Was this like a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie in book form? Yes. But, was it also cute, charming, and steamy? Also yes!
After being jilted by Princess Marie in Princess for Christmas (the first book in the series), Maximillian von Hansburg, Baron of Louden, feels adrift and trapped by his future as heir to the Duke of Aquilla. Daniela Martinez is also at loose ends, her best friend Leo has moved to Eldovia, she’s soon up for tenure and waiting for her divorce to finally go through. When Max comes to New York to meet the socialite his parents want him to marry, he agrees to be Dani’s date to her University department’s holiday party, to help her show her ex-husband and his new girlfriend how good she’s doing without him.
While Max is interested in Dani right away, she is post-love after her failed marriage and is not interested in being his next hook-up, no matter how charming he is. They strike up a friendship, though, and grow closer as the year leading up to their friend’s wedding unfolds.
This is the slowest of burns, but their chemistry sizzles on the page. There are so many things to like about this book – Max’s journey as he finds purpose and grows close again to his brother Seb, Max the dog, the minimal tongue-in-cheek reference to Hallmark movies (This bothered me in book 1, but I counted only 1 here), and the influence from Love, Actually (yes, including the title). But it’s not all about Max! Dani is a great heroine, and her arc is completely relatable, even if her resistance to Max seems puzzling at times (seriously, he’s so charming). The banter between Max and Dani is fantastic.
Knowing the book was marketed as a “Hallmark movie with spice”, I did expect a fair amount of tropes and cliches. One of these stuck out: the description of Max’s brother Seb, who struggled to come out as gay, in childhood is pretty stereotyped, and it’s eventually his coming out that causes their father’s heart attack (well, a lifetime of heavy drinking, too).
The big conflict did stick out as uncharacteristic of Max, who is unabashedly honest and forthright throughout the book. It did feel a bit rushed at the end, probably because of the slow burn, but the final scene made it well worth it.
All told, this book gave me the warm fuzzies and I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a great holiday romance.