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JUST LIKE MAGIC by Sarah Hogle

From the author of Twice Shy comes a sprightly Christmas novel, a rollicking romp through the absurdity of family holidays and the hope of new love.

Bettie Hughes once knew the comfort of luxury, flaunting a ridiculous collection of designer shoes and a stealthy addiction to CBD oils. That is, until her parents snipped her purse strings. Long obsessed with her public image, Bettie boasts an extravagant lifestyle on social media. But the reality is: Bettie is broke and squatting in Colorado, and her family has no idea.

Christmas, with its pressure to meet familial expectations, is looming when a drunk Bettie plays a vinyl record of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” backwards and accidentally conjures Hall, an unexpectedly charming Holiday Spirit in the form of a man. Once the shock wears off, Bettie knows she’s stumbled upon the greatest gift: a chance to make all her holiday wishes come true, plus a ready-made fiancé.

But as the wiles of magic lose their charm, Bettie finds herself set off-kilter by Hall’s sweet gestures. Suddenly, Bettie is finding her heart merry and light. But the happier she gets, the shorter Hall’s time on earth grows. Can Bettie channel the Christmas spirit and learn to live with goodwill toward all men? Or will her selfish ways come back as soon as the holidays are over? 


Title : Just Like Magic
Author : Sarah Hogle
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : romance / magical realism
Publisher : Putnam
Release Date : October 4, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4.5 (rounded up) star review

Not only am I reading an October ARC in March but this is also a Christmas-themed story. But hey, figured I’m closer to the holidays at this stage in the game than I would be if I read this before release. So, pfft.

When I tell you that I was laughing, gigging, cackling, and then crying, weeping, sniffling all within the span of a few pages.. well, I mean, no one would be surprised. But also please note the hilarity portion of the book does outweigh the sad by about 80/20. I spent a lot of time laughing. And oh man did I need this book exactly right now. Thank you, timing. For once you are in my favour.

Hogle’s sophomore release took a break from offering us a harder kid of heroine to like, or maybe just a messier one, but she’s back and with her is Bettie. Bettie has gone from having it all, and (mostly) being it all, to rock bottom. She’s penniless, her reputation more or less in tatters from various situations, and squatting in a house that is now her own but still trying to maintain her social media image and convince her parents nothing is wrong. When a freak accident conjures the Holiday Spirit, manifesting him in a delightful human form capable of granting wishes for the purpose of improving her outlook on the holidays, well.. she takes advantage and cashes in; both in material goods and revenge. But the harder Hall (as in Holiday) tries to woo her towards good cheer, the harder it is to resist her better nature. And Christmas.

Listen, this book.. is totally outrageous. It’s ridiculous. In all the best ways. This has a full cast of colourful characters in the form of Bettie’s family and the hijinks that ensue are just amazing. But there are so many sly little emotional moments that Hogle includes that keeps this from getting too out there. And then there are the moments where she doesn’t pull punches and actually breaks your heart. See aforementioned weeping.

I loved every second of this and, much like the two Hogles that came before it, I immediately wanted to start it up all over again. I had such a good time and though I’m not one for Hallmark movies or Christmas stories or anything of this nature, if they were all like this? I’d eat them up. This is everything holiday but also, somehow, does not feel like you’re being smothered in tinsel. For all that Bettie is literally hanging out with the physical manifestation of the Holiday Spirit, and there’s magic being flung here there and everywhere in every possible conceivable way, it’s also.. bizarrely normal? Like, this doesn’t feel like a fantasy but it is, of course, fantastical AF. I don’t know how she managed the balance and maybe others could argue otherwise but I just loved it. It’s silly and fun and romantic and sweet and touching and.. why haven’t I given this five stars? I probably should. Okay, we’re rounding that 4.5 up.

It’s an act of courage to march to the beat of your own drum, to behave with compassion and generosity, and wonder.

So far this author has given us books with top notes of : biting and sharp, tender and sweet, and now absolutely bonkers — with a dash of peppermint. I truly don’t know where Hogle will go, and do, next, but I am in it and I want it.

ps, if anyone comes for Hall (and it’s sorta weird saying this because I read this whole book hearing my own name in my head), I will come for you. He must be protected at all costs.
pps, I deleted all but one quote from the review because honestly they deserve to be experienced for the first time in context. But just know you have much hilarity and much sweetness and much silliness (as discussed in the review, I’m just hammering it home) to look forward to.
pps, you’re welcome.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss+ and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

A MERRY LITTLE MEET CUTE by Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone

Cowritten by #1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Murphy and USA Today bestselling author Sierra Simone—a steamy plus-size holiday rom-com about an adult film star who is semi-accidentally cast as a lead in a family-friendly Christmas movie, and the former bad-boy pop star she falls in love with.

