I went into this read thinking it would be a happy little holiday flick about a Christmas ghost. Boy, was I wrong. Instead, Sarah Hogle delivers a gorgeous character arc for the heroine (who I started the book off hating and somehow loved by the end), a “holiday spirit” who becomes more of a real character than many other human leads, a flawed but lovable family, sharp and witty human, and plot twists that had me weeping on my couch then laughing a few seconds later.
Bettie Hughes is living with virtually no money after her influencer career blew up, but she doesn’t want her family to know and is trying to scrape together holiday gifts before they gather at her grandparents’ house. She’s so miserable that she accidentally conjures a holiday spirit named Hall whose one job is to raise her holiday cheer to a 10/10. At first, Bettie uses Hall to get all of the expensive items she thinks she needs and to enact revenge on those who “wronged her.” She also wheedles him to grant wishes that will show her family how amazing she’s doing to spite them.
TBH, Bettie is pretty unlikable in the beginning (she’s wildly selfish, seems to be a pathological liar, and is the ultimate surface-level celebrity) and Hall appears to be little more than a Christmas caricature. So imagine my surprise when Hogle manages to transform these characters into real, three-dimensional people with hopes, wishes, fears, and pain. We see why Bettie became like this and just how alone she feels, and we watch as Hall starts experiencing real, human feelings.
I loved Bettie’s family – they’re outrageous, annoying, hateful, and yet somehow sweet as a group. Again, they’re all real people; I could see my own family in them with all of our flaws, still getting together during the holidays because we really do care about each other.
The magical elements of the story are also wonderful. We get all of the loveliest Christmas activities (ice-skating, baking, decorating, watching old family movies, the classic White Elephant, etc.) but they’re not cheesy, In fact, as Hall repeatedly tells Bettie about her Christmas rating (it goes up over the course of the book), I could literally feel the magic jumping off the page like my rating was going up to. Hogle’s writing itself is truly magic.
But really, the best part of this whole story was the romance. Never have I so wholeheartedly believed that the MCs are falling in love. Never have I felt such despair when they couldn’t be together. I will say that there’s virtually no bedroom action, and while I’m a huge fan of the steamy times, that didn’t even really bother me. That’s how good this book is!
Just Like Magic will be available for purchase on October 4th, 2022.
I voluntarily read and review an advanced copy of this eARC via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.