Highs and Lows of Christmas Movies 2018

The new year is here and I am taking down my Christmas décor. It has been quite the season with me covering every new Christmas movie in 2018 whether on television or feature film. All together I watched 85 new films over Christmas:

Here are some of my takeaways from the season:

Highs-

    1. Whimsy for the Win- whether on Hallmark, Lifetime or Netflix, movies with a little bit of magic and whimsy won me over. I really enjoyed Shoe Addict’s Christmas where Candace Cameron Bure learns the risks she could have taken in her life from the amazing Jean Smart and how she should take more leaps of faith in the future.
      Christmas Perfection on Lifetime was in deed perfection with its story of a girl who gets to live her perfect Irish Christmas over and over again including having her friends and family act just the way she wishes they would. Naturally, it isn’t too long before she realizes the perfect Christmas isn’t so perfect after all. It was funny, sweet and had something to say. Other whimsy that worked for me A Very Nutty Christmas, Christmas Chronicles, A Christmas Switch, The Truth About Christmas and believe it or not Santa Jaws.
    2. Ensembles are the Best- most of my favorite movies of 2018 Christmas were less 2 people romances and more ensemble pieces about an entire town or family celebrating Christmas. I loved Road to Christmas with its funny script and likable performances, Christmas Pen Pals was amazing telling multiple love stories all through the medium of writing love letters, Last Vermont Christmas told the story of a family and I related to it strongly (they even have a cooking competition which my siblings did and the 3 sisters could have been me and my sisters).
      Christmas on Holly Lane was a bit more grim and realistic but its strong cast and multiple storylines made me wish it was a pilot to a series not just a movie. The When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Christmas Blessing was a return to form after a rough season 5 and one of the best episodes the series has done.
      Hometown Holiday did a good job telling multiple love stories, had a snow room and a really well executed near kiss (no more O Holy Night in these movies! It’s a really hard song!). I also loved Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa which told multiple stories of a town. Some were silly fun and a few like the lead and his rocky relationship with his Dad were surprisingly touching. Finally, Anna and the Apocalypse combined zombies, musicals and Christmas with a strong ensemble to create a delightful feature film.
    3. Hit the Formula Well- some movies this season worked for me almost in spite of themselves. The charismatic actors and bubbly touches won me over to admittedly tired premises. The Christmas Contract had a fresh non-Winter setting and 2 leads bubbling with chemistry in the fake fiancé Christmas trope. A Majestic Christmas didn’t villainize either character for working hard, had great chemistry and a dancing scene that I loved. Christmas Bells are Ringing made me actually like a Hallmark wedding and Christmas Joy was just bonkers enough to be fun.
      A Godwink Christmas and Once Upon a Christmas Miracle were both based on true stories and were very sweet with excellent casts. It’s Christmas Eve actually went a little meta with the script commenting on romcom clichés and it worked for me. I also enjoyed Every Day is Christmas‘s take on A Christmas Carol with the focus being on the Scrooge character not being obsessed with money, but failing to overcome her grief at the loss of her parents being a clever take.
      No Sleep Til Christmas took a wacky concept of insomniacs ‘sleeping’ together and worked it into a classic romcom mold and it was charming. Mr 365 is a fun one if you like something a little bit steamier and Country Christmas Album did the fading singers making an album together story well. I also liked Christmas at Grand Valley, Mingle All the Way, The Princess Switch, Christmas Lost and Found and Small Town Christmas mostly because of the cast and some swoonworthy moments (I loved the date in Grand Valley!).

