California Christmas Dreams
by JM Jeffries, contemporary (2013)
Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86329-7


Meredith Alcott is a former child star who is content to let fifteen seconds fizzle up once she realizes that she's never going to get anything more than "best friend of the heroine" type of roles. That's okay, because she prefers to focus on making her passion her career: renovation and redecoration. Even back in the old days, she loves helping to rearrange the props in a set to create a more effective atmosphere for a scene, so now she has her eyes set on a gig that she is certain would help her make a name for herself: revamping and rejuvenating the ailing Citrus Grove Entertainment Center, a Riverside amusing park that has long been sidelined by more popular attractions in the neighborhood.

Our hero Jake Walters makes a living by managing the finances of... difficult people that don't want their finances to be managed, like bankrupt celebrities that don't know when to stop spending. When he hears that a former child star has somehow gotten her hands on his father's amusement park after the old man changed his mind about selling it, he is immediately suspicious. Merry would not spend a single cent without his approval first! That would show her... right?

California Christmas Dreams is the closest to old school romance these days. It is not part of an ongoing series, it doesn't try too hard to set up future books at the expense of the main romance, and it doesn't have a jealous psycho bitch running around shrieking that she will kill the heroine for daring to steal the hero from her. The heroine is delightfully free of contrived neurotic tics and unhealthy attitude about men, she is remarkably capable in her job, and she doesn't take crap from anyone, not even Jake.

Therefore, a part of me dies inside when I have to admit that I find this story way too boring for words. I wanted to finish this book in time for Christmas, but I kept putting it down and, oops, the next thing I know I'm two months into the new year. There is no conflict in this story - none at all. That is the problem. The story moves at an excruciatingly slow pace, and the main characters spend too much time dwelling on and talking about mundane things that only serve to underline how awesome they are. Oh yes, these characters are all uniformly gorgeous, flawless, and awesome. Without any conflict to distract me from the awesomeness, the story only drives home how bland and dull these perfect characters are.

The authors also oversells the intelligence of the heroine and her sister. Now, I do like the fact that these ladies are good at what they do, but the authors are either worried that I don't notice or understand how smart those women are. Therefore, I get scenes after scenes of Jake musing to himself about how these women are such shrewd and remarkable business people worthy of his respect. The problem here is that he is knocking himself out over these women telling him their very basic business plans. This is like reading about a teacher squealing in joy that a fifteen-year old can count to ten without stumbling. What's so impressive about that?

As a supposed finance wunderkind, Jake would be more likely bowled over by an innovative business plan rather than one that merely contains fundamental good basics, like long-term planning. There is also an unfortunate implication in such scenes: that I'm supposed to be as impressed as Jake because these mere women - gasp - know how to plan for long term, how odd and how awesome. Please, what year is this? 1934?

At any rate, there are many sensible and good things about California Christmas Dreams that could have turned it into a remarkable read. Instead, a conflict-free environment and a story that crawls along like a deathly dull day-by-day account of mundane minutiae make this one a chore to read.

Rating: 56


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