My Christmas Reread: The Afterlife of Holly Chase

When it comes to Christmas, I’ve pretty much got this in the bag.  I’ve memorized a bunch of the movies, tons of the songs, and I baked a bunch of Christmas sugar cookies a few weeks ago.  And my Christmas decorations were up on November 10th this year, now that I have my own place and no one can complain about how early I put everything up.

I feel like a lot of my Christmas spirit is my parents’ fault.  After all, they named me Holly, even though my birthday is almost literally as far away from Christmas as it could possibly be.  (My birthday’s at the end of June, folks.)

To get into the holiday spirit, I’ve been mostly listening to music and watching movies.  But I really wanted to reread this book that I discovered last year.

Image result for the afterlife of holly chaseThe Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand is a wonderful holiday read if you haven’t discovered it yet.  (And I’m not just saying that because I have the same first name as the main character, though that is pretty epic.)

This modern twist on A Christmas Carol introduces us to Holly, a self-centered Malibu social media queen.  Holly is mean and cares more about fashion and status than she does about people.  Then, of course, she’s visited by three spirits, who try to lead her on a better life path, full of kindness and caring.

They failed.  And that’s where Holly’s story begins.

See, Holly was warned that if she didn’t listen to the spirits, she’d die within the year.  And they weren’t lying.

Now, as a spirit herself, she’s been recruited by Project Scrooge to be the Ghost of Christmas Past and help other Scrooges like herself redeem themselves.  For years, she’s been reluctantly doing her job.  But this year, when the Scrooge is a hot seventeen year old like herself, Holly finds herself drawn to him.  He’s just like her…can she save him when she couldn’t save herself?

I adore this book, y’all.  I don’t want to necessarily turn this into a review, but it’s adorable.  Predictable?  Maybe.  But don’t tell me y’all don’t watch Hallmark movies without guessing the endings.  And truly, this isn’t as predictable as you might think.  There are some pretty massive twists still in this story that you’re not necessarily going to be able to figure out, even if you know something’s off.

It’s kind of the perfect Christmas story, in that it’s all about redemption.  Holly can be a bit unlikable at times, but you also kind of understand why she’s the way she is.  She may seem perfect on the outside, but that’s to hide the insecurities she holds close and that’s such a relatable thing.  We don’t always want people to see us break, and that’s what Holly’s hiding.

But on top of that, as an English nerd, I loved how the original story was updated and  how it incorporated the original into this one.  It’s not this subtle search for clues.  It’s pretty in-your-face.  It’s Project Scrooge.  And for each Scrooge they pick, they try to make it fit the original narrative–who is this person’s Bob Crachit?  Who is his Marley or his Belle?  It’s really imaginative and I love that it totally embraced the original while still putting its own spin on things.

Also, it’s a fast read.  I know I’ve read it before, but I got this done in a couple of days easily.  Holly’s voice is really clear and easy to sink into.  I kept trying to find five minutes to pick it up again.

It’s a wonderful story and I highly recommend.  If you’ve got the chance before Christmas (or even after!), get your hands on this book.  I love it and I think rereading it is going to be a new Christmas tradition for me.

Let It Snow (Netflix movie)

Image result for let it snow netflix posterWith the Christmas season quickly approaching (my tree and decorations are already up thanks to a snow day last week), I wanted to see what this movie had to offer.  I read the book years ago (so I don’t remember it incredibly well at all) and I was ready to see how it compared to other Christmas movies.

This movie follows 8 different teenagers on a snowy Christmas Eve in their tiny small town.  There’s Tobin who has a crush on his best friend, Julie and Stuart who just met on a train, Dorrie whose crush just walked into the restaurant where she works, and Addie whose boyfriend appears to be cheating on her.  A snowstorm brings all of them together.

This was super cute.  And, from what I remember, very different from the book.  I remember the book being somewhat crude and oddball (what did you expect from John Green and Maureen Johnson?) and this is definitely toned down from that.  But that doesn’t mean there’s not a fair share of teenage awkwardness.  It still has that in spades and it’s hilarious.

