Well, when we left our “heroes,” Dora had been
fired let go of her full-time unpaid job of caring for Burke’s mom’s estate and also completely handling the Secret Santa Project, and Burke was being an out-of-touch asshole who hates and resents the family who booted him from the family business (even though nothing has ever been given to him) for failing at it. Meanwhile, he’s inexplicably been offered a job at Dora’s own businessy business firm of business, BigEvilConglomorateCorp.
It’s now December 23rd, and Dora is back at her office, crying while she’s packing because she’s just quit AntiChristianBigCityLimited, to do something “more meaningful” (left unspecified).
So once again, Burke shows up at her place of business, after hours and uninvited and unannounced. Security in that building is top-notch, eh?
After the usual hemming and hawing and time-wasting that gets this story to the correct length for sale, Burke gets to the point (as it were):
“I’ve changed, Dora. … I’m trying to change. I want to.”
So, basically, this is A Christmas Carol from Nephew Fred’s or Bob Cratchit’s viewpoint. Total asshole turns up unannounced, and overnight has changed from a total asshole to a kind and caring human being. Now, when we read A Christmas Carol, we see Scrooge’s transformation and why it happens. Here, though, all we know about Burke’s personal/spiritual journey is that he’s spent the last couple of weeks huddled in his house, seething in bitterness and playing Call of Duty. Then treating like shit the woman he dragooned into
helping him doing everything for him.
Now he shows up, after kicking Dora to the curb like the dickweed he is, saying that he’s going to change with the love of “some very good people.” By this he seems to mean the family he resents and despises and who, to add insult to injury, decorated for Christmas without him!
And then he immediately says he’s not taking the job with EvilCo.
And then drops to one knee and proposes.
Yep, just like that. Events playing out in a logical sequence, as they consistently have in this book, eh?
And he’s going to make the Foundation, just like Dora wanted.
So, for no other reason than we need to wrap this book up and we’re at Chapter 14 out of 16…everything’s been resolved!
So, with everything settled, we zoom into the penultimate chapter for some Christmas shopping!
Well, the aftermath of Christmas shopping. Everything of note in this book happens offstage.
Burke brings Dora back to SnackCakeTown, and all is magically mended with the family that kicked his sorry ass off Teh Compound, as the three other Dawg brothers (grown men, all), “holler and tease” as they see Burke kiss Dora.
At this (no, I mean it, the moment after it happens, Dora says, “You have given me hope again and restored my trust, Burke.“
Hope that I’ll be in this freaky family and trust that I’ll never know what to expect from you, that you’ll run hot then cold then hot again, abandon me for months at a time without a word, then show up out of the blue and expect everything to be forgiven and forgotten. It’s all about that trust and hope!
Hold that thought, because things are wrapping up in a WEIRD way!
Tomorrow we finish this sucker!
To give Dora credit where’s it’s due, she doesn’t take the firing sitting down:
“Fired? Fired? I’ll tell you who is fired, mister. You. You are the one who is fired here. I should have known you wouldn’t be up to the job.”
By this she means the job of being “an icon of giving during the most joyous season of the year.“
Considering that not one gift has been given yet, and we’re at Chapter 13 out of 16, I don’t think Dora is far wrong here.
Turns out Burke “fired” Dora because he was annoyed that “he had returned [home] to find all the people who had shirked the duty of decorating the house for their mother standing around congratulating themselves on a job well done—using his system [of hooks on the outside of the house].” Um, yeah, Burke! That is a completely sound reason for humiliating the woman YOU hired to do a completely different job. Definitely don’t get mad at your family! (We were not told prior to this moment, btw, that this was anything any of the other Dawg bros had “shirked” over the years.)
And what would a pointless argument with Burke be without thinking of Dora as a child!
The little girl who he had always known lurked just beneath the surface of her unflappable, businesslike exterior came out of hiding and in full temper-tantrum mode to boot.
Yep, this is a man completely ready for an adult relationship!
On some (very elementary) level, Burke realizes he was an ass, so immediately backpedals on the whole firing thing, and Dora calls bullshit, tasing only that he explain to the rest of the family that she’s not fired, because they all heard that part and she feels humiliated.
Then SHE backpedals and says he doesn’t have to do this right away…
…and out of nowhere, Burke reveals that he was job-hunting in Atlanta, and has been offered a position with DORA’S OWN COMPANY, GlobalGiantEvilCorp, LLC. I have no idea WHY they would offer a job to a guy who was ousted from his own family business, and whose brother, btw, was employed by them for a mere THREE MONTHS this year, and this apparently only so he could stage a hostile takeover of that very company…which gave no benefit to NonChristianConGlomCo..
Oh, and they’re going to send him to work at the London branch.
So Burke kinda reverse backpedals, and says that although he is not firing Dora, per se, he is, in fact, “letting her go,” because it turns out he’s not into giving money to people.
This would feel a lot bigger if Burke had done ANYTHING to do with the Santa Mission, but he’s done absolutely nothing, farming EVERYTHING off on Dora. And now he’s “letting her go” without letting her even give money to people.
