decide to try to find her. Or was that another movie, Christmas Together with You?  They’re already starting to run together a bit. At the same time, a young man shows up for a job at her store because he said her grandpa was going to hire him. He turns out to be a wonder and is the best employee ever. It’s pretty clear from the get-go that something spooky is going on. There are lots of clues, which I’ll keep to myself.

Sherry Miller plays Bonnie, Clara’s mom, who lost her husband about a year ago. She looks great. I always think of the actress with fondness because she was in one of my favorite TV romcoms, This Matter of Marriage, back in the late ‘90s when she was a young whippersnapper. Highly recommend. She has her own romance along with her daughter finding love with her ex, Logan, and dumping her current beau. I liked that Bonnie did not approve of the ex, who behaved badly dumping Clara when they were teens, and kept giving him the stink-eye. She came around though.

There were a couple of things I did not like. Despite both Clara and Logan being established as Hallmark paragons of niceness, they both behaved badly. Logan kept putting the moves on Clara even after she said she had a boyfriend. And Clara totally dumped Logan and canceled an invitation for the family-less guy to spend Thanksgiving (?) Christmas (?) with her family just because he was called back to active duty. This was really low behavior and hardly patriotic or compassionate. Also contrary to the Hallmark ethos.  The third thing I didn’t like was the under-use of Leanne Lapp who played Clara’s sister and a favorite of mine.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 22, 2021

Next Stop, Christmas

The Time Travel Express

This was a fairly straightforward time travel story elevated by the appealing cast and good acting. Even the bad boyfriend had his charms. I love seeing all of the fresh faces. Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca, who was excellent) is a busy surgeon in NYC who takes her family for granted. She does not want to go home for Christmas since her parents’ divorce and her sister’s struggles with adoption. Too stressful and depressing. She remembers the last good family Christmas she enjoyed 10 years ago when her parents were still together and she turned down a marriage proposal from a now-famous sportscaster. On her way back to her apartment to spend a stress-free solitary holiday, she is diverted by Christopher Lloyd and finds herself on a magical train back home to that Christmas of 10 years ago. While there, she sees opportunities to redirect the course of her and her family’s lives: save her parents’ marriage, accept her ex-boyfriend’s marriage proposal, and help her sister. She also reconnects with her childhood friend who has been in love with her his whole life.

The cast was fantastic. Come on, Lea Thompson (her mother) and Christopher Lloyd (the Train Conductor) in a time travel movie? Sign me up. There are many nods to Back to the Future, but it does not distract from this story. Her parents unraveling marriage and her sister’s fertility troubles were engrossing and realistically done. Her ex-boyfriend, though adorable, was not a match for her. No harm, no foul, no drama. Her childhood buddy was appealing, looked like Justin Timberlake, and was obviously her destiny. Obvious to everyone but her. Talk about dense.

Loved seeing Erika Slezak looking her age, but great, with her smiling eyes. There were the usual things that didn’t make sense as with most time travel stories. The big reunion that really wasn’t at the end seemed problematic. What other big chunks of her two paths through time don’t match up? Angie is going to have some interesting times ahead. Not to mention everyone that knows her. The one weak point was the character of Chloe, who was super annoying and totally unnecessary. All in all, this was thoroughly enjoyable and engaging.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 8, 2021

Boyfriends of Christmas Past

It’s Only a Dream…

Despite the heroine’s almost deliberate lack of insight into her own behavior being very annoying, I did enjoy this one. Hallmark seems to be making a real effort this year to break out the box of its own making. Time travel is a common Hallmark trope, but in this one, it’s a little different with Lauren going back in time (in her dreams) with 3 of her former boyfriends. They are trying to tell her something: she has sabotaged all of her previous relationships as soon as they try to move to the next level of commitment. Yes, it’s another take on A Christmas Carol, but Hallmark has not used this in a long time, to my memory. As opposed to fake boyfriend, bad city person being transformed by small-town life, save the beloved fill-in-the-blank from a corporation, or royalty in disguise. Or food competition, snowed in, or sad widow/widower for that matter. Or magic Santa. Or kid matchmaker. Somebody stop me.

