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Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like more and more readers are getting into the spirit of reading holiday-themed books this year. December is ripe with a number of festive winter holidays to choose from, but here in the U.S. Christmas does tend to be the primary focus in retail spaces and Bookstagram feeds.
I personally grew up celebrating Christmas, and in our house, that meant a handful of things. But most of all, it meant Hallmark Christmas movies. Mom and I would sit in front of the TV to enjoy the ridiculous, over-the-top holiday magic.
Like many traditions, as I’ve grown up and moved away, this one has shifted a bit. Mainly, it now includes the Hallmark Movie Drinking Game, a hilarious way to have fun noticing the ever-present tropes.
This game was in the back of my mind as I sought a wintery read that would satisfy the same itch as a Hallmark Christmas movie, in book form. While my first holiday read of the season, The Santa Suit, did technically fit the bill, it wasn’t quite my personal brand of magic (more on that here).
The Holiday Swap definitely delivered on this Christmas craving for me. Let’s break down what makes it warm and cozy as your favorite mittens by analyzing the Hallmarky tropes the writing pair known as Maggie Knox bring to the page.
The Trope: City Girl Goes Back to Small Town
Nearly ubiquitous in the Christmas movie genre is the premise that a city girl returns to her small hometown over the holidays and re-discovers the magical spark of Christmas.
We get this trope in Goodwin twin Charlie, who’s been living in L.A. as the star of a baking TV show, Sweet & Salty. When a head injury (we’ll get to this later as it’s my main issue with the book) forces her to slow down, she calls up twin Cass and asks her to take residence in her fast-paced city life to wrap up filming.
What I like about this book is that the twin setup allows us to explore the lesser-examined flipside of this trope — small-town girl gets to spread her wings and get out of said small town.
I enjoyed seeing how both lifestyles and locales had something important to offer to the twins who weren’t currently living them, and that the magic sometimes lies in stepping outside your familiar routines in order to see them from afar.
The Trope: Got a Twin? Better Swap!
For some reason, twins swapping lives has become a popular convention of the Hallmark-style movie (see: Switched for Christmas, The Princess Switch, The Princess Switch 2, etc).
It’s obvious from the title alone that this book plans to deliver on that front, and I enjoyed the silliness of this trope as always. I appreciated how some of the characters figured out the switch, which feels more realistic than even the closest friends and (former) lovers being hoodwinked entirely.
My main issue with the book is, however, related to the swap.
Content warning: I’m about to discuss medical concerns and non-compliance. Skip ahead to the next section of this review if you’d prefer to avoid this content.
The reason Charlie wants to swap lives is that she gets hit on the head and suffers a concussion. A concussion about which she proceeds to immediately lie to medical professionals, leaving out the very symptoms (loss of taste and smell) which cause her to require a work hiatus.
While I understand Charlie felt she couldn’t miss work and that sadly many of us face similar workplace pressures, this is a dangerous message to send. We see Charlie continue to suffer some of the aftereffects of her concussion but she never fesses up to medical professionals or follows the advice she’s been given.
While I understand this is a lighthearted read, I do wonder whether it’s wise to imply that ignoring the symptoms of your head injury will in any way be a good path to happily ever after.
The Trope: Holidays are Better with Hometown Baked Goods
One of the charms inherent in a small town, particularly according to your standard Hallmark Christmas movie vibe, are the local businesses. And what’s any town without a local bakery that goes all-in around the holidays?
As a lover of baked goods I am so there for this trope, and really enjoyed how we got to see Charlie and Cass in and out of their respective baking elements — the hometown bakery and the big-time baking show.
Baked goods distributed at a communal small-town holiday celebration? Also, check.
The Trope: Career Woman Realizes Career Not Everything
As any good Christmas movie does, the end of this book finds our protagonists re-examining their lives after a magical and surprising week around the holidays. Here, too, I liked the balance that seeing both twins’ perspectives gives to the usual message.
Rather than the obvious choice here being that a smaller town and slower pace are inherently better, the swap allows Cass and Charlie to see the places where their lives and careers had become stagnant. This allowed them to grow and change, determining what they really want their lives to look like and how they can get there.
Do both women wind up living in the small town? Well, that’d be spoilers, now wouldn’t it?
As you can tell, I really enjoyed reading The Holiday Swap. It’s definitely light, fluffy, and requires a little holiday suspension of disbelief with how some of it gets tied neatly into a bow by Christmas.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a Christmassy read that brings your favorite Hallmark movie tropes to the page, this is definitely a great pick for you!
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