If that were me, Burke would be punched in the face repeatedly, but Dora instead opts for the guilt-trip approach (“Well, I may not have any experience with being fired but being let go? That’s old hat to me by now. Everyone I ever cared about has let me go or let go of me.”)
Then she tries to fix his man-pain by bringing up his ouster as CEO, arguing that Daddy Dawg masterminded it because he “wanted the best for you.” Burke, sensibly enough, does not take kindly to this suggestion, pointing out that Dora only knows the cutesy old widower acting like a softie, and not the ruthless businessman Burke grew up with. Which, fair.
But Dora still believes Daddy Dawg, and feels that he had a master plan all along, to let Burke be more like Mama Dawg (Mama Dawg was publicly and humiliatingly ousted from her own company, then?) and less like Scrooge McDaddyDawg.
This is not at all resolved, however, but does lead to this absolutely hilarious defensive rant from Top Dawg:
“What has been given to me, Dora? Nothing.”
Okay, sorry, had to stop to laugh. Continuing…
“I worked for everything I have and even so have seen it all taken away from me, from my position at the Crumble to having a chance to decorate the Christmas tree with my own family.”
The family you hate and resent, Burke? That family?
Also, could he whine any more? Wahhhh, my despised family decorated for Christmas without me, just because I stormed off when you ousted me from the family business!
Dora rushes right back to Burke’s man-pain at not being there for decorating. (Boy, would he have a good laugh if they knew how they talked about him when he’s not there, eh!) Dora just lets it rest, and passive aggressively does the whole “I hope you find what you’re looking for” thing.
Dora Is A Child Count: 5
Burke says of himself: “Hey, it’s a Top Dawg’s instinct to bark and snarl and chase off any threats…”
Dora responds literally: “Only you are not a dog, Burke.” (Thanks, Dora. That’s helpful.)
HAPPY NEW YEAR, Y’ALL!!!
(Eat a dick, 2020.)
Dora’s back at Teh Compound, having compiled a giant stack of crap for the family to go through. Again, WHY couldn’t this have been done two years ago? Yanno, when the death actually happened.
She tries to break the ice with everyone by asking what Christmas was like when the brothers were kids.
Daddy Dawg answers, “A lot of grabbing and arguing and pushing and pulling, and a lot of laughter and love. Basically just like every other day around here.“
“Except for the days when we drive one or more of the kids out of the family business and off the compound, and the days I referred to my adopted son as a ‘stray,’ and the days we brawl with each other so hard we draw blood and leave scars! Just lots of laughter and love!”
Indeed, we immediately get a reminder of violence, as three grown men start fighting over tin boxes filled with rocks (yes, really) that they had when they were kids, and whether or not Adam’s box got dented with HE HIT BURKE WITH IT.
Lucky Dawg observes that Burke “hasn’t forgiven us yet for ousting him from the Crumble.”
Yeah, it’s been six whole months since you staged an intra-family coup against the eldest son! Why hasn’t he gotten over it yet, the big baby?
(In fairness, Burke sucked, but still, it doesn’t exactly seem there are ANY heroes in this family…)
Daddy Dawg tries to take credit for the whole coup, and paints it as him being the only one to see that Burke
was too much of a mama’s boy “[had] too much of his mother in him” to run the business.
The confusion thickens, and I guess even if Daddy Dawg wants to take credit for the coup, the other three sons went for it, though Adam felt bad because they also turned away Dora when they did that…I guess?
Attention turns to the many boxes of Christmas decorations Dora unearthed, and we get a hilarious aside that the family has a near-life-sized nativity set, and at one point “Maggie had a meltdown over the town council kicking the holy family off the courthouse lawn.” Again, it’s all clear as mud: was this Maggie’s own nativity set, that she donated and then had to take back?
Ah well, all we know is that Maggie was the good lil RTC who didn’t truck with any of that ole separation of church and state.
Anyway, Dora proposes that they put up the decorations. She presents this as a way to honor Maggie Mama Dawg, but secretly thinks of it as Part Two of her Christmas present to Burke. (Part One being her skipping town before he gets back.)
So they do it. Daddy Dawg and the three present Dawg brothers do the outside, and the wimmins do the inside, presumably so they won’t break their nails or get the vapors.
Just as they finish and turn on the lights, Burke turns up at that exact moment. And is fucking pissed.
Why? Who knows?
So, bearing in mind it has been a few days since Burke dismissed Dora’s idea for a foundation out of hand, he doubles down on asshattery:
“If I need help, I hire it.” [says Burke]
“You hired me to help,” she reminded him.
“Not anymore.” … “You’re fired.”
Adam says of Burke (behind his back), “Man, you can’t get that dog to turn lose [sic] of anything.”
“Did she suggest trying to reason with Tog [sic] Dawg?”
(So many small errors in this book. Was it not copy-edited AT ALL?)
Well, by the end of Chapter 11 (out of 16), STILL no presents for anyone!