Anyway, The breakups always occur around Christmas, and now a life-long relationship with her best friend who’s in love with her is in danger. It is not until a trip into the future where she sees her soulmate proposing to another girl that she finally sees the light. I’m afraid I failed to see why this girl was able to attract such nice and attractive boyfriends (except the first one, who wore lipstick and dressed like an elf for some mysterious reason). But the actress was good. It’s not her fault her character was such a pill. The very handsome and charismatic actor who played her true love was a stand-out. What a find! He looked so familiar but I hadn’t seen him in anything else. I couldn’t figure it out until I finally realized that he is the image of Jon Krasinski only Indian. He stole every scene because he was just so darned cute!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 2, 2021

Love Strikes Twice

22 Going on 37

What did I just see? It was on the Hallmark Channel but was it really a Hallmark movie? It was a time-traveling romantic comedy but that is all it had in common with the usual Hallmark. No pageant-worthy hair, wardrobe, and make-up here. Just great writing, attention to detail, talented acting, and fresh faces.

We enter this rare territory zeroing in on a 37-year-old childless corporate lawyer, whose marriage is about to fail because her main priority is to make partner in her firm so she can “swim with the sharks”. She is troubled about her marriage and confides to a friend that the crossroads in her life seemed to be when she worked with a childhood friend, now her unhappy husband, to try to save the local library building. After an unexpected encounter with her old  boyfriend, now one of the “sharks” she yearns to swim with, she wonders if she should have chosen him rather than the humble high school teacher she is now married to and has so little in common with. If only she could go back in time and with her sophisticated skills and knowing what she knows now about the law, be successful in saving the building. That would certainly change everything for the better and set her life on the path it was meant to be on.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of what happens, because there is so much that happens both personally and professionally. The details and the authenticity make the movie complex, heartfelt, funny, and very entertaining. It is tight and action-packed. There is not a boring minute in it. No usual meaningless filler or tired tent pole scenes. It borrows from many other time travel romantic comedies too numerous to list, but I was most reminded of the delightful 13 Going on 30. Needless to say, when she goes back 15 years to save the library, she also saves her marriage, her husband’s career, her father’s health, and turns her brother’s and her best friend’s lives around. It all culminates at her parents’ 25th anniversary, when she hits her head again and she shoots forward to their 40th, and her real, now transformed, life.

The acting is great all around, but the star of the show is Katie Findlay , whose looks and talent brought even more life and charm to the role that was already well-written. Had she not been cast, the movie still would have been wonderful, but she made it a 10 out of a 10. I fear she will soon be going on to bigger and better things. Sadly for Hallmark-land, I predict we will not be seeing her again on this Channel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October 4, 2021

Timeless Love

What Just Happened Here?

Megan wakes up from a coma and learns the life she dreamed of wasn’t real. Or was it? Or will it be? Time-slip movies can be difficult as well as entertaining. This one left me with too many questions. This woman dreams up 2 children and they weren’t real? Did she dream the pregnancy and birth as well? If it was just a dream, what was the deal with the clock? Did she go back in time? Were the first couple minutes of the movie just a sneak peak into her future? If it was just a dream why did she meet the dream husband in real life? If she hadn’t had that dream would she have met him anyway and felt the same way about him? Did she have the same kids eventually? Would her real life be forever influenced by her memories of her dream? What about the dream kids? Did they have thoughts and feelings? Souls? Would she have to still live in that same house? decorate it it the same way? So many questions. Rachel Skarsten did a great job, and I did enjoy the movie despite it all.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 23, 2020

The Rose Garden

By Susanna Kearsley

 Each stir of the breeze through the leaves had, to my childish ears, seemed to carry a faint lilting music, not meant for the grown-ups, that beckoned me on. I had often imagined the tunnel of trees was the doorway to fairyland, and I’d been certain that one day I’d step out the other side into some wonderful place.

