Jesse went upstairs to heat his grandfather’s homemade tomato soup and make grilled cheese sandwiches, and Clarence offered to show me around the store. As he led me down each aisle, I was embarrassed to realize I hadn’t paid enough attention to the shop’s finer details. I’d been too busy with the idea of buying the property so we could transform it into something else
This sweet holiday rom-com is the perfect way to get you into the Christmas mood, I’ll bet on it!
When LA-based real estate developer Bella Ross arrives in the sleepy, mountain town of Maple Falls, she has one mission: to acquire the local failing Christmas shop, Always Noelle, securing the promotion of her dreams. Nothing can get in her way. Except the shop owner’s stubborn grandson, Jesse Harrison.
Both refuse to budge, until an unlikely wager is struck: Bella and Jesse will compete in the Maple Falls Holiday Games, an annual tradition of eccentric feats of strength and skills. Winner decides the selling price. They’ll give each other a run for their money, but as the competition heats up, Bella and Jesse’s icy feelings toward each other begin to thaw. It’ll take a Christmas miracle for them to admit there’s a spark, but what if it’s just another game?
I loved The Christmas Wager so much! It’s the perfect start of the season read – Hallmark movie sweet, but with a thoughtful and angsty layer of complex family relationships, regret, and characters wondering “what would happen if.” I am such a fan of Hannah Mary McKinnon’s books, and this rom-com, written under her pen name, Holly Cassidy, reminds me how funny Hannah is. And even though she’s known for her twisty mysteries, you should know there isn’t one dead body in this story – even if there are a few characters you may want to murder because of how much of a Grinch they are.
The story centres around Bella and Jesse. Bella is a small-town Canadian girl looking to make her mark in LA. She’s ambitious, smart and willing to go to any lengths to win. When her shark of a boss sends her to close a deal in the small town of Maple Falls, Colorado, it should be simple: sign the contract, fly home, and get a huge promotion. But Bella wasn’t expecting Jesse, the protective grandson who stymies her plans to buy the aging Christmas decor shop. The only way to win? Challenge him that she can win the town’s annual Christmas contest: five days filled with hilarious and challenging events. The only problem? Bella has hated Christmas since her dad walked out on them one Christmas when she was young.
I loved Jesse and Bella’s relationship. They are obviously enemies to lovers, and both have a lot of angst about falling for the enemy. Jesse and Bella are also in their late twenties/ early thirties, and they have baggage that they have to work through to figure out if they can trust their hearts. The book is written from both perspectives and sometimes you get parts of the same scene from their different views. I loved watching them experience the same situation and see how they responded. Jesse is really layered, and his loyalty and devotion to his grandfather had my heart tightening, so many times.
Speaking of Jesse’s grandfather, Clarence, the secondary characters steal the show here. Maple Falls is a tiny town filled with big personalities. Watching the townspeople help each other and support each other and Bella through some crazy antics and risky winter rescues; I had been dreaming about watching this story as a movie. Cough – Netflix picks this up. Jesse also has the most adorable dog named Buddy, after the main character in the movie Elf, naturally.
The Christmas Wager could almost be too saccharine, but Holly writes characters filled with awareness and drive to be better than they are. There are some themes that remind me of classic Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas, where part of the story is watching the main characters discover their purpose in life. I was cheering on Bella and Jesse during the book’s final chapters and also tearing up.
If you love classic Christmas movies and want to feel the true spirit of Christmas, then add The Christmas Wager to your reading list.
Thank you to Penguin for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.