MINI-REVIEW: Susan Meier’s THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS, “My True Love Gave to Me”

12_Dates_ChristmasMiss Bates’ Christmas romance posts are edging closer to the much-anticipated day, Christmas! She has another three titles queued; her posts may just go to the twelfth day of Christmas 😉 … which is a perfect segue to her latest Christmas-set read, Susan Meier’s The Twelve Dates of Christmas, a romance built on the premise of a “deal” between two lonely, sad people. Ricky Langley, wealthy tech entrepreneur, seeks fake-date girl to convince his friends that he’s getting over the sad thing that happened to him a year and a half ago. He finds Eloise Vaughn at a mutual friends’ Christmas party when he bumps into her and crushes the crackers she’s sneaked into her purse. Why is Eloise stealing crackers? Because she’s poor, working as a temp, disowned by her wealthy parents for marrying beneath them to a motorcycle-riding bad boy. The bad boy died of cancer and left her widowed in New York City: now, all she wants is the independence and security that come with a solid, high-paying job. Eloise agrees to Ricky’s twelve-date deal in exchange for his help and connections to getting her dream job. Their deal is cemented by each one’s private resolution that he/she’s too hurt, too broken, and too cautious to be interested in anything more than an exchange of convenient “services.”

Ricky’s collision with Eloise prefigures the seismic emotional effect their meeting has on two grieving, isolated people. Ricky (a truly awful name for a hero, thought Miss Bates, making him sound like he’s 5 instead of 35) is the harder nut to crack. If Eloise’s story is a sad one, Ricky’s is sadder. If she lost her husband, he lost his 18-month old son, Blake. If Eloise at least loved and cared for her husband, Wayne, Ricky carries the guilt that he never sought custody of Blake from his irresponsible party-girl mother. Whatever mileage Meier got out of Blake and Eloise’s meet-cute is swallowed by their internal monologues of grief, guilt, and shame. What starts as a light-hearted romance novel turns sad and dark as soon as we are told (and there’s a lot of telling to this novel) their back-stories. Meier heaps misery on these two … and even though the melodrama is thick and fast and contrived, it was sufficiently effective that Miss Bates pitied them. BUT she didn’t love them: when a romance elicits pity, but remains contrived, it exhibits only a modicum success. Miss Bates was never NOT aware of what Meier was doing. Her enjoyment of the novel was limited by Ricky and Eloise’s heartache and Meier’s inability to move beyond her premise.

The twelve-date deal leading up to Christmas sees Eloise and Ricky attend parties, drink cocktails, ride the limo, dance, and converse. Eloise, in particular, is more forthcoming about what happened to land her in this situation. Her sadness and yet starvation for affection and friendship are worn squarely on her sleeve. Ricky is an abrupt and grouchy soul, but basically a decent man who thinks he didn’t measure up to his most important job, fatherhood. Once this premise is set up and characters are established, Meier’s Twelve Dates of Christmas suffers from what Miss Bates calls the vacillating romance narrative. The heroine has feelings for the hero, but the contrived nature of their relationship and her past sad experience has her internally alternating between growing feelings for him and cautionary remarks. The same goes for the hero: one step to liking the heroine and two steps back as to how pain-filled and undeserving he is.

Meier’s characters are sympathetic, but their internal vacillating ruminations are tedious after about chapter four. Meier’s problem, as so many gimmicky, or contrived contemporary romances possess, is “where can she go from here?” There should be reasons why these two can’t be together. Those reasons, on the basis of a frivolous premise, have to remain internal conflicts. Moreover, a civilized and honest conversation between Eloise and Ricky might solve their dilemma, but if this occurs, then where can we go beyond about halfway through the novel? Hence, the vacillations of “I like, love, lust him/her … no, no, I’m so unhappy, this would never work, I don’t deserve him/her” … with the result that characters waver and hesitate, as well as contradict themselves.

