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When bestselling romance novelist Liam Bradley – think Nicholas Sparks – hits writer’s block, his agent suggests that he retire to his family’s cabin in Portland, Maine, in order to break through and get his next book completed. On the plane up North, Liam is seated beside Sophie Atkinson, returning home to Portland after interviewing for a position with a magazine in New York City. As one might expect, sparks fly. So begins A Novel Romance, one of the more nuanced and romantic of Hallmark Channel’s original movies.

Dylan Baker plays Liam, the bestselling novelist who writes under a pseudonym to avoid the fame he grew up with as the child of movie stars. Baker is solid here. Charming, handsome, witty, debonair but with a hint of sorrow and vulnerability. I believe that Liam could write the kind of tearjerkers he’s credited with by his fans and his agent.

Speaking of believability, this is one movie that portrays writing, at least writing novels, somewhat accurately. Writing is hard work, and we see Liam struggling to get words on paper, experiencing the oftentimes crippling self-doubt about ones talent, the rush of inspiration. We even have multiple scenes of Liam actually writing! And I have to confess to being somewhat envious of his agent, Jackie, played by Camille Mitchell. Gentle and nurturing with Liam, Jackie is whip-smart and fierce when it comes to protecting her client.

Alas, the reality of writing is not extended to Sophie who works at local newspaper as a book reviewer. Really, that’s her full-time job – reviewing books. Sure she pitches in on other assignments as needed, but we are told that this is “extra”, it’s Sophie being a team player and picking up slack in the newsroom. Listen, I write for a newspaper and I can tell you that unless you’re writing book reviews for the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune, you aren’t earning a living. Even those writers have side gigs. Then when Sophie decides to follow her dreams and – SPOILER ALERT – launch a website that only reviews books, we’re expected to believe that it becomes a successful business within a few months. Not with that crappy website design and wispy business model it’s not.

Sorry, went off on a rant there. It’s just that I was delighted to see the life of a writer, the nitty-gritty of it, accurately depicted in Liam’s storyline, only to have it contrasted with the completely unrealistic idea of a newspaper/blog writer’s life in Sophie’s storyline.

Back to the romance! Our two attractive people meet and are rather smitten, but both carry significant emotional baggage. Liam’s first novel, a runaway bestseller, is based on the disastrous breakup of his last relationship, and thanks to the spotlight that followed his movie star parents, he’s wary of fame, hiding behind his pseudonym.

Meanwhile, Sophie recently saw her love life splashed all over the tabloids when the sports star she was dating was caught cheating on her. As a result, she swore off dating anyone famous, licking her wounds while wondering if she can ever trust a man again. Acker’s ability to play winsome and vulnerable is perfect here. She strikes the balance between showing us how hurt Sophie is from her previous relationship, while also revealing her tentative hope that she’s found real love with Liam. Never maudlin or saccharine, Sophie is easy to relate to and easy to root for.

Complicating things even further is the fact that Liam’s publishers are determined to reveal his real identity as part of the publicity surrounding the release of his latest novel. With the Big Reveal looming closer, can Liam find a way to win Sophie’s heart before she finds out he’s famous?

Acker and Bruce have a beautiful, understated chemistry. This isn’t a relationship of sizzle and physical lust, but one of mental and emotional connection. Lest this sound boring, let me assure you, dear reader, the lack of superficial attraction is not a factor in the least. These characters – and these actors – connect in a way that feels more real than most, and results in one of the most romantic movies Hallmark has ever produced.

A Novel Romance premieres Saturday, January 10 at 9/8c on The Hallmark Channel.


Script developed by Never Enough Design