Bee Hobbes (aka Bianca Von Honey) has a successful career as a plus-size adult film star. With a huge following and two supportive moms, Bee couldn’t ask for more. But when Bee’s favorite producer casts her to star in a Christmas movie he’s making for the squeaky-clean Hope Channel, Bee’s career is about to take a more family-friendly direction.

Forced to keep her work as Bianca under wraps, Bee quickly learns this is a task a lot easier said than done. Though it all becomes worthwhile when she discovers her co-star is none other than childhood crush Nolan Shaw, an ex-boy band member in desperate need of career rehab. Nolan’s promised his bulldog manager to keep it zipped up on set, and he will if it means he’ll be able to provide a more stable living situation for his sister and mom.

But things heat up quickly in Christmas Notch, Vermont, when Nolan recognizes his new co-star from her ClosedDoors account (oh yeah, he’s a member). Now Bee and Nolan are sneaking off for quickies on set, keeping their new relationship a secret from the Hope Channel’s execs. Things only get trickier when the reporter who torpedoed Nolan’s singing career comes snooping around—and takes an instant interest in mysterious newcomer Bee.

And if Bee and Nolan can’t keep their off-camera romance behind the scenes, then this merry little meet cute might end up on the cutting room floor. 


Title : A Merry Little Meet Cute
Author : Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : contemporary romance / holiday
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : September 20, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

I wanted to be able to give this one a higher rating solely because of the inclusion of a fat FMC who also happens to do sex work (like, hell yes, more of this rep) but ultimately the good bits, which were more in concept than any kind of execution, just didn’t make up for the rest. And in that sense I mean mostly that this was boring, frustrating, and unbelievable.

While I wish I could’ve enjoyed the surface level festiveness of a Christmassy/holiday-themed movie being filmed over the holidays, the promised fun and hilarity and tension of both the bad boy ex-boyband member trying to rehab his image paired up with an actual sex worker trying to branch into a different kind of film — and also stay wholesome so as not to let anyone in on the secret of her career — just never panned out. This wasn’t really fun, there was only some token forced humour (which wasn’t funny), and the tension was flimsy at best considering how painfully oblivious the non-sex industry folks were to who was both starring and working on this movie. Also, I feel like every conflict could’ve either been avoided or was brought on by the dumb actions of the main characters (the picture in the strip club? you’ve got to be kidding me).

Added to all that, the chemistry between the leads was given a leg (or four) up because they had both crushed on each other prior to meeting; Bee idolized Nolan during his boy band days, and Nolan happened to be a fan of Bee’s sexy online persona. So they didn’t need to fall for each other, or even have personalities, because the “connection” was established off-page. Instead it was just very lust-driven with sexy times or thoughts of sexy times and full disclosure I started skimming those real fast.

What made this stranger is that this felt.. YA-y. I realize it’s an typical claim to make considering one of the co-authors is coming from YA, and most female authors are lumped into this category, but still. These characters didn’t feel like they had adult problems and the problems that did feel adult had non-adult reactions to them (I think they are supposed to be mid to late twenties? don’t quote me). I don’t know how else to describe it. But Nolan and his phone.. drove me up the wall. I don’t even care that they attempted to work it into the story, blah blah, no. I was over it — though I do have to say, there was one scene where his younger sister chastises him for trying to micromanage a crisis from afar after she calls him in the middle of a scene to freak out on him and get his help to manage a crisis. So, like, yeah, he did get the short end of the stick sometimes and that certainly didn’t help anything. But while he had sympathetic backstory/motivations, I didn’t enjoy how he was made to handle them or, really, him as a character. Even Bee, the stronger of the two, just wasn’t able to shoulder the burden of this story and I don’t feel enough time was really spent with her enjoying the filming and acting process. Instead it was just about keeping this poorly-hidden secret and being into Nolan. She was just as surface level as he was, really. And as for the rest of the cast.. honestly, no one stood out. And while a few should be called out for their pointlessness, I don’t even have the energy to bother.

Overall, this was a bummer. I do think a lot of readers will enjoy it for what it is — spicy holiday zestiness — I just expect a lot more from my romance than this. Having said that, I would warn any mostly-YA readers from jumping into this one. For all that it read YA-ish, there is a lot of adult and sex content, so maybe work yourself upto this one if you’re new to the steams. Or don’t, YOLO!

