Jingle Bell Romance: Chapter 10

After the blizzard, Julia is back at her store, very busy because it’s like a week (?) before Christmas, and Nick turns up with coffee and pastries and an apology.

In all fairness to Nick (I still hate him), it’s a pretty good apology. He literally uses the word “sorry” and then explains that he and Pastor Dad has a (really stupid and simplistic) breakthrough, and says that he appreciates her not “giving up on me.”

She reflects on her fondness for “this arrogant, aggravating man,” and I just gotta say, those are not two qualities I have ever found attractive.

He volunteers to help her with stocking since it’s so busy, and she tells him what to do, an he says…

“You got it, boss.” He made an odd face, and they both laughed. “That sounds weird. Usually, people say that to me.”

I hate him so much. This is, like, the seventeenth time he’s expressed this banal concept in this book.

Nick shamelessly flirts with her, and since apparently we need some more nonexistent conflict two chapters from the end of the book, Julia decides she can’t be with nick because he “had rejected his faith long ago.” And since she learned five minutes ago that his one problem has been fixed, it’s now time for her to fix the next thing about him: “Julia would help him all she could [to get back to being an RTC], but in the end it was up to him.”

***

Nick later goes to the cemetery to have A Moment at Ian’s grave. It’s not a Come To Jesus Moment, though, so no dice in the whole share-the-faith thing.

***

Still later, Julia is in her shop and reflects that Aaron Coleman’s PR campaign has been a huge success, and tons more people have donated to her giving tree. So, I guess I was totally wrong about it being a suspicious transaction, though Julia is still out the price of two fancy train sets.

She has to work late, so Nick comes to help, bringing a Christmas tree and takeout. Which is sweet and all, but then he has to go bragging that he drove fifty miles to get the tree, which he cut down himself. Nobody asked, Nick.

They stop and have dinner and Nick puts up the tree and also reveals tha5 he got mistletoe, so they kiss. Then Nick reveals that he went to Ian’s grave, and Julia pressures him into admitting that “it might have had something to do with God leading me in that direction,” and Julia is “ecstatic,” which seems an odd thing to feel when someone is talking about his dead sibling.

Heh, glad that last little bit of conflict was settled within the same chapter it was raised!

Jingle Bell Romance: Chapter 9

It’s time for some actual conflict, so Nick needs to enter the room his parents are staying in to get a spare computer battery.

He tries to actually be light-hearted and it fails spectacularly: he tells Pastor Dad to ease up on the fire and brimstone in his next sermon. Pastor Dad snaps at him like a child, Nick fires back, and it all culminates with this:

“A shame none of [my platitudes] got through that thick skull of yours. No matter what I’ve said, or how I’ve phrased it, you choose to ignore every lesson I’ve tried to teach you.”

“I’m sorry you’re so disappointed in me, Dad. After Ian died I tried to take his place, but I don’t have what it takes to compete with a ghost.”

Mic drop. I admit, I am completely on Nick’s side in this.

Nick storms out of the house to go sulk in his car, and Julia immediately follows him, which seems more than a little presumptuous. I would assume he needed some alone time. Let’s not forget that at this point, eight people and one obnoxious bird are currently crammed into a “humble” abode that usually houses only four.

She kinda screws things up immediately, too: like 20 seconds into the conversation, she says he is “sadly out of touch with your emotions.

Dude, he’s been dealing for 16 years with his father blaming him for his brother’s death. Cut him some slack.

(I can’t believe I’m defending Nick, the bullying jerk.)

Out of nowhere, they briefly vaguely debate about taking risks in life, and Nick says his life is fine the way it is, and they part ways.

Thrilling.

Julia heads back into the house, and turns out she was somehow eavesdropping on the private conversation between Nick and Pastor Dad, and heard the whole “compete with a ghost” thing. She sees Mom and Pastor Dad on the sofa, where she’s trying to talk to him and he’s staring away from her like an asshole. So Julia “saves” him by asking him to come into the kitchen to advise her on Christian stuff. As usual with Julia, she does not mean what she says: she has decided it’s time to “broker peace” between Nick and Pastor Dad. Yanno, who better to do that than someone who’s known Nick for two weeks, and when better to try than right after an argument, in an overcrowded house, where things are as tense as they could possibly be!

In the kitchen, Julia uses a SUPER obvious ploy, and asks for an explanation of the Prodigal Son story. Pastor Dad is not QUITE as stupid as he looks, and gets what’s going on pretty quickly. So Julia just moves in for the kill, and asks if Pastor Dad has ever tried forgiving Nick for leaving, just like the Prodigal Son’s dad forgave him.

No answer from Pastor Dad—what a mature guy! Julia presses on:

“Nick blames himself for Ian’s death. Do you feel the same way?”

“It tried not to,” he confessed quietly. “But I’m ashamed to say it was a struggle for me.”

Damn. That sounds pretty bad. Let’s remember, Nick was TWELVE when this happened. The two boys were fucking around in a boat, the older one drowned, and the younger one, a CHILD, didn’t dive in right away because the older one had a long history of…fucking around in a boat.

