I loved Sarah Hogle’s 2021 release Twice Shy so I was excited to read her new romance, Just Like Magic. JLM is a holiday, fantasy romance that steals from the classic Christmas movie, Elf. It’s a fun book although not without its flaws.
Bettie is a social media influencer on Instagram who has hit rock bottom. Her perfume, jewelry, and lipstick companies have all gone under and she is being dogged by her ex-boyfriend’s hateful fans. Her ex-boyfriend, Lucas, is a famous singer who started out in a boy band and has a huge following. She broke up with him because he was an emotionally abusive asshat. Bettie dumped him on Twitter because she was afraid if she tried to do it in person, he would talk her out of it. On his vast social media platforms, Lucas says her claims of abuse are false and calls her heartless. It has been several years since the break-up, but no matter what she says to defend herself, people still believe him and slam her. Even those she thought were her friends turned on her and the breakup caused her to lose all her sponsors.
As the book begins, it’s Thanksgiving and Bettie is drowning her sorrows with Zinfandel and holiday tunes when she accidentally bumps the needle and plays Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas backwards. Her record player starts sparking, her room pulsates, light bulbs explode and, when the smoke clears, she finds a man standing in her living room. He’s in his mid-twenties with green eyes, chestnut brown hair, and reminded me strongly of Buddy from Elf. He tells her he is Holiday Spirit, conjured by the backwards playing of All I Want for Christmas. He tells Bettie she can call him Hall (Hall E. Day) and he is there to fill her with holiday spirit. Hall explains that,
“Holiday Spirit is an individualized experience. ‘Holiday Spirit’ means something different to every person, so the makeup of a conjured Holiday Spirit would vary from person to person.”
Hall says can use magic to grant Bettie wishes until she’s filled with holiday spirit of her own. He’s new to this gig–Bettie is the first human he’s helped which means he’s still learning how his magic works. Hall, my friends, is pretty darn funny.
Bettie, though, wants to use Hall’s magic to get revenge on all the people who cancelled her. This part of of the story was my least favorite. Bettie’s ideas are both mean spirited and overly random and dragged down the joy of the book. For example, Bettie puts a water buffalo in the NYC apartment of a mean reporter who trashed Bettie on air. Bettie also gets Hall to mess up the taste buds of anyone who’s ever sued Bettie. At one point–which I really didn’t understand– Bettie covers Salt Lake City in marshmallow goo. I could have done without all of these schemes and felt they weakened the novel.
Bettie also uses Hall’s magic to impress and influence her family. Bettie is going to her grandparents’ home for the holidays and she doesn’t want her family to know how problematic her life has become. She gets Hall to pose as her fiancé and wants him to use his magic to help her impress them. Parts of this were fun but overly drawn out–I wanted to see more of Hall and Bettie’s romance!
When Hall and Bettie first arrive, her family starts sniping at each other and are even rude to Hall. Bettie wants Hall’s help to get revenge on them. Wisely, he says no and–yes!–begins to teach her and her family the true spirit of the holidays. He tells her:
“The best revenge is making peace with a past you can’t change and figure out how to make the future a happier place to live in.”
It’s fun to watch how Hall’s magic and holiday activities bring the family together and to see Bettie’s happiness grow day by day. However, the happier Bettie gets, the shorter Hall’s time with her on Earth is. Apparently the rules of Hall’s world are that Hall must leave as soon as Bettie has garnered enough holiday cheer.
Hogle writes some lovely scenes. My favorite was when Hall takes Bettie and her family ice skating.
“His hand in mine, we tread to the perimeter of the ice and…I feel it. A pull of magic. You can do anything it whispers. The magic has Hall’s voice, his peppermint scent. It feels exactly like a warm conspiratorial smile pressed to my cheek, a steady hand on my back, which shouldn’t make me shiver like it does.”
And I really enjoyed the creative way Bettie starts over and rebuilds her career. I wondered how everything would work out for Hall and Bettie and was glad the story had a long, satisfying ending. Their story was zany and unique and wonderfully funny. Though I didn’t like Just Like Magic as much as I did Twice Shy, I look forward to reading whatever Hogle writes next.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local bookshop.
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