And wait’ll you guys get a load of THIS:
So, Dora and Burke have this ruse going that she’s just there to sort through Mama Dawg’s things (two years after her death but roll with it). Except she’s ACTUALLY doing this job. So by day, she’s cataloguing all of Mama Dawg’s crap. Then by night, she’s working through Mama Dawg’s Forgotten Stocking project in secret.
Which…fine, I guess. Except guess how much work Burke is doing, either by day or by night.
He always seemed to have mysterious work to do elsewhere or he just kept to himself in his ranch-style house sitting a half-acre away on compound grounds.
Why do I get the feeling that this mysterious work involves massive amounts of GTA5?
So Dora spends a lot of time talking with Abusive Papa Dawg, who confusingly tells her:
“That’s all I ever wanted for my sons. For them to prosper. For them to have hope and a good future.”
“That’s why when Burke tried to take care of the business, I brawled with him and scarred him! So he could have hope and a good future!”
“You provided for that, Connor, when you built up the family business.”
“Exactly why I did it.” … “And exactly why I didn’t think—don’t think—all of my boys should carry on in it.”
“Again, that’s why I brawled with one son who wanted to carry on in it, and why I allowed another son to stage a hostile takeover from the first son after he won the brawl! It’s all about love and hope, you see!”
Burke interrupts this charming exchange, and I guess I have to take back what I said earlier: he is doing work, every single day: by picking up takeout from Josie’s Hometown Happiness Holiday Hoedown Diner, and bringing it to the house. Surely, the twenty minutes per day that this takes MORE than covers his manly contribution, in the face of Dora both cataloguing his mother’s estate, AND spearheading her secret Wintermas charity.
Oh, and he forgot dinner tonight.
Dammit, Burke, you have ONE job!
So Josie offers to make dinner instead. And by “make dinner” she means “heat up Josie’s leftovers from previous nights.”
Yep, this is more like a five-star resort every minute!
Oh, and when Burke offers to help, Dora sneaks in a snide comment about him not helping with anything, which is pretty awesome of her. She “thought he could do more, be more.” (Than be covered in Cheeto dust playing GTA5 for days on end.
They natter on at each other as they heat up leftovers, and I GUESS it’s supposed to be romantic and charming and homey, but you wouldn’t know it by me.
(Burke helpfully dumps half a bag of potato chips over the leftovers (which apparently also consist of mac and cheese AND “cream-of-something soup,” among other things) before they go in the oven. So you know they’ll be extra-healthy.)
They also decide that Dora should go back to Atlanta for a few days, and then they can meet up there after a few days and discuss the Santa mission. Dora is pleased (or possibly not pleased) with this plan.
Oh, and then he wanders off, leaving her to clean up the kitchen.
Probably just about to drop in PUBG, so it’s understandable.
Days later, they indeed meet at a greasy spoon diner in Atlanta that Dora eats at ALL THE TIME. So much so that the waitress, described in only one paragraph as “chubby-cheeked…[with a] thick middle…[and] a soft, lumpy look,” knows Dora’s preferences by heart, even that that she doesn’t start drinking hot chocolate until the week before Christmas.
Yanno, given that they survive entirely on takeout diner food and potato chips, I’m not sure Burke or Dora are in a position to body-shame others.
Then, apropos of nothing, Burke has two more weird thoughts:
- He compares Dora to a child. Again. (“He saw right through [her businesslike demeanor] to the little girl all alone in the world…“)
- He’s not into the idea of making work on his mom’s mission his full-time job, because “Burke was looking to blaze his own trail again, as he always had…“
Oh, yeah, Burke, you really blazed your own unique path when you took over the family business on the compound where you were raised. It’s really making your own way in the world when you start working at your dad’s company at the age of twelve and NEVER LEAVE.
But Dora forges ahead with her idea for Mama Dawg’s project. She’s so sad that MORE people can’t be helped that she wants to turn this little private mission into an actual, working foundation.
Dora gives what Burke himself refers to as a “smokin’ sales pitch” for the foundation.
It sounded great.
Correction. Her voice sounded great.
Yeah, Burke, why listen to what a little girl has to say? Just enjoy the sound of her voice. Make sure you don’t take a woman seriously, even for a moment.
But no, Burke isn’t listening. This isn’t me being snide—the book literally says, “Burke wasn’t really listening.” Because he has gone Full Scrooge:
His brothers and father had displaced him, and he did not owe them anything. The town had all but forgotten his years of dedication and sacrifice in favor of the promise of a new start with Adam, while they themselves mad no effort to invest in Mt. Knott or one another. He owed them even less.
Ah yes, the SACRIFICES Burke has made by…running the family business into the ground? And those ungrateful peasants! Having been laid off, they have the audacity to get out of that dead-end town if they can, and not stay to “invest” in the royal family!
Burke, of course, does not let Dora in on his extremely emotional reasons for not wanting a foundation. Instead, he says he’s just going to do this one Christmas to honor Mama Dawg, then fuck off. Because her plan is not “common sense.”
Probably also because running a foundation will eat into his Apex Legends time.
Dora is understandably insulted, gives Burke all the work she’s done on the mission so far, then says she’ll finish with the fake job that she’s actually been doing, of cataloguing Mama Dawg’s life, but she’ll do it fast so their paths don’t cross.