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE HOLIDAY SWAP by Maggie Knox – double review!

A feel-good, holiday-themed romantic comedy about identical twins who switch lives in the days leading up to Christmas–perfect for fans of Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze and Josie Silver’s One Day in December.

All they want for Christmas is a different life.

When chef Charlie Goodwin gets hit on the head on the L.A. set of her reality baking show, she loses a lot more than consciousness; she also loses her ability to taste and smell–both critical to her success as show judge. Meanwhile, Charlie’s identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown while running the family’s bustling bakery and dealing with her ex, who won’t get the memo that they’re over. 

With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven’t done since they were kids: switch places. Looking for her own escape from reality, Cass agrees. But temporarily trading lives proves more complicated than they imagined, especially when rugged firefighter Jake Greenman and gorgeous physician’s assistant Miguel Rodriguez are thrown into the mix. Will the twins’ identity swap be a recipe for disaster, or does it have all the right ingredients for getting their lives back on track?


Title : The Holiday Swap
Author : Maggie Knox
Format : physical
Page Count : 351
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Viking
Release Date : October 5, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ / ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2 star review

Definitely don’t take my rating to heart if this sounds like your thing. This just isn’t my cup of tea.

Right off the bat, I want to say, if you’re a fan of the seasonal Netflix and or Hallmark channel holiday movies? You’ll probably love this. Enjoy those Vanessa Hudgens twin/look-alike/whatever swap concept films? This is for you. Added bonus if you also love The Great British Bake Off. And yet another bonus is this also manages to sprinkle in a small-town setting and vibe. The Holiday Swap is doing pretty much everything, and anything, it possibly can. Sadly, though, this did not make my Grinchy heart grows any sizes bigger.

If you can suspend some disbelief that grown humans (even identical ones!) would think it likely they can switch lives for the course of the week when disaster strikes (I’m not even going to touch on the recklessness of not taking a concussion seriously.. I’m not.. nope), and have no issue adjusting despite the very different lives they lead, you can probably get on with this more than I could (thankfully they do later address the folly in thinking this would be possible, but..). Added tension and hijinks ensue when they immediately stumble in their ability to adjust to their new surroundings and are unable to get ahold of each other.. and I mean, other than dealing with frustrating co-hosts of a reality tv show and an ex who can’t get the hint, that’s as high stakes as it gets. This isn’t looking to stress you out by any means, it really is here for a good wholesome holiday time.

Beyond not getting on with most of the aforementioned tropes and premise, though, I’ll admit there was not enough to differentiate the twins in personality or narrative voice. One is supposed to be more traditionally small town and perhaps a little bit of a pushover/people pleaser (though we only see that particular aspect when she’s dealing with her ex which, ugh, I disliked that whole plot point) and the other is glamourous and successful and take-charge.. except, again, with maybe two exceptions we don’t see this really come to the fore. They were both into baking, they were both workaholics, making them well.. sorry for the pun, but, identical; circumstances notwithstanding.

Naturally, each sister has a romance that is initially complicated by the existing way the love interests were known to the other sister, but, surprising no one, it all works out happily ever after in the end.

The Holiday Swap has the excitement, and conflict, of the GBBO-like competition, a potential baked-goods chain looking to elbow in on the small town bakery’s turf, in addition to head injuries and some ruined baking, and, of course, the sisters have to come clean just in time for Christmas. Will a miracle prevail and they will be forgiven for their trickery? Will they each get what they set out to achieve with their swap.. and maybe learn something about themselves along the way? I’m sure you know the answer to those questions but, either way, I won’t ruin the surprise.

This has so much that I know so many people will love. And I hope you do. But if, like me, this isn’t quite your jam? I don’t think this will be memorable or enough of a stand-out to change your mind about the premise. It did make me hungry, though.

** I received an unsolicited finished copy from the publisher (thank you!) and this in no way influenced my review. **


Micky’s 2.75 star review

Headlines:
Twins
At least it wasn’t Freaky Friday
Silly swaps
Annoying lies

I just didn’t gel with this popular Christmas read. I did read after Christmas but it didn’t feel that Christmassy, so I don’t think that was the problem. I don’t like it when plots are built on lies that escalate and that was basically the whole premise.

The highlight of the story was both the love interest for the twins. Miguel and Jake were pretty great guys with no facade and I appreciate a good guy trope. Cass and Charlie irritated me and I suppose Charlie more than Cass as the instigator.

It was an easy read at first but it did require some pushing later on with a little bit of skimming.