The Blessing Bracelet

The Blessing Bracelet, Part 2: “Failure and Shattered Dreams”

There are a few things that really get my goat when it comes to Hallmark movies. One is inappropriate or strange makeup choices, and another is how out of touch with non-fictional business and financial realities Hallmark writers are. And don’t get me started on the magic suitcases because that has nothing to do with this particular story. And Amanda Shull’s makeup I had no problem with. There are so many examples of naivete and ignorance about financial matters from trying to save a store with hardly any merchandise, to dealing in products that will only sell one month of the year,  to people with little or no income who live in beautiful expensive homes.  Although I will circle back to the heroine’s bracelet business, I do want to talk about the more positive aspects of this movie.

First, this was very much a faith-based story with lots of church in it. I am not much of a church-goer anymore but I did like this aspect very much. It was a tad preachy, but the message was about hope, gratitude, and forgiveness and who can get upset about that advice and guidance, even though it comes from a minister as well as friends and family?  Amanda Shull is very good as Dawn, a single mother who is still trying to dig herself out of the financial mess her irresponsible ex-husband left her in when he took off 3 years ago. Luckily she has the little ray of sunshine that is her 13-year-old son to keep her spirits up. His one (and only) fault is that he keeps hounding her for a dog in every scene he is in. No pun intended. The bank is about to foreclose on her house, and though she goes there personally to beg for mercy it’s no dice because of all of her credit card debt and her car payments on top of her not paying her mortgage. She is pinning all of her hopes on trying to find a second job. It all seems pretty hopeless.

While getting ready for a night out with the girls she runs across one of her old “blessing bracelets” that she and her still best buddy used to make to raise money for a high school project. She starts to wear it and uses the 4 beads to count the few good things in her life. Kind of like a rosary but with bigger and fewer beads. It gives her a more positive confident attitude in spite of her crushing debt and the blessings start to pour in. She goes back to church. The rest of Dawn’s story is about how the bracelets and her new attitude save her house and get her out of debt once she starts to sell them.  The love story part is between her and the bank manager who has been unwittingly foreclosing on her. They don’t know who each other is because they first meet outside of the bank when he takes his pooch to the vet clinic which is her real job. Carlo Marks is well cast as Ben, the too-nice-for-his-own-good foreclosure guy. He is excellent as usual. Dawn and Ben are both very attractive and very kind and sweet and a perfect match. Ben also bonds with her son via said dog. Why isn’t this prize married already? Because he is “married to his job” (which he hates) is the only explanation we are given.

This was a good Hallmark with an uplifting message, some tension and suspense, and a nice romance between two good and likable people who you really root for. Hallmark usually handles religion and church-oriented stories pretty well: low-key, positive, and no Jesus talk, keeping things vague and all-encompassing. This one was no exception. I wish I could say the same about the way they handle money matters. A business plan that relies on an unsustainable no overhead and free labor does not bear looking at too closely. But of course that is exactly what I am going to do!

The whole enterprise gets started when she finally finds a second job (Blessing #1) as a waitress to help with her debt. The waitress who is training her tells her she gets better tips when she gives each of her customers a piece of candy. Dawn decides to give her customers her Blessing Bracelets. Whoa! That’s quite a leap! From a mint or a butterscotch button to free bracelets? I don’t know, if my waitress gave me a piece of jewelry along with my bill, I would think it was super creepy and sketchy. But maybe that’s just me.  And between her full-time job, part-time job, raising her son, and volunteering for her church, when does she have time to make them all? A lady from her church wants to buy 30 of them for her prayer group. This leads to a website and, the 30 bracelets are so popular that it leads to a second order for 500 from the same woman.  But when she can’t fill the huge order, the ladies of the same church (presumably including the prayer group who just bought 30 of them) pitch in to help her make the bracelets voluntarily for free.  It just doesn’t add up. It’s fairly clear that the bracelets are being bought by women affiliated with this church or their friends. They are buying the same bracelets they are making for free? That is just super nice and generous to do that, even for church ladies. And then further complicating the fantastical nature of this bracelet selling, orders are pouring in from the new website, and a local store wants to carry the bracelets, orders 1000 of them, and needs them by Easter. I paused on the website and they are selling for 24 to 30 dollars each retail. If you do the math, that is a chunk of change. Is she selling them to the head of the church group wholesale? Then to add to the already incestuous nature of this enterprise, Dawn announces that she is donating 15% of the sales back to the same church. That’s nice of her, considering. My eyes were rolling while my head was spinning trying to put it all together. And the pastor is so touched and grateful! It doesn’t even occur to her that maybe Dawn wants to keep her flock as free labor even when selling to stores and her retail website.

