"Is Ohio your home?" Amita lit up. "Over Thanksgiving, I saw a Christmas movie set in a small town in Ohio, where the girl had to save her family's business by teaming up with the hot competitor, and he caught her when she fell off a ladder, and they got everyone to come together to fix up the old downtown. And then it snowed and they lived happily ever after," she sighed ...===========
"Well, all your worries are over now! We'll straighten out your books, and then we're going to make the season merry and bright."
Oh, the season will be bright, Jill thought. That glow is just my family burning down.
Jill O'Leary hasn't been home for twelve years, except to attend her father's funeral. But now her mother's summoned her to help figure out the finances for the family's inn and Jill's all out of excuses. She's not sure what she dreads more — her demanding, self-absorbed mother or the White Elephant gift exchange.
Of course, her friend Amita has accurately predicted what we all expect in a Hallmark Christmas story and this book's got that and more. It also has elements of King Lear, which is a weird combination but it works. Somehow Cat Hodge delivers both a lighthearted, amusing Christmas adventure with the simmering rage, greed, and family dysfunction of Shakespeare for a very readable, funny story.
If a Hallmark Christmas and/or King Lear leave you cold, I understand. I myself avoid both. In fact, I had to look up the plot to King Lear online. But this mashup is greater than a sum of its parts. The elements that made it work for me were the results of Hodge's fertile imagination.
First, as I said, it is funny. Jill's machinations at the White Elephant exchange made me laugh. Quennedey's methods of squashing her mother's pretensions cracked me up. I loved Quennedey a lot. (When seeing how Quennedey's name is spelled, we understand exactly what her mother is like — a sign of Hodges' sly humor and intelligence.)
Second, there is a raw edge which opens up space for characters to grow. This mostly happens to the people around Jill but it is unexpected and interesting when it happens. This allows Hodge to redeem a lot of the unlovable King Lear elements in a way that works for our modern times and that allow it to be a Christmas story.
I will say that I struggled in the beginning of this novella because I really disliked Jill and her knee-jerk rage. She definitely should have found a new therapist long ago. I was really shocked by one unrepentant action in particular. It's a tough read when you don't like the main character. But I liked Kristin Lavransdatter and Gone with the Wind and really didn't like either of those main characters. As with those books, I just let this wash over me and enjoyed everything else. It also helped that it was kind of interesting to see the story once I realized that Jill was Lear's second daughter's — and she was not great (seriously, that online Lear summary really helped). So Jill was true to her origins.
You don't have to have seen King Lear or a Hallmark Christmas movie to enjoy this novel. The quirks, charm, and family drama are things we all understand and can appreciate. Get yourself a copy.