The Worst Christmas Ever by Elizabeth and Juliet Rowe

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

The Worst Christmas Ever by Elizabeth and Juliet Rowe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and it should almost be the most wonderful day. Christmas is tomorrow! But when mishaps and accidents suddenly hit a family–from the babysitter trapped in the bathroom to a car wreck–the family will learn what can turn around The Worst Christmas Ever, a play by Elizabeth and Juliet Rowe.

That’s right. It’s been a while since I’ve read a play. Moreover, this is the first time I’ve read and reviewed a play for children, written by a young pair of sisters. I’m glad I didn’t read the play’s description/blurb beforehand, since it pretty much gives away the crux and conclusion of the matter. It was more delightful to discover the story’s crux and conclusion for myself. (Of course, this is coming from someone who simply read the play for leisure and wasn’t picking out a play to perform.)

This was an enjoyable read for me. It’s cute and humorous with a serious and heartfelt holiday message in it. There’s one aspect tied to the message, concerning the child characters, that I wish could’ve been a tad more realistic, but it doesn’t ruin the story.

I’d recommend this play to any Christian group looking to put on a children’s production–or to anyone else who can appreciate a quick and uplifting tale with refreshing innocence and Christmas warmth.


A Case for Short Books

I must begin by saying this isn’t a finger-pointing post meant to put down certain readers and their reading preferences. This is something I’ve been thinking about for years, and if you’ve ever been around my blog site, you may’ve seen me mention something about this before.

First, let’s consider, oh, short people.

Just because someone shorter may not have the height of someone taller doesn’t mean the shorter person is missing something. A short person isn’t incomplete, or “less complete” than a tall person. No, complete, quality human beings come in all different shapes and sizes, and they’re meant to be that way.

Author Suzanne D. Williams heads a group on Facebook called Novella Faith Writers and Readers. One of her posts in the group says, “Removing the stigma, one short story at a time.” I myself wasn’t aware of the stigma short fiction carries until pretty recently. I didn’t realize how strongly some readers dislike novellas, or that some readers purposely stay away from them, until I “listened in” on a chat in a group of readers. Some said they couldn’t stand novellas, and others said things like, “There isn’t enough time in a novella for good plot and character development, like in a novel.”

I guess I should mention here that novellas have been around for a long time, with or without the “novella” label. They aren’t something new (i.e. just a new or lazy shortcut for authors who want to publish fast or just a new sales gimmick from publishers), nor are novellas something substantively different from or lesser than novels. A novella, by definition, is a short novel. The terms “novel” and “novella” are meant to indicate differences in word count or structural elements, but not in substance or significance. The same goes for novelettes.

Writing FictionAnyhow. There’s plenty of time for the plot and characters in short fiction to be well-developed. An author of short fiction has to use that time wisely—as the author of any length of book has to, if he or she wants the book to be good. Yes, there are some novellas where the plot and character development may be lacking, but the same thing often happens in longer books.

Poorly developed fiction isn’t what all fiction should be judged by.

“More pages” aren’t the necessary element to develop a story well; the necessary element is writing skill. There’s an art to writing short fiction, just as there’s an art to writing long fiction, and not all writers are masters of both. Writers of well-developed short fiction know how to stay on topic, to get to the point, to include events and details that matter (so as not to rush or water-down the story) while knowing how to leave out unnecessary or redundant information that doesn’t move the plot forward.

I’d venture to say that many (not all, but many) novels with weak subplots, rambling exposition, extra characters who add little to no meaning, unhelpful or repetitive content, and chunks of dialogue that don’t take the story anywhere new would be better, stronger books if they were revised, edited down, and republished as novellas instead. Keeping the meat of their stories while omitting the fat.

Much of the assumption that a work of fiction has to be a particular length to reach a certain level of quality comes from readers’ conditioning. If a reader is used to reading fiction of a particular length most of the time, that very well may feel like the length that fiction “should be” to that reader, and anything longer or shorter may seem too long or too short.

But consider classic works of fiction like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Orwell’s Animal Farm, and Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. These books are short. Novellas. They tell the stories they’re meant to tell, they tell them well, and the books aren’t missing something simply because they don’t have more pages. And by no means are they the only short novels like that.


Then there’s Edson’s Wit, Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and any number of other plays that aren’t an average novel length, and yet they further exemplify superb, powerful storytelling in a relatively small number of pages.


Of course, all readers are entitled to their preferences, their likes and dislikes and what they choose to read or not to read. I simply want to emphasize that not all fictional stories, even excellent ones, are meant to be long.

It doesn’t always take a lot of words, a lot of pages, for an author to say something meaningful, memorable, and effective—for a story to be enough, in all of its distinctive shortness.


A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Not Rated. Drama, African American Actors/Issues, Comedy

Description (from the film case): The Younger family, frustrated with living in their crowded Chicago apartment, sees the arrival of a $10,000 insurance check as the answer to their prayers. Matriarch Lena Younger (Claudia McNeil) promptly puts a down payment on a house in an all-white suburban neighborhood. But the family is divided when Lena entrusts the balance of the money to her mercurial son Walter Lee (Sidney Poitier), against the wishes of her daughter (Diana Sands) and daughter-in-law (Ruby Dee.) It takes the strength and integrity of this African-American family to battle against generations of prejudice to try to achieve their piece of the American Dream.

My thoughts: If Sidney Poitier never played another role in his life, he was Walter Lee Younger.

There’s a whole lot of life lived in a few days for this family, and to see the growth in them is remarkable. The film hits deep where it needs to, lightens up and makes you laugh along the way, and after mercurial Walter Lee’s fire all movie, I can’t say that the quiet, sober, but decided monologue he eventually gives doesn’t put a proud tear in my eye.

Honestly, I’m sorry this story was ever remade for the screen, as I personally think movie remakes should be reserved for stories that were a good idea but were delivered poorly, not for stories that were already masterfully executed on multiple levels, as remakes that come after such works will be duly compared–but won’t be able to compare.

Here’s to a superb 1961 cast in a superb film.

My corresponding reading: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.


Now, mind you, I find the film to be much more engaging than its original trailer, but, hey. I try to cut older trailers some slack.