TBR Challenge: Mistletoe Marriage by Jessica Hart

This title may be purchased from Amazon

It could happen to you!

A CHRISTMAS WISH…

For Sophie Beckwith, Christmas this year means having to face the ex who dumped her and then married her sister! Only one person can help—her best friend Bram.

A YULETIDE PROPOSAL…

Bram used to be engaged to Sophie’s sister. Now, determined to show “the lovebirds” that they’ve moved on, he’s come up with a plan: he’s proposed—to Sophie!

A MISTLETOE MARRIAGE!

It’s crazy, but it would be only pretend…wouldn’t it? Now their wedding day is here and Sophie’s feelings for Bram have drastically changed. Her deepest wish now is for Bram to say “I do”—for real!

Rating: B

Time constraints meant I needed a quick read for this month’s TBR Challenge, and Jessica Hart’s Mistletoe Marriage (from 2005) proved to be just the thing.  It’s a charming, well-written and absorbing friends-to-lovers story set in the weeks before Christmas featuring a couple of engaging principals and a bit – not too much  – angst. I lapped it up in a couple of sittings one afternoon and came away from it with a happy sigh.

Bram and Sophie have been friends forever and are still besties, even though Sophie now lives and works in London and Bram works his small farm on the North Yorkshire Moors.  Sophie’s parents own a neighbouring farm, and she’s visiting for the weekend – taking the chance to do so knowing her sister Melissa and her new husband, Nick, are away so she won’t run into them.  Sophie and Nick had been engaged before she introduced him to Melissa – and even though she doesn’t resent her sister – or Nick – for falling in love, Sophie hasn’t been able to forget the way she’d felt when she was with Nick or move on. She also finds it difficult to cope with the fact that her conversations with Melissa always end up revolving around her guilt for ‘stealing’ Nick, and usually leave Sophie exhausted from the effort of trying to make her sister feel better.

With Christmas approaching, Sophie’s mother is pressuring Sophie to come home for the festivities and to see Melissa and Nick, whom she hasn’t seen since their wedding.  Sophie never told her parents about Nick, so they have no idea of the truth of the situation, and with it being her father’s seventieth birthday a couple of days before Christmas her mother is really turning the emotional thumbscrews to get Sophie to agree to visit and stay with them. Feeling guilty, tired and miserable, Sophie heads up to Haw Gill Farm to see Bram to pour out her woes. He’s always been easy to talk to, and his steady, dependable presence has never failed to bring her comfort.

During the course of a conversation in which they commiserate about the state of their love-lives (and the lack thereof), Sophie jokingly says she wishes she could marry Bram – and to her shock, he says that it’s not a bad idea.  They know each other better than anyone else, Sophie understands the rhythms of life on a farm and Bram needs help; it might not be a grand passion but they’d have friendship, comfort and companionship and they’d both know where they stand.

Surprised, Sophie finds herself actually considering the idea – before rejecting it, telling Bram he deserves someone “who believes in you and loves you completely for yourself” and that he shouldn’t settle for second best.  Bram can’t disagree with her – but is somewhat taken aback to realise he’s actually disappointed at her refusal.

Not long after this, when Sophie is back in her poky flat in London, she’s on the phone to Melissa, suffering through yet another of her sister’s guilt trips when the conversation turns to Bram and the possibility that he might be seeing an old acquaintance who has recently been dumped by her fiancé – and it’s too much for Sophie.  What with having to try to tiptoe around her sister’s upset and her own strangely conflicting feelings about Bram, she snaps and tells Melissa that she and Bram are getting married.

Oops.

Okay, so this story isn’t going to win any prizes for originality, but it’s a fine example of a fake relationship/friends-to-lovers tale.  The characters are swiftly and skilfully drawn, and the author makes it easy to believe in the long-standing friendship between Bram and Sophie; their affection for one another and deep mutual understanding just leaps off the page. The book does have flaws – Nick is such a prick that it’s difficult to understand exactly why Sophie was so much in love with him, and there’s just a teeny bit of the martyr about Sophie in her tendency to give way to Melissa and believe herself to be somehow second-best – but those are really minor concerns.  The big thing for me in any friends-to-lovers story, is the way the author handles the Key Moment –the one where the friends realise they’re seeing each other as if for the first time and that he/she is gorgeous – and Jessica Hart does a great job with that, showing readers several small moments of realisation and growing attraction, as Bram and Sophie start to realise they’re seeing each other in a new light.  It’s a quiet, character-driven story; there’s no drawn-out Big Mis or unnecessary angst – the tangled relationships between Sophie, Melissa, Nick and Bram (a decade earlier, Bram and Melissa had been briefly engaged and Sophie worries he might still be carrying a torch for her sister) create enough tension to propel the story – and thankfully, Bram and Sophie are sufficiently mature and attuned to each other to not allow their niggling doubts to go unaddressed for too long.

