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Reunited at Christmas uses too many clichés

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“Reunited at Christmas” by Debra Ullrick


“Reunited at Christmas” by Debra Ullrick is a sweet contemporary romance set in Colorado. Shelby is a best-selling author who lives in a log cabin, in a small town in the mountains. In addition, she trains search and rescue dogs, and participates in rescue missions. She gets an emergency call and sets out with her rescue dog, Max, to find a missing snowmobiler. The man she is searching for is her ex-fiancée, Ryker Anderson.

Ryker left her eighteen months ago without an explanation. Now, he’s back to beg for forgiveness, hoping she’ll take him back. He explains that he left because he was diagnosed with cancer, and didn’t want to put her through the emotional turmoil that loved ones feel as they watch someone die. Then he says “but I was never really terminal.”

Several chapters later, he admits to having a false positive on his tests. While waiting to admit the truth could be a technique to create a touch of suspense to the story, my reaction was to almost put the book down for good. This is a question of where to place information in the book. It’s a judgment call. There’s no one answer on how to construct a story. But in my opinion, the information should have been given the first time, because I reacted with feeling that this story was going to be lame. The type of cancer wasn’t identified, the tests were questionable, and that made me question the quality of the book.

The book is well written for the most part. The author has published thirteen romance books. The story is well paced, has elements of excitement, and leads to a happy ending. But, it seems that this author is getting story advice from a different agent than I am.

I subscribe to several newsletters put out by literary agents. In one post, an agent recommended avoiding the use of clichés; not just phrases like “light as a feather”, which this author uses, but other clichés. She said that cancer is a cliché because so many manuscripts use that for a dreaded disease. She also said that a heroine who is an author is also a cliché. Yes, we authors think we have the best job in the world, but too many authors are using that as a dream job in their manuscripts.

Mike Rowe, host of “Dirty Jobs” gave a speech to congress in which he pointed out that we have a national shortage of skilled labor. We don’t have enough welders and sheet metal workers. The Escambia County school district has a constant opening for high school welding instructors. If we can’t find a welding teacher now, we won’t have any welders in the future. Perhaps authors should listen to Mr. Rowe and use skilled trades as a respectable job for their characters. It wouldn’t be as cliché as casting them as authors and shop keepers.

Half way through the book the author introduces the cliché of a jilted ex-girlfriend coming after them with a gun. I felt this part of the story was bait and switch in genre, because if it was going to be a suspense story, then the ex-girlfriend should have been stalking them from chapter one. The character wasn’t well-developed or believable, and was just an easy way out.

The author also switches the heroine’s motivation halfway through the book. At first, she is a strong and capable woman. Then she becomes a person with low self-esteem because she’s always felt like she’s not good enough. Then she becomes afraid of being abandoned. Her motivation and the cause of her motivation don’t match up. The last four books I’ve reviewed used low self-esteem as a motivation, so that is becoming a cliché as well.

But I did like the way the author used faith without resorting to a church scene and the cliché sermon. Instead, Shelby’s mother asks her to read the Bible story about Joseph, and then they have a heart to heart talk about it. At first, I thought she was talking about Joseph, Jesus’ father, because this is a Christmas story, but then realized that she’s talking about Old Testament Joseph with the many-colored coat. Even that could have been a little better.

The story is enjoyable, but not great. If you buy your wine at Wal-Mart, you might like it, but if you’re looking for a bottle that has a date on it, you’re in the wrong cellar.


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