by Therese Beharrie
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: November 19, 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Of all the weddings in all the world, Angie Roux had to be mistaken for a bridesmaid in this one.
Caledon, South Africa, is supposed to be just a stop on the way to Christmas in Cape Town, part of Angie’s long-avoided homecoming. She never expected to star in a bizarre comedy of errors, but here she is: convincing a handsome stranger to be her fake boyfriend for the day.
Ezra Johnson, the handsome stranger in question, turns out to be a pleasant distraction from both the wedding and thoughts of her first family Christmas without her father. And he seems to loathe weddings just as much as she does. He’s the perfect temporary companion.
But a lot can happen in twenty-four hours. Including a connection so strong it tempts them both into thinking of something more permanent…
I haven’t read Ms. Beharrie before, though I’d seen her books recommended frequently. Well, after reading this book, I’ve definitely put the rest of her backlist on my TBR! This is, in my mind, an example of a perfect holiday romance. It’s cozy, but not without angst, and it delves into some of the important themes surrounding the holidays. It’s also a rom-com over the course of one day, including crashing a wedding, a turn in a Christmas parade as Santa and Mrs. Claus, and an impromptu nativity play.
Angie is returning home to Cape Town for the holidays after several years out of the country when she stops at a small town on the way. Hilariously, though, she’s mistaken for a bridesmaid, and to get away from some persistent wedding guests, she talks another non-guest into pretending to be her boyfriend. Ezra’s also on his way back home to his family after some time away, and initially Angie is a funny distraction. As they talk, though, and their reasons for both stopping in this small town come out, it becomes clear that while they may be complete strangers, they may also be very, very good for each other. Is there more there to build on than just a mutual dislike of weddings?
She’d known him for all of a few hours and yet somehow, she steadied him. Despite the fact that she forced him to be honest—that she made him see things about himself he hadn’t before—she steadied him. Even though she put a spotlight on all the issues he wanted to avoid, preventing him from keeping them in the dark, she steadied him.
It’s hard to say too much about the characters’ motivations without being spoilerly, as the build up to finding out what’s brought each of them to this town is part of the tension of the novel, and it works beautifully. View Spoiler »It’s been three years since Angie’s father died, and she hasn’t been home since. Her parents were extremely co-dependent, so much so that it was her job to take care of her two younger sisters, and her father’s job to take care of her mother. After her father’s death, She was afraid that she’d have to play both roles after her father died, so she ran. More than that, she’s afraid to get involved in a relationship for fear of becoming like her mother, completely dependent on that other person and broken without them. Her parents got married at Christmas in the small town she’s stopped at, and so she’s dealing with the morass of emotions about her father’s death, her parents’ codependency, and her guilt for leaving them for a job out of the country. Ezra’s afraid of weddings, though he’s chosen to stop in the cafe near the wedding of two of his students. He left his family to move to be with his girlfriend, though when he at least decided to ask her to marry him, she rebuffed him, citing that she thought they hadn’t had that sort of relationship. Now he’s embarrassed to go back to his family with his tail tucked between his legs. « Hide Spoiler What I loved about this book was watching Angie and Ezra open up to each other – it is, after all, easier to talk to strangers sometimes about difficult things. They were also quite willing to call each other on their crap when they’re not being honesty with each other, or with themselves.
The silence that followed seemed heavy with what they weren’t saying, and he blurted out, ‘Why romance?’ She blinked. Adjusting to the abrupt change in topic, he thought.
‘Probably the happily-ever-afters.’ Her expression was pensive. ‘That I can control it.’
‘Oh. That’s not what I was expecting.’
She laughed softly. ‘Wouldn’t you hand out happily-ever-afters if you could?’
‘No, I meant being able to control it.’
‘Life is unpredictable,’ she replied after a pause. ‘I guess it’s appealing to me. The idea that I can give people happy endings when that’s not what happens in real life. Oh, no, wait,’ she said, her eyes wide, ‘that’s not what I meant.’
Besides the epilogue, the entire book happens in twenty-four hours in the same small town. It’s all set amongst some almost comedy of errors holiday goodness, from getting roped in to playing Santa and Mrs. Claus for a float for the town parade, to wandering a Christmas market, to playing Mary during an ad lib nativity play (with drunk wedding guests). There was something magical about the juxtaposition of small town holiday cheer with the deep subjects that Angie and Ezra were baring their souls over. There’s a lot about grief, trauma, and heartache, but I felt like it was handled well and very authentically. Honestly, the mix of emotions made it extremely hard for me to put the book down.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. While it’s not a traditional happy-go-lucky Christmas story, it’s heartwarming in its own way, and I would definitely recommend it!