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 . . .
This slow but sweet romance from Bayliss (The Twelve Dates of Christmas) sees a group of boarding school friends reuniting for a Christmas wedding in the campus's castle, sparking new concerns, old grief, and, of course, love. As teens, Nory and her clique bullied Isaac, the son of their elite British boarding school's gardener. Though Nory was a scholarship kid, she got caught up in the posh hierarchy and behaved just as badly as her friends. When the group comes together again as adults—minus one of their own, who died by suicide—there's plenty they reminisce on fondly, but they flinch at their past behavior toward Isaac and seek him out to apologize. Isaac, now head gardener, has become good friend's with Nory's brother over the years and, though he still distrusts the others, he forgives Nory. The pair discover an undeniable attraction and decide to explore their feelings, against the objections of Nory's brother. There may be slightly too much going on, with intertwining subplots distracting from the love story, but Bayliss makes it work; all the hubbub of wedding preparation in the background offers some good laughs, and Nory's diverse friend group is sure to win over readers. Bayliss's fans will be pleased.
A weeklong boarding school friend reunion, filled with fun activities in a local castle. Followed by the wedding of two of said friends in the same gorgeous setting. Sound like a dream vacation? Maybe not to Nory, a local girl who attended school on scholarship and wants to avoid one of the party goers. When Nory reconnects with her old arch nemesis who works on the castle grounds, vacation becomes a lot more interesting.
I enjoyed reading this story. I don’t think I would classify it as a holiday romance. The actual romance part seemed secondary to the relationships of the friend group. I wished for more between Isaac and Nory. The tension promised but didn’t really deliver. It was all very cozy, though. 3.5/5 Stars
Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Group Putnam for the opportunity to review this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion. #MeetMeUndertheMistletoe #NetGalley