And not for nothing, but maybe this wouldn’t have happened in the first place if somebody…maybe an authority figure…perhaps a parent…had taught his kids that YOU DO NOT FUCK AROUND IN BOATS.

Yeah, this minister, this man of God, has the absolute nerve to blame his CHILD for a tragic accident. Hell, if we are assigning blame for an accident, I, for one, would do so as follows:

Pastor Dad and Mom: 70%, for failing to instill safety lessons in their children

Ian: 25%, for being the older kid and fucking around in a boat, and previously faking his own drowning

Nick: 5%, for going along with the fucking around

Anyway, back to the story: Pastor Dad whines about Nick leaving Holiday Harbor: “Nick couldn’t wait to get away from it. From us.

Gee, it’s almost like he wanted to escape a world where he’s been blamed every day for a tragic accident that took place when he was TWELVE.

Julia says that Nick is “ready to put the past behind him” (where is she getting THAT?) and just at that moment, Nick storms in, and gets pissed at Julia for “stressing [Pastor Dad] out” and “trying to give him a heart attack.”

This family has a problem with random blame assignments, just sayin’.

It’s all pretty rude and awful, and they snap at each other, and Nick storms off yet again. This is really less a Christmas romance than it is the story of several stupid and assholish people just making each other miserable. Oh, and by the way, Pastor Dad just peaced out when Nick started sniping. Great job at your JOB, Pastor, diffusing arguments and bringing people together.

Nick stays outside for hours, shoveling snow, and when he gets in, everyone is chilling and Lainie hasn’t left out food for him. He correctly interprets this as a slight, and this is confirmed when BIL chats with him and has this to say:

“This is your family’s business, and it’s not my place to step into this mess.”

Um, he IS a member of the family. Unlike, say…JULIA.

With this confusing exchange, Nick heads up for bed…in Lainie and BIL’s bedroom???

Yeah, he just goes into their bedroom and gets into their bed and sleeps the sleep of the just until morning. What a prince.

So, Nick commandeered the master bedroom all for himself, Pastor Dad and Mom are in the spare room, and the kids are presumably in their bedroom. So where the hell do Lainie, BIL, and Julia sleep? And just who the hell does Nick think he is, taking his sister’s bed, especially when he has just offended her by arguing with both her father and her friend?

I guess nobody cares but me, since Nick wakes up in the morning and re-re-remakes his plan to leave town, but then also gets an email notification that Julia’s dollhouse will be here soon.

Then right out of nowhere, Nick has a revelation: that the problem is not that he isn’t Ian, but that he isn’t Pastor Dad. That the issue is that they are two much alike in personality but have different goals, so they “grated on each other’s nerves.”

OR…

The problem is that a grown-ass man, a father, a pastor, blamed a child for a tragic accident.

Might be that, too.

Honestly, this seems like such a trite and too-neat solution. Like, this is simply a personality conflict. I mean, my dad and I have similar personalities, too, where we get along great 99.8% of the time, and the rest of the time, it’s hell breaking loose.

But, and I feel this is a point that just be emphasized…there isn’t a tragic accident involved for which my father has blamed me since I was twelve years old.

But Nick, energized by this revelation, heads right downstairs to reveal the revelation to Pastor Dad.

Pastor Dad is just delighted to hear this.

“I never thought of it that way, but you’re right.”

“Yeah, I never thought personality might have anything to do with familial conflict. I’m a great pastor!”

Pastor Dad also says he never wanted Nick to be a pastor, just a RTC. Which I guess is nice, but not really Nick’s complaint. Nick’s idea has basically been that Ian was the perfect son who wanted to be a pastor, so, in essence, the wrong kid died, and Pastor Dad resents that.

Oh, but I guess he doesn’t now!

“Julia told me you still blame yourself for Ian’s death. You’ll have to make your own peace with that…”

“Yeah, how could I possibly help with that? I’m just a pastor and your father!”

“…but in my mind, it was nothing more than a tragic accident.”

For those of you keeping count, this is now that third time in nine chapters that Christians have told lies, right to people’s faces.

And yep, this is how deep and painful family disagreements and estrangements of a decade are dealt with: in a five-minute breakfast conversation. It’s just that easy!

Oh, and finally, they hug it out: Pastor Dad “opened his arms in a welcoming gesture no one with a heart could resist.

I could. This guy makes my skin crawl. Who knows, maybe that does make me not have a heart, but I just can’t forgive someone so easily for blaming a child for a tragic accident.

Also, he’s kinda the worst pastor on the planet.

Jingle Bell Romance: Chapter 8

The whole family, including Nick, head to church again for another rehearsal. Nick very volunteers to keep an eye of Hannah for, like, half an hour, while his sister is doing other things, and honestly, that’s kinda the least he can do these days. After all, remember he’s staying at his sister’s “humble” home for an ENTIRE MONTH, eating their food and partaking of their hospitality, and buying expensive presents for Julia but not for the people actually putting up the rich relative?

