Iiiiit’s beginning to look a lot like… Yeah, yeah, OK fine. It’s still over a month away. Slushy-snow on my parade, why don’t you? But the launch of Hot Key Books’ new digital novella imprint, Unlocked, has brought a rather welcome Crimble glow with its first few publications, one of which is Esme Taylor’s delightful All I Want for Christmas.
It’s refreshing to get an NA story with a UK slant, and Taylor’s Yuletide tale has a great British (arf!) edge, evocatively set in a snowy, modern Manchester. It has the feel of a classic rom-com in its humour and heart, but with an original backdrop – I love that Ella works for a company that does Movie Karaoke. Movieoke! I have wanted to try that ever since I saw that in the States some enterprising folk have invented ‘Point Break Live!’, in which you can act out bits of that legendary movie. “I’m gonna learn to surf or break my neck!” Awesome. Heeenyhoo, I digress. Ella’s job brings her into contact with Joe, they meet-cute in the tradition of all good rom-coms, and of course, the sparks fly. But not in an unrealistic tooth-rotting display of montages and sunsets – Taylor makes this feel like a real-life couple finding one another at just the right time. There’s a seam of sadness to Ella, having recently lost both her parents in an accident abroad, but she’s relatable and funny, and Joe is a real sweetheart. He may not set the reader’s heart a-pounding in the way that some NA heroes are constructed, but he feels like the guy for Ella, and that’s part of what makes the story so warm and romantic – no mean feat for a novella-length story. He makes her feel good (in all senses), but has his own daddy-issue-based flaws too.
As the start of their relationship unfolds, their chemistry is believable, Ella’s reservations feel like those of a real young woman, and the first flushes of sexual attraction are really nicely handled – it’s not a full on f-fest, but it’s hot enough to allow you enjoying leaving elements to your imagination. I loved that Ella had a load of crap on her bed that she worried about clearing before they do the do for the first time. And hello? Getting snowed in? Classic rom-com move! Love it! All I Want for Christmas is in many ways the perfect Palate Cleanser – short, sweet, warm, cosy. And Christmassy! But not in a way that leaves you hideously over-bloated on the sofa with meat sweats like an Xmas dinner. So dig in and enjoy!
Cringe Factor 1.5/5
Is it Hot in Here? 2/5
For the Love of Feminism! 4/5
Overall Tasty Goodness 4/5
Fun fact: Esme Taylor is the nom-de-plume of YA author Keris Stainton