Author: James Patterson

Title: The Christmas Wedding

Publisher: Little, Brown & Company

Truth be told, readers are a fickle bunch, and that's why it's not exactly easy for many bestselling authors to make a successful departure from the genre that made them famous in the first place—just ask John Grisham.

Ever wonder why there are so many copies of Playing for Pizza in your local Barnes & Noble's bargain bin? Well, it's because it wasn't one of Grisham's signature legal thrillers—pure and simple. Even though it garnered good reviews (for the most part, anyway), it wasn't what his longtime readers were expecting, which is probably why he hasn't traveled far off the beaten path since.

And considering that James Patterson is also known for a very specific style of novel, namely psychological thrillers, a book titled The Christmas Wedding also seems like a rather curious choice.

Sure, like puppies, babies and chocolate chip cookies, anything featuring Christmas and weddings should be a universal crowd-pleaser. But the trouble with The Christmas Wedding isn't even the genre, it's the story, which leaves the reading with far more questions than the gratifying feeling of a well-told story.

Playing out like a cheesy Lifetime made-for-TV movie that's even surprisingly devoid of charm you'd file under "guilty pleasure," The Christmas Wedding centers around a widow named Gaby and her four grown children, Claire, Liz, Emily and Seth. For reasons nearly impossible to ascertain since there's an anemic level of character development, not one, not two, but three men are vying her long-term affections.

So in what's gotta be one of the lamest scams to persuade all her kids to come home for Christmas, she mails them a video that not only announces that she's getting hitched, but that who she'll be marrying is a surprise, too.

Now considering their father passed away five years before, you'd think Gaby would want to keep her kids in the loop about who their new stepdad is long before saying "I do." Instead, we're supposed to believe the suspense is all terribly romantic like when Sophie was trying to figure out who her father was in Mamma Mia.

Worse yet, it's hard to believe that three men who bothered to get down on one knee and propose would be okay with Gaby stringing them along as she figures things out. Even if Gaby was a hot mama with the looks of Julia Roberts and the heart of Mother Theresa, it's doubtful they'd all be okay with this. It's not The Bachelor, after all.

It's these lapses of believability, not to mention the sheer flightiness of the protagonist herself, that ultimately make The Christmas Wedding the proverbial fruitcake of holiday reads. While the sentiments are mildly sweet, the weird combination and textures don't fully satisfy.

*This review first published 11/2/2011