Nick chats with his mom for a minute, long enough to hear that Pastor Dad is already ignoring doctor’s orders, outside knocking icicles off the gutters, even though BIL offered to do it. Dude, it has literally been less than 48 hours since he was hospitalized. At this point, he has nobody to blame for anything except himself. But I’m sure he’ll still find a way to blame Nick. And Nick will find a way to displace his feelings of resentment and inadequacy onto others.

***

Later that week, five feet of snow falls onto the town. The tough ole New Englanders band together to battle the snow, and a gang of helpful townsfolk go around getting the snow off the roofs of the stores on Main Street.

Yep, it’s another Main Street, just like last year!

Julia asks for a spare shovel to do her portion of the sidewalk, and really? It’s mid-December and she still hasn’t bought a single shovel? Ben offers to just do it for her, and Julia refuses, since in the past, “she’d accepted that kind of help, and it had spoiled her terribly.

Really? Cause it doesn’t seem that way. Also, great lesson, kids—don’t accept help from anybody—it’s the Christian way!

Of course, Nick is one of the helper snow-removal crew, though unrecognizable beneath all he winter layers. Apparently, the biggest advantage of this is the feelings of smugness he can enjoy:

…anyone who’d written him off years ago had no clue he was one of the crew…he couldn’t help grinning. If only these grateful folks knew…

Then he gets all pissed because they get to the rectory, and Pastor Dad is shoveling his own snow. 52 hours after being released from the hospital. And the power is out. Nick invites them to stay at Lainie’s house, which is both sensible and presumptuous of him.

As they’re loading the parental units, power on the whole street goes out, so nick also ropes in Julia and Shakespeare to come crash at Lainie’s, too, which is also kind and yet presumptuous. Also, how does he know they have power?

I guess they do, because they all arrive, and Lainie is making some soup and homemade bread, all of which starts a conversation about living on a budget, which in turn leads to some shaming of working moms. Lainie explains that if she can live within a budget, she can stay home until both kids are in school, then she can be a substitute teacher. BIL is a teacher, too.

Julia says how much she admires that:

“Lots of people plan their careers around how much money they can make. They forget that children just want someone to spend time with them. Kids don’t care if that happens on the Riviera or in the backyard.”

That’s big talk, coming from someone who had not only a stay-at-home mom, but a stay-at-home mom…on the Riviera.

Tis the season for the mommy wars!

Lainie even oh-so-humorously observes that if the kids ever want a car or a college education…they can just ask rich Uncle Nick! Speaking of speaking from a position of privilege…

***

Later, Nick and Julia talk about the next part of the gripping biography, and Nick offers to completely leave out the part about how a Swiss banker broke her heart and robbed her blind. He says that is “none of [the readers’] business,” which yeah, I guess, but at the same time, it’s a BIOGRAPHY and the whole reason she moved to Holiday Harbor to open a toy store in the first place.

Honestly, it also humanizes her, which seems to be a big concern. After all, being taken in by a handsome charmer and being ripped off can happen to anyone.

It also ends up coming off as rather manipulative on Nick’s part, because not two minutes after suggesting leaving the painful part of her life out…he strongly implies that he wants more than just a reporter-subject relationship. Julia decides to take her turn being manipulative and says that sounds great, knowing that is encouraging him, even though she “intended to hang onto [her heart] for a very long time.”

‘Tis the season to dance around the Friendzone!

Jingle Bell Romance: Chapter 7

So after sledding, the whole Scooby Gang (Nick and Julia, Lainie and BIL and the kids, Bree and Cooper from the first book, and Ben, who I guess is hero of the next book) head to a diner.

Hey, remember Lucky Lucy from the first chapter? Apparently one of the many people nick bullied in high school, and, ten years later, is still such an obnoxious ass that he drove her away from even getting a morning cup of coffee? She’s their waitress, even though she’s also a veterinary receptionist, because her parents own the place and she helps out in the evenings.

So yeah, Lucy is pretty awesome.

When Nick sees her…

…he bit back a groan…and felt h8 self stiffen reflexively, bracing for an unpleasant end to his happy afternoon.

Huh, it’s almost like actions have consequences or something.

But he simply asks how she is, and she says she’s fine. Though I’m not sure what other response could be expected, since the poor woman has to serve her high school bullies. (I’m assuming Ben and Connor were participants, given her remark about how Nick and his friends tormented her.)

So she says fine, and then feels “annoyance” because she doesn’t ask how he is in return. Yep, asking how someone is, once, when she’s about to serve you, is more than enough to undo years of bullying and present asshattery, and if the bullied person doesn’t immediately forgive and make nice back, it just proves she is terrible, and you are right to be annoyed.

I really, really hope Lucy spits in their food.

Nick pays for everyone, which is kinda generous and also kinda not, since he hasn’t even shown up in town for seven years and it’s not like he can’t afford a few diner meals.

In what is apparently supposed to be a grand and generous gesture, he gives Lucy a cash tip of $40. Lucy is totally taken aback, and…I dunno. Nick says to Julia that it’s to help repair the “bad rep” around town that he has, and this just feels like a very cheap and shallow way of doing it. Like, here’s two twenties, Lucky, er, Lucy. That totally makes up for years of torment and last week’s running you out of the coffee shop. All better now, right?