LOWS

There were definitely some lows in the season so let’s talk about those

    1. Grown-up in the Wrong Ways- Some of the worst of the season were films that in trying to be edgy missed the mark. The biggest offender was Life Size 2 which solution to making the original Disney Channel property grown up was talk about sex a lot. I also hated Christmas Manger who seemed to believe a faith-based message means a lot of anger, abuse and misery (watch Angela’s Christmas instead for a good faith-based film).
      A lot of people loved Every Other Holiday but I’m not one of them. I thought all of the characters were extremely selfish, and I had zero faith the renewed relationship would be a happy one at the end. Shoelaces for Christmas was tough to get through with one of the most selfish, obnoxious teenage protagonists I’ve seen in a while. I also did not like Homegrown Christmas with Lori Loughlin’s sister acting like a jerk and Victor Webster’s leading man having a grudge that was unreasonable. A Wedding for Christmas had my least favorite TV movie trope- the mean-spirited wedding planner/bridezilla, and big surprise- I did not like it!Finally Christmas Everlasting had so much good but was hurt by a quilting guild of women that had a token black friend and when she dies they replace her with her sister immediately! They were the worst!
    2. Yawn, Did I Just Watch a Movie- I mentioned movies where the formula was executed well. Sadly there were a bunch where it did not work for me. My least favorite from Hallmark was Return to Christmas Creek where the family drama was contrived and grating (as was the reconciliation) and the movie judged a perfectly reasonable Christmas as being not good enough. Let people celebrate however they want!I also thought Poinsettias for Christmas, Santa’s Boots, Christmas at the Palace, Entertaining Christmas, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, Memories of Christmas, Christmas Around the Corner, Christmas Wonderland, Christmas with a Prince, Christmas at Honeysuckle Lane, Jingle Belle, Hope at Christmas, A Christmas in Royal Fashion, Welcome to Christmas, Christmas in Tennessee all failed to make any kind of impact on me. Either chemistry wasn’t there or the script didn’t work, and I will quickly forget they even existed.
    3. Jane Austen Failure- both of the attempts to brand films with Pride and Prejudice failed on Hallmark channel. Christmas at Pemberley Manor was the better of the two but it had almost nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice except for having the same character names. Pride Prejudice and Mistletoe was based on a separate novel, which I did not like, and the script was about 2 people planning a party, which I do not recall being an element of Pride and Prejudice LOL. Neither of these movies had anything to do with Pride and Prejudice so it was distracting to be constantly looking for those elements.
    4. Medium Movies- there were also a bunch of movies that were passable entertainment (better than the yawns) but nothing to write home about. Those include The Grinch, Holiday Calendar, My Christmas Inn, A Veteran’s Christmas (too cheesy for me but nice elements), Christmas at Graceland, Time for me to Come home for Christmas, Northern Lights of Christmas, Jingle Around the Clock (they tried so hard on this one but too much boardroom talk), Christmas on the Coast, Christmas in Love, A Gingerbread Romance, Hometown Christmas, A Twist of Christmas, A Midnight Kiss and The Christmas Pact. All of these got around 3/5 from me.

If I was going to give advice to Hallmark I’d say maybe not every movie has to be a person coming to the country and realizing her city life is awful? How about taking some risks like with Reunited at Christmas which was flawed but about a woman scared of marriage and wanting to live together with her boyfriend indefinitely. That’s a new topic for Hallmark!

I would also encourage all the studios to keep working on diversity. I appreciated Hallmark having POC leads for the first time. It perhaps wasn’t perfectly executed but it was a step in the right direction. Also I liked TVOne’s offerings especially Coins for Christmas with the delightful Essence Atkins.

Finally, there were some misses that were ambitious misses. In particular Nutcracker and the 4 Realms and A Snow White Christmas. Keep trying to think outside the box!

So there you have it. My report card of Christmas movies 2018. What were some of your favorites of this year at Christmas? I’d say it was a mixed year. A lot I enjoyed. A lot of meh but almost nothing that I absolutely hated like Engaging Father Christmas and The Perfect Christmas Present last year. Even Return to Christmas Creek was watchable. It was just its judgy tone that irritated me but it had cute moments.

From here we go on to Winterfest!

Christmas RS Lesson

Today I had a wonderful experience. I got to teach Relief Society (Women’s organization at church) for the first time in a long time. I had the choice of any talk from General Conference and I decided on one called Try Try Try by President Eyring. Here is the talk if you would like to read it (I think it would be encouraging to those of any faith).

The main thrust of the talk is about overcoming hard times and never giving up hope. Naturally it being Christmas time I decided to relate the talk to this time of year. I created a powerpoint to walk through the lesson, which I don’t always do but it just felt like the right approach this time.

try try try

Then I created slides of important quotes from the talk and questions to ask the class:

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Then just for fun I added in some famous quotes from Christmas movies.

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I was a little nervous going into it because technology can go very wrong and I am a bit rusty teaching (I was a Sunday school teacher for over 5 years in my late 20s so I was basically a pro!). The RS presidency went above and beyond to help me and were amazing and several of my friends came to listen to my lesson, which was very sweet.

To my relief it all went very well. Everyone made great comments and we had an uplifting discussion. I feel very inspired!

Here is the full powerpoint as a video. Feel free to use it as a family home evening lesson or anything else that might be helpful for you and let me know how it goes.

Merry Christmas!

 

Rachel’s Holiday Update 1

 

It’s 3:20am and I should be sleeping but alas I am just not tired so I figured I might as well update my blog. I should have updated it sooner but I have been in over my head with podcasting. Today I literally watched my 50th Christmas movie, both Hallmark and other networks and amazingly enough I am still on board for more holiday films! The Hallmarkies Podcast has been doing great this year with us making the top 120 TV and Film Podcasts on Itunes and getting over 16k listens in the month of November! Wow! I am still blown away by all of that. It has been an insane amount of work but I am so proud of what we have built.

We have a new merch store for the first time which is so much fun! You can get all kinds of holiday and Hallmark inspired gear:

https://www.teepublic.com/user/hallmarkies

I’ve managed to have a little bit of fun doing other things for the holidays including setting up my traditional holiday decor. Each year I have a memory tree that is full of ornaments that symbolize different parts of my life:

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My memory ornament to symbolize this year is all about podcasting and I found this adorable headphones ornament! I was so excited!

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I also fulfilled my dream of getting a white tree (4 ft) for my office. I love it!

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I also have already kind of celebrated Christmas. My brother and 2 nieces came into town for a weekend and so they came to my house and we had a baked potato bar, exchanged gifts and had a great time!

It was a really great time to be together and celebrate Christmas. My parents are going to be gone for most of this month so I’m planning on just working on my podcasts as much as I can and do a few fun things (Thursday I am going to see Christmas Carol at Hale Theater).

The one crazy thing about the podcast is there is always more work to do. There are people to contact for interviews, movies to watch, notes to prepare, the list goes on and on. Never a dull moment! I want to be ready to reach out to sponsorships in the new year and maybe develop a patreon account but I want it to be done right and not just thrown together. I’m very excited to see what the New Year has in store for our podcast and to have survived Countdown to Christmas 2018.

Also we have 2 hour church coming in January which I am over the moon excited about! Yay!

How have you guys been? I hope the beginning of your holiday season has been going great!

 

Fun Recent Activities in Utah

It’s no secret that I spend a lot of my life cooped up in doors. Sometimes people will say the weather has been bad but I don’t really know because I’ve been inside all day! So lately for my sanity I’ve been trying to get out and go to more activities- particularly plays and concerts and I thought I would give you a round up of what I’ve seen. Let me know if you’ve seen any of these and what you thought.

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First cool experience is I got to go to the Utah Symphony to hear a concert called An American in Paris which was half Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and half Schubert’s Symphony No 7 in C Major. I preferred the Gershwin but as Utah has one of the best symphonies in the country it was a great experience.

Next, if you’ve been following my blog you probably know my favorite book is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Well, after 13 years he has a new book called Bridge of Clay which I am dying to read. He came to Salt Lake for a lecture and book signing and it was really neat. He autographed my book and I was able to tell him how much his writing meant to me. So cool!

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Then I tried out a new theater in Provo called The Hive.  They were putting on a new original play called The Bookbinders Tale, which I had heard great things about. Unfortunately I found it to be a bit hipstery for me. I think it felt it was being more groundbreaking in its themes and messages than it really was. Still, I like what they are trying to do with the theater and would definitely give them another chance.

