The Corner of Holly and Ivy is a second-chance romance between two former high school sweethearts whose family members are political rivals in their small town. Fair warning that this book is part of a larger series, which doesn’t often matter, but in this case, I wouldn’t recommend reading this one until you’ve read the earlier books. There was so much back story and all so dramatic and seemingly central to the plot (a fire that razed the town’s Main Street, a stalker that menaced the heroine’s cousin, a political dynasty family that has a LOT of subtext-type stories going on) that I found myself lost for a lot of the book. It didn’t help that there was also a large cast of characters, and while I’m sure long-time readers of this series will enjoy seeing familiar faces pop up, since I was coming in cold, I found myself playing catch up far more than I should have had to.
The book is also being marketed as a heartwarming holiday romance, which I think sets up some expectations that the book doesn’t quite meet. There are some holiday scenes, and an adorable holiday cover with a puppy, but the story as a whole doesn’t really have a holiday feel. I also often expect holiday romances to be somewhat lighthearted, and so I was taken aback by how angsty this book felt right from the get-go. The heroine Arianna lost her dress shop in a fire and her injuries are so bad that she can no longer design dresses like she used to, so she’s in a pretty dark psychological place because of that. Part of me appreciated Mason’s deep dive into the very real psychological impacts of losing one’s dream, but at the same time, it’s a bit jarring when you’re expecting something more fluffy.
I do like the emotional complexity of the characters, and how both Arianna and Connor have to deal with some very real issues around family, career and self-esteem. Connor is wonderfully patient and caring, and I love how good he is for Arianna. I also found Arianna’s grandmother hilarious, and would totally read a romance starring her as the heroine.
There are also some elements that require suspension of disbelief. The biggest for me was the town council’s proposed solution to the possibility of a tie at the mayoral election. I see why that solution worked for the plot, and I can just about convince myself that small towns operate with their own rules, but it was a pretty big stretch for me. There’s also a matchmaking ghost who doesn’t really do too much, which makes me wonder if she’s simply a thread tying the whole series together. And finally, as someone who volunteers at a cat rescue, one character’s gesture of surprising another with a puppy struck me more as irresponsible than sweet. If the recipient really doesn’t like puppies, or really isn’t ready to make that level of commitment, it’ll be the puppy who suffers, and while it worked out great in this book, it made me wince.
Still, I really liked the ending. I thought the last few chapters felt really sweet and heartwarming, and I just wish the lead up had been just as enjoyable for me.
This is a good romance. Just make sure you read the earlier books in the series first, and don’t expect the romance to be holiday-themed.
Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.