I still hope she spit in his food.

Nick and Julia go back to her place so she can help him complete the piece on her childhood (is it really that complicated?), and as she’s reading the draft, he feels all nervous and reflects that he should maybe try being a tad nicer to his writers. Yanno, just for kicks.

Except for Bree. She irritated him on purpose, and he couldn’t let her get away with that.

He JUST GOT DONE interacting with someone who, for years, he had “irritated on purpose.” Does he honestly not see what’s going on right in front of his face?

After what seems like a very short aiming of time spent writing/editing, Julia invites him to continue to stay for a movie and some Christmas snacks. It must actually be getting late now, rather too late for Christian romance bonding all alone.

But I guess we’re doing this: Nick picks out Miracle on 34th Street, because he’s never seen it. So they sit and cuddle on the couch and watch, getting nick out of there by 11:00. Again, seems super late for a small Christian town.

Back at his sister’s, he decides to buy Julia a super expensive Christmas gift: a gigantic mansion of a dollhouse, to hold all her dollhouse miniatures.

Hmmm…now that’s the kind of gift that might just make up for years of bullying…

Oh, and then, hilariously, Nick remembers to publish his own darn online magazine. He just has to push one button to do it, but apparently nobody can do it but him.

And back at her place, Julia has a lovely phone conversation with her mom, who is terribly sweet and awesome. And we get the odd little information drop that her ambassador dad grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, so I’m not sure where we get the attitude in this book, that Julia’s family is so removed from everyone else and nobody could possibly understand her.

Also, Julia’s parents’ romance sounds far more intriguing than Julia and Nick’s. Why can’t we read about these adorable people?

Ah well. Happy Wintermas Eve, all!

Jingle Bell Romance: Chapter 6

Sometime after midnight, Nick and Lainie head back home. Nick asks, naturally enough, why nobody told him that Pastor Dad had angina.

“He hates thinking about it, so we don’t mention it.”

What a healthy attitude and strategy!

Lainie reveals that she has already been informed by some lady in town that Nick and Julia were kissing in her store. So apparently this woman phoned Lainie immediately upon seeing it, matter if life and death, catching her in the mere two minutes before Pastor Dad entered and started arguing. Small town gossip is super efficient like that.

Several pages are wasted with Nick apparently staring off into the middle distance, alternately thinking about Julia and regretting his brother’s death.

***

At the store the next day, Julia has a bizarre transaction where a random customer offers her his PR services for her giving tree. I say bizarre because although she offers to pay him and sign the “simple contract” of his choice, he instead requests to be comped the price of TWO expensive train sets: one for his kid, one for the giving tree.

And Julia just DOES it, voids the transaction and keys the msn walk out of her store with expensive merchandise, with no guarantee of…anything.

Again, my suspicious atheist antennae, the ones that went on full alert she Pastor Dad clutched his chest, are twitching again. Maybe I’m wary over nothing here, but I guess we’ll see.

***

Cut to Nick picking a photo for the next segment of the Julia Saga, this one focusing on her childhood. He’s picking between a picture of her playing the violin, and one of her dancing in The Nutcracker.

Since everyone kept reminding him it was Christmastime, he went with the ballet pic. It complemented the story on her unusual childhood perfectly.

Yeah. Heh. Violin and ballet. How, umm…unusual.

Guess I’ll have to inform my parents how freaky they made me…

Lainie invites him to go sledding with them. And good ole hero that Nick is, he responds thusly:

“Y’know, I’m used to being the guy in charge,” he reminded her, pointing to himself for emphasis. “I tell other people what to do, not the other way around.”

Man, total husband material here!

I suppose one could interpret this as sibling teasing, but Lainie reacts absolutely seriously, snapping that Nick steamrolls people and misses out on good ideas in doing so. Which, yeah.

And this has the desired result: Nick goes sledding. It’s very Hallmark movie-ish: Julia is magically there instead of running her toy store just a few weekends before Christmas, and they both think about how much they like each other. They also spend several boring pages chatting with Bree and Connor from the last book.

We are officially halfway through this story, and friggin’ nothing has happened.

Jingle Bell Romance: Chapter 4, Part 2 and Chapter 5

A few days later, some local color stops by Julia’s shop to waste a few pages with pointless banter. I’ll bring it up only if it becomes important later.

Apparently, Nick has been “trailing after her for days,” so Julia thinks she’ll miss him (in an oh-so-romantic sense), but that it’s best to keep him non-romantic, due to her “carefully orchestrated plan.”

I feel like Julia is giving herself a LOT of credit here.

***

Nick wakes up Sunday morning to find that the whole family has let him sleep in (until 10! Damn, wish I could do that!) while they all go to church. Nick sees an email from his IT Director, telling him to look at the subscription numbers, which have “zoomed upward” in the (presumably) day or two since publishing the first installment of Julia’s story.

…people were coming back for more on the elusive ambassador’s daughter.