My favorite part was when her smarmy husband comes crawling out of the woodwork after 3 years, bearing a 10,000 dollar check for her, the first of many, he says.  Despite his apologies and claims that he has changed, it soon becomes clear that he has not changed a bit. She turns down the money and gives him a piece of her mind. A very good scene and I was cheering for her, but should she really have turned that money down? He is her son’s father, and he really owes her that support for his son’s sake. The roof over the boy’s head was still in danger from the bank at this point.

The final straw was when Ben (remember Ben?) quits his job foreclosing on people in order to help customers start new businesses. He buys a storefront in order to rent it to Dawn for her new bracelet business without even consulting her! Maintaining a bricks and mortar store is quite different than selling online, or so I’m told. Even if her son is willing to manage it (after school?) just for “free pizza.” At first, she thought he was giving it to her! “You bought this for me?!”  Of course, she couldn’t accept such a gift, but what if she had followed that with “Thank you!! Thank You!!”? That would have been a super awkward conversation.  “Well no, I really love you, and happy you are forgiving me for almost foreclosing on you when I didn’t know who you were but it’s not a gift. I’m renting it to you, not giving it to you. Your first payment is due Tuesday.”

I approach faith-based stories with an, I hope, open mind but on the other hand I am always on the watch for sanctimony and emotional manipulation. (Hello CCB and Gack/Gaff) In this case, the message was really nice and I liked Dawn, Ben, and their story a lot as a whole. Unfortunately, the bracelet selling may have been the answer to Dawn’s prayers, but there were just too many questions about it for me. Young Justin does get a puppy in the end, in case you were wondering.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

The Professional Bridesmaid

Harmless Fun

This was light, fun, and amusing in spots. A pleasant diversion, especially if you are really into wedding stories, one of Hallmark’s main spring themes. And what Hallmark fan doesn’t like weddings? The two leads, Hunter King and Chandler Massey, were young, attractive, and appealing, and the set decoration made it nice to look at. The rest of the cast was on point. There wasn’t anything annoying about it. Or even anything even vaguely irritating. There was one “Huh?,What?” moment, but it wasn’t anything big or super stupid. Hunter King seems to be being groomed for a role as a Hallmark regular and I’ve enjoyed Chandler Massey in previous productions with no reservations.

Hunter King plays Maisie Ryder (real name Maggie), an undercover “professional bridesmaid.” She has been hired to make the Mayor’s daughter Alexis’s road to her wedding as easy and as stress-free as possible. As her love interest, Chandler Massey plays Henry, an investigative political reporter who is forced to cover her wedding. He is under strict orders to stay focused on dresses, cakes, and flowers, rather than whether or not the Mayor is going to take a stand on saving a local park from development. But he just can’t help himself because he loves the park so much. Maisie’s job description is soon expanded to include keeping Henry away from the mayor. He is running for office, doesn’t want to commit to a stand on the park just yet, and wants to avoid bad press. Henry falls hard and fast for Maisie/Maggie and is adorable doing so. The feeling is mutual.

There were the usual almost disasters with dresses, the bridal shower venue, invitations, and gift bags, most of them courtesy of the Maid of Honor, a disorganized and flaky young lady trying too hard to make up for past missteps with her cousin, the bride. All were averted thanks to Maisie’s competence and professionalism. I liked the actress, Lillian Doucet-Roche, who played the maid of honor. She had an expressive face and good delivery. I wouldn’t be averse to seeing her again as the head girl. Also kudos to Francesca Bianchi, who played the beautiful and down-to-earth bride.

Much of the humor stems from Maggie’s cover story to protect her identity and function. The bride, put on the spot, came up with her name and cover on the spur of the moment. A champion rider, She names Maggie after her horse and tells everyone Maggie is a wine sommelier or distributor or something. Maggie knows nothing about wine and comes up with some real howlers. The “Huh, What” moment? Henry googles “Maisie Ryder’s” name and she doesn’t exist on the internet. Hmmm. He narrows his search and up comes the bride, “rider,” and “Maisie,” Alexis’s horse. How odd. But it doesn’t trigger any questions or further research on the part of our crack investigative reporter. And it’s such a shocker when Henry learns that “Maisie” is really Maggie and has not been forthcoming truth-wise. Always grounds for temporary heartbreak and temporary conflict in Hallmark World.

**Spoiler Alert**The Wedding goes off without a hitch, Maggie gets her business loan thanks to the Mayor (yes, there’s that), and the reconciliation of the two sweethearts happens. Henry is back on the political beat, the Mayor turns out to be a good guy after all, and the Park is saved.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Love in the Maldives

Armchair Adventure.