Yanno, if anything had happened before now to make me care about these characters, this might be a good Act 2 Turn/Dark Night of the Soul.
Dora mutters that Burke is being a “bad dog” when he isn’t all sweetness and light to his abusive father.
Dora has sketched a picture of Burke as a dog wearing a Santa hat.
Then she thinks of him as a “sometimes very bad dog.”
Burke thinks of himself as “a Dawg with a bone.”
Dora Is A Child Count: 3
Turns out Dora was correct in thinking Burke pities her: he reflects on all the pity he feels several times in this chapter.
Which is kinda weird, because Burke’s family continues to be insufferable and, given the choice between being in a five-star hotel alone, or with these people, I’d choose the hotel every day and twice on Sunday.
For pages, we learn that Burke owns a sleigh, and that Pastor Horny Dawg Bro proposed to his now-wife in it.
Great? Interesting? What am I supposed to be feeling now?
Daddy Dawg is a jerk again, this time sniping at his kids for not producing more grandchildren yet, but Dora’s super into it:
“I find it all endearing, the stories, the teasing and the bickering.”
Yeah, nothing more endearing than a jerk of an old man snarking at young people about when they’ll have kids already!’
Adopted Dawg Adam snarks about Burke not having to “get up and go to a job like the rest of us,” which seems exceptionally rude coming from the guy who took the business out from under Burke (not that Burke didn’t deserve that, it seems). But then we learn that ever since Adam was adopted, “Burke had seen him as not just a rival but a replacement.” Damn, this family is dysfunctional in so many ways, eh!
They finally get to town for the Hometown Holiday Happiness Hoedown for the Holidays, and come across one of the Statler and Waldorf guys from the diner, who greets Dora by yelling, “Too bad you couldn’t get a handsomer date!”
Okay, dude. Chill.
Burke kinda agrees:
Burke didn’t mind that Jed found him unattractive, but the man did not have to go shouting things that made the whole town think he was Dora’s date.
At one point, Daddy Dawg “parades” around the baby grandson that secured Adam’s place as New Top Dawg, “making sure nobody had any doubt as to the kid’s lineage.“
So, wait, does the fact that Adam was adopted matter, or not? Because I am getting a BUNCH of mixed messages here.
Then Burke and Dora have a brief exchange that further muddies the waters of exactly how this town came to be in the dire straits it is in:
Dora says Adam should be the elf in a “Dunk the Elf” ducking stool, because “he’s the guy they will take the most delight in soaking to raise money for the needy folks in town.”
“Yeah, only he isn’t the one who made them needy.” He scanned the crowd knowing full well that this threadbare, makeshift gathering was going to be the highlight of more than one family’s holiday, especially now that the Burdett party at the Crumble was a thing of the past. “I did that.”
“No, your father did that. You tried to keep as many people employed as possible.”
The confusion continues and deepens. Merry Christmas, everyone–the basic backstory is incomprehensible!
Oh, and the chapter ends on an equally confusing note:
Dora gets the stupid elf hat on.
“So, do you like that hat or not?” she asked again, clearly making nervous small talk.
“I like it.” He wished now that he’d put that childhood picture of himself in his pocket and brought it to show her. “Reminds me of somebody I’ve seen a photo of lately.”
“Don’t see how it could.” She walked ahead a few steps then turned to look at him over her shoulder. “I don’t have anybody.”
Dawg references in this chapter:
“It’s his sleigh. His mama bought it for him when he was a little tyke, before any of these other mangy mutts even came along.”
“…made Burke want to grab him by the scruff of the neck…”
“…stood his ground to defend the scraps…”
Wow, today is Christmas Day, and I find myself bereft of the Wintermas Spirit in the face of a book where, by Chapter 8 out of 16…NOTHING HAS FREAKING HAPPENED.
Like, this is a story ostensibly about Secret Santa-ing, and nobody has given even one present yet!
Dora goes to move into Teh Compound for the whole month…and humbly reflects that she usually stays in a five-star hotel for the whole month!
She also reflects that this is the family “who had first invited her into their midst and into the middle of their business, then later tossed her out without so much as an explanation.”
And so the confusion continues. I thought it was initially Dora and Stray Dawg versus Everyone Else. But now the whole family had invited her in?
I guess so, because when Burke invites her in (to his house? Daddy Dawg’s house? unclear), “a cheer went up from the entire Burdett family.”
Which I gotta say is an extreme reaction for anyone entering a house, unless they come bearing a Publisher’s Clearinghouse check or something.
The Dawg imagery continues, boringly:
“Can we eat now?” Jason, the third of the dog pack, howled.
This family is already insufferable, and we’ve only been in their house for one paragraph.
Oh, and Daddy Dawg “barked at his wolf pack of a family.”
And Burke warns Dora that dinner (breakfast? lunch? unclear) is “just leftovers, buffet style with these mangy mutts.”
