I’m not a fan of the holiday Hallmark movie, but I am a Holiday fan *snigger* Despite my worst imaginings: will it be insipid? Will it read like a first-person voice-over? *gasp* Might it be written in the first-person present-tense … *runs away screaming* … nope, nope, nope, Holiday’s foray into Hallmark territory was tongue-in-cheek funny and carried her sexy brand of tender, funny love to a tee. More Roman-Holiday riff than Hallmark, add cussing and sexy times, the most interesting convention-breaking that Holiday does is actually in the reverse-Cinderella-ing. Cue a genuine cross-class contemporary romance, with a financially-strapped, Bronx-born-n-bred cab driver falling in love with an honest-to-God blue-blooded European princess. The publisher’s blurb will give you the details I’m too lazy a reviewer to outline:
Leo Ricci’s already handling all he can, between taking care of his little sister Gabby, driving a cab, and being the super of his apartment building in the Bronx. But when Gabby spots a “princess” in a gown outside of the UN trying to hail a cab, she begs her brother to stop and help. Before he knows it, he’s got a real-life damsel in distress in the backseat of his car.
Princess Marie of Eldovia shouldn’t be hailing a cab, or even be out and about. But after her mother’s death, her father has plunged into a devastating depression and the fate of her small Alpine country has fallen on Marie’s shoulders. She’s taken aback by the gruff but devastatingly handsome driver who shows her more kindness than she’s seen in a long time.
When Marie asks Leo to be her driver for the rest of her trip, he agrees, thinking he’ll squire a rich miss around for a while and make more money than he has in months. He doesn’t expect to like and start longing for the unpredictable Marie. And when he and Gabby end up in Eldovia for Christmas, he discovers the princess who is all wrong for him is also the woman who is his perfect match.
The romance is easily divided into terrific first-half in Manhattan and less-belivable-more-Hallmark-y-thank-the-romance-gods-for-the-love-scenes second half.
If there’s one thing that Holiday can do, putting her above and beyond plenty of romance drivel out there, is write. She can write, from the opening sentence, “Talking to kids was easier in cars,” to having an understanding of the literary cleverness of parallelism. In the opening scene, Leo ponders how to talk to his sister, Gabby, who’s turned into Tweenzilla to, chapters and chapters later, pondering how to propose to Marie … in a car. Holiday’s writing includes clever, funny cultural references (she doesn’t name-brand-drop, chicklit’s bane), but sprinkles them throughout, adding humour and enhancing characterization. The moment Marie decides to hail a cab *gasp* after giving a speech to the UN General Assembly: ” ‘I’ve ordered another car,’ Torkel said. Marie shook her head. ‘We don’t have time for that. We’ll summon a taxi.’ Mr Benz gasped. Torkel growled. She extended her arm out in the direction of the street before the inevitable volley of objections could be launched. She had never attempted to hail a taxi before, but that was how they always did it on Sex and the City. She started waving her arm around for good measure.” Perfectly captures Marie’s innocence and insouciance. Qualities that will attract, keep, and inspire Leo’s love.
Holiday’s writing can, with a few phrases, create character by focusing on inner voice. Leo is a perfect combination of knight-in-shining-armor and Bronx-tough, which Holiday captures for us with well-placed, witty diction. To witness, Marie texts Leo to pick her up from the marina where she’s been pursuing her kingdom’s business interests aboard a yacht-party: “Well, eff him. It was Her Majesty, the cake topper. Hello. This is Marie. You collected me earlier and drove me to the marina? As if he could forget. As if he picked up princesses every day and delivered them to yachts. Also, collected? He typed a reply. Everything okay, Your Royalness? She sent an eye-rolling emoji. Apparently, though her vocabulary was that of an octogenarian, she knew emojis.” That contrasting Marie-formal-diction and Leo’s NY-er-argot make for much of the romance’s humour (and is NOT the stilted “sweet romance” dialogue of Hallmark Christmas movies, thank the romance gods).
However, Holiday is not a one-mode writer. She shifts to lovely tenderness from witty banter-texts. Here is Leo insisting Marie wear his toque: “He took off his hat, which was a black, knit toque with ISLANDERS [boo, hiss, MissB is a Habs fan forever] embroidered on it in white. ‘No, no, I can’t take your hat. I assure you — ‘ He jammed it on her head. ‘I’m from the Alps!’ She tried one more protest. ‘I’m hearty.’ ‘I’m from the Bronx,’ he countered. ‘I’m heartier.’ ” With a few lines, Holiday includes cultural references (I forgive her the Islanders mention because I enjoyed Princess for Christmas), banter, and tender loving knightly care. Sigh-worthy and grin-worthy. A last one, in Eldovia, when Marie and Leo decide to become lovers, Leo exclaims his delight with, ” ‘I think,’ he drawled. ‘This Hallmark movie is about to get a lot more interesting.’ ” This is what makes Holiday’s romance clever and compelling: it has the makings of a Hallmark Christmas movie, but pokes fun at itself too. It’s a romance that carries a lop-sided grin, like one of my favourite emojis, and Holiday’s lovable Leo. I’m happy to say Holiday’s romance isn’t edgy, earnest, or self-important; it’s delightful, fun, witty, clever, and tugs at your Grinch heartstrings even in July. Miss Austen and I agree, A Princess for Christmas offers “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Jenny Holiday’s A Princess for Christmas was published by Avon and released in October 2020. It may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from Avon, on Edelweiss+, for the purpose of writing this review.