A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
A quirky holiday romance about Faith, Hope, and…er…glow-in-the-dark condoms!
Three years ago, a scandal cost antiquarian “book hunter” James Winter everything that mattered to him: his job, his lover and his self-respect. But now the rich and unscrupulous Mr. Stephanopoulos has a proposition. A previously unpublished Christmas book by Charles Dickens has turned up in the hands of an English chemistry professor by the name of Sedgwick Crisparkle. Mr. S. wants that book at any price, and he needs James to get it for him. There’s just one catch. James can’t tell the nutty professor who the buyer is.
Actually, two catches. The nutty Professor Crisparkle turns out to be totally gorgeous—and on the prowl. Faster than you can say, “Old Saint Nick,” James is mixing business with pleasure…and in real danger of forgetting that this is just a holiday romance.
Just as they’re well on the way to having their peppermint sticks and eating them too, Sedgwick discovers the truth. James has been a very bad boy. And any chance Santa will bring him what he wants most is disappearing quicker than the Jolly Old Elf’s sleigh.
The Dickens with Love is a wonderful, tightly-written little Christmas-themed romance that at times had my eyes rolling in the sheer kitschiness of it, but one that overall I liked very much. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if I learned that Samhain had a contest: give us your best holiday story, and it must have glow-in-the-dark condoms (and use them!), a lost Christmas book, as many references to the band America as possible (without driving you, your readers, and your protag crazy), and an ocelot — and Josh’s tale won. I found it to be delightfully sarcastic, humorous, touching, a bit angsty and sad all at the same time, so totally Josh.
TDWL begins with our first-person narrator, disgraced book hunter James, meeting with a rather unsavory client about a newly-discovered Dickens Christmas book that said client is determined to purchase at almost any cost and means from English University Professor Sedgwick Crisparkle — as long as he remains anonymous. A little uneasy with that stipulation, but really, really needing the commission, he is tasked with convincing the good Professor that he must sell the book to this undisclosed buyer before it goes to auction. James, both skeptical of the book’s authenticity and sure that the seller is going to be a nut job with a name like that, needs to see the book first, though. When he shows up, he is shocked to find that Crisparkle is a total hunk — in an academic kind of way — and the book just may be genuine. But the two don’t hit it off so well and James is sure that he has ruined the chance for the sale — and his badly-needed commission. All is not lost, however, and several meetings — and steamy smexxing sessions — later with Sedge, he thinks he may have saved the day, only to have it all fall apart when Sedge finds out who the buyer is. Now, with his reputation damaged even further, he finds that all he really cares about is his lost opportunity with the man who was only supposed to be a holiday fling.
I have always said that Josh Lanyon is a master of writing flawed, damaged heroes and James is no exception. A voracious reader orphaned at an awkward age, he made a name for himself in the antiquarian book world as an appraiser until it was all taken from him in an unfortunate scandal. Regardless of the truth of his lack of involvement, he was ruined, his perfect life destroyed, and now he lives paycheck to paycheck by shamefully working at the local B&N (Ebenezer Scrooge would have learned a few things about the dark side of humanity if he’d happened to work in a national chain bookstore three days before Christmas). His emotions — his desperation, his self-pity over his situation, his conflict over Sedge, his mixed feelings over procuring something so potentially wonderful for such a crappy human being — were palpable and I felt for him.
What else did I like about this story? Many little — and not so little — things.
Like how cleverly there are many Dickens themes at play, such as orphans, poverty (or on the verge of), Christmas, love, generosity, redemption, prostitution, and probably more that I missed. How Sedge is parallel with Dickens himself regarding a close-call on a train, and how he teaches chemistry like Mr. Redlaw in The Haunted Man.
How James, like Dickens, had happiness, then significant financial problems, then an unexpected windfall. I would like to hope that maybe, like Dickens, he goes on to reclaim his life and reputation.
How Josh created excerpts for the very Victorian-y The Christmas Cake, which could easily have been something Dickens wrote.
How James was with Darcy, his just-as-lonely neighbor. That James decides to go to the movies and what is being offered are films that will be released for Christmas this year. How Josh opted for the Stardust martini recipe I would have chosen (yum!). And I can’t forget Oscar, our feline friend, whose scene was suspenseful and funny from beginning to end.
The many Christmas references that are woven in throughout; some kitschy, some sentimental, some sweet. Angels, snow, trees, peppermint sticks, Christmas music, A Christmas Carol.
Josh is also skilled at first-person narration, and I felt it was successful here as I thought all of the other characters were fully-fleshed, beginning with newly-reborn Sedge to Darcy to the morally-bankrupt, “arrogant, unprincipled asshole” Mr. S. The band America, I felt, was also a secondary character (Were those guys following me or what? What had I ever done to them that they needed to haunt me like the Ghosts of Christmas past?), as well as the odd weather in LA.
In the mood for a holiday novella? I highly recommend this fab, Joshly-written Christmas tale.
UPDATE: You know how sometimes you re-read stories after a bit, after you’ve had time to be apart, and when you go back, your opinion has changed? It may not be something you can put your finger on, but the change is there no matter. I did that with this book. I really, really liked this quirky tale, and I recently had an opportunity to re-read and love it all over again. You know what I found? I liked it even better, so I changed the rating from 4.75 to 5 stars, which is now reflected everywhere. It’s not much of a difference, .25 stars, but it psychologically is, at least for me.