Connor, Daddy Dawg, is exceptionally unwelcoming to Dora, so I guess he didn’t partake of that cheer earlier. Though in fairness to him, Dora at one point says that the house is “grander and more agreeable than any five-star hotel in any exotic city in any corner of the world,” which sounds INCREDIBLY condescending.
Anyway, of course nobody in the family knows what’s really going on. They think she’s there to deal with Mama dawg’s things (again, two years after her death), though Adam, apparently not a fool, observes that this “seems a waste of a powerful executive.”
Possibly to alleviate the awkwardness (and completely rational observations), Burke drags Dora off to see Mama Dawg’s SantaVille office. They natter at each other over nothing, then he steals a kiss, which seems incredibly presumptuous since HE dumped HER.
But she’s into it, so I guess it’s fine.
Then, in classic sitcom fashion, they’re interrupted by a call to…whatever this meal is. Then Dora gets the strange notion, out of nowhere, that Burke pities her because she doesn’t have anyone to spend Christmas with. Because I guess the author suddenly realized that if Dora loves the town and the family, and is happy enough to jump back into Burke’s arms even after six months of radio silence, there’s not a ton of interpersonal conflict left in this romance novel.
Then Burke makes a comment about Dora helping him this year so he won’t need her help in the future, and just like that, we’re back at square one, with Dora taking this (quite understandably, I’d say) as an implied rejection.
Well, glad to see we’ve covered so much ground, seeing as how we’re now halfway through the book.
The plot takes another exciting turn, as Burke does something he should probably have done quite some time ago, and before asking Dora for help: he visits his late mother’s private office.
So he heads over to The Compound. And we are introduced to the five homes of the four Burdett Dawgs:
Stray Dawg and, I suppose, new Top Dawg, Adam, has an “upscale log cabin.” Lucky Dawg and star of the next book, Jason, has an “Irish cottage, complete with a meandering stone path and hunter-green shutters.” Hound Dawg, the now-ironically-married-and-a-minister Cody, has “an old-fashioned-style farmhouse complete with wraparound front porch, like something right out of The Andy Griffith Show.”
And poor despised, single Top Dawg has “a small, simple ranch style…more like a guesthouse than a place where a man would want to spend his free time or one day raise a family.“
Well, since he’s single and doesn’t have a family…that kinda makes sense? Like, I’m sure The Compound could spring for an addition to his house when he gets married, yanno?
So he goes to the main house (not described) and goes to his mother’s old attic office. Apparently, this is an office dedicated solely to the Forgotten Stocking (snicker) mission. In keeping with the crazy names in this book, it’s called Santaland. “Boys, go watch TV for awhile. Mommy needs to work in Santaland this afternoon.”
First thing that he opens the door, he smells pine from a scented candle. Which, considering his mom has been gone for two years, must be an intensely powerful candle.
Also, she had twinkle lights EVERYWHERE. Which seems festive but also kinda distracting, and I feel like it would kinda get old by, like, May.
Also the office is crammed with a zillion “dolls and likenesses of Saint Nicholas.“
Ooooooo, creepy! I like that.
(Christmas isn’t Christmas without Silent Night, Deadly Night!)
Burke actually thinks about the Santa project, and, in a moment of growth I would not have expected until towards the end of the book, muses that the problem of the recipients of gifts not “giving back to the cause” was HIS problem, not his mother’s and not the recipients’.
Huh, this book is breaking boundaries, going from inexplicable to 60 in a mere chapter!
Burke has a rather pointless phone conversation with Dora from the Santaland office, the upshot of which is that Dora confirms that “unless you work for the Crumble, there aren’t any jobs to be had around here.”
Butbutbut, I thought the recipients of the scholarships and grants were jerks for not coming back to CrumbleTown to stay forever! Yanno, the town with exactly zero jobs!
Burke decides it’s time to get confusing again, and proposes Dora work on the Forgotten Stocking project from Mama Dawg’s Santaland office, OR possibly from her “decoy room“…and all in secret.
Yeah, sounds like a foolproof plan that could never arouse suspicion in any of the many people living at The Compound.
So they decide together that they’ll concoct some bizarre scheme about Dora hanging around because she’ll be “putting your mother’s things in order,” (two years after the fact) which sounds like exactly what an incredibly successful businesswoman would do for the entirety of a December.
WHEN ARE THEY ACTUALLY GOING TO GIVE SOME DESERVING PEOPLE SOME CASH ALREADY???
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the author was thinking about something else while she wrote this book. I’ve never seen so much time wasting!
We cut to the Monday after Thanksgiving, back in good ole Snackey Cakey Town, South Carolina. Burke and Dora have agreed to meet at a diner to discuss the mission, which we are helpfully informed was named the Forgotten Stocking Project by Mama Dawg.
The names in this book are the real Wintermas gifts that keep on giving: Carolina Crumble Pattie Factory, GrimEx-Cynergetic Global Com Limited, and now, the Forgotten Stocking Project.
Oh, and they’re meeting at Josie’s Home Cookin’ Kitchen. This is THE Josie of the previous book, now married to Stray Dawg Adam.