For some reason, I didn’t hate this, although I probably should have. The plot did not deviate from the standard Hallmark playbook except for the geography and had some silly eye-rolling elements in it to boot. But the setting in the Maldives instead of Small Town, U.S.A counted a lot in its favor. It was nice.

Rae is a writer for a magazine whose regular feature is her solo action-packed physically challenging adventures in dangerous places. Emphasis on the solo. She climbs mountains, rafts down raging rivers, goes on polar expeditions, slashes through jungles with snakes, and stuff like that. Her magazine is changing focus, however, and her boss sends her to a luxury resort in the Maldives. To Her Horror. (!) She wants her to write something personal and introspective instead of her usual which is the opposite of that. Can she even do that? Her job depends on it but it doesn’t seem likely. When she gets to the beautiful partially underwater resort, she keeps looking around for exciting adventures in defiance of her intimidating boss’s direct orders but all she finds is a yoga class. Not her thing.

But right off the bat, she develops a sweet relationship with an older widow, they talk and help each other and go to couple-oriented activities together. I really liked this part and the actress, Lucy Newman-Williams, was just great. Rae gives Debra the courage to strike out and do things on her own without her beloved husband, and Debra gets Rae to give her own solitary existence a critical second look. She also gets to know the yoga guy who is the “Experience Director” of the resort. Jared’s yoga class is part of a program he wants to “take international” called “Clarity and Connection.” You get the picture. They start to fall in love while snorkeling, dancing, shopping in nearby Mali, meeting his friends, and rescuing sea turtles. He also knows where the location of a famous shipwreck that sunk with a plundered treasure on board is. That is right up Rae’s street. This is the main eye-rolling part. Rae agrees to keep it a secret and not write about it if he takes her to it and he does. What a chump. But by this time, she is starting to buy into this turning inward instead of outward deal. He takes her out to the wreck which is sticking right up in the air in shallow water in full view of any passing plane or drone or Josh Gates. She is agog. Why haven’t all of the greedy treasure hunters discovered it? “Because it’s not near anything.” Plus it’s called the “Wandering Shipwreck” because every time there is a typhoon or monsoon, it is carried off again to a new place. Wait a minute. Could the ship be a metaphor for Rae’s life up to now? I’ll put a pin in that one.

Rae screws up and takes a selfie with the famous lost ship in the background which her boss sees because they have a shared hard drive. She forgot about that. Of course, her boss gets all excited and books a whole block of bungalows for a camera crew to film the exploration of the ship which Rae discovered and do a whole big thing. Secrets out. Tourists, treasure hunters, and reality show hosts will not be far behind disturbing the peace of paradise (and the exclusive $15,000-a-night resort.) Yoga guy Jared thinks she betrayed him on purpose, and yadda yadda yadda until all is resolved very patly with the shipwreck remaining a secret, the treasure staying in the Maldives, and him taking his Clarity and Connection program international with Rae’s collaboration. Her “Reservation for One” feature has turned into “Table for Two.” Awh.

The two leads in this are married in real life and seemed very comfortable working with each other. I liked Jocelyn Hudon in this though she has been in a couple of stinkers and one good one in the past. Her husband though. Nothing against the actor, but he came across as a slightly vacant teenage surfer dude while Jocelyn was believable as a successful worldly professional. It was as if Christopher Atkins had been marooned on The Blue Lagoon with his Highschool English teacher instead of Brooke Shields. He even had Christopher’s same tousled frosted tips. Just FYI and in fairness, in real life, they look to be a nice young couple and Jake Manley (yes) is actually 5 years older than his wife. I was surprised. I would not be averse to seeing them work together for Hallmark again as long as he lets his hair grow out and buys a comb.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

A Picture of Her


Oh, Goody! Another Hallmark romance based on lies! How many is that this month? Three? Four? This one had a bit of promise since it stars Tyler Hines who usually brings an edgy cool masculinity to his roles. He is also very popular so Hallmark usually gives him better-than-average scripts. The script did have words in it, but they forgot the plot.

Tyler Plays Jake, a once idealistic photographer full of dreams of people buying his photos for their art. However, when he published a book of arty scenic photos, he only sold 5 copies, 3 of them to his mother. He is still a photographer but now makes his living as a jaded paparazzo with an occasional gig doing legit photo spreads for a weekly Los Angeles magazine. This state of affairs has made him sad and tired which is right in Tyler’s wheelhouse, acting-wise. While on one of his respectable assignments, he takes a picture of a lovely girl sniffing a rose and it goes viral. It is a very pretty picture of very pretty and sweet-faced Beth played by very pretty Rhiannon Fish. He is quite taken with her and coincidentally meets her at a dog park and they go out on a date. Or at least half a date, because he leaves right in the middle of it to take a picture of a celebrity shoplifter. He is partners with a girl who looks out for celebs doing embarrassing things and whenever she sees one, she calls Jake who hops on his motorcycle to get to the scene of the crime to take pictures of the unsuspecting famous person doing the bad thing. Why she just doesn’t whip her cell phone out, and keep all the money for herself I don’t know. Maybe her button-pressing finger is broken.