Really? Sorry, I just don’t think she’s as fascinating as all that. Person who comes from wealth leads semi-normal life, with money from parents? Not what would tempt me to buy a whole subscription, but whatevs, I guess.

Nick reflects that he LIKE likes Julia, which is not a good thing because he never lets relationships (yanno, with all those dancers and models) get too serious, so he lies around thinking about how to get out of this.

***

Tuesday, Nick finally deigns to head to Julia’s shop, where he rather distantly interviews her about her childhood. Though on the other hand, he stays ALL DAY, until she closes and heads out to volunteer at the Christmas pageant. Hilariously, given her “carefully orchestrated plan,” she has “no clue” what to do next in this “plan,” but she does spontaneously invite Nick to come to pageant rehearsal with her. He acquiesces, mostly to support Hannah, who is “lead angel this year.” This seems a hefty responsibility for a four-year-old, and I’m sure has NOTHING to do with the fact that her grandfather is the pastor.

Nick helps Julia on with her coat and they almost-kiss, then, sin averted, head to the church, where a whole lot of nothing happens. Though at one point, we’re reminded of Nick’s high school bullying days. He sees a group of “moms” talking, and they glare at him, and like an asshole, he waves, then is amused when they “flounced their shoulders and pointedly turned away.”

So apparently Lucy wasn’t the only girl Nick bullied in high school. What a catch he is!

Nick then finds an old friend, Ben, who was an all-star athlete in school and thus worthy for Nick to hang out with. As they’re chatting, Pastor Dad shows up, nastily greeting his only son with a, “What are you doing here?

Like a tween, Ben tries to cover for him (lying in the House of God by doing so, the second person to do that in this book), but Nick tells the truth and says he’s there to support Hannah. This is, apparently, is “the only answer that would prevent a very public display of McHenry temper.”

So hot damn, would the pastor have brawled with his son, right there in church, for the crime of…being there?

Good thing that was averted, and Pastor Dad starts “dictating” to Ben some random shit about the manger, and Nick congratulates himself for making it through “an encounter with the dictator himself.” Yeah, Pastor Dad sure does seem like the kindliest of small-town ministers, doesn’t he? No wonder Julia loves his church so.

Nick’s mom, however, is awesome, and just adores him. As they’re bonding, she gets a call from their pianist, that she has pneumonia and can’t be there. And it doesn’t take much arm-twisting to get Nick to play during rehearsal. He actually does it for a sweet and pure reason: because he loves his mom and wants to make her happy by helping out.

After, he takes Julia home, and she asks him up for cocoa, but he says “the biddies’ll never let you hear the end of it.” Wow, small towns are great, eh?

They make it into the shop, and Nick kisses her. It’s actually kinda sweet if I forget what an asshole bully Nick is.

THEN THIS HAPPENS:

…a sharp rapping on the front door made [Julia] jump. Framed in the glass was D├íniel McHenry, looking like a furious thundercloud. Pointing at Nick, he motioned for his son to join him out on the sidewalk.

So, holy crap, the minister just followed his son and his son’s friend to her home/place of business, interrupting their private conversation.

Nick is (understandably, for once) pissed, and Julia actually does the…ambassadorial (?) thing and, instead of letting nick out so they can scream at each other in the snow and cold in the middle of the night, invites Pastor Dad in.

Pastor Dad is surprised by Julia inviting him in, and initially refuses.

“This isn’t the place for us to discuss family business.”

Really? Then why did you stalk two people to this very place, asshat?

But he nonetheless enters and Julia kinda stands around because she feels too awkward to leave, which makes sense.

“I want to talk to you about accompanying the choir for the Christmas pageant.”

“And you don’t want Mom to hear what you have to say. That must mean you know it’d make her mad.”

“It would, and I’d prefer to avoid that.”

“Not, mind you, that I will avoid it by keeping my big mouth shut, but I’m going to avoid it by going behind her back. It’s the Christian thing to do!”

Basically, Pastor Dad forbids Nick from playing piano for pageant rehearsals, because he has “allowed your relationship with God to dwindle away to nothing.”

Julia points out that without Nick, they wouldn’t have had any music tonight, and Pastor Dad says that “this is between Nick and me,” which is big talk coming from the man who just stalked her to her home and placed of business and banged on her door in the middle of the night.

Nick points out, very sensibly, that the pianist has frikkin’ pneumonia and will not exactly be ready to roll anytime soon. To this actual LOGIC, Pastor Dad only says,

“We’ll find someone else.”

“Anyone but me, right, Dad?”

Nick is right, so Pastor Dad simply flounces out like a formerly-bullied Mom. Or tries to—he clutches his chest and nearly collapses, but Nick catches him.

Okay, a few things:

I am a heartless atheist, I know, but my first thought when Pastor Dad clutched his chest was, “faker!” I should have known better, since this is a Christian romance, but I knew someone once who was not above using health scares to manipulate people.