Wow. Susanna Kearsley always aspires to a twisty emotionally charged climax and resolution, and she really nailed this one. Her books are usually quite leisurely with lots of detail on history and description, and culture. Of course, this is another time travel book with romance usually taking a second seat to atmosphere and plot. So, in my opinion, they really need those endings to push them over the top to a 5 star rating from me. I didn’t really try to figure out in advance how all the past and the present were going to resolve themselves, so I don’t know if I should have seen it coming or not. Safe to say, I didn’t, and because of that, I was very moved and astonished. I loved that she really took her time with it and went into detail with the “reveal.” I had to go back and trace the few clues that were hidden from the reader in the minutia of description and background. I am glad I read this on kindle so it was easy for me to trace back to the important scenes. Knowing what I knew at the end of the book while rereading those pages really breathed new life into her words. The moral of this story, past and present, is “Home is where the heart is.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 20, 2016

A Desperate Fortune

By Susanna Kearsley

Once again, we have a dual timeline. The modern girl is a codebreaker with Aspersers. Unfortunately that sounds a lot more interesting than it was. she is trying to unveil the story of Mary Dundas, a Jacobite exile from the 1730s’, via her diary which is written in code. She has written about this era in history quite a bit, and she graces us with a few cameos of people from her previous books.

All in all, this one was rather slow, particularly the contemporary story of Sara. The romance in this one, however, was the best I’ve read by SK so far. She does not excel in this department, but the last scene with the big Scotsman and Mary was very sigh worthy, bumping this one up from 3 stars to 4 stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

March 7, 2016

Mariana

By Susanna Kearsley

**spoilers**

Faith,” he said, smiling, “d’you think I’d let a little thing like the grave come between us?”

Make it a 4 1/2. Really reminded me of Touch not the Cat by Mary Stewart, which is why I saw the final twist coming. There were still a few surprises: the identity of aunt Freda, and of John Howard. I did start to suspect Mariana might have gotten pregnant a good bit before that was revealed. I guess Iain was a descendant of Rachel and Evan Gilroy? Like others, I wish there had been more time with Iain and Julia at the end, and more of a resolution with Geoff. I guess they’ll all get it hashed out, but unfortunately the reader will not be included, which leaves one with a bit of regret. Also, the romance between Mariana and Richard seemed rather perfunctory. I teared up more at the fate of Navarre than I did at the big death scene.


However, Susanna Kearsley has a way with descriptions, mood, and conjuring up a world to escape in and long to visit again and again. Her characters do come alive and are all really likable, at least in this one. This book had a great premise and I can see why it won the awards that it did. Really admirable and enjoyable, despite a bit of promise unfulfilled. I found it hard to put down, as with all of her books so far.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

February 18, 2016

The Firebird

By Susanna Kearsley

“Hiding the person you are,’ he said, ‘won’t make you happy. I never hide who I am. What I am.”

Having read The Winter Sea, I was looking forward to The Firebird because I was very interested in knowing what became of Anna, the daughter of the protagonists in Slains #1, and hoped for a glimpse or two of them. I was also excited that the character of young Rob from the first book I read by this author, The Shadowy Horses, was a player in this one. It does deliver in that regard, but I wish she had incorporated some of the contemporary players in The Winter Sea and more than just Rob of Shadowy Horses as well. Although the book kept me interested as far as the historical part of the dual timeline, It was ultimately a bit of a letdown. Kearsley is so meticulous about her historical research and so careful to be faithful to her real but little-known actors on history’s stage, that her plot and character development took a distant second in this one. Every single person in this book actually existed except Anna herself, and a few stray innkeepers and such. Wikipedia got a good workout by me, and her historical notes at the end actually expose what contributed to the weakness of this book. Having to be faithful to all that she discovered in original source materials put too many constraints on what SK could actually do with the character and plot.

The contemporary part of the story did not rescue it. It was dull, except for a brief little unexpected discovery at the end, and very repetitive. Unlike The Winter Sea, it did not join past and present together in a big emotional wallop. There were a lot of loose ends. Nicola’s fascination with a certain painting at the Hermitage which was set up like it was going to be responsible for some kind of revelation was just dropped cold. It felt rushed, and left some pretty gaping plot holes. The heroine was irritating and nonsensical, and our Rob, from The Shadowy Horses, was nice, and grew up to be a fine young man, but there was no suspense or conflict in the relationship.

There were flashes of excellence in this book, and I can’t give it less than a 3 because I have so much respect for Kearsley’s writing and her hard work. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 11, 2016