The next day, Beth and Jake meet up again and she takes him to have dinner with her Aunt Dody. Beth is just visiting her from her small seaside town where she is first mate on her dad’s fishing boat. I think that profession is a first for Hallmark. As soon as Aunt Dody and Jake are alone, Aunt Dody pounces on him and asks what his intentions are in a very aggressive and threatening manner. Sweet and vulnerable Beth has been lied to and hurt before and he better not break her heart or act dishonorably in any way. Oops. Too late. He has already lied to her that he is not “one of those fellows who hides in the bushes and takes pictures of famous people.” Plus, Jeez Aunt D. they’ve only been on half a date. Back off.

And that’s about it. Beth tries to find the mysterious photographer who invaded her privacy by taking her picture without permission, and gets an agent because now companies want to hire her to be in commercials. So she’s mad, but not really. They go on more dates but when Jake has the opportunity to come clean about the picture and his profession, he lies again. This guy. On Beth’s first commercial shoot, they put so much makeup on her that she gets scared and disgusted. (Too much makeup? On a Hallmark?) While running from the set, she meets Jake and finds out that he is the low-down sneak that took her picture! She is betrayed and heartbroken and goes back home to the fishing boat. Tyler is even sadder and tireder than he was before.

Even the news that Daniel Bacon, who usually plays small-town mayors in Hallmarkland, but in this one is the head of the weekly mag that he does occasional work for, wants to dedicate a whole issue to his arty photos doesn’t perk him up. His dream has come true, but he just blows him off to chase after Beth with that old book of his. That book thing is very mysterious. Earlier in the day he got a call from Aunt Dody because an unknown person sent her Jake’s book. She calls Jake because she thinks he did it. He didn’t and denies it. She decides that Jake’s a nice “boy” after all and asks him to personally deliver his book to Beth up in Washington for some reason. So he does, apologizes to Beth, and finds out that it was Beth herself who found a copy and sent it anonymously to Aunt Dody. Why? Don’t know. Anyway, she has it back again and they make it up and all is well in the romance department. Can’t say the same about the job department because Mayor Daniel is still waiting on his offer to rejuvenate Jake’s career as a respectable photographer at last. I hope he is patient because the happy couple is too busy riding off into the sunset on Jake’s motorcycle. This is one of those “Happy for Now” endings.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

A Winning Team

Winning is not the Only Thing, but it is Fun.

Kristoffer Polaha is one of my favorite Hallmark leading men, so I had high hopes for this one. It turned out to be so boring and by the book, that there is not a whole lot to talk about. Other than Kristopher Poloha’s presumably creative choice of a new hairstyle, that is. For this movie, his usual combed, parted,  and reliably swept back locks are hanging floppily and product-free over his forehead. It took some getting used to.

Emily is a star professional soccer player who has an anger management problem on the pitch. She is finally suspended from the team for yelling at a ref one time too many and goes home to spend her downtime with her widowed brother and her niece. She is very competitive and when she hobbles her niece’s laid-back soccer coach (Polaha) in a pick-up game, she is wrangled into coaching the team until he can get his ankle set. Naturally, after making a few adjustments over the protestations of the coach, they actually start to win games. This is a welcome change of fortune for the girls and their parents and Coach Ian, seeing their newfound joy in the game, is pretty much on board although they still clash over his play for the fun of it mentality and her play to win over everything approach. The story follows its preordained path with the opposites attract pair falling in like then love with trivia contests, two-legged races, and rope course adventures sprinkled in. Meanwhile, the soccer team’s winning ways continue and they are headed for the Championships.

 There is a bit of a subplot with Emily’s niece trying out for a part in a school play in addition to her love of playing soccer. Emily supports this as she is realizing, thanks to Coach’s more balanced approach to team play and also spending time with her family and other soccer-free activities,  that there is more to life than winning at sport.

Predictably, since her professional team can’t win without her she is unsuspended and summoned back to her team just in time for her to be torn between her new team’s championship final game or her professional career. Of course. All continues to go by the Hallmark playbook to the end, as it has throughout the movie.