Someone on Twitter called this a teenage version of Love, Actually but with people of color and they’re not wrong.  It’s basically a movie of vignettes, where we keep following these stories that at first seem to have little in common and slowly become intertwined.  That is always fun to watch, trying to find those links.

There was just so much to enjoy about this.  I loved all of the characters, who I felt like we got to know pretty well even with their limited screen time.  I felt like a little of each of them.  Tobin’s charm comes from being awkward and sensitive.  Duke’s is from being strong and adventurous.  Addie is anxious and Dorrie is confident and Julie is guarded and Stuart is sweet and so many other things could describe these characters.  They were all really well done, from a writing and an acting standpoint.

But one of the best characters is our narrator, played by Joan Cusack who wears a literal tinfoil hat as she drives a tow truck through town.  Oh. My. God.  It was the thing I didn’t know I needed.

The only thing that even semi-bothered me was that because there are so many stories we’re following, they’re very simplistic.  Problems are overcome very quickly because there isn’t time to dwell on them.  I tend to like a little more complexity in my stories, but I understand the limitations here.

It was super cute and if you haven’t watched it yet, make sure you add it to your Christmas to-watch list.  It’ll make your heart happy.

Top Ten Favorite Holiday Reads

Happy Holidays everyone!  It’s getting awful close to Christmas and I don’t know about you, but I’m very much looking forward to the holidays and winter break.  (Teachers LOVE breaks.)

I’ve been trying to read a few Christmas stories lately and I started thinking that maybe I needed to compile my favorites here, to share the holiday spirit with all of you.  Trust me, with a name like Holly, I’m full of Holiday Cheer.  (Everyone spends the entire month of December singing about how pretty I am!  How could I not be cheerful?)

So here we go!  Perhaps you’ll find a favorite on this list or find something new to read just in time for the holidays.  Either way, enjoy!

Top Ten Favorite Holiday Reads

1. The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

So, obviously, this is the book that inspired this list.  (And the fact that Christmas break is COMING!)  But seriously, for anyone looking for a modern twist on an old classic (A Christmas Carol), you need to check this out.  Pronto.  It’s amazing and really reminds you of the meaning of Christmas.

2. What Light by Jay Asher

This is such a cute story.  Short and sweet, it totally shows the struggles of the Christmas season.  Sierra’s family owns a Christmas tree farm in Oregon and every year they haul their trees to California for Christmas.  And there–Sierra meets a guy who makes her look at the world a little differently.  It’s worth a look.

3. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I had to put the classic on the list, though I only read it for the first time a year or two ago.  I was glad I could finally say I’d read it, but truly?  The movies based on it are pretty much spot on.

4. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Ah, the master of Irony.  I love O. Henry as an author and this short story is a classic.  A tale of a husband and wife, too poor to buy gifts for their spouses, who do what they have to to show their love to each other.  The irony gets me every time.

5. Hot Cocoa Hearts by Suzanne Nelson

This is a cute little story about a teenage girl and boy who like each other–and how the girl hates Christmas.  If I remember right, she works as an elf at the mall…which, yeah, would probably show you some of the worst of humanity.  But, as she finds out, she also sees some of the best.  And it’s adorbs.

6. Forever Christmas by Robert Tate Miller

Ok, no, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.  Growing up, there was always this movie on ABC Family that my family watched every year.  ALL OF US.  Mom, Dad, me, brothers.  We all loved this cheesy movie called Three Days starring Kristin Davis and Reed Diamond.  It’s a little dark as far as Christmas stories go (a bit like The Afterlife of Holly Chase, actually), but it’s a must-watch for me every Christmas, even if they never play it on TV anymore and it’s not even on DVD and I have to watch it off YouTube.  (I’m not bitter…)  And THEN IT BECAME A BOOK.  NOW I CAN READ THE BOOK TOO.

The point of the story is that Andy and Beth Farmer were high school sweethearts who married and went to the Big City (Boston).  When Beth dies in an accident after learning Andy was cheating on her, Andy learns he is going to be able to relive the last three days to try to prove to Beth that he loves her, to bring him some closure.  But no matter what, on Christmas Eve (the end of the three days), Beth will die again.