And can we just talk about what a horrible asshole Pastor Dad is? Let’s just count the disrespect:

Obviously, he’s horrible to Nick. Nick was actually doing something completely pure and selfless, and Dad’s first and ONLY response is to shit all over it. I hate to make excuses for bad behavior, but if this has been life with Pastor Dad, it’s kinda no wonder that Nick doesn’t trust anyone, and skipped town as soon as he could.

It is just SO weird and creepy that Pastor Dad stalked Nick and Julia back to her place, then peered in to peep on them kissing. So INCREDIBLY disrespectful to Julia. What, he couldn’t have waited ONE DAY to take this up with Nick?

And what about his wife? She asked, almost begged Nick to do this, and instead of talking to her about this or (here’s an idea!) letting her have this small thing (which, hey, might just help Nick find his way back to the church!), he goes behind her back, stalking and berating her son. What a great husband!

Oh, and let’s not forget his whole congregation, including his daughter and granddaughter, since he’d rather they have no musical accompaniment at all in the pageant than let his son do it.

Seriously, I don’t think we’ve really had a villain like this in a Christmas romance before!

***

Oh yeah, health scare: they get Pastor Dad to the hospital, and Nick stands in the hallway, literally thinking that he has singlehandedly killed his own father by arguing with him for ten seconds and thus inducing a heart attack. But after what seems like a VERY long time to let a person think this, he is informed that his dad has angina, and has had it for some time, and…

“Every once in awhile it flares up. Each time, the doctor runs tests, declares him fit to leave and sends him home with orders to take his medicine and slow down a little.”

Yeah, you know the thrill-a-minute life of a small-town pastor!

“For a while he does, then it’s back to his old ways.”

I see. So the man knows he has a medical condition, doesn’t take his medication, and scared the shit out of his son and the rest of his family. What a great example he sets for his flock!

Lainie finally invites him into Pastor Dad’s hospital room, and Pastor Dad actually has enough decency to say, “Thanks for catching me, son,” Though Nick reflects that he hasn’t been called that in many years.

Then Pastor Dad and Mom engage in a “silent battle” of stares, and Pastor Dad apologizes for berating Nick and says he can play piano. He even says, “I had no right to interfere with [your mother’s] choice of accompanist.”

That’s actually pretty decent if him, or it would be, if his wife hadn’t forced him into it. So now we know that Nick’s parents have that kind of marriage: where the husband does whatever the hell he likes, but if his wife finds out, it’s forced-apology time. So healthy!

Nick’s a gigantic jerk, but I’m kinda seeing why.

YOU GUYS

I mean, oh my Gawd, you guys…

Our Wintermas romance! From 2014! It’s been made into a FRIKKIN’ MOVIE!!!

Look!

Jingle Bell Romance: Chapter 4, Part 1

Well, I can’t believe it happened, but we are about to encounter a character even more insufferable than Nick.

Nick is shadowing Julia for his hard-hitting account of a wealthy woman who now runs a toy store. Julia even says her routine should make him “drop dead of boredom,” so just imagine how great this will be for his readers!

As they head up the stairs to her apartment, they hear a voice say, “When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Nick, genius reporter who looks down on absolutely everyone, immediately says (and I can just hear the smugness), “I recognize the line from Hamlet.

Oh. My. Gawd.

Yeah, so there’s a super-smart macaw living with Julia. The macaw’s name is…Shakespeare and he quotes Shakespeare all the time…and the author and Nick did not know one of the most famous Shakespeare lines…from MACBETH, Jesus!

I mean, this isn’t even hard.

This bird, I’m telling you, is just horrific. I get that some birds can learn lots of words, but I don’t believe they can so perfectly tailor the words to the situation. For example, Julia pets him affectionately, and the bird says, “Ah, Julia, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

You know, that famous line from King Lear.

The bird’s only saving grace is that he makes Nick uncomfortable, because Julia is pet-sitting the bird for a friend…a man friend.

Even thought they are Just Good Friends, Nick gets all petty and jealous, which is always a super attractive trait in a man you aren’t even dating. So he baits her like an ass and she responds bizarrely by pointing out how simply she lives, in an above-the-shop apartment with only the bare minimum of furniture. I mean, she’s fine, she’s living perfectly comfortably, but Nick, with his disdain for “humble” lifestyles, acts like she’s living in the Cratchit hovel.

This leads to the reveal of Julia’s dark secret—she fell in love with a Swiss banker who stole her identity and her money. Despite her family’s wealth and influence, they couldn’t find the guy or recover any of the money, which strikes me as just a tad farfetched. So her parents gave her a loan (they wanted it to be a gift, but she refused) so she could start her toy store.

Nick sees that this is why she “dropped out of sight,” because again, the whole world was eager for a moment-by-moment recounting of the life of a random ambassador’s daughter.

Julia ditches for a few minutes to check emails, and the stupid bird says, “Alas, fair maiden! Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Except that’s not the actual line. The actual line is, “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.” But that wouldn’t really fit here, because it’s morning. Also the author doesn’t know Shakespeare. “…she heard Nick laugh and quote the next line,” but again, I’m not convinced she knows what it is, since it’s just “That I shall say good night till it be morrow,” and again, morning.