Anyone who has been following my blog knows how much I adore Josh Groban. One of the coolest experiences of my life was in 2007 when my friend Camille got bumped from the nosebleeds to down right by the stage! I also love Idina Menzel and have seen her in concert. So I was thrilled to see they were touring together and snatched up a seat (a terrible seat but I was sitting by nice people so it was fun). They did an amazing job and sung all the songs I wanted them to. My only qualm was that the big screen was broken so we could barely see them (the photo of them is from the Deseret News). But other than that a fantastic concert!

I also had the chance to make a new friend named Ashley who is a member of a theater group I follow on facebook. Always good to go out of your comfort zone and meet someone new. 🙂

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As I was driving around in my hometown of Draper I noticed a sign for ‘A Night of Broadway’ by the Draper Philharmonic and Choral Society and decided to give it a try. To my delight it was such a great experience! Everything was so well done with so many different shows covered by talented singers and dancers. There were a few minor hiccups with microphones but other than that it was amazing and I hope to go to many more of their concerts

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I was very excited to see Hale Center Theaters latest version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I had seen it there once before years ago (at the old Hale of course) and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately this time I left with mixed feelings. It was fun and I enjoyed seeing it with my family I thought some of the casting was a little off (not great chemistry) and the show isn’t very memorable. I couldn’t tell you a single song. Also it doesn’t use the Sink Me and iconic poem very well. The production of the play was very good and great costumes.

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Next I was able to see 3 shows at Hale Center Theater Orem. 2 of them were at a double header of sorts. First I saw The Velveteen Rabbit, which is a play for children written by my former teacher Dave Smith. It was a very sweet little play for kids. Next I saw Anything Goes which is a bright and bubbly play full of Cole Porter songs. Naturally I loved it!

But the greatest surprise was seeing Daddy Long Legs which is a 2 person show based on the classic book (which I’m not high on and I like the movie even less). I went into it with low expectations but I wanted to support Dave and I ended up being delighted. The songs are great! It’s very romantic and I was amazed how they could learn so many lines! Very impressive!

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Finally I went to another ‘Night of Broadway’ this time at the Scera theater in Orem. It was full of talent and they mixed in the standards with some more obscure picks. It was great. My only complaint is the seats in that theater are so small I could barely sit through it and you can’t move the seat arm rest up making it quite uncomfortable. Oh well

So there you have it! It’s been a pretty fun Fall for checking out the arts. There are so many great things to see and do that it can be quite overwhelming. I’m grateful to live in such a artistic and talented place.

What have you been doing lately? Been to any plays or concerts? Any recommendations? Let me know! Thanks!

2018 Holiday Movie Survival Guide

“Wait a minute…” I can hear you saying upon reading the title of this blog “Halloween hasn’t even arrived and Rachel is already talking about Christmas movies?” Well my friends, in my world Christmas has officially arrived with the start of Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas season. It all begins this Saturday, October 27th, with the premiere of Christmas at Pemberley Manor.

Christmas at Pemberley Manor Final Photo Assets

 

Last year I gave you a ‘Hallmark Christmas Survival Guide‘ and all of those guidelines hold true for this year, but I thought I would add to it for 2018 and broaden the scope to more than just Hallmark Channel. So, here goes your 2018 Holiday Movie Survival Guide:

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  1. Get Ready to Sing– Naturally singing usually goes along with Christmas but this year in particular we are seeing it showcased all over the place. Hallmark has 2 country music star vehicles with Christmas at Graceland (Kellie Pickler) and It’s Christmas, Eve (Leann Rimes). They also have films with singing in it such as the before mentioned Pemberley Manor, and likely in Christmas at Honeysuckle Lane, Christmas Wonderland, Midnight Kiss and more. There is also Time to Come Home for Christmas which is based on a Blake Shelton song and a book written by his mother, so I expect some original songs there.Other channels are getting in the game with Lifetime’s Christmas Harmony, Hometown Christmas and Jingle Belle, Up Network’s Hometown Holiday and Netflix’s  The Princess Switch.
    In the world of feature films get ready for the Christmas zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse!