I promise you, it’s SO GOOD.

7. My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins

TWELVE HOLIDAY STORIES.  BY SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS.  It’s adorable and amazing and cute and snuggly all at the same time.  Though some of that also depends on the story you’re currently reading.  But I do remember enough.

8. Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

When you put John Green and Maureen Johnson in the same book, I’m so in.  This carries both of their outrageous, realistic teen voices in their characters.  (I’m not all that familiar with Myracle, but I’m pretty sure she shines too.)  It’s just so funny.  I still remember quotes from this.  (Also, the news was just announced a few days ago that they’re turning this into a Netflix movie for next Christmas.  Something to keep in mind.)

9. Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Speaking of quotes, this is one of the most quotable Christmas books on this list.  I have three notebooks full of quotes and I think this book easily took up 2-3 pages because it’s full of wisdom about family, fate, the holidays, winter, etc.  It’s gorgeous.  This, brought to you by the writers of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

I don’t typically read the story anymore, but I love the movie.  (Jim Carrey, 2000.  Genius.)  It’s totally worth the watch/read this season.  (Ok, yes, I cheated on this final one.  It turns out most of the Christmas stories I actually read are historical romances or novellas in a series and that didn’t feel right to include them on the list.)

The Afterlife of Holly Chase

Image result for the afterlife of holly chaseFirst Lines: The first thing you should probably know is that Yvonne Worthington Chase was dead.  It was all over the news when it happened, the entertainment shows, the newspapers and magazines, even the trashy tabloids.  A sudden tragedy–that’s how the media described it, because she was only fortysomething when it happened, plus Yvonne was famous, so her death was considered a much bigger deal than an ordinary person’s.

I was so excited to see this book come out.  1) Cynthia Hand has never steered me wrong before.  2) It was a Christmas story and I freaking love Christmas stories.  3) The main character shares my name.  I was stoked to read this.

On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly Chase was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and mean-spirited she was to those around her.  They tried to get her to change.  She didn’t listen.  And then she died.  Now, as a ghost herself, she works as the Ghost of Christmas Past for Project Scrooge, a company that tries to reform one Scrooge-esque person each year.  Every year, it’s the same thing–and old miser, a sob story, three ghosts, and a new outlook on life.  And it’s been miserable for Holly.  But this year…things are about to change…

This book was absolutely wonderful.

A modern retelling/spin on A Christmas Carol, Holly Chase is a Scrooge. She only cares about herself and how many Instagram followers she has. It doesn’t matter that she’s mean to the help or that she blows off her dad all the time–it only matters that she looks good while doing it. And when three ghosts visit her on Christmas Eve…Holly doesn’t learn her lesson. And dies months later. But that’s not the end of her story. In fact, she now has to take the place of the Ghost of Christmas Past and try to help others who are just like her avoid her fate.

The ties to the original Dickens tale are very present but not Easter Eggs. Actually, they’re a large part of the story. With every Scrooge they focus on, they try to find a way to make their story fit the Scrooge narrative–where’s the Crachit? Where’s Tiny Tim and Belle? I liked that it wasn’t hidden but was actually woven creatively into the story.

Holly, as you would expect, starts off fairly unlikable. But after she becomes the Ghost of Christmas Past, she starts to change and she’s more manageable. Even when she was being really mean, I still found that I understood her, and I think that’s a sign of great writing.  You understand that a part of it is an act, something she’s been taught to do rather than actually how she truly feels.

And the writing got so much better from there. Descriptive and subtle, it was the kind of book I didn’t want to put down. I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it and didn’t regret it. Yes, there are parts that are predictable, but I found myself making my predictions and then anxiously waiting to see if I was right. I was always excited to see what would happen next.

And the ending…keep some tissues handy is all I’ll say. It was so so good and I spent so much time thinking about it even after I finished the book.

Read this. It’s so worth it.

What Light

29093326First Lines: “I hate this time of year,” Rachel says.  “I’m sorry, Sierra.  I’m sure I say that a lot, but it’s true.”

