by Belle Calhoune
Series: Mistletoe, Maine #1
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
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:
The quaint New England town of Mistletoe is thrilled to welcome back one of their own, Dante West. Now a famous Hollywood action star, Dante is filming a movie in town to help the local economy, as well as make amends with the people he hurt when he abruptly left Mistletoe all those years ago.
Librarian Lucy Marshall isn't thrilled to see Dante. He was once her best friend and first love until he left her behind without a word of goodbye. When Dante makes her an offer she can't refuse -- use of the library as a filming venue in exchange for a lucrative donation, Lucy finds herself spending a lot of time in Dante's company. With the magic of Christmas in the air, Dante and Lucy begin to forge a new bond. But can two people leading such different lives find lasting love the second time around?
It’s no secret that I love second chance romances and holiday romances, so one that combined the two? Should’ve been a homerun. Unfortunately, while there was quite a bit of both that worked, the book overall didn’t hit well for me.
Dante and Lucy grew up together in the little town of Mistletoe, Maine. They’d been childhood friends and then in a relationship, until he unexpectedly took off for California, throwing away all their careful plans for the future. In the almost nine years since, he’s become a famous actor in multiple action movies, and now he’s back in Mistletoe to direct a film he’s written and produced. While the rest of the town seems to have forgiven him, she’s eager to avoid dealing with the man who broke her heart so badly, the only man she ever loved. Dante has his own reasons for coming back. He’s eager to reconcile with not only Lucy, who he also still carries a torch for, but also his family and friends. But repairing relationships isn’t as easy as an apology, and as Lucy and Dante are thrown together again, it’s hard for either of them to deny that they still have feelings for each other. But with Dante going back to LA after Christmas, will Lucy be left in Mistletoe with a broken heart again?
“She loved snow almost as much as she adored the Christmas season itself. There was something about the white fluffy stuff that instantly took her back to the joys of childhood. Sledding. Tubing. Skating. Making a snowman in the backyard and drinking steaming mugs of hot cocoa. Growing up here in Mistletoe had been idyllic.”
First off, this is very much a Christmas book. There’s lots of (secular) holiday goodness, from finding the perfect tree at a tree farm to lots of snow to a town Christmas fest complete with a tree lighting. There’s even a particularly hilarious section where Dante has to sub in for Santa, and it was one of the most adorable interactions between him and Lucy. Lucy, for her part, adores Christmas (she goes all out decorating the town library), and has a special fondness for holiday decorations with lobsters. It’s one of many ways she’s firmly and happily settled in her hometown. Lucy’s calm and collected, the perfect reputation for the town librarian. The last thing she wants is gossip about her and Dante making the rounds, not to mention the inevitable pity when he leaves again. Plus, she was deeply hurt when he left, and neither she nor her close family and friends want to see the same thing replay again. But she can’t quite seem to play it cool around him, and it’s clear quickly that all the sparks between them never faded.
“Couldn’t Lucy see that he was trying? He truly wanted to make things right, or at least put his best foot forward. He’d written the script for the movie as a love letter to their youthful relationship. It had been a painful process to relive those moments and face the fact that he’d singlehandedly ruined something beautiful and genuine. It wasn’t fair for Lucy to be so dismissive.”
My main issue with the book was that I didn’t like Dante. Dante does seem to generally want to reconcile with everyone, but he seems to not know how to go about it. Apologies are all well and good, but I think it’s also important for the person to show they understand the other person’s pain and that they won’t hurt them in that same way again. Instead I got the impression that Dante expected the other person to accept and understand his extenuating circumstances and forgive him without regards to their own pain. He mentions several times that his pride kept him from reaching out to her, and it nearly sinks them again due to the bleak moment. Rather than realizing he needs to explain what happened, he immediately jumps to “she doesn’t trust me!” over something that, without going into spoilers, yeah, I’d be rather hurt by as well. Understanding that you may have hurt someone inadvertently, even when you’re not really at fault, isn’t a trust issue. He also based the movie he’s filming in Mistletoe on their relationship without telling her. She’s initially quite shocked by that, but unlike me, she eventually seems to think it’s sweet and a sign of his desire to mend fences. A lot of their current relationship also seems dependent on their past, and not much of that was really shown in the book. There’s references to Dante being a ringleader and pulling Lucy into silly schemes, but not a lot about what those were. Maybe if more had been included, I would’ve seen Dante better through Lucy’s eyes.
Besides Lucy, Dante’s coming to terms with his father’s death and his estranged relationship with his brother. When Dante’s father was ill, he didn’t come home to visit him, and while he returned for the funeral, it’s been his brother Troy who moved back in with their mother to help her out. So Troy is naturally upset about his reception in Mistletoe and that his mother welcomes him back with open arms. Unlike the reconciliation with Lucy, I thought the way his relationship with Troy changed and grew was realistic and ultimately satisfying. I also enjoyed several of the other side characters. Lucy’s little sister Tess was pretty fun, as was Dante’s friend’s kid Miles. And since this is a small town romance, which tend to be extremely white, I liked that the main characters and several side characters were Black. It’s also firmly a closed door romance, with nothing more beyond a few kisses even suggested.
Overall, while this is an adorable holiday romance, unfortunately I never quite warmed up to the hero. It’s definitely the sort of sweet holiday movie I would watch with a giant mug of cocoa, though!
Content notes: View Spoiler »death of a parent from cancer (before book starts), death of a side character in a car accident (before book starts), grief, housing insecurity (before book starts), parent with MS, mention of drug abuse « Hide Spoiler