Posted in: AztecLady Reviews
It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted one of these, but I seem to have found my misplaced reviewing mojo. As I was reading this novel, I kept writing notes for the review in my head. So here I am, back (though I’m afraid Ms Roberts would probably prefer I didn’t start out with her book).
The Nine Lives of Christmas, by Sheila Roberts
I mentioned here that I got this book a couple of weeks ago from the always lovely Ms Faith. I’m quite glad of this for a couple of reasons (above and beyond the loveliness of the gesture). First, cost. At 214 pages, this reads more like a longish novella or category length romance than a whole novel, yet it’s out as a holiday hardback by St Martin’s Press. Youch!
The second has much more to do with the story itself.
This is a sweet holiday romance—there are two, perhaps three kisses total in it—ending in a happy for now with great potential for the future, a kind of ending I personally like quite a bit. Particularly when you consider that the story takes place in about a week total real time.
Here’s the cover jacket blurb:
Two people are about to discover that when it comes to finding love, sometimes Christmas magic isn’t enough…sometimes it takes a pesky orange cat named Ambrose.
When a guy is in trouble, he starts making deals with his Creator…and Ambrose the cat is no exception. In danger of losing his ninth and final life, Ambrose makes a desperate plea to the universe. He’ll do anything—anything!—if he can just survive and enjoy a nice long, final life. His prayer is answered when a stranger comes along and saves him—but then Ambrose is faced with having to hold up his end of the bargain.
The stranger turns out to be a firefighter named Zach, who’s in need of some serious romantic help. If Ambrose can just bring Zach together with Merilee, the nice lady who works at Pet Palace, it’s bound to earn him a healthy ninth life. Unfortunately for Ambrose, his mission is a lot harder than he ever thought. Merilee is way too shy to make the first move on a ladies’ man like Zach, and Zach thinks he’s all wrong for a nice girl like Merilee. Now it’s going to take all of Ambrose’s feline wiles—and maybe even a good old-fashioned Christmas miracle—to make them both realize that what they’re looking for is right in front of their eyes.
There is practically nothing of the plot that is not revealed by that blurb, by the way, so I’ll just move on to the execution.
The story is told in third person, and the author does something that worked for me very well. We have three narrators (or points of view): Zach, Merilee, and…Ambrose. This brought some very welcome freshness to the story and allowed me to see and know some things about characters that would have required some unwelcome exposition (telling) otherwise.
On the not so positive side, there were times where Ambrose’s ultimate selfishness (he’s not helping these two out of the goodness of his heart but to earn his last life, after all) were pushed to the fore a little too much. Perhaps the idea was to keep true to the general perception of cats, but after a bit it got on my nerves—I’m one of those readers who don’t need to have things repeated six times through a two hundred page book. Tell me (better yet, show me) once, and I’m good for the remainder of the story.
However, the main thing that didn’t work for me was Merilee—and there’s definitely reader intrusion there.
Merilee is not just shy, but she has issues. Apparently she was overweight while in high school (five, six years ago?) and since she has gorgeous sisters, she still considers herself the dowdy/uninteresting/invisible one. (For a while there I even thought there was going to be the “poor thing, her family is awful to her” thrown in there, but no, it’s all in her head. Her sisters are, in fact, nice. They want Merilee to get over her high school issues and accept that she too is gorgeous. To come out of her shell, to find fulfillment in her job and in her personal life. This, by the way, is not what bothered me about her.) She is also living in a place just a short step up from a dump, paycheck to paycheck, trying to save money to go back to college.
Merilee is not so much shy as a bit of a doormat. She lets pretty much everyone around her walk over her—after the manager at the apartment she rents tells her off something, Merilee still wishes her a “merry Christmas”—and she’s not being sarcastic.
But then, in the one situation when no rational person who is an adult, self-supporting, and working retail, would do anything other than being apologetic, accommodating, self-effacing and helpful, Merilee completely looses it and tells off a customer:
(set up: the scene is told from Ambrose’s point of view, right after he scratches Blair, who doesn’t like cats)
(Blair speaking) “That animal should be put down. He’s dangerous.”
“No, he’s not,” scolded the same female voice Ambrose had heard earlier. “He’s just scared.”
“Excuse me?” snapped Blair Baby.
“I said he’s scared,” the voice snapped back.
“And what are you, a cat shrink?”
“Come on now, Blair,” said Zach. “That’s uncalled for.”
You could say that again.
“I know a few things about cats,” said the other female.
“Naturally. You have to be highly qualified to work here,” said Blair Baby.
Probably, so why was she using that sneering tone of voice?
“The biggest qualification is a heart,” the other female retorted. “So you shouldn’t bother applying.”
Please excuse me while I try, very, very hard, not to lobby the book out the window.
But it goes on:
“Do I look like I need to work here?” snapped Blair Baby.
“I have no idea what you need,” said the voice sweetly, “but you might consider therapy.”
Do I really need to explain why this so completely and utterly and absolutely rubbed me the wrong way? I mean, I could take that from someone who doesn’t need the job—and the crappy economy is mentioned earlier in the story, by the way—but the author has taken some pains to explain just how much Merilee needs the job.
It will not surprise anyone to know that she gets sacked, with the added overkill of Blair being the daughter of Pet Palace’s owner.
So now Merilee doesn’t only have to overcome her old issues, but find a job, find a new apartment, decide what to do about her life, look for a romantic relationship, and generally grow up, in the next oh, hundred and ten pages.
Zach, our male protagonist, is a bit more consistently written, and yet…
He is a basically nice guy whose experience as a child of divorce has made him wary of any hint of permanency in relationships. If that had been all he had to outgrow during the course of the story, it would have been plenty (particularly for the length of the book) but Ms Roberts included some extra convoluted grim family back story that, for me at least, was not only unnecessary but a bit clichéd—Zach doesn’t care for Christmas, has issues with all the members of his family, etc.
All these threads come together at the end, tied together in a neat bow (Christmas red, of course) but it’s frankly too much and too little at the same time and, therefore, not believable. Or perhaps I was just not taken with the characters and into the story enough to be willing to suspend my disbelief.
Either way, and with regret, this book was quite a wash for me.
I give The Nine Lives of Christmas a 4 out of 10