With Julia gone, Nick goes snooping at her things. We see that things are not nearly so dire as they both seem to think, since she has a leather chair and sofa, antique tables, and a flat-screen tv, AND a zillion gifts from around the world speckled about, so I’m honestly not sure why they’re both acting like Julia lives like a broke student or worse.

Back from emails (cause toy stores are known for being super-slow the week after Thanksgiving), Julia spontaneously pries into Nick’s relationship with his father. Shockingly, Nick lays all his cards on the table pretty much immediately: when he was 12 and his brother Ian was 15, they were out in their rowboat, fishing, and started messing about, “trying to knock each other off into the water with the oars—you know how kids do.”

Actually, I don’t. But then, my parents and grandparents were safety sticklers, and that sort of shit would NOT have flown when we were kids.

And with good reason: Nick whacked Ian into the water, and when Ian didn’t immediately surface, Nick assumed he was playing a prank, “trying to scare” Nick, as he often did.

And again, faking injury or death was another thing that my family would NOT have been down with.

AND WITH GOOD REASON. Nick finally dives in after Ian, finding him at the bottom, having hit his head and drowned within a minute.

Which is all pretty horrible, and especially so since an innocent 12-year-old kid had to pull his brother’s body out of the water like that. And because Ian was “just about perfect,” “wanted to be a preacher,” and, because of that, Pastor Dad’s favorite, Pastor Dad has never let Nick forget that.

I feel legit sorry for Nick, even if he is an overgrown high school bully with all the anger management skills of a toddler. That sucks, and it is awful that he still holds into this image of Ian as being near-perfect…even though the kid was dangerously (fatally) reckless in several different ways.

Nick also still blames himself completely, citing the accident as his “fault,” his “stupidity,” completely absolving his dead brother.

Dude, this family was in need of so much therapy…but I guess Pastor Dad didn’t think so. Pretty horrific to think he’s been counseling the local families for decades, all the while letting his son live with this kind of burden.

Julia doesn’t exactly have any words of wisdom for Nick. (Though to be fair, it’s not like she’s a therapist or anything.). But she does point out that all this opening up to each other makes them friends.

Though Nick, in his head, immediately removes himself from the dreaded Friendzone, his thoughts only on a romantic relationship, not a platonic one.

So yeah, I feel for the guy, but he’s not exactly doing himself any favors with that line of thinking.

Jingle Bell Romance: Chapter 3, Part 2

And btw, is there a more generic title than “Jingle Bell Romance”? It tells us NOTHING.

So the jingle bell romance continues apace as Julia begins her plan to meddle in others’ affairs.

While she suspected what [might be bothering him], she thought it might help him to voice it out loud–with a little nudging from her along the way.

Yes, I’m sure Julia knows what is best for everyone at all times.

And yet, her bravery extinguishes itself even as it is sparked, and she backs away immediately, getting out of Nick only that he feels like he’s missed a lot, what with not coming home for seven years.

Oh, and not for nothing, but I’ve been watching Dickensian (highly recommended, it’s on Amazon Prime!) and seven years is how long Jacob Marley was dead before the events of A Christmas Carol. Significance, or coincidence?

So Julia kinda forgets that she’s there to reconcile father and son, and instead they talk about sledding and the events of the previous book. This allows Nick to drop in a few humblebrags about his “awards for bold journalism” (yeah, I bet), and how “designing layouts and keeping up with invoices aren’t nearly as much fun as writing.”

Wait, so you OWN this online magazine, and it’s making you so much money that normal life seems “humble” to you and you only date models and dancers…but you’re still doing all the technical crapwork yourself?

Talk then turns back to winter sports, and Julia mentions that she skis and snowboards, which opens the door for Nick to provide a nice backhanded insult:

“Didn’t peg you as a snow bunny.”

She oddly responds that “the media only sees what I want them to see,” and it’s not the first time this book has implied that the life of an ambassador’s daughter is so fascinating that she is under constant scrutiny by media and public alike, and that this is why the simple townsfolk haven’t warmed to her.

This all leads Nick to ask what a rich celebrity like…the daughter of an ambassador (!) is doing selling toys in a small tourist town in Maine. Though, of course, he manages to phrase it as insultingly as he can: “hiding out in a backwoods place like this.”

Julia simply responds that she was looking for a fresh start, and Nick, as is his custom, doubles down on the asshattery:

He smirked. “Nice try, cupcake, but I’m not buying it.”

Wow. What’s not to hate, right?

Julia responds with awesomeness:

“This may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t really care what you believe.”

And, saved by a text from the store, she peaces out.

You go, girl.

Nick sits there and wallows in the sting of “her blatant rejection,” which had turned her into “the Ice Queen.”

Maybe being called a snow bunny annoyed her, he thought…

Maybe being called a liar to her face annoyed her, Mr. Genius Journalist.

Nick slinks into the living room to help with the decorations, and is instead treated to a Christian lecture from his sister, as she accuses him of “doing everything the hardest way possible” by not going to church. Nick is actually nonconfrontational for once, and deliberately doesn’t engage. Guess he got it out of his system when he insulted Julia repeatedly.

