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Christmas Stories

REVIEW:  Miracle on I-40 by Curtiss Ann Matlock

REVIEW: Miracle on I-40 by Curtiss Ann Matlock

Dear Ms. Matlock,
One of the first books I read when I was getting back into romance was one of yours: “If Wishes Were Horses” which I think helped cement my interest in more working class/down to earth characters. This is another one which starts evocatively with the image of a hard working people at a truck stop restaurant.


“It’s the time of day when the coral sun gives way to a satin starry night. The huge letters of Gerald’s Truck Stop have started to glow bright red in the darkening desert sky along Interstate 40, which cuts right through Albuquerque, New Mexico. The sign serves as a beacon for weary truckers trying to get in as many hauls as possible before Christmas Day, and for frazzled families making the long trek home to Gramma’s house, and for footsore mothers needing respite at the end of a long day of searching out the perfect gifts. Big eighteen-wheelers chug in and out of the wide fuel bays, while minivans and sedans stop at the gas station, and speakers up above each reverberate with Christmas carols.

The fluorescent lights of the restaurant shine out from the wide windows, promising warmth from the scene inside. Steam rises from the coffee maker, and the bubbling punch machines give off a rather cheery yellow and red glow. Lights twinkle on the small plastic green tree at the end of the counter, and brightly colored piñatas hanging from the ceiling sway a bit whenever the front doors are opened.”

miracle_on_i40_largeThis is the world in which Lacey Brant finds herself eleven years after she fled her parent’s house following an argument about her unwed pregnancy. In the time since, she’s gotten married, had two children, discovered the man she thought she loved didn’t have it in him to be a husband and father then found herself alone. But she’s done alright for herself. She has a job, friends, repeat customers who appreciate her efforts to make their meals satisfactory and is managing to raise her children right. But this year she’s planned something daring, something that scares her a little and she’s not sure things will work out as she hopes they will. A trucker friend has offered to take her and the children cross country for a surprise reconciliation with her parents over the Christmas holiday. Only the friend is injured and another man is pressed into the task. A man who has known Lacey in her job for years but who knows little about her personal life.

Cooper drives a big rig and despite his initial hesitation to accept the job his friend Pate asks of him, he finds himself looking forward to not being alone as he usually is. What he doesn’t count on are two young children and the trip begins badly. But somewhere along the way, a bond begins to develop between this quiet, taciturn man who has no family and hasn’t wanted any and a woman and two children who are unsure of the welcome that lies ahead.

It’s only a three day trip there and I was unsure as well that a satisfactory love story could occur but one did. Slowly, gently Cooper thaws in the presence of children he didn’t think he could relate to and a woman who wasn’t looking for anything more than transport. Towards the end of the book, Cooper realizes that he does know Lacey.

“Memories marched across his mind of about the one hundred times over the past few years that he had gone into Gerald’s and Lacey had greeted him and served him his meal. She always smiled at him and asked how he was. He most generally answered, “Fair to middlin’. And you?” She would say, “Better than I ought to be,” in that chipper way and with that smile that lit up the room. She brought him everything just the way he liked it, waiting until his coffee cup was nearly empty before filling it again, telling him how the chili or the steak was that day. He had seen her cut her hair short and grow it out. He had seen her a hundred times plug coins in the jukebox, playing snappy tunes by Alabama and dancing across the room, and when she seemed melancholy, an old ballad by Don Williams to which she would hum. He had seen her habit of tucking her hair behind her ear, and the graceful way she walked, and the extra care she gave people.

It struck him that while he had not known particulars such as about a husband or children, he did know the woman. He didn’t know what to make of that thought.”

But the easy, pat road to a HEA is avoided. There are starts and stops, smooth stretches and icy ones and I like the way the main story ends with both Cooper and Lacey willing to take a chance on what they might have rather than starry eyed and rushing into something too soon. The book is like a gentle sleigh ride through the snow, wrapped in a warm blanket with someone think you might love rather than a roller coaster blitz through smexy to an out of breath ending. It takes me back to the joy I felt reading that book of yours years ago and rediscovering romance novels. B



Friday Film Review: Bernard and the Genie

Friday Film Review: Bernard and the Genie

Bernard and the Genie (1991 BBC TV)

Genre: Holiday

Grade: Very cute

While trying to decide on the next movie of this holiday season, I realized we were getting a bit top heavy with animation films. So a few are just going to have to wait until later. But what to review next? I wanted something a little offbeat and finally remembered that I had bought a copy of this film, sight unseen, after I discovered its existence while rooting around IMDB last year. I love Alan Cumming and Rowan Atkinson so a quick trip to ebay later, I had a DVD on its way to me. Took me until now to actually watch it but it’s darling.

