Nell Iris' Christmas

Holidays at Nell’s: Day 24

Merry Christmas to you, my friends. I say that today, because Sweden’s main Christmas celebration is on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. In my family, we’ve spread it out so we celebrate all three days, in an attempt to not having to stress ourselves out trying to fit everyone into one day, and since my husband’s parents are divorced, we have three families to visit. This year is very different, of course, but we’re still trying to make the best out of this difficult situation.

But I haven’t forgotten about you: here’s today’s book recommendation. And I scheduled it for Christmas Eve because one of the MCs is Swedish. Yay!

A fair warning. Today’s post is a bit long, but it’s because I liked the book so much.

Day 24 of Holiday at Nell’s: 12 Dates of Christmas by Tanya Chris.
Click for blurb

Orion has devised a brilliant strategy for achieving internet fame—an Instagram campaign where he goes on twelve dates over twelve days, culminating in a made-for-TV happy-ever-after with fellow influencer and hot Brazilian model Afonso. Their pre-arranged fake relationship is bound to capture hearts and dollars, skyrocketing Orion from mid-tier to top-tier. His plan couldn’t be more perfect.

And then he meets Gustav. Gustav isn’t famous or devilishly dark and handsome. He’s not even on Insta. And he has an annoying habit of calling Orion out on his dubious ethics.

Now Orion is torn between fake fame and true happiness as he tries to continue his campaign while dating Gustav on the sly. The world thinks it knows a lot about Orion, but none of what it knows is true, and as Christmas comes to a close, Orion is wishing he could start the new year in a whole new way.

This book spoke to me on so many levels, and I really liked the premise for the story: Orion wanting to be a famous Instagram influencer. And the way he goes about it is really creative. The creativity of this story made me smile several times, so let’s start with that.

The 12 dates of Christmas are based on on the song The Twelve Days of Christmas (if you’ve never heard it, lucky you, but you can check it out here if you want to know what I’m talking about). Orion sets up fake dates with fellow Insta influencers, themed after all the verses of the song. So for the first fake date, Orion finds a pear tree in New York city and takes his date there. I gotta hand it to Orion, he takes some interesting liberties adapting the lyrics to modern day dates, and that’s one of the things I enjoyed so much.

A blind double date, set up by friends – imaginary friends – to eat chicken wasn’t exactly poetry, but that stupid Twelve Days of Christmas song had six different bird references in the first seven days, and this was New York City. The only birds they had were pigeons.

Quote from 12 Dates of Christmas.

Orion meets Gustav, our Swedish character who’s a great guy, as he’s about to go to the first date and they hit it off immediately, but Gustav’s not Instagram material so Orion blows him off. Which leads me into my next point: I have massive problems with with the whole influencer thing. I have huge problems with the shallowness of Instagram (and maybe social media in general), how everything is about making things look good, while reality is a whole different story. Orion is very fixated with the looks of things, which is one reason he’s saying he’s bisexual when he’s not. He chose the fake man of his dreams because of his looks and how they look together.

This could have made Orion a supremely unlikable character, but he isn’t. He’s aware of his personality. He knows he’s an attention whore and that what he’s doing is wrong. Yet he does it. And his reasoning for doing it seems…if not reasonable, then understandable. He’s even (mostly) open about it to Gustav, which helps with the likability factor. That’s really masterfully done by Tanya Chris, and I tip my hat to her.

Gustav on the other hand is maybe the most likable character I’ve ever read; he’s genuine where Orion is fake. He doesn’t really understand what Orion’s doing, but he’s very accepting (at least until shit hits the fan, and I can’t blame him!) and tries to see Orion’s point of view even when he doesn’t agree with it.

“We’re all geese, Orion – geese pretending to be swans because it plays better on Instagram. Don’t you ever feel bad about misleading people? Not just about being bi, but all of it. Showing off this perfect life you aren’t really living, making people feel bad about their own imperfect lives, pretending to be a swan.”

Quote from 12 Dates of Christmas.

Gawd, I couldn’t have said that better if I’d tried a hundred years.

And as an added bonus for me, Gustav is a Swede living in New York, so we get a few Swedish holiday traditions thrown into the mix, and that made me supremely happy. Finally, someone celebrating on the right day, weird traditions and all. And no turkey in sight! That warmed my heart more than I thought it would.

“Christmas Eve is a big family night in Sweden, but I don’t have any family here. I skyped with my folks and watched some cartoons, then went to bed.”

“Cartoons?”

“Donald Duck. It’s a Swedish tradition. Never mind, it’s weird.”

Quote from 12 Dates of Christmas

Humor me with one more Swedish holiday tradition, please.

“That’s risgrynsgröt,” Gustav said as he added one last tub to the stack in Orion’s arms. “It’s a traditional Swedish Christmas dish, sort of a rice pudding. If you find an almond in yours, it means you’ll be getting married in the next year.”

Quote from 12 Dates of Christmas

I had no expectations when I downloaded a sample and started reading this story, but it blew me away. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like it, and this is definitely one of my favorite holiday reads this year.

Buy link

Whatever the official twelve days of Christmas were, everyone knew Christmas ended tonight. Jingle Bells and Here Comes Santa Claus were being retired until next November, when he would probably end up crying every time that George Michael song about getting your heart broken last Christmas came on.

Quote from 12 Dates of Christmas.