***

Anyway, that night, Julia calls Nick and concedes to his request to do a story on her for his online magazine. This conversation takes place off-screen, so we get the in-person negotiations of the Monday morning after Thanksgiving, as the two chill at the toy store:

Julia grants Nick an “exclusive,” which just strikes me as hilarious because are there really that many publications so eager to chronicle the life of an ambassador’s grown daughter? Guess so, or at least Julia thinks so, because she opines that “some reporter or another will track me down eventually.” Girl, it’s not like you changed your name or anything. You’ve been living here for half a year—I think if you were such a huge story, you would have been tracked down by now.

Nick then repeats himself from just a few pages earlier in this very chapter, saying that “in case you haven’t figured it out already, I’m not used to taking orders. What makes you think I’ll play along?

Wow, a lot to unpack here. First of all, “play along“? This was your idea in the first place, Nick. Second, you are really obsessed with this whole “not taking orders” thing. Please just chill the eff out, and let go of your controlling impulses for just a fraction of a second while you make a deal with someone who wants to help you. And also, could he BE any more rude and asshattish? It is just constant with this jerk.

But Nick does indeed play along, because he “didn’t doubt for a second that if he didn’t grab this opportunity, another journalist would. Julia’s story had flash and grit, two things people loved to read about.”

Forgive me if I find this all just a bit hard to swallow. Especially when Nick starts to fantasize about how he’ll tease the first installment of this epic tale for free, then offer limited subscriptions so people could read the rest, then hopefully they’ll buy full subscriptions!

PROFIT

No, seriously, Nick imagines the “pure profit.”

Am I way off base? Does anyone think this will be the phenomenon Julia and Nick think it will be?

Jingle Bell Romance: Chapter 3, Part 1

Time for some good ole (and confusing) male bonding!

Nick actually does something nice for someone else, and helps his brother-in-law Todd shovel the driveway. Though in fairness, he stepped out to check on the snowfall, and it wasn’t like he was doing anything else, so it would have looked pretty crass if he had just slunk back into the house.

Anyway, BIL has this to say, out of nowhere:

“Lainie told me what happened to Ian and how things went for your family afterward. That has nothing to do with me, and I’m not one to judge anyway.”

It was one of the nicest things anyone had said to him all week…

Really? He’s home with his sister and mother and niece, who all adore him. What a friggin’ whiner.

BIL mentions playing with his daughter in the snow, and Nick condescendingly reflects that “the Martins’ humble lifestyle was starkly different from his own.” But is it? They live in a nice house in a tourist town, have sufficient space to put Nick up indefinitely, and have expressed zero money worries. And hell, Nick is only 28, and grew up in the same house as Lainie, pastor’s kids. Has his life as an online magazine editor really propelled him so high that he has forgotten how the little people live?

Just then, Julia pulls up with a delivery. Nick is genuinely surprised that she is making a delivery, and that Todd and Lainie have a place in the garage where they hide gifts:

Nick didn’t understand why they were going to so much trouble to keep the presents a secret.

Nick is kinda like an alien from outer space, isn’t he? “What is this Christ-mas, and these prez-ents?” Again, he and Lainie grew up in the same household—how is he NOT familiar with the concept of keeping Christmas gifts a secret?

Todd invites her in for some cocoa, and we get a classic movie romance moment where she slips on the ice and falls romantically into Nick’s arms. Cue the swell of music!

Despite the slip, he thinks she is “elegant and beautiful,” which I guess is kinda nice.

With the grace of a ballerina, she seemed to float over the snow, barely touching the ground before going up the steps. Nick had dated plenty of models and dancers, but he’d never met a woman who walked the way Julia did.

Yeah, what a player he is. Only the best in models and dancers for our hero, so he finds a “normal” woman…who looks like a movie star and moves like a dancer. It’s only what he deserves, right?

This is actually making me long for the days of Child in a Manger, when our hero fell hard for a plumpish, cute, very normal woman.

Nick then confusingly reflects that he won’t be able to impress her:

Men had probably taken her to Paris for dinner and a ride on the Seine. There was no way a guy like him could compete with that…

Wait, not three minutes ago, he was sneering at the “humble” lifestyle of his own sister, and not three SECONDS ago, he was thinking about all the models and dancers he’d dated.

In the house, Lainie and little Hannah show up and the talk turns to tree decorating. Nick tries to get out of it (and do what instead, sulk in his room like an emo tween?) and Todd advises him to “just do what the girls tell you.”

“This might come as a shock, but I’m not in the habit of taking orders from anyone.”

Damn, speaking of an emo tween… It was a joke, asshole.

Oh, and speaking of a humble lifestyle, it is then revealed that Lainie and Nick each have a Waterford crystal tree topper. Their mother got them on her trips (trips, multiple) to Ireland.

Yep, that’s a humble family, with their Waterford crystals decorations and frequent trans-Atlantic flights.

The three Martins vacate the kitchen to get the ornaments, leaving Nick and Lainie alone…

Next time!