Review: The Christmas Proposal (Lisa Moreau)

If you’re a fan of the Hallmark or Lifetime movies, you’ll probably like this. Me? Don’t like them, didn’t much care for this. If I hadn’t been told the ages of the characters, I’d have thought they were teenagers, with the constant inner monologues.

Grace (of course her name is Grace, it’s an xmas book) is a PA to her boss and is also sleeping with her boss. Bad idea all around. Of course her boss is a soulless, soul-sucking, commitment-fearing workaholic who, by the by, is also cheating on Grace. Grace finds this out after bringing yet another cup of coffee to her. With amount of coffee this woman appears to drink, it would be cheaper to just set up a coffee station in the office and get a full time barista to handle it. But I digress. Grace stumbles out of the office crying, running into Bridget, who is there to apply for a programming job. Grace convinces Bridget to go get her purse, which she has left in her boss’ office in her haste to leave. Bridget does, and that’s the extent of their first interaction. There’s the merest whiff of instalove in the atmosphere, but that’s all.

Bridget gets hired as the boss’ new PA instead of programmer, promised that she’ll get a look after the first of the year. She accepts. Tip: never do this in the real world. Terrible bosses will string you along forever, just like an MLM scammer, promising big things just around the corner if you’re patient. If you’re good at what you do – and Bridget is – you can get a job that doesn’t involve running personal errands for your boss. Like fetching coffee every ten minutes and oh yeah, planning your boss’ marriage proposal to her girlfriend. At xmas. With three weeks to prepare. This is not a good boss.

So off Bridget goes, fetching round nth of coffee, and she happens to pick up Grace’s card from the counter there. Grace is now an event planner, and she’s just done an event at that coffee shop, dressed as an elf, for some dude proposing to his fiancee. Grace’s boss is also not a good boss, although at least she isn’t running off to fetch coffee. No, instead, she’s decorating the xmas tree in their lobby, by herself, because her terrible boss has tasked all the interns with something else. On the plus side, her boss’ boss is opening a branch in Maui, and the choice to lead it is between Grace and one other person.

Bridget calls Grace, and they talk one time. Grace says it’s impossible to plan this in a short amount of time AT XMAS when everyone does events AT XMAS, which is just like another book I read recently. Apparently it is not impossible, when one is either the xmas girl (as the other book called the woman in question) or comes from one of those Hallmark/Lifetime seasonally-named towns like Mistletoe Mountain.

Off they go, total strangers, to MM, as I’m going to call it. This was just bizarre to me. There is no way I’m going off on a five hour (or however long it was) drive to the middle of nowhere with someone I just met, when I have no family (Bridget – it means strength, as the book keeps telling us many times – was surrendered anonymously by her mother, so we can get her tragic backstory of abandonment issues) and apparently, no friends, to tell. But that would have cut the story short.

On the one road that leads to the town, there’s a violent earthquake. Strong enough to shake the roadbed so much that Graces bangs her face on the steering wheel. And strong enough to cause an avalanche that is later determined to be a landslide AND avalanche. How romantic: stuck in a small town you don’t know, with a woman you don’t know and her family, for at least a few days. Side note: while Colorado, like pretty much any mountainous place, has probably hundreds of earthquakes every year, really violent ones are rare. FYI.

Naturally, the outgoing and affable Grace, who still has rampant inner monologue-ism about an as-yet unnamed tragedy with a capital T, works on the taciturn Bridget who just wants to get this thing set up (price is not an object, which is a good thing for a dying town) and get back to designing her mobile game. Clearing the one and only road leading into town will take longer than expected, which annoys Bridget’s boss, probably because she now has to fetch her own coffee.

We get the whole Grace – Bridget love thing going on after about three days, and after about five, we get Grace’s tragic story: her girlfriend, who was a figure skater, died. In an avalanche/landslide, of course. Turns out Grace was also a figure skater, and was heading to the Olympics, but all this put the kibosh to that, and Grace hasn’t skated since.

By now they’ve also had their sexytimes, neither one of them having kissed anyone like they have the other, etc. It’s a trope, so ok. There’s a very, very strange thing during this sleeping together series: one morning, Grace wakes up early, slips out of bed, and heads down to get coffee and breakfast for the two of them. When she gets back, Bridget is awake and also somewhat distant, because she thinks Grace somehow abandoned her, like everyone else. What? Where exactly is she gong to go in a small town, when you’re staying at her sister’s inn? That was bizarre.

Also by now, their time in MM is done: the proposal stuff is set, and Bridget’s even finished her game and rebuilt the town’s web site. Man, she is efficient!

Back in LA, Bridget gets an attagirl, and she and Grace act like teens again, constantly texting cutsie stuff, telling one another how much they miss each other all day when they’re supposed to be working, etc. Bridget’s boss loves her new game, gives the programming job to her, and makes her game the number one item at some upcoming thing. Bridget takes herself over to Grace’s office to tell her the good news. But the receptionist and her big mouth tells Bridget that Grace got the job in Maui (because the other person decided not to take it, for personal reasons).

As is the case in every. Single. One. Of. These. Books, instead of just hanging around, waiting for Grace and talking to her about it – as an adult would – Bridget decides that Grace doesn’t care after all, and is abandoning her, and storms out, not replying to any of Grace’s calls or texts. When Grace shows up at her apartment, Bridget is stony, kicks her out. Grace heads back to MM to be with her family at xmas, and Bridget – after the boss’ heart grows five sizes on the last day before the holiday and she tells Bridget her own little story about commitment – heads off to MM as well.

Grace has decided to skate in the xmas eve benefit, which has become a huge event, and Bridget has missed that, but finds Grace and apologizes. They have one of those touchy feely moments that are all so common these days about how they’ll always talk to one another about everything, the town is saved, Bridget proposes to Grace, they both move from LA to MM, Bridget working remotely and Grace teaching skating, and they live HEA.

It may sound like I don’t enjoy stories of strangers thrown together. There are as many romantic stories of this nature as there are more macabre ones (Strangers on a Train, And Then There Were None) and they can work. But it seems in some genres – like romance, straight or LGBTQ+ – authors are sometimes so very keen to hit the beats, or story notes/tropes, that the story is either not good, or there’s way too much of some elements that send it not quite over a cliff, but just into my not favorite pile. Bridget isn’t just abandoned, she’s abandoned by everyone. Grace wasn’t just a skater, she was set to be an Olympian. The two of them didn’t just get caught in an earthquake and stranded by an avalanche, Grace’s former girlfriend died in an avalanche. There’s pathos for your story and there is PATHOS, and sometimes – a lot of times – less is more.

Two and a half stars of five, rounded down to two. This just didn’t do it for me, sorry.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Expected pub date: December 14, 2021.

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