Nadia Hatta as Emily Chen does a credible job of portraying the combative soccer star. You can feel her anger and hostility radiating out of her when her no-nonsense coach suspends her. That is softened a little too quickly once she is in the fold of her family. I would have liked to see a more gradual learning curve there. Once she is away from her professional team, she is quite nice despite her competitiveness. And more cute than scary in her tangles with coach Ian, her inevitable love interest. Polaha is as good as ever, and by the end, I must concede that his more sporty and casual hairstyle choice was probably for the best.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Unexpected Grace

Past is Prologue

When I read what this was about, I started watching it fully expecting to turn it off.  It is about a mother whose teenage daughter has passed away who befriends the daughter of a single widower. Before she died, Toni, the daughter,  released a balloon in the air with a short letter searching for a best friend. It is found by 13-year-old Grace two years later who was forced to move into their new town by her father because of his job. He didn’t consult her about the move, and she is resentful. Their relationship has suffered over and above normal teenager/parent friction. She is having trouble fitting in at school and making friends. When Grace follows the notes invitation to write back, I thought I saw where this might be going. I was on high alert and expecting to pull the plug as I did not want to get entangled in a maudlin grief fest and a mother trying to replace her dead child with a vulnerable live one.

Well, it didn’t go that way at all. The mother,  Noelle, does respond to Grace’s letter, but under her own name. It is true that she does not tell Grace that Toni has died nor that she is her mother but I felt it was out of empathy and sensitivity and that she did not want to hurt or discomfort Grace. She responds to Grace’s emails a couple of more times, but, realizing that this is heading down a dangerous road, tells Grace the truth about who she is and kindly tells her that there will be no more emails.  She thinks that is the end of it, But to Noelle’s consternation, Grace shows up at Noelle’s door still wanting to be friends with Toni.  Noelle still can’t bear to tell her right then that her daughter has passed away. But shortly thereafter, along with Grace’s dad, Jack (Michael Rady), who she has gotten to know and like thanks to a series of coincidences, does tell her the truth about Toni’s passing. This decision of not to prolong the misunderstanding flies in the face of how things usually go with  Hallmark stories. Grief is to be wallowed in, and open communication is to be avoided at all costs.  So instead of the plot getting stalled over a prolonged deception and lack of truth-telling, the plot explores other aspects of the characters’ progress toward peace and happiness. We follow Grace’s path towards success in school and making friends, Her father’s possible romantic entanglement with a neighbor, Jack and Grace’s continuing frustrations with each other and how they resolve them, and Noelle coming to terms with her imminent divorce.  And of course Noelle and Jack possibly making a romantic connection. There is another crisis later in the story where it looks like Grace and Michael may have to move away again, negating the progress toward healing that, together, all three of the main characters have made. How it is all resolved brings all of the threads together in a touching way.  It hints that it was more than just coincidences that brought these three together for their own good and the good of the community. Perhaps a little celestial magic and angelic guiding hands were at play as well. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” There is a lot of Shakespeare in this as well.

All of the actors did a wonderful job, but special kudos go to  Erica Tremblay, a serious young actress who has appeared in several other Hallmark movies. I’ve always liked Michael Rady. Erica Durance not so much, but she is a good actress.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Game of Love

Let the Games Begin

I think so highly of Kimberley Sustad that I’m not sure whether I liked the non-Kimberley Sustad parts or not. I suspect if her character had been played by anyone else, I would have absolutely hated her. As it was although she was very flawed with many issues to tackle,  Sustad managed to make her sympathetic and likable enough that I could put up with her with patience until she started to see light. If only how she managed that could be formulated, bottled, and distributed to her colleagues.

Audrey is a quest and adventure game designer. She is a loner in her personal life-her only friends are an older woman whom she plays board games with at a cafe, and an unseen person that she plays a word game with that is not Words with Friends, but she does “chat” quite a bit with him (or her). Of course, she is not interested in romantic love and dating is a big no-no. If she were a guy, she would be living in her mother’s basement. Right off the bat, she has to be shamed into going on a blind date she had already agreed to arranged by her only friend. She shows up to the elite restaurant in a hoodie and jeans. She has the grace to be embarrassed when her date is a real hottie and smartly dressed. They get thrown out because there’s a dress code. Her date calls her out on her rudeness and arrogance and leaves. Her behavior did not endear her to me either. But you know, Kimberley Sustad.  In her professional life, she is known as “Not a Team Player.” She works on her own and doesn’t want help or input from her fellow employees. She wears headphones all the time to keep people away. Nice little detail. When eagerly approached by Patti, a hero-worshiping new employee, adorably played by Christin Park, as yet uncredited on IMDb, she is politely dismissed. Actually, how Audrey treats her is very rude and unkind, but Kimberley plays it so you don’t hate her.