Much of these two chapters is spent catching up with Josie and the oh-so-colorful townsfolk who apparently hang out in the diner ALL damn day.
So Burke shows up a bit early, apparently for two reasons:
One is that he can think of Dora as a child again…
Dora was so much more than a businesswoman. She was the child she had been and the friend she could be, a good listener, smart, funny, a thoughtful Christians and a … a woman.
Yep, again, nothing more attractive than a man who thinks of his love interest as a child. Every day.
Dora was a woman, with all the faults and every fine quality that came with being one.
Love that he thinks of the universal Woman Faults first. I wonder if there are universal Man Faults…
Oh, and the other reason is so he can have an exchange with Josie. He notices Josie is there (yanno, in her own diner) and sensitively says, “Thought you’d given up all this to be a full-time mom.”
Josie don’t take no shit:
“Every mother is a full-time mother!”
Oh, but then Burke doubles down (it is explicitly stated that as Top Dawg, he couldn’t let her have the last word.) “I thought some of them were working mothers.”
But when the folksy townsfolk predict that he’ll get himself on the no-pie-for-you list for such remarks…
“I mean, uh, every mother is a working mother?” Burke tried to slip back into his sister-in-law’s favor by saying what he thought she wanted to hear. What did he know about this motherhood business, anyway? He’d always sort of thought that he’d raised himself, looked after himself. He hadn’t really needed his mom for much. What was the big deal?
I hope this is a set-up for Burke coming to realize how important his mother really was to him and the other Dawg brothers. But the author seems to have her mind on other things, so somehow, I doubt it.
A bunch of nonsense takes place that goes on for PAGES, as the folksy townsfolk gossip and chuckle, and Burke (who, by this point, is coming across as rather dense) suddenly realizes that in a town full of gossipmongers with nothing to do, everyone’s going to be buzzing nonstop about he and Dora hanging out together on a Secret Mission.
But before he can leave, Dora shows up. She’s wearing a black sweater, black-and-white checked pants, and pearls. This inexplicably makes Burke think “she looked like a cross between a waif arriving at the gates of an infamous orphanage and one of those bright-eyed girls with big dreams getting off the bus in the big city.“
She’s wearing PEARLS. Um, yeah, like all Dickensian orphans, right?
So, for pages and PAGES, Burke and Dora fumble around trying to act like her showing up in town is kinda a coincidence…but he invited her…but it was her idea.
And it somehow turns into Dora sticking around because she really wants to go to the Down Home Holidays Downtown.
I love the names in this book; they really deliver.
This is a “fabulous downtown hoedown,” and I bet it will be an incredible holiday extravaganza in this crap town of the failing Scooby Snacks factory, that young people just can’t WAIT to leave. Fun times.
All this nonsense takes place BEFORE DORA EVEN GETS A CHANCE TO SIT DOWN.
More nothing happens, and Dora notices the chalkboard wall in the Country Kitchen Chicken-Fried Diner, where people have written prayer requests. So they figure that will make for good leads for the Secret Stolen Stocking Stuffer mission.
Then they go on for three pages about how, HOW they are going to get the information from the blackboard wall into their brains? Camera phone? One of them call the other on the phone and read the information? Dictate the wall into voicemail? PHYSICAL NOTES???
Truly, a brain puzzler for the ages.
So, yeah, with a crack team like this on the mission, the town will be saved in no time!
Back in Burke’s truck, where all the best action takes place!
…tooling around Atlanta in a pick up with a South Carolina snack cake cowboy Santa-wannabe at the wheel…
SNACK CAKES!!! That’s what Crumble Patties are!
Well, Jesus, they could’ve just said. I mean, sooner than 54 pages in.
Burke has driven her by three different random locations so far: an art gallery, a jeweler’s, and an accounting firm. (Not the pediatrician’s office he just made such a big deal about.) He’s taking her on this magical mystery tour, and has STILL not explained what any of this is about.
What a gentleman.
PAGES go by as they tool around the city, Burke being all coy and, charmingly, at one point, outright saying that he (no, not her) is cute.
They talk about hair. Burke’s is longish and Dora’s is short, which they discuss for several pages. During this fascinating aside, Burke again compares Dora to a little girl, this time saying it aloud and to her face.
Because there’s nothing more healthy and romantic than comparing your love interest to a child. Repeatedly.
Dora concludes that both of them keep their hair the way they do because they’re “too busy with work to bother with upkeep and style.“
Um, doesn’t a shorter hairstyle require MORE upkeep? As a woman with long hair, I gotta say, it’s super easy: I can cut my hair myself, and just yank it back into a Very Professional Bun for work.
But GAWD, they just BLATHER back and forth to each other about elves and hair and being on “Team Santa” and this nonsense goes on for the first NINE PAGES of the chapter until they finally get around to discussing the pediatrician. Seems she sees patients the day after Thanksgiving. Whoop de crap, was my first response. Most doctors do.
In fairness, Burke explains that this doctor sees patients without insurance every single Friday (except when Christmas and the most holy Fourth of July fall on Friday, natch).
I guess she doesn’t charge them, though this isn’t outright stated.