The story opens with a mad wizard, with a huge torch, hunting for someone through rooms full of no doubt highly flammable diaphanous draperies. Once the miscreant has been found, he gets a 2000 year opportunity to redecorate the inside of an oil lamp. Zoom forward to modern London and milquetoast Bernard Bottle, (Alan Cumming) who works at Krisby Auction house, realizes his boss Charles Pinkworth (Rowan Atkinson) doesn’t share Bernard’s sense of fair play when Pinkworth fires Bernard’s “little philanthropic ass” after Bernard dares to suggest adequately compensating the previous owners of an expensive painting the house just sold.

Bernard returns to his (surprisingly plush) flat looking for a shoulder to cry on but discovers that his fiancee and best mate have been shagging and planning on moving in with each other. After she strips the flat of almost everything except the dust and takes off, Bernard is left with little but a dirty old oil lamp she had given him last year. He decides (conveniently for the plot) to give it a polish. Now he’s suddenly got a tall, transvestite Genie named Josephus (Lenny Henry) swinging at him with a scimitar, yelling stuff, and saying “Beware, oh short one! You smell of peppermint and it’s time to die!” Bernard backs him up a bit and demands an explanation of the “stuff” which turns out to be that Josephus has to grant any wish Bernard makes. After Bernard makes a few wishes and freaks out at the results – demanding “Have you just injected LSD into my bottom?” – he wishes that Josephus would stop trying to kill him. Bernard begins to see that this might be the answer to all his problems – or might be the worst problem he’s ever had.

This was a TV production and probably made on an amazingly small budget. Or perhaps it just looks and, especially, sounds that way. Regardless, once I settled in and got caught up in the story I didn’t notice that so much anymore. What I did keep noticing is the wide variety of in-your-face product placements. Hope those involved got some lovely swag for all that. There are also lots of references to period items such as Ah-nold’s latest movie – which amazes Josephus with its kick-butt action sequences, a Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle, and (in a song) a mention of Princess Di.

Alan is just as cute as a bug’s ear and through the whole movie, I just wanted to pick him up and hug him. And then listen to his accent some more. He makes being a milquetoast sexy. He also makes me truly believe that Bernard’s heart is in the right place with his final wish for Josephus. Rowan Atkinson is definitely channeling Blackadder and is delicious in his portrayal of Pinkworth’s complete self absorption and absolute greed. He’s given wonderful lines – “That’s a good point, Bernard. That’s a fully-fledged bastard of a good point.” And says them with true Atkinsonian smiling relish. “Bugger ye off.” Denis Lill has a delightful cameo as Keppel the doorman who has a way with the truth and who can get a stuck lift on its way again.

Comedian and actor Lenny Henry is wonderful as Josephus. He shows us the Genie taking to modern life with a zest and enthusiasm that is a joy to watch. “I feel fantastic! And I look it too!” But he’s also got words of wisdom for Bernard’s initially out of control wishing. “Say the words “I wish” with the caution you would normally reserve for “Please castrate me.” However he’s not all wide-eyed gung-ho and can show us a more meditative and layered Genie who misses his girlfriend, his mother’s cooking and his two kittens – now all long gone and lost to him.

Still this is a holiday feature and I was wondering how – beyond Christmas trees and tinsel everywhere – it was going to deliver. The way the writers have chosen ends up being inventive and is a great commentary on a lot that is wrong with the way Christmas is celebrated today. You see, it turns out that Josephus actually knew Jesus Christ and was there at several pivotal events mentioned in the Bible. It was his brother’s wedding in Cana that ran out of wine and Josephus was there when Jesus got mad about selling in the Temple.

Genie: One day I was in the Temple when they tried to turn it into a supermarket; Jesus went in there and kicked ass!
Bernard: Like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Genie: Yes, but with smaller pectorals.

It’s after Bernard and Josephus observe, discuss and critique modern commercialism that they decide it’s time to mete out some holiday justice. It might wrap some loose ends a bit tightly but it’s still satisfying to see those who have wronged Bernard get a taste of come-uppance – and on national TV too. Once that’s done and Bernard is “happier than Michelle Pfeiffer’s underpants,” he realizes that giving is greater than receiving and makes one final wish for his new friend.

I like that the ending isn’t completely complete. Bernard might have a chance at a new romance with a pretty holiday “store elf” in hot pants and who knows what Josephus will get up to with the loot he decides he can’t live without and the knowledge of the taste of “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” With a roughly 70 minute run time, it’s a fast and cute way to laugh and reflect a bit on what truly is important during the holiday season.

I couldn’t find that this has been loaded on youtube but there are clips there to give you a taste for it and DVDs and VHS tapes for sale on ebay.



I’m going to be taking a break from film reviews for a couple of months to recharge my batteries and do more book reviews.