REVIEW: The Christmas Contest by Scarlet Wilson
Will their competitive spirits ruin the spirit of Christmas?
When Ben Winters and Lara Cottridge hear that a Vermont radio station is hosting a Christmas contest with a $10,000 prize for a charitable project of the winner’s choice, they seize the challenge. Although strangers, they both are obsessed with all things Christmas and each has their own worthy pet project in mind.
News of the contest creates a lot of buzz, but most participants fall at the first hurdle – a timed online quirky Christmas quiz. The second, a stressful on-air quiz whittles the field down to two – Briarhill Falls residents Lara and Ben who are surprised that they have never met.
As the contest heats up with five further Christmas-themed challenges, the town and state become enthralled by the battle of wits and skill. Soon Lara and Ben realize they have far more in common than a love of Christmas. And far more at stake. Will their competition stand in the way of falling in love?
Dear Ms. Wilson,
It’s October but already ’tis the season for the Christmas novellas to begin. I asked to try this novella because the premise sounded not only cute but I liked the idea that the prize for the contest would be a donation to a cause the winner chose instead of going to them. That seemed more like the Christmas spirit of giving. Plus both main characters are enthusiastic about Christmas rather than one being a Scrooge.
But would I like these contestants or the challenges? Sometimes Christmas – or really any holiday themed – stories are so sugary sweet they can crack teeth. Or things the characters do or the situations they are put in end up being designed to be humiliating pratfalls for “laughs.” As the novella began, Lara and Ben are introduced and appear to be basically ordinary people who both have an (intense) interest in Christmas trivia. Their attitudes towards entering are “what the heck, this could be fun” vs mercenary and the potential recipients of the prize money are both worthy causes.
Yes, they do have moments of doubt about the other person – they’ve never met before so have no basis on which to base their opinions, have no mutual friends, both really want to win for their cause, and do have a competitive spirit. But through seeing the other’s actions, they fairly quickly realize that they’re both honest and have integrity. No one cheats, no one does anything “iffy” and then does mental gymnastics to justify it. I also liked how they involved others in the challenges where it was allowed but for more than just help. Instead, it gave a sense of community and joy to those people that lifted spirits and brought them together.
Lara and Ben feel some sparks early on but initially manage to put those (mainly) aside and don’t go into insta-lust. The attraction starts to expand as the story progresses but it felt natural instead of forced. Though this is a novella, I felt there was a good balance between the actual contest and their growing feelings. The way things end is lovely and fits – just a bit – with the spirit of giving and the way the holiday should feel. I had fun reading it and think the story is a great start (albeit early) to the season. B+