It seems to Miss Bates that characters shouldn’t be at the mercy of a premise, that a good romance has the premise serve the characters. Then, where would the conflict be? It remains internal, within conflicted, struggling souls. Yet, there were moments when the narrative charmed Miss Bates. When Eloise resolves to help Ricky be happy for the holidays and makes him grumpier, she says, “As Christmas angels went, she was a failure.” Eloise is cute and funny and holds her own against his grumpiness. Ricky too indulges in some good banter and behaves more lovingly than he gives himself credit for. There are scenes of genuine affection that moved Miss Bates. Meier tries to show that her hero and heroine experience growth. Ricky’s change-of-heart on Christmas Day is an absolute delight. Meier is a solid writer, with smooth turns of phrase and great kissing scenes. Despite these strengths to the romance novel, Miss Bates found the hero and heroine’s internal ruminations comprising dithering and ambivalence made for a whole load of “sound and fury.” Susan Meier’s The Twelve Dates of Christmas, Miss Bates says, is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.

Susan Meier’s The Twelve Dates of Christmas, published by Harlequin (Romance), has been available since November 4th in “e” and paper formats at your preferred vendors.

Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.

6 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Susan Meier’s THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS, “My True Love Gave to Me”

  1. I am not the most Christmas-oriented reader. The last time I read a Christmas romance was probably ten years ago—a Mary Balogh, which in fact was effective, though I can’t remember the title.

    But I am enjoying your reviews! I even feel moved by them, in this case wishing Ricky and Eloise happiness.

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    • Oh, I’m so glad you’re enjoying them. There’s a particularly poignancy to the Christmas romance because it seems to be a time when expectations are so high. I wonder if the Balogh you read was A CHRISTMAS PROMISE, which I loved to pieces. It’s so good.

      It’s almost worth it to read what isn’t a great romance novel for Ricky’s making-it-up big-time to Eloise in the final scene. The epilogue is too much, unnecessary, in this case.

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  2. I am really enjoying reading your Christmas book reviews as well!! I have to say that as an “enginerd” myself the phrase “wealthy tech entrepreneur” makes me umm, grimace, shrink, grind teeth, etc. depending on context. But, I read on because, it’s Miss Bates! The things that jumped out at me here were your comments on internal ruminations. I really noticed the contrast of your impressions vs. the interesting observations you made in your review of Devil’s Cub regarding the use of physical actions and details in lieu of omniscient narrator articulation of internal monologue, and the advantages of same. Getting into the weeds here, and out of the theme, I know, but this popped into my head, and just had to get it out of there! Enjoyed my Jo Beverly medieval Christmas tale, so still planning to read at least one more amidst the shopping, cooking and present wrapping of the next few days! Also looking forward to seeing your next reviews.

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    • Yay! 🙂 to your enjoyment the Christmas romance reviews: I admit I’m getting a great kick out of writing them. And it becomes a bit of an obsession, trying to find a great one … so, far, I’d say the Hart and the Kirst’ve been my favourites. Though SuperWendy just lauded Williams’ A Cowboy For Christmas, so I’m really looking forward to that one.

      I was also thrilled to see the comparison you made to the Devil’s Cub Heyer post, possibly my favourite of this year, on the use of the body to convey character, to point to internal responses as opposed to what is, in my estimation, a bit of a cop-out with the “internal ruminations.”

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the Beverley, Lucy W. who’s commented here, also wrote to me about a Christmas Beverley she enjoyed. I really really want to read more of her … just add another layer to the Staggering TBR!

      These are busy days, but also a lot of fun! That’s what I wish for you: fun, joy, love, and for every present to be wrapped and the meal to be perfect!

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  3. This is one of your reviews I bookmarked because I had the book in the immediate TBR 🙂

    So I finished this yesterday, and it’s interesting we both didn’t love this but for totally different reasons. Meier is an author I want to work for me, but has yet to get out of “OK” territory. She has a way of sugar-coating her angst that I find appealing. On the surface the premise of this book is very fluffy – but then you crack that candy shell and Angst Ahoy! Where she flounders, for me, is in execution and here it was with Ricky, who I spent 95% of the story wanting to smack into next week. Past tragedy doesn’t excuse one from selfish and hypocritical behavior (IMHO), and that’s how Ricky came off to me. I was much more charmed by Eloise and she carried most of the story for me.

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    • Tee hee … I admit I peeked on your website to see what you’re reading and got a real kick out of noting you were reading this one. 😉

      It is so true what you say about Meier, an “okay” read. I wanted to like it better than I did. Confession: I had to reread my review to remember what it was about and what I thought of it … it is true we disliked it for different reasons. We agree there is merit to Meier, but it just doesn’t “rise” to that point of goodness to make itself memorable, to elicit the “wow.” I’d give Meier another try, though … I’d better, I seem to have several of her books in the Reeling TBR.

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