Friday, October 23, 2009

Blog Tour and Book Review #22: OVER THE HOLIDAYS by Sandra Harper

Pub. Date: October 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Format: Paperback, 336pp
ISBN-13: 9781439158708
ISBN: 1439158703

Synopsis (from the publisher):
The best holiday traditions are meant to be broken.

It's only December 1, and Vanessa Clayton has been dreading Christmas since she spotted tinseled trees at her local mall in September. Thankfully, she and her husband, JT, can't afford to drag their twin boys across the country to New England for the annual celebration at her stuffy sister-in-law Patience's home. Not that Vanessa has prepared a proper Christmas for her family in years, and she has less time than ever since she agreed to consult on the script of a local play. Her older sister, Thea, is no help -- she'd rather make art and flirt with surfers than babysit her nine-year-old nephews. Then Patience drops a holiday stress bomb: Her family will come to California instead.

In between "baking" cinnamon rolls for the school potluck and overbearing Patience testing her patience, Vanessa can't stop thinking about the difficult but charming playwright at work. Meanwhile, Patience's teenage daughter, Libby, obsesses over a college boy she has met by the pool, and Thea searches desperately for the meaning of Christmas -- for her latest installation, of course. As their holiday plans go comically awry, these four women discover the true spirit of the season is hidden in every festive surprise.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

My Thoughts:

Sandra Harper's new book, OVER THE HOLIDAYS, is a light-hearted, pleasant read about four women who each experience an emotional growth spurt over one holiday season.

Over the course of just a few short weeks, the central character, Vanessa, mother of 9-year-old twin boys, is confronted with the temptation to stray from her comfortable and predictable marriage. While her husband, JT, is working out of town and upon his return is laid up in bed with the flu, Vanessa juggles a last minute visit from her in-laws, the varying demands of holiday contributions of time, money, and homemade food from her sons' school, and the growing flirtations of a cute playwright with whom she is working. Vanessa's biggest stress is that she just doesn't like her sister-in-law, Patience, whom she sees as a stuffy and overbearing perfectionist.

Meanwhile, Patience cannot understand why Vanessa doesn't appreciate her offers of assistance and guidance, struggles to understand the break with tradition that has brought her from her beloved New England Christmas to sunny, bouncy L.A., and suffers through the growing pains of her 17-year-old daughter, Libby, who is eagerly and naively trying to spread her wings and fly away.

Vanessa's older sister, Thea, a working artist, wonders if her talent has dried up and whether 15 years ago, she let Mr. Right slip through her fingers.

Although the story takes place at Christmastime and there are occasional questions of its meaning, the holiday does not really have a major role in the novel. It mostly serves as a device on which to display each woman's story - somewhat like a Christmas tree holding up its ornaments. What the characters experience could have been explored in a different way at any time of the year. If you are looking for a blatent message about the meaning of Christmas, you won't find it here. There is a message of hope and renewal if you read between the lines.

I enjoyed sitting back and escaping into this novel. While there's not a whole lot of depth to the characters, there is variety, and I could identify with some aspect of each woman's personality - even the teenaged Libby!  I liked the way the author wove their storylines together - sometimes intersecting, sometimes running parallel. There's no scene where all four sit around and connect, but each influences the others if not directly then through one another. And by novel's end, each woman has grown in such a way that her own life is enriched and she is better able to understand as well as enrich the lives of others.

What I did not like about the novel was the all too frequent use of the F-word. I suppose it's intended to make the characters sound realistic, but it almost always came across as too harsh. Almost every time I came across it, I found it jarring and it took me out of the story. Even if we hear the word several times a day, or even use it occasionally ourselves, there's more of an impact when it is used in print. I believe that it's a word that should be used very sparingly, if at all, so that when the reader does encounter it, it relays some real significance. Surprisingly, there was one instance when a character said "F*&^. F*&^. F*&^." That was the only time it's use seem truly realistic and conveyed the character's panic and confusion. I would have rated this novel higher if there had been less use of the word.  (Sorry, but I did not note the page number of the above quote - I'll edit it in later today.)

Overall, I would recommend OVER THE HOLIDAYS by Sandra Harper as a good escapist read -- not too heavy or complex, but with enough meat to keep the reader engaged and interested in how these women work through their issues.  I would recommend that you pick up OVER THE HOLIDAYS if you find yourself looking for a little stress relief . . . over the holidays. ;)

Click here to read an excerpt.

About the author (from the publisher):
Sandra Harper is the author of the play, Magpie's Tea Room, which enjoyed a successful run in Los Angeles at The Ventura Court Theatre. She has written a cooking column, "The California Cook" for the newspaper, Skirt. A script reader for Pathe Studios and Springcreek Productions, she also wrote and produced fashion and rock videos for Elvis Costello, Chaka Khan and Vidal Sassoon, amonf others. Ms. Harper recieved her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Southern California and has completed a children's book, The Witches Club.

Check out the reviews on these other blogs on today's tour:


Frugal Plus:

The Life (And Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object:

Drey’s Library:

Wendi’s Book Corner:

Opinionated? Me? :

Me, My Book and the Couch:

Libby’s Library News:

Bookin’ With Bingo:

Books, Movies, and Chinese Food:

Psychotic State:


That’s A Novel Idea:

All About {N}:

Starting Fresh:

A Sea of Books:

Just Another New Blog:

Blog Business World:

My Friend Amy:

Cheryl’s Book Nook:

One Person’s Journey Through A World of Books:

I Read:

So Many Books, So Little Time:

Keep on Booking:

Reading at the Beach:

Found Not Lost:

Brizmus Blogs Books:

Book Reviews by Buuklvr81:

Thank you to Sarah at Simon & Schuster
for organizing this blog tour
 and providing me with a review copy.


fredamans said...

Good review!

Diane said...

sounds like a fun filled holiday read. great review

bermudaonion said...

The book sounds fun - too bad the language in it doesn't suit the story.

Zibilee said...

It sounds like a really fun and lighthearted book, and like something I might really like. I will keep in mind that it drops the F bomb a lot though.