Needless to say, because PLOT, Audrey’s world is about to be rocked. Her boss tasks her to work with a marketing consultant (Matthew, played by Brooks Darnell) to develop a game that will finally win a coveted award and the deadline is only a month away. It will be called “Love Life” and is based on the search for love (Uh-Oh!). Audrey is horrified but she has no choice. Kimberley needs a strong co-lead to keep up with her, and Brooks Darnell fills the bill nicely. Matthew has the opposite problem from Audrey in that he is anxious to fit in and be accepted by everyone. Everything he does is “on trend.” Meanwhile, he has lost his true self.

Audrey does a terrible job developing a game about something she has no use for and finally realizes, thanks to Matthew, that she needs help from others. With the help of her newly formed team, including adorable sweet Patti, they start to make great strides. Both Matthew and Audrey learn about each other and start to like each other. We learn why they are the way they are and they help each other become better. Audrey learns how to play well with others and also starts to get close to Matthew. Matthew starts to shed the need to pretend to be something he is not. He takes down the trendy anonymous abstract painting in his stark apartment and replaces it with his own original photographic art. Symbolism! This from his former profession that he had been pressured to give up as too quixotic and unprofitable. Their learning curve which involves a lot of game stuff takes up the bulk of the movie, and got a little long.

This movie did not escape the usual “big crisis with only 18 minutes to go” syndrome. Kimberly backslides into her old ways which was stupid and didn’t make sense, but it was brief. Had to be because only 5 minutes to go by this time. Anyway, the Hallmark Happy ending followed apace with love, happiness, and professional success for all. Oh. And guess who her Not-Words-with-Friends chat buddy turned out to be? Yup.

The backdrop of game development was pretty interesting and unusual, the script had some nice details, the set decoration and graphics were on point, and the romance was serviceable. The acting and character development were its strength. There was not a lot of humor, except stemming from Sustad’s delivery, warmth, and authenticity.  It was good but not outstanding. All in all, I give it a 7 1/2 on my special Hallmark scale.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

The Secret Bridesmaid

By Katy Birchall

What?” I laugh, as though his throwaway comment is not affecting me to the core. “I don’t just watch rom-coms. I like lots of films.” “Only the ones when you know there’s a happy ending,” he notes, taking a sip of his drink. “Any hint that things might not turn out as they should and you’d scarper.” He sees my expression and grins. “It’s not a bad thing!”

“Always doing the right thing. Never breaking any rules. Playing it safe.” She narrows her eyes at me. “Something tells me you’re afraid.” … Suddenly Daniel flashes into my brain, his stinging comments about my love of happy endings and lack of brazenness to pull off red hair echoing in my mind. Ugh. “You’re afraid to get out there and take chances.” She sighs, tilting her head at me sympathetically as she twists the knife in further. “So you hide behind your brides, no eyes on you.” “That’s not true,” I protest, glaring at her. It’s a bit true, though. Isn’t it? 

This was an engaging funny 4-star read right out of the gate (or should I say, from the first step down the aisle?) At one point I thought it just might be a 5-star chick-lit comedy but when something inevitable happened, it did not happen in the way I wanted it to, so it stayed a 4-star.

Sophy has carved out a successful career as a professional bridesmaid. This is like a wedding planner, but she acts more as a buddy and “girl Friday” to the bride. She is a confidant, go-fer, advisor, and troubleshooter. Her professional identity is a secret to everyone except the bride. She’s just a friend with a cover story of why no one else in the wedding party has ever heard of her before. Her goal is the happiness and satisfaction of the brides under her care, and Sophie is a master at it. It’s not only what she does but who she is.

When a satisfied client refers Sophie’s services to the mother of the bride of one of the first families in England to help her daughter with what is destined to be the wedding of the year, Sophie knows that much is riding on the success of the Bride-to-be’s big day and her experience leading up to it. Unfortunately, the bride, Cordelia, is a very difficult person at the best of times and does not want Sophie’s help. Just to give you an idea, Sophie is the only bridesmaid because Cordelia does not have any friends. With good reason. Her goal is to make Sophie’s life so difficult with outrageous demands that Sophie quits.

It is a great setup for comedy, family drama, relationship development, suspense, and romance. It mostly lives up to the promise. We learn that Cordelia is beloved and respected by some surprising people in her orbit, including the groom, despite her well-earned nasty reputation and nasty behavior toward Sophy. How can this be? So that’s intriguing. Another reason I enjoyed this book so much was Sophy. She is so funny and nice. And she is so good at her job, that despite some reprehensible behavior and tricks on the part of Cordelia, she just refuses to quit trying to make her happy. Of course, Sophy has some growing to do as well. She is too nice. She is too eager to please and be accepted by Cordelia. As Cordelia herself points out, she is a “goody-goody.” She finally is driven to the end of her rope and decides to give up. Something the reader wonders why she didn’t do 120 pages earlier. Her mother convinces her not to quit and reminds her why she is so good at what she does. When she takes her mother’s advice on how to turn things around it is a turning point. And could it be possible that Cordelia may have had an ulterior motive for putting Sophie through fresh hell? Sophie’s best friend Cara points out, “I hate to say it, but this Miranda Priestly bride of yours isn’t a complete idiot. She may have gone about it in a weird way,” she says, taking a sip of wine, “but she pushed you right into your spotlight, whether you wanted it or not.” She finally wins Cordelia over, but we know, this being the kind of book it is that disaster awaits before the happy ending is achieved. How all was made well and smoothed over was why this wasn’t a 5-star read for me. **Big Spoiler**

A scandalous secret that Cordelia shared with Sophie in confidence finds its way to the British press the next day. The family somewhat understandably thinks Sophie is to blame. But they persist in blaming her despite her assurances of innocence. They know she has proven to be a person of honor and has been unfailingly loyal and supportive in the face of extreme challenges. They know what a great person she is. They know what a “goody-goody” she is. And she has no motive. Their faith is only restored when the guilty party confesses (thanks to Sophie.) Ironically, the guilty party is someone that was discounted and forgotten about, which only serves to bolster British upper-class stereotypes. Cordelia was supposed to be different. So that, along with Sophie jumping at the chance to too eagerly resume her bridesmaid duties after their apology further weakened the book for me. **end spoiler**

 If this would have been handled more thoughtfully and less patly it could have reflected some real growth on the part of both Cordelia and Sophie. It was an entertaining and engaging book in many ways and I would recommend this book to any and all chick-lit readers who don’t need a romance front and center taking up most of the book. Rest assured, Sophie does find romantic love, but she is much too busy with Cordelia (and her other weddings) to give it too much of her time. It was so close to being a 5-star read, it is frustrating.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Love Club: Nicole’s Pen Pal

It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie

As of this writing, this same movie is on IMDb two times with different titles, different ratings, and different reviews.  Both iterations have the release date as March 4, 2023, but one has 9 reviews dating back to February 10. And that right there is the most interesting thing about this movie.  Will this ever get corrected? I’m betting no. They still have two Cindy Busby movies, Heart of Down Under mixed up with Follow me to Daisy Hills mixed up with Love on the Menu and it’s been 3 years. This one, titled The Love Club: Nicola’s Pen Pal or just  Nicola’s Pen Pal or just The Love Club (episode 1) is the first of a 4 part series. Each episode is a stand-alone and features one of the 4 women in the club. The Wedding Veil double trilogy seems to have been the inspiration for this concept. It is a good concept and a pretty clever strategy to theoretically increase the ratings of all 4 movies. Once people start on a set of something, it is human nature to try to finish it. Unfortunately, this was not good. Any romance based on lying and cheating is just not good. Do not recommend. Nope. FGI (For Get It).

On New Year’s Eve, 10 years ago, Nicola is stood up by her anonymous male pen pal she has grown close to through their correspondence. His support and compassion saw her through a difficult period. At that New Year’s Eve party, she meets 3 other women who are also dealing with romantic disappointment. They form The Love Club and agree to help each other through romantic problems and crises. Despite her recent engagement, she has never been able to forget her connection with “J.” When her unsuspecting fiance leaves for a business trip, she finds her old letters and decides she must find “J.” to see if he is “the one” instead of her fiance. With the help of her 3 friends, she narrows the field down to 2 possibilities. Instead of going  to see him and just explaining the situation and asking whether he could be her pen pal of long ago, she conceives this elaborate plot to impersonate the interior designer he has hired for his Bed and Breakfast to covertly figure out if he is J and see if they still have a “connection.” (despite the fact that he stood her up all those years ago and they haven’t been in contact since.) Believe it or not, it just gets even more silly and stupid from there. I won’t belabor all of the boring ridiculousness-es that follow. But for one, it turns out that Josh (J.) is her pen pal, but he did not write the letters because he had dyslexia at the time. He confesses this after they start to fall in love so she is all angry, betrayed, and self-righteous. Keep in mind that she hasn’t told him she is engaged to be married and has been and still is impersonating a professional colleague behind his back. It is not until the end that it comes out that even though he didn’t put pen to paper, he actually dictated his thoughts to a guy who essentially wrote them out for him. So after all of the drama, shenanigans, and resulting stupid rabbit holes (and more lies) which I won’t even go into, he actually, for all intents and purposes, although a cheater, was her pen pal after all. Why didn’t he just say that at the beginning? Dyslexia of the vocal cords? So I guess he was kind of lying about lying? she surely wouldn’t have had a problem with him being a cheater in his class. With her being a cheater too and all.