Dora sensibly asks him what the hell this has to do with Santa and Mt. Knott. Burke, as is his custom, doesn’t answer. Dora calls him on that, but Burke doesn’t care at all for her feelings or comfort, and continues to play games with her, making her recite the story of the first St. Nicholas, who you all might remember from that Wintermas Classic, Saving Christmas.
So finally, FINALLY, we get to the point: the Dawgs’ mom had a long-standing tradition of giving gifts to the women of Mt. Knott, “in order to give them the power to make better lives for themselves, and by extension better lives for their families and communities.”
So the pediatrician and the artist got scholarships and grants from Dawg Mom, given anonymously. The jeweler makes engraved medallions that are given to each worthy woman “chosen” to receive money. The accountant “manages the financial side of things.”
So we also FINALLY learn that Dawg Mom revealed this dark secret only to Burke, on her deathbed.
Oh, and it turns out that Dawg Mom’s motives are not the most purest motives on the planet. See, each medallion is engraved around the edge with “We give to others because God first gave Christ to us.“
So Burke wants to have Dora stay at Teh Compound of Snack Cakes and Death, because he can only give these gifts with the help of a non-Dawg, so as not to draw suspicion of good-doing onto the family.
Dora puts up some resistance, seeing as how Burke stomped on her heart and all.
“Just because I don’t go into my office most of December doesn’t mean I don’t have things to do.”
“Yeah. Right.” He nodded, his eyes downcast. “Everybody has things to do. We live in a busy, busy world. So busy doing things we have to do we often let go of the things we should do.”
I need to start a Top Ten Dickish Things Ever Said to Prospective Love Interests in Christian Romances list.
WHAT a piece of work this guy is. He dumps Dora when he doesn’t get HIS way in a business deal (in no way her fault), doesn’t speak to her for six months, barges into her place of work after hours on a holiday, plays with her emotions, is cryptic and distant, THEN guilt-trips into helping with a plan that has less than nothing to do with her, but will make HIM feel better.
Then he implies that she’s the selfish one.
“Oh, I don’t mean you specifically, Dora.”
Well, there’s nobody else in the truck, asshole.
Oh, and to top it all off, Burke SUPER resents all the people his mother helped, since they all apparently did what she hoped they would do, and made something of themselves.
“People don’t seem to see that every doctor who goes someplace else to practice, every young person who gos off to college and never comes back…takes something vital away from the community. The Crumble and the Burdett can’t counteract all that.”
And his mother was absolutely adamant that her help be anonymous, but Burke doesn’t much care for THAT, either:
“Everyone always says, why doesn’t the Crumble factory o more? Why don’t the Burdett help out the town more? But how many of them ask, what more can I do?”
Yeah, why don’t those lazy factory workers, laid off due to the horrific mismanagement of Top Dawg, DO something to help their struggling community, which is struggling because of the horrific mismanagement of Top Dawg? Lazy shirkers!
Okay, so right away this is making me think of the classic Christmas episode of MASH, called “Death Takes a Holiday.”
SPOILER ALERT (Seriously, if you haven’t seen this episode, check it out on Hulu (Season 9, Episode 5). It’s great.)
See, everyone in camp thinks Charles is a skinflint because he barely donates anything to the local orphanage’s Christmas party. Turns out his family has a longstanding tradition of giving massive gifts to the poor, but it MUST be done anonymously. Otherwise it’s not “a true act of charity.” So he sneaks over under cover of night to deliver a very generous gift, and puts up with everyone in camp thinking he’s a huge jerk.
Y’see, charity doesn’t rely on appreciation or recompense from the recipient, Burke. Or on accolades from onlookers.
Of course, in true MASH fashion, there’s a twist: the gift (expensive candy) is sold on the black market by the orphans’ caretaker, in order to buy real food which will last for months. So Charles re-learns that it’s not about the feelings of the giver, but the needs of the recipients. Burke.
But Dora zeros right in on Burke’s bizarre take on charity:
“You want to keep this all a big secret because you are hoping that one day one of these girls who are gifted will turn around and do the right thing and give back to the town because they want to, not because they have to.”
Yeah, that makes…total logical sense. Uh-huh.
And Dora agrees to the whole thing…because she thinks it’s “wonderful.”
Let’s guilt-trip people together, Burke! It’ll lead to romance and adventure!
Yo, I should NOT have to do this much research to understand the setup of a simple Christian Christmas romance novel, you guys!
So, Somebody’s Santa is book #2 of a three-book series about the Burdett brothers. (Yes, there are four brothers and only three books. Just go with it.)
The four brothers each have a “Dawg” name:
Burke, as we’ve established, is Top Dawg.
Jason, hero of the third book, is Lucky Dawg because he survived an accident at the factory when he was a kid. (Guess they get that child labor going early at the ole compound, eh?)
Cody, not given the dignity of his own book, is Hound Dawg because he had a reputation for chasing girls. But when the series begins, he’s already and married and settled, so it kinda doesn’t matter.
Prodigal Son and hero of the first book of the series and new dad and guy who’s actually saving the company, Adam, is Stray Dawg. Because he’s adopted.