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  2. Vermont is Holiday Magic Land- Hallmark has long had a love of the little state (movies such as Falling for Vermont and Moonlight in Vermont) but this year it is particularly the place of all Christmas magic.
    We have Last Vermont Christmas, Road to Christmas, Entertaining Christmas, and many others that appear to be set in Vermont but we don’t know yet from the preview
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  3. Royal is Romantic- With 2018 having 2 British royal weddings it shouldn’t be a surprise that many royal movies have crept their way into this season. Netflix alone is giving us 2 with The Princess Switch and A Christmas Prince: the Royal Wedding (a sequel to last year’s surprise hit A Christmas Prince). Up Network has Christmas with a Prince. Hallmark Channel has their 6th royal movie this year with Christmas at the Palace.pandp mistletoe
  4. Bring on the Classic Literature- this year we have a number of films based on classic literature. Naturally we have takes on A Christmas Carol with Every Day is Christmas from Lifetime and mildly A Shoe Addict’s Christmas (also based on the novel). In addition, we have 2 movies based on Pride and Prejudice with the before mentioned Pemberley Manor and Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe starring Lacey Chabert and Brendan Penny.
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  5. TV Reunions- another trend this year is bringing back cast-members from popular shows for Christmas movies. One Tree Hill alums Hilarie Burton and Robert Buckley are in The Christmas Contract on Lifetime. (Also from OTH is Bethany Joy Lenz in Poinsettias for Christmas on Lifetime). Also on Lifetime we have a Cosby Show reunion with Tempsett Bledsoe  and Keisha Knight Pulliam in Jingle Belle. (Also from Cosby Show is Dondre Whitfield in Christmas Everlasting on Hallmark who played a memorable role as Vanessa’s smug boyfriend Robert for multiple episodes).
    Finally, you won’t want to miss a Wonder Years reunion with Danica McKellar and Dan Lauria reteaming for Christmas at Grand Valley.christmas everlasting
  6. Diversity- What’s this? Non-white people celebrate Christmas? This is very exciting. We have POC leads on 6 Hallmark movies with Christmas Everlasting (the Hall of Fame film), A Majestic Christmas, Memories of Christmas, A Gingerbread Romance, Christmas Made to Order and Midnight Kiss.
    On Lifetime we have My Christmas Inn, The Christmas Pact, Jingle Belle, Every Day is Christmas, A Twist of Christmas and Christmas Lost and Found. Also on Netflix is the adorable looking The Holiday Calendar starring Kat Graham.
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  7. Christmas Magic Everywhere but Hallmark- with 37 new premieres you’d think we would be seeing lot of St Nick and his elves on Hallmark but alas it is not to be. The only potential Christmas Magic (outside of God magic with A Godwinks Christmas) is possibly Northern Lights of Christmas which is about a woman who inherits a reindeer farm and Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa (although it may be just letters no actual Santa sighting). There is a magical guardian angel in Shoe Addicts Christmas but no Santa.
    Fortunately the other channels are coming through in droves. On Lifetime we have Santa’s Boots, Christmas Perfection, and the epic A Very Nutty Christmas about a nutcracker that comes to life! Also A Christmas in Tennessee teases a visitor with a ” well-known sweet tooth for cookies and milk”
    On Netflix we have The Holiday Calendar and The Christmas Chronicles with Kurt Russell playing Santa.
    You won’t want to miss The Truth About Christmas on Freeform about a woman who is cursed to not be able to lie after sitting on Santa’s lap. And on Up Network we have A Christmas Switch about 2 Moms that switch places magically for Christmas.
    And we may actually get a good feature film of The Nutcracker with Disney’s Nutcracker and the 4 Realms.
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  8. Technology is the Thief of Love- this isn’t necessarily a new theme but I noticed in a lot of the descriptions mentions of apps or websites mucking things up for our heroines. The biggest example is Mingle All the Way about an app designer who tries to match businessmen and women together with her app but ends up matching much more. Return to Christmas Creek and It’s Christmas Eve also feature app/website designers.  And on Lifetime we have Christmas Pen Pals about an app that connects lovelorn with pen pals.

