Monday 28 December 2020

#CBR12 Book 89: "Her Pretend Christmas Date" by Jackie Lau

Page count: 104 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer! I was given an ARC of this book by the author. That has in no way influenced my review.

Julie Tam's sister Charlotte is an engineer and has an outgoing and charming boyfriend, the guy who lived next door when they were young. She is everything their parents could want. Meanwhile, Julie works as a waitress in a Cider Bar and designs her own jewelry. She goes on a blind date with Tom Yeung, which starts out badly and ends even worse. Tom is a pharmacist, wears a tie on a first date, doesn't like eating tacos (because they're messy) and is way too strait-laced and uptight for Julie. Nevertheless, the next time she talks to her mother on the phone, she tells a little white lie, which keeps getting bigger. Now her parents want her to invite her boyfriend Tom to come home with her at Christmas. 

Tom is rather surprised when Julie contacts him again after their rather disastrous only date, and rather amused when she explains her dilemma. To her surprise, he accepts her proposal that he pose as her fake boyfriend over the holidays. Tom really likes Christmas and his parents are away, so he'd be spending it alone. Both of them are rather surprised when Julie's parents announce that they can share a room (where there is not only the one bed but it's a narrow twin at that). 

While Tom and Julie didn't exactly hit it off the first time they went out, they manage to pull off the fake dating charade rather well, making Julie's parents very happy indeed. The couple even manages to combine Tom's planning skills and precision and Julie's artistic flair into sculpting an excellent gingerbread house, winning one of Julie's parents' strange Christmas competitions, fuelling the rivalry between Charlotte and Julie. After a few days in close confines, Julie no longer thinks Tom is all that annoying and is trying her very best to tease him until he loses his closely-held control. The results are rather spectacular, and soon Julie wishes that her fake arrangement was reality.

This novella works fine as a standalone, but is also the third part in Jackie Lau's ongoing Cider Bar Sisters series. Charlotte's book (where she reunites with her childhood bestie Mike) is the second book and came out about a month and a half ago. So if you were to start with this story and get curious about how Charlotte and Mike became a couple, that's the place to look. This isn't the first time Ms. Lau has written a holiday novella involving fake dating either. The third story in her Holidays with the Wong series had the hero bringing home a fake girlfriend for Chinese New Years to avoid his parents' failed attempts at matchmaking. As these are romances, I'm sure it comes as no surprise at all both the novellas end with the fake relationship becoming something real. 

Writing a romance that takes place over a short space of time is always tricky, and I am not a fan of insta-love, but since Julie and Tom first meet quite a while before they actually spend Christmas together (on a blind date set up by Julie's best friend, who claims Julie and Tom are perfect for one another) and Julie spends a lot of time thinking of Tom (even if she makes up a heavily fictionalised version of him over the phone to her parents), it didn't feel that strange that their feelings developed quickly - especially if you think how intense family holidays can be. 

I really liked Julie as a supporting character in Charlotte's book and was so happy when I discovered she was getting a story of her own. She's very different from her sister and really suffers because she feels she can never live up to her parents' unrealistic expectations. During their first date, Julie's very strong reaction against Tom is in part specifically because he's so very much the sort of man her parents would want her to end up with, and she rebels against that and keeps reacting to thinks she assumes he thinks about her, rather than to things as they actually are. When she has more time with Tom, she sees that she was rather quick to draw conclusions and he's not at all the stuffy killjoy she initially imagined.

Tom is one of those deliciously buttoned up and proper heroes who become all the more fun once they let loose a little and allow themselves to give in to passion. While this is just a novella, there are still some really steamy scenes once Tom and Julie see past each other's differences and give into the attraction between them.

Pretty much my only complaint with this novella is that I wish it had been a bit longer. I enjoyed reading about Julie and Tom together and would have liked more time with them on the page. I suppose I shall just have to wait impatiently for the next full book in the series instead. Her Pretend Christmas Date is on sale now, and a quick and satisfying holiday read. 

Judging a book by its cover: This may be my favourite Jackie Lau cover so far. In fact, if I were to do some sort of rating involving the covers of the books I read this year, this could very well take top spot. I just love the cover model's incredibly grouchy facial expression, and the way he's glowering out at the reader, seeming very resentful about having to even exist. The best part is that Tom, the novella's hero really isn't very grumpy and grouchy at all, just a bit slow to loosen up and very fond of having things tidy and predictable. So it's not really even representative of the contents of the story, but I still love it.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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