Author: David Connor
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 67 Pages
At a Glance: Begins with a cute and clever premise, but ultimately falls short
Blurb: Seth Anderson thought he was a finalist in the Hot Jack cologne modeling contest for King’s Department Store, but Sandy King, upon reviewing Seth’s photo and resume, just wanted to jump him like a horny kangaroo. Seth quickly learns there is pain behind Sandy’s bravado and a sweet, lonely man behind the act. A holiday romance blossoms like the flowers on an Australian Christmas Bell. When Seth, used to a family dynamic without boundaries, oversteps by outing Sandy to his estranged grandmother, however, everything changes. Sandy is furious. He breaks things off with Seth and threatens to return to the US. As Christmas approaches, any chance at happily ever after seems as likely as a snowstorm in Sydney. It would take a miracle from above to set things right. Good thing ‘tis the season.
A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2014 Advent Calendar package “Celebrate!”.
Review: Tidings of Comfort and Joey Down Under is, as you can likely glean from the title and cover, a holiday story set in Australia. It’s the tale of Seth Anderson, whose parents enter him in a contest centered around an ad campaign for men’s cologne, which, if he wins, could garner him an all expenses paid vacation to the Great Barrier Reef.
“Tidings” begins as a lighthearted and whimsical romantic comedy, encouraging a few smiles from me as I read. The exchanges between Seth and his parents, Mols and Rocco, were humorous in a farcical and uncomfortable sort of way. Mols and Rocco are the two most entertaining characters in this story, not necessarily because they’re well fleshed out and richly drawn but because they’re caricatures of every parent who’s ever embarrassed their child by blurting out the first thing that pops into their heads. Their complete lack of brain-to-mouth filter obliterates any and all parent/child boundaries and leads to some rather inappropriate conversations between them and Seth. They’ve entered him in the “Hot Jack” contest with the hope he’ll finally get laid, when it comes right down to it, and their lack of inhibition in making that clear makes for some comical and completely awkward moments, both for Seth and the reader.
One of the things I found interesting about “Tidings” was the author’s decision to write Seth as a character with a physical disability. What was interesting was not the handicap itself but that there was really little attention paid to it as a device to develop this character. Seth’s affliction is minor, in the grander scheme of all possible afflictions, but is included in an almost offhanded way, only as significant as might be his hair or eye color. Although I’m still somewhat puzzled by its inclusion, I must say that in some ways it was a refreshing portrayal, in that Seth didn’t use his impaired mobility as an excuse or as a means of self-pity. It was simply a part of who he was, and I liked that, especially as a means of contrasting Sandy’s internalized issues—his being emotionally crippled by guilt and grief.
What starts off as a fun premise, however, unfortunately falters and stumbles its way through a variety of romantic tropes before coming to a predictable ending. When going back through my review notes, I found I used the word “awkward” a lot, not only to describe Seth’s interactions with his parents but in reference to the plot in general, to the writing, and, unfortunately, to the sex scenes, which suffered from rote description and merely seemed thrown in as an obligation to readers rather than a necessity to advance the storyline or develop the characters and their relationship.
Being a novella, not to mention one set during the Christmas season, I expected the insta-love scenario, which was delivered not long after Seth meets Sandy King. Sandy, in fact, has become invested in Seth before they ever meet, as he’s the man behind the “Hot Jack” fragrance campaign and has already ogled Seth’s entry photo. Their initial meeting doesn’t go quite as Sandy had planned, but he manages to smooth things over, which leads to a budding relationship that takes place via a series of off-page telephone calls, so we’re immediately disconnected from Seth and Sandy as a couple. This made it difficult to invest in them, and made the I-love-yous a bit less convincing.
The plot turns from comedic to dramatic and angsty as the story progresses, complete with the Big Misunderstanding to derail the relationship temporarily, when Seth jumps to the wrong conclusion. Sandy is also working through issues from his past, the guilt and grief I mentioned earlier, which have caused him to distance himself from his only remaining family—a grandmother and great grandmother—not to mention the fact he’s harboring a rather interesting secret he’s not at all keen to reveal to his grandmother but which Seth bungles with the best of intentions, prompting Sandy to run away rather than confront the issue and face his grandmother.
All in all, in spite of its promising start, I simply had too many issues with this book to give it a recommendation. The “Magic Jack” song lyrics, which are peppered at length and multiple times throughout the narrative, upped the word count but did nothing to serve the plot, a misfortune I found to be true for much of the book, but I can say this one earned a few well aimed chuckles along the way.
You can buy Tidings of Comfort and Joey Down Under here: