As winter sleet, ice, snow, and ice loom, and the day-job continues its relentlessly demanding pace, I can at least celebrate the coming holidays. And the hols bring the Christmas romance and Hallmark Christmas movies in double-time! What does this have to do with Marnie Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses? Everything, as it’s a slip of a romance that sounds like category rom and smells like Hallmark. If you like one or t’other or both, you’re going to be a happy camper.
Blue is a new-to-me author and the first of my newly-resolved reviewing decision to try new romance authors every few months. My introvert’s heart can’t really take much more change than that. I started Blue’s romance with trepidation, experienced delight, eye-rolled several bits, and ended up replete with reader satisfaction. Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses doesn’t break any romance molds and its Hallmark-Christmas-movie ethos will be familiar to those of us who revel in the joys of tinsel, garland, frosted gingerbread men, and tree-lighting ceremonies, of which there is a hilarious one in Mistletoe Kisses. When the novel opens, Grinch-like cop-hero Justin Weaver is sneezing his way through his Santa-beard as he grumbles at his commanding officer’s “request” to make nice with the public by playing Santa to collect toys for underprivileged children. It’s a good cause and Justin is a good egg, he just hates Christmas, his tight Santa costume, and public appearances … especially speeches.
Enter his childhood and teen friend, Lilly Maddox, back in town after ten years and eager to win a job at the local paper by shadowing Holly Hollow’s (yes, that really is the Hallmark-y name of the town) newest Santa incarnation on his Ho-Ho-Ho Patrol. Really, it’s all trite, but harmless. Justin harbors hurt feelings over what he remembers as Lilly’s abandonment of his family (mother and sister, Hannah, who was Lilly’s BFF in high school) when his father died and Lilly went away to boarding school. Lilly, in turn, after ten years as a foreign correspondent, yearns to make her way back permanently to Holly Hollow, to live in the only place she could ever call home and be with the people who were the only family she ever knew, Justin, his mom, and sister. Lilly was a poor little rich girl, whose parents lacked the love and wholesomeness she found with Justin and fam.
This is ostensibly the romance’s premise, but it isn’t one that is explored too deeply. There’s not much angst to work through and Lilly and Justin’s reasons for not being together turn flimsy fairly quickly. But I didn’t care. Mistletoe Kisses is a great piece of fluff: it’s fun, funny, and charming. Blue is a delightfully comic writer and there were scenes when I guffawed into my tea cup or pillow, depending on where I was reading. Justin is grinch to Lilly’s Wendy Lou. Justin is caution to Lilly’s throwing it to the wind. As Lilly sweeps, jumps, hops, and exudes from every pore with Christmas cheer, Justin grumbles, sneezes through this beard fluff, whinges, and bears all with grumbling forbearance. Aside from the hilarious non-speech Justin gives at the tree-lighting ceremony, there’s a church bazaar scene where I almost split a gut thigh-slapping laughing.
Is it all great? Nope. There’s a sloppiness to the blithe, innocent Christmas fairy Lilly and the idea that she’s seen war zones. Lilly’s the type to tiptoe through the land mines and her demeanor and mood don’t match what Blue set up for her as backstory. Justin saw combat too, before becoming a cop, as a soldier in Afghanistan, and his reactions are more believable. I thought it was endearing and refreshing that Justin owns his anxiety and doesn’t bear it all manly and silent. He’s also one of the few heroes I’ve read who keeps blushing and I loved that non-alpha bit about him. Blue has a talent for clever, funny dialogue and characters a reader likes and roots for. Sometimes, however, her prose style grated. It had a certain storytelling, artificial “voice” to it that distanced from her adorable characters. Wish she’d freed them instead of being hyper-conscious of her narrative. But I’m quibbling. Who can resist lines like, ” Alpha Santa” or “She was merry. He was a mess” or “he was a lonely man adrift in a sea of estrogen” or THE BEST OF ALL, as Lilly says to Hannah, ” ‘Hannah, this is real life, not a Hallmark movie. We’re not going to fall in love in front of a roaring fire or anything — ‘ ‘Of course not. He doesn’t have a fireplace.’ ”
Mistletoe Kisses is fun, heart-warming, and can pull out the poignant and do it well too. You’ll have to stretch your believe-o-metre, but you’ll also be delighted with this humble little Christmas romance. With Miss Austen, we say Mistletoe Kisses offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Marnie Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses is published by Entangled Publishing. It released on October 22nd and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Entangled Publishing, via Netgalley.