Mistletoe Marriage is a quick, but satisfying read, Bram and Sophie are very likeable principals and their romance is easy to invest in.  It proved to be an excellent way to while away a couple of hours on a cold winter’s afternoon.

Mr (not quite) Perfect by Jessica Hart

mrnqp

What do women really want?

Journalist Allegra Fielding has a problem. She’s pitched a story to her boss – how to transform a not-so-perfect man into Prince Charming – and now she has to deliver! But where is she going to find a man willing to take part in a makeover? Time to blackmail her flatmate, Max…

But Allegra’s cunning plan backfires spectacularly when Max refuses to be ‘perfected’! He’s a guy who knows what he likes, and he’s going to enjoy proving to Allegra that there’s nothing hotter than a man who’s a little rough around the edges…

Rating: A

This month’s prompt for the Multi-Blog Reading Challenge was to read a Contemporary Romance. Actually, this is where the “challenge” part of a reading challenge comes into play, because it made me pick up a book in a genre I don’t read much any more. I admit, I have probably welched on it to some extent though, because the book I picked up was a) something a couple of my AAR colleagues rated very highly, so I was pretty sure I’d like it, and b) a category romance, which meant it was something I could whip through in a couple of hours. That wasn’t because I didn’t want to read something longer – I did actually have another book in mind – but I was running out of time and didn’t want to miss the deadline.

Mr (not quite) Perfect is a charming and sexy friends-to-lovers story which, while it may be eminently predictable, is elevated into something a bit special by the quality of the writing and characterisation. I know that Mills and Boon/Harlequin books take a lot of flack sometimes for being too simplistic and/or too formulaic, but they have a good number of writers in their stable who are able to freshen up those formulas by means of intelligent and inventive writing; and I have a huge admiration for those among them who are able to do that while also putting out 4-6 books a year.

Allegra Fielding is a junior feature writer for a fashion magazine called Glitz and is longing for the opportunity to prove herself to her fearsome editor and earn herself a promotion – and at the beginning of the book, she thinks she has come up with the way to do just that. Given that many women bemoan the fact that the men in their lives are lacking in some way (they don’t dress well, don’t cook, aren’t romantic enough…) Allegra hits on the idea of turning a “Mr Average” into a “Mr Perfect” and writing an article about it. In order to do that, of course, she has to find herself a willing guinea pig – who takes the form of Max, her best friend’s brother.

Allegra and Max have known each other for years; she thinks of him as her friend’s straight-laced, boring brother, and he sees her as his sister’s ditsy, frivolous friend. Max has recently split up with his fiancée and has temporarily moved into the house Allegra shares with his sister while she is away in Paris. Allegra tells Max this is her big chance, her breakthrough article – and mentions that it will involve him going out with a famous underwear model, which is certainly an added inducement, but Max can also see how important this is to Allegra and he agrees to help her.

Of course, this throws them more into each other’s company, which they both believe accounts for the fact that they are beginning to look at one another differently and to feel a pull between them of something other than friendship.

For a category romance, the characterisations are surprisingly deep. Both Max and Allegra have perceptions about each other which are challenged as things progress, and Allegra has a very interesting relationship with her mother, who is a kind of female Jeremy Paxman (a British journalist well known for ripping politicians to shreds on the TV every night!). Max is a lovely guy – ordinary, perhaps, but not boring, and one who sounds and thinks like a bloke (something that doesn’t always occur in romance novels!), but isn’t afraid to put himself out there when push comes to shove.

The friendship between Max and Allegra is extremely well written, the dialogue feels very naturalistic and much of it is very funny. The sexual tension between them builds beautifully, and when they finally do give into their urges and hit the sheets, the language is far from explicit but the scene is hot enough to blister paint.

One of the best things about the book is that, by the end of it, both Max and Allegra have grown a bit and come to realise that sometimes the thing you want (or think you want) isn’t necessarily the thing you need. Max learns that perhaps making an effort occasionally isn’t a bad thing while Allegra comes to see that ‘ordinary’ doesn’t have to mean ‘boring’ or ‘unexciting’. Mr (not quite) Perfect is a superb read from start to finish, and is certainly worth a few hours of any romance fan’s time.