So there you have it! Christmas season is upon us, and I can’t wait! Make sure you are following The Hallmarkies Podcast as we cover all these films in one way or another. We have interviews and guests lined up and it is going to be amazing!

Recent Festive Hallmark Reading

Good morning friends! It may be only October but my life is already in full holiday mode with Countdown to Christmas starting this Saturday! The Hallmarkies podcast is planning on covering every film (and some from other networks) and that is no easy task with 37 films from Hallmark alone!

Part of getting ready for the season includes reading the many books that the Hallmark films are based on. I still have a few left to finish (most I am listening to as I work) but I thought I would update you on my thoughts on the various festive novels

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The Nine Lives of Christmas by Sheila Roberts

This is the novel that a classic Hallmark film of the same name is based on and honestly I prefer the movie. The lead in the novel is a little too dumb for my liking (Kimberley Sustad is so fun in the movie). This is harmless and a little steamier than movie but nothing too crazy

2.5 crowns

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The Godwink Effect by Squire Rushnell and Louis DuArt

If you enjoy inspirational stories like the Chicken Soup for the Soul books then you will enjoy this book. It’s about little coincidences which to the authors are proof of God’s investment in our lives. In Mormon world we might call them tender mercies of the spirit. They are making a movie off of one story from the book featuring Kimberley Sustad and Paul Campbell who we love (and are going to appear in a combined interview later on our podcast).

3 crowns

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The Christmas Company by Alys Murray

This book actually comes from Hallmark Publishing and we had the chance to interview Alys (who was a delight). For a Christmas Carol nut like myself this was a lot of fun. It’s about a town that recreates Christmas Carol each year when the company man wants to stop it. The girl who is obsessed with the tradition and big business conflict and opposites might just attract. It’s really cute

4 crowns

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Hope at Christmas by Nancy Naigle

Normally I’m a sucker for books about readers but this didn’t do much for me. It’s about a woman with single Mom and her daughter who become friends with a local bookstore owner and a local teacher. Ryan Paevey will need to bring tons of charm to this one as our hunky teacher because it was just flat

2.25 crowns (Nancy has another book Christmas Joy on this season but I haven’t read it yet because not available on audiobook)

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The Trouble with Christmas by Debbie Mason

This book actually started out really strong. I liked the snarkiness of the lead character and it was kind of novel to have her be the bad guy for refusing to bring the usually evil business to the small town of Christmas. However, the more in love she got the more bland it got (and steamy to be warned!). It ended up just being a fine romance novel if you like that kind of thing. Eric Mabius should be fun playing the sheriff in the Hallmark version.

2.8 crowns

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Time for Me to Come Home by Dorothy Shackleford

Please ignore the snore-worthy title this actually wasn’t half bad. It is based on a song by Blake Shelton and written by his Mother. It is basically a road trip book with a cynical country music star and a sarcastic young lady burned out on love find they have more in common than they thought. LOL. This one is pretty clean and short so not a bad little read. Megan Park is an appealing actress so hopefully it will be a fun little movie

3.25 crowns

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Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa De La Cruz

This honestly was disappointing as I am huge Jane Austen fan and enjoyed Unleashing Mr Darcy which aired on Hallmark Channel. I am confident the movie will be good with Lacey Chabert and Brendan Penny but the book didn’t work. I don’ think making the lead female Darcy instead of Lizzie really works. Aside from the proposal and helping Lydia Darcy doesn’t take as many risks in the story so he works better as the secondary lead not the main lead. It ended up being a fairly flat romance novel about a stuck up city girl who kisses an old flame under the mistletoe and then determines she is actually in love with him. Not really Jane Austen worthy drama LOL

1.75 crowns (sorry but I have high expectations when you involve Austen. Not as terrible as Austenland at least)

So there you have it. What are some of your favorite Christmas reads? Any good Christmas romance you enjoy? I would love to hear your suggestions.

(I am also currently reading The Second Sister by Marie Bostwick and enjoying it. It will be the Hallmark Hall of Fame film for this year called Christmas Everlasting)