All of this hot mess, which includes a very uncomfortable and creepy massage scene, is acted with the energy of a deflated wet balloon. The two leads are Hallmark veterans Marcus Rosner and Brittany Bristow. Marcus does the best he can and isn’t too bad. But Brittany acts her role as if she is under some kind of duress or a spell of some kind. The other three in the series have already been made and are showing somewhere mysterious. Possibly Canada? But I won’t be seeking them out.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Made for Each Other

Careful What you Wish For…

When I saw this starred  Matt Cohen, I was prepared to love this, and it didn’t let me down. I loved him in Holiday Date, and his funny delivery and endearing demeanor were on target in this one as well.

Rachel, played by lovely new-to-Hallmark, Alexandra Turshen, is a sculptor and art teacher who is content in her life but has always wanted to be an artist, rather than just a teacher. She also would not be adverse to a serious boyfriend, but she is very very picky. “Her ideal man is a complete fantasy. If you’re human you don’t stand a chance.” Too picky for her obnoxious almost bullying mother who wants nothing more than for Rachel to get married and have babies. Veteran Hallmark actress Teryl Rothery as the mother has never been so unpleasant and unlikeable. God, she was terrible. Teryl overplays it a bit. Thank goodness, Rachel has a backbone, does stand up to her, and refuses to be manipulated into dates with men her mother relentlessly arranges for her. One evening, Rachel and her best friend, played by Illeana Douglas, are in her studio and Rachel shows her her life-sized sculpture of “her perfect man” who is “ Kind, smart, loyal, dedicated, and someone I can bring home to my Mother. He’s a hopeless romantic, we are always on the same page, No conflicts, A best friend.” Illeana tells her the Jewish legend of the Golem, and with the help of an ancient amulet, Rachel’s “perfect man” comes to life the next morning. Meanwhile, we have met David Cohen, Rachel’s soon-to-be brother-in-law’s best friend. We know right away that he is the one. Although he is a lawyer, he is following his dream of being a professional stand-up comedian. Besides being very attractive in a slightly unconventional way, he is funny and smart. He seems to like Rachel, but kind of sees through her tough exterior as well. Another point in his favor is that Rachel’s mother does not like or approve of him.

Rachel and “Clay,” the statue come to life as her perfect boyfriend, become an item. Funny scenes ensue, including the introduction to her mother, his love of eating all the time (he turns out to be a wonderful cook), and generally just being a fish out of water. He becomes a model because he has a perfect body thanks to Rachel’s skill as a sculptor. The humor flows naturally from the fact that he really is perfect. He is smart and kind, loyal and dedicated. He loves Rachel, is a hopeless romantic, and is even a good kisser. Rachel is enamored. At first.  Rachel also gets to know David, who has well and truly fallen for her (those longing looks!)  but believes he does not have a chance against her perfect boyfriend.  Even he cannot help but like the guy! But she likes David. “He is blunt, sarcastic, and doesn’t care if he annoys me. He is the opposite of Clay, but I like talking to him. He makes me laugh.”

 It all comes to head as Rachel is trying to get up the courage to enter a prestigious art contest. She confides that she is afraid to risk rejection. Clay tells her not to do it because he doesn’t want her to be sad if she doesn’t get in. “If it makes you feel bad, it must be wrong.” David challenges her to follow her dream despite the risk, just as he is doing in his own life. At last, Rachel realizes that a partner that always agrees with her, likes everything she likes (or pretends to,) and will never challenge her, is not what she wants.

When Rachel wins the Art Contest, Clay cluelessly steps up to propose in the middle of her big moment thank-you speech. It is a funny and chaotic scene with friends and family either thrilled or incredulous. In the confusion, David, who was supposed to be across town having his big break, runs up with a half-dead bouquet of flowers and confesses that he is in love with her. “This is the most exciting exhibit we’ve ever had!” says the museum director.   A flower breaks off (symbolically) and Rachel has found her happy ending with the perfectly imperfect guy. Clay is gracious in defeat. David remarks, “he’s even perfect when she’s breaking up with him!” The highest compliment I can give this Hallmark is that it does not have a lot in common with a typical Hallmark except for familiar faces and a happy ending. Very satisfying wrap-up as well.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.