Friday, December 16, 2022

Book Review: Meet Me Under the Mistletoe

By Sara Steven

A city bookshop owner heads to the English countryside for a holiday reunion— only to face her childhood enemy.

Elinor Noel—Nory for short—is quite content running her secondhand bookshop in London. Forever torn between her working-class upbringing and her classmates’ extravagant lifestyles at the posh private school she attended on scholarship, Nory has finally figured out how to keep both at equal distance. So when two of her oldest friends invite their whole gang to spend the time leading up to their wedding together at the castle near their old school, Nory must prepare herself for an emotionally complicated few days.

The reunion brings back fond memories, but also requires Nory to dodge an ill-advised former fling. When she falls quite literally into the arms of Isaac, the castle’s head gardener, who has nothing but contempt for the “snobby prep school kids,” the attraction between them is undeniable. And as Nory spends more time with Isaac during the wedding festivities, she finds herself falling hard for the boy she used to consider an enemy. Nory and Isaac explore their common ground, but pressures mount on all sides, and Nory must decide what kind of life she wants to live and what sort of love is worth the risk . . . (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

I could relate with Nory. There are friends I’ve grown up with who had a different upbringing than I’d had, and even though that’s the case, we’ve found common ground, particularly now that we’re adults and those divides don’t seem to matter as much. I love how Nory could see that with her friends, too, even though there might have been some past events that she’d rather not revisit. It provided a good dose of conflict at first with Isaac, because he’s still stuck on remembering the group of kids as just that–kids. He can’t get past some torturous moments that have stuck with him since childhood. 

He still takes issue with Nory, too. Not only because of something that had gone down between the two of them back then, but because of the company she kept and still keeps. And while she isn’t overly fond of him, either, in an effort to get away from a potentially awkward situation, she runs into him and despite everything, there is real attraction and mutual respect. Can she get past his narrow view of her friends, and can he do the same? Even Nory’s brother becomes a stumbling block to potential romance–he’s best buds with Isaac and doesn’t want them to go any further than as acquaintances. Some of the best conflict moments crop up between Nory and her brother–it was really great to read.

Along with Nory’s story are side stories that reflect what her friends are dealing with. One friend has a tough time with intimacy in his marriage, which leads him into looking elsewhere, while another friend has the same issue yet deals with it by shutting out anything that can even remotely become labeled as a relationship. Even while reading about their own troubles, we discover that they’re still connected to Nory as a support, or at times, a hindrance. Even the wedding becomes at risk, and Nory isn’t sure if it comes down to her, or if it’s more than that. 

At one point, Nory makes a decision that could potentially damage what she’s developed with Isaac, and it felt like it had come out of nowhere. While the subject and plot had seemed to brew into that kind of direction, it still seemed out of character and a total surprise that she would take the kind of liberties she does where Isaac is concerned. While her friends rally around her and point out that her decisions were always made with the best of intentions, I could totally understand why Isaac felt the way he did about it. I think there could have been a better way, but then again, it made for a huge fight between the two characters.

Nory was a very likable character. She was often up for sticking up for herself and for those she loves, particularly when her friends and Isaac show that they have a tough time of letting go of the past and not wanting to move on to the now. I rooted for her and for what she could have with Isaac, even when the chips were down. I loved Nory’s bookstore. I loved the scenery and where the story takes place. It felt like an amazing winter wonderland, made even more so by the budding feelings between Nory and the man who she’d once thought of as an enemy. Meet Me Under the Mistletoe really is a unique holiday experience!

Thanks to Putnam for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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