Also…THIS MAKES NO SENSE
Didn’t the first chapter pretty strongly imply that Scar-Issuing Dad values blood above all, only elevating Adam to Most Management Dawg when he spawned a biological male child?
And to make matters even more confusing, the excerpt from Adam’s book seems to imply that Mom and the other Dawgs completely embraced Adam as one of the family, no different from the other Dawgs. So maybe Dad is the only one with a problem? But then why make Adam Most Management Dawg when the coveted male child isn’t even his biological grandson?
So now we know more…yet it has only revealed how little we know.
This Christian Christmas romance novel is already a paradox, and we’re not even 20 pages in yet!
So, Chapters Two and Three are Burke and the heroine, Dora, sparring and setting up the mission. The scene spans both chapters for some reason, so I read them both, desperately seeking SOME clarity.
It was not to be.
So I’m going to try to lay out what I know now, even though it’ll be in a different order than presented in the novel proper.
Dora Hoag works at (I promise I am not kidding) GrimEx-Cynergetic Global Com Limited…
…as Head of Acquisitions and Mergers.
She used to date Burke. It was serious enough that Dora figured they would get married.
Dora is, of course, working through Thanksgiving at GlobalTechConglomCo. She does this so she can take off the whole month of December, as she does every year, due to unspecified Christmas-related trauma. (Not related to Burke, whom she dated (I think) last summer).
(Because important business deals NEVER take place towards the end of the year!)
Despite the Christmas-related trauma, Dora is a good RTC, who volunteers at soup kitchens and attends Christmas Eve candlelight service.
She was raised by her great-aunt and great-uncle because her mother died when she was born and her father couldn’t raise her on his own. Despite the seriousness of their former relationship, Burke discovers this during their meeting TODAY. So clearly he was a fantastic boyfriend and really interested in Dora as a person.
Barges into Dora’s office on Black Friday night, when everyone but Dora and the cleaning crew has gone home.
Despite this, Dora finds him charming.
But she also hates him.
Apparently, Stray Dawg Adam ran away from home and worked at GigungoSleazeCorpLLC for a tiny bit of time last summer. He and Dora cooked up a plan for InitechGoldSharkEnterprises to buy out the Krispety-Kruchety Ko.
But then Adam fell in love with Josie and they decided to get married and raise the baby and save the company instead of destroying it.
And somehow Dora and Burke were together, then he ditched her (I think when he was stripped of the title of Top Pudding Burger Dog), and she went back to the warm arms of EvilNonChristianopoly without a deal or a husband.
So they haven’t been in contact for six months, then he shows up, after hours, at her place of business, and she asks him to leave FIVE SEPARATE TIMES (and that’s not even counting the multiple “soft no” responses which involve her saying outright how he has no right to be there and she isn’t happy to see him), but he doesn’t, because he’s a controlling asshole.
Also, I’ll just insert this especially patronizing bit:
…he could see right through to the scared, lonely little girl he had seen in her since the first time she powered her way into the Crumble to try to buy it out.
You can just tell how much he respects women, eh?
I just…I’m trying to make sense of all this, and I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO TRY SO HARD IN A MUSHY CHRISTMAS ROMANCE NOVEL.
Hell, even Dora is annoyed. Not just at the appearance, out of the blue, of the ex-boyfriend who ditched her the moment a business deal (theirs? hers? his?) fell apart, but because he just is constitutionally incapable of just SAYING WHAT HE’S THERE FOR.
He hems and haws and hems and haws and HEMS AND HAWS and you can just tell Dora (and, to be fair, me) are ready to grab him and shake him and tell him to GET TO THE POINT, but instead, we’re treated to the following, over the course of 25 (again, not kidding) pages:
“I have some things I want to say to you.”
(Please note: “I’m sorry,” “I missed you,” and “This is why I’m here” are not among those things.)
“What do you want for Christmas?”
(Please note: he doesn’t care, and never actually seeks an answer.)
“It’s a long story. Goes back to my mom.”
(Please note: the story is not that long. Or that interesting.)
“Thing is she started this…it all started a long time ago, really.”
(Please note: Dora has no idea what “it” is, yet.)
Burke blathers on about how his mom was smart and sophisticated and wanted to travel the world, but gave it all up to settle in Christmasville, SC, and raise her boys and help run the Cheeseburger Fruitcake Factory.
“I did come to tell you something. And ask you something. But first I have to show you.”
Yeah, she still has no idea what this is all about. Nor will he deign to tell her by the end of these two chapters. What he shows her is a business card from a pediatrician’s office.
So, right away, clear as concrete.
He obnoxiously makes her say the words “Santa Claus,” then hustles her out the door to (I think?) go to this pediatrician’s office, and we’re treated to this parting shot:
“And if there is going to be Christmas in Mt. Knott this year, I am going to need your help.”
Which would actually be a cool leading line if we hadn’t just waded through so many pages of incomprehensible nothingness.
Maybe we will achieve some level of understanding of what is going on by Chapter Four of this 16-chapter novel?