The Ex-Mas Holidays
Author: Zoe Allison
What I’m Talking About:
NOTE: This review contains information that *may* be considered spoilerish; however, I feel it needs to be addressed.
Maya and Sam grew up together; Sam’s twin Liv is Maya’s best friend. The year before Maya was ready to head off to university, Sam and Maya hooked up, but then they both got their hearts broken. Eight years later, Maya is headed back home after losing her job and ending a long-term relationship. She’s worried about her father’s reaction because he’s driven and thinks his girls need to be in high-profile, big-money careers to be happy. All Maya wants to do is work at the ski resort and teach lessons. Even though Sam also works at the resort, Maya decides she can bury their past and be civil, maybe even become friends again.
The Ex-Mas Holidays is a cute, second-chance, friends-to-lovers romance filled with snow, Christmas decorations, and flirting. What the blurb doesn’t tell you is that Sam has another girlfriend for two-thirds of the book. There is no physical cheating, but the emotional ramifications are big. Because of this, I struggled with my overall story rating.
I honestly really liked both main characters, as well as the supporting cast, and I would enjoy reading follow up stories. There is a cast of six, including the two MCs, that are developing a close-knit found family, and their support of each other makes for great plotlines. Overall, I found Maya and Sam perfect for one another, in a way that wouldn’t have worked when their were 17 and developing first loves. I felt the journeys both Maya and Sam make to get to their HEA are well developed and emotionally satisfying. The banter is fun and their flirting adorable. BUT the fact that Sam has a girlfriend for two-thirds of the book overshadows the development of his relationship with Maya. Sure, he and Cat are dysfunctional, and she’s extremely toxic and emotionally/verbally abusive, but he doesn’t break up with her. Yes, they barely see one another, but she’s still his girlfriend and has been, off and on, for eight years. I did not like how this played out in the story and that it went on for so long. As I said, it overshadows every interaction Sam has with Maya.
Outside of the relationship, both Sam and Maya are in need of personal growth. Maya avoids conflict, which led her to become an accountant, despite hating it, because that’s what her dad wanted. Now that she’s home, she needs to figure out how to confront her father or she’ll continue to be miserable. But her conflict-avoidance extends to her relationship with her older sister and Sam. Maya learns to overcome her insecurities to become the woman she wants to be.
Sam is dealing with abandonment issues that began when his father left years ago. This fact is used as a less-than-believable way of explaining why he stays with Cat and constantly puts up with her abuse. Of course, he never recognizes this, and when friends and family have expressed concern, he changes the subject or shuts them out. We witness his slow understanding of why Cat is so toxic and how he is able to move on.
As you can tell, I have strong feelings about this one. I loved most of it, but I just can’t get over the fact that Sam has a girlfriend for the majority of the book. The author does present a strong case through character development for the actions of her MCs, but I would have preferred the break up with Cat happen before Sam and Maya fell in love again.
My Rating: B-
About the Book:
It’s hard to escape your ex when you’re working together over Christmas in the Scottish Highlands, but being stuck together might be the best possible present in this sparkling new contemporary romance.
Maya Bashir is dreading her drive home for Christmas and having to explain that she’s just left her high-paying job and a long-term relationship, so a brief detour to her friend’s festive party doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Until Maya walks in to find the last person she wants to see. Sam, the boy who broke her heart eight years ago. And he’s serving drinks. Naked.
Sam Holland is working an extra job on the sly to help his friend get by. But little did he expect Maya Bashir to come barrelling back into his life, learning about his secret side-hustle and taking back her old job alongside him at his daytime role as a ski instructor on the slopes of the Scottish Highlands.
As both Sam and Maya realize that their reason for heartbreak so many years ago wasn’t entirely as it seemed, they must learn to stand up for what they want the most…or else miss their second chance at love.
Release Date: September 26, 2023
Series: Unnamed Series #1 / Standalone
Genre: Contemporary Romance, holidays
Format(s): paperback (400 pages), e-book, audiobook
Book Source: Publisher/NetGalley
Amazon (affiliate link)