I started hearing rumblings about this book a few months ago, mostly because it was Jay Asher, the author of Thirteen Reasons Why.  He hasn’t really written anything since then, so I was interested to read this.  And then when I found out it was a Christmas story?  I loved the idea.

Sierra’s life has always revolved around her family’s Christmas tree farm in Oregon. It’s a beautiful fairy tale place that she feels lucky to live at for eleven months of the year.  And come December, she goes with her family to California to sell their trees.  Sierra loves both places, but it inevitably means missing her friends in each place while she’s away.  Things change when Sierra meets Caleb in California.  Caleb is not the kind of guy Sierra believes is her type; he’s boy who made an enormous mistake years ago and is still trying to atone for it.  Watching him, Sierra is determined to show him forgiveness and redemption.  But as disapproval and suspicions swirl around their new relationship, they need to decide if what they have is worth protecting or if it only lasts as long as the Christmas season.

This book ended up being pretty much what I hoped it would be.  It’s a Christmas story, so that obviously is a huge part of the plot/setting.  But it also has great themes about what it means to forgive and all of those heartwarming feels.

But that doesn’t mean it’s complete fluff.  There’s a lot of logical drama here.  (What I mean by that is that a lot of high school is about fake rumors, etc.  This drama makes sense to me.  Like I would expect these issues to arise.)  There’s tension from her Oregon friends as Sierra settles in California.  But obviously, most of the tension comes from Caleb’s major mistake (and it’s a doozy) and trying to overcome all of that.  It definitely has a serious side.

I really did like the characters.  I thought Sierra was a little bland and generic, but Caleb and the other characters were kind of awesome.  Caleb is the kind of character that reminds me of an abused puppy, so he immediately had my sympathy.  And Sierra’s friend Heather was just so much fun to read about.

If you’re looking for a book this holiday season that deals in a ton of heavy topics, this may not be exactly what you’re looking for.  (Though why you’re looking for a depressing Christmas story is beyond me.)  As a Christmas story, it has some predictable tropes in it.  But I was ok with that.  I wanted those heartwarming moments.

Overall, it’s a sweet read with a heartfelt center.

Hot Cocoa Hearts

Hot Cocoa Hearts(First lines currently unavailable.  I took the book to school before I got them down.  Sorry!)

Ok, so this is going to be a slightly different book than I usually read.  This is 100% a middle school book, but this is an author that my middle school girls love.  It seems like they’ve all read something Suzanne Nelson has written.  So I wanted in on it.

If Emery had to pick a Christmas character she’s most like, it would be the Grinch.  She’s so over Christmas and all the hype.  Ugh.  To make it all worse, her parents are forcing her to work as an elf at their Santa photo booth in the mall.  The only silver lining is meeting Alejandro Perez, who works at the hot cocoa store next door.  Alejandro is totally into Christmas, though.  But the more time Emery spends with Alex, the more she starts to wonder if she’s really the Grinch she thinks she is.  When a Secret Santa exchange turns her world upside-down, will she embrace the Christmas spirit in time to truly enjoy the season?

I really needed a Christmas book, and this was definitely cute.  I mean, I am totally Alex in this situation (I even bought thigh-high red and white striped elf socks that I totally want to wear to school on the last day before break…to wear as I carol in the hallways.  I am going to be branded as “lame” and loving it.)

Anywho, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect with this, since I’d never read anything by this author before.  And it’s been an awful long time since I was a middle school student myself.  There were some times that I felt like it was a little immature or that Emery should have seen something coming, but I could usually think about my students and go, “Nope, it’s pretty on target with what they know/do.”

While it is incredibly predictable (at least to me, maybe not to my students), it does have a lot of heart.  There’s a lot of good stuff in here about getting into the spirit of Christmas and really understanding traditions and why we do them.  As someone who sticks very closely to my Christmas traditions, I loved seeing that feeling put down into words.

So it may not be the most exciting read, but it’s cute and it’s got a lot of emotion packed into it.  I definitely recommend this to anyone who knows a middle school girl who loves romance.