I’ve enjoyed every one of Holiday’s Matchmaker Bay novels. Looking back at the three titles (hoping for more), I admire how she set a different tone to each couple, balancing the familiar and whimsical with the fresh and heart-tugging. Of the three, Paradise Cove chewed my heart to bits. Sandcastle Beach made for a nice contrast: low-stakes romance, likeable hero and heroine with supportive family, friends, and town rooting for them and, my favourite bit, a nod to one of Shakespeare’s great comedies, Much Ado About Nothing. If Mermaid Inn brought us reunited high school sweethearts and Paradise Cove saw a tragedy healed in its love story, Sandcastle Beach had the frothy fun and banter of Shakespeare’s delightful paen to love’s headiness, but also to how we resist it and fight against it.
We watched Ben Lawson and Maya Mehta snark at each other through the first two series books. Like to their friends and family, that they were in love was obvious. This does not make their romance journey any less engaging for being so apparent. (I also enjoyed Holiday dialing down the sexy times and going for slow burn with this one: she nailed it.)
The blurb offers further detail:
Maya Mehta will do anything to save her tiny, beloved community theater. Put on musicals she hates? Check. Hire an arrogant former-pop-star-turned-actor? Done. But what Maya really needs to save her theater is Matchmaker Bay’s new business grant. She’s got some serious competition, though: Benjamin “Law” Lawson, local bar owner, Jerk Extraordinaire, and Maya’s annoyingly hot arch nemesis. Let the games begin.
Law loves nothing more than getting under Maya’s skin, and making those gorgeous eyes dance with irritation. But when he discovers the ex-pop star has a thing for Maya, too, Law decides he’s done waiting in the wings-starting with a scorching-hot kiss. Turns out there’s a thin line between hate and irresistible desire, and Maya and Law are really good at crossing it. But when things heat up, will they allow their long-standing feud to get in the way of their growing feelings?
As with most blurbs, it reveals and deceives. The rock star Maya hires, Holden Hampshire (who reminded me of Bride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Collins) doesn’t feature as prominently as suggested. The slow burn was a baby ember for a long time and Ben is not suddenly awake to Maya’s wonderfulness because he’s jealous of a gamboling rocker has-been. Sandcastle Beach really is the story of Ben and Maya in Benedick-Beatrice-mode, “sparring” through the first half (and Holiday is one of the great romance comic writers so you know these bits will be good) and, still squabbling, slowly succumbing to desire and an endearing affection. Like their Shakespearean counterparts, Ben and Maya are beautifully compatible and it’s easy to imagine them happily sniping and loving through their HEA.
Ben and Maya don’t have the psychic wounds we often witness in romances: their parents are wonderful and ALIVE; their friends, as deviously amusing, caring, and gently nudging their romance along as Benedick and Beatrice’s. So the question is: can Holiday write a great low-stakes romance? Given I read Sandcastle Beach during one of my toughest work weeks this year, lost sleep to cheer for these two into the wee hours, a resounding yes!
Holiday built her novel on Shakespearean genius comic mode: by keeping up banter between Ben-Benedick and Maya-Beatrice, conflict is built in to characterization. She sealed it with the grant rivalry, which carries the romance’s pacing and becomes part of the HEA in a gratifying way. Then, she peppered Ben and Maya’s verbal boxing matches with hints of how they “really” feel about each other, delightful little details: Ben stocking a Reisling Maya loved, even though it’s limited edition, and serving it only to her; Maya designating two or three days of the year as Bare-chested-Ben days when, for example, they volunteer to “man” the dunk tank at the annual Moonflower Bay Raspberry Festival. The stakes may be low, but her protagonists’ adorable innocence carries the day. Their banter was hilarious, a case in point Ben teasing Maya about her tube-top, “Nineteen eighty-three called, and they want their outfit back”, which amused me to no end because I wore many a tube-top in 1983 (and may I say that, like Maya, I looked magnificent in them).
I don’t want to make Ben and Maya sound like it’s all-snark and no-tenderness because that would be a misrepresentation. There’s plenty tenderness, it’s just not maudlin. Even their love scenes have a light comic touch, but the Shakespearean referencing is genius when Ben looks in wonder at Maya and remembers her playing Cleopatra: “She definitely looked like a woman with an empire under her command. Which he supposed made him the empire. He was surprisingly okay with that.” And so are we. When the HEA comes, it’s as fitting to Ben and Maya as Shakespeare’s, as Holiday pays homage to obviously one of her favourite romances in literature … and mine. If you’re looking for a few hours of delight, a book that can put and keep a silly smile on your face, then look no further than Sandcastle Beach (the title, btw, is another droll moment in Ben and Maya’s “feud”), but if you haven’t read the first two books, you would be missing out. Go for the whole hog, not just the piglet. With Miss Austen, we find in Sandcastle Beach “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Jenny Holiday’s Sandcastle Beach is published by Forever. It was released on March 9 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Forever, via Netgalley.