Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Is it really fake dating if you’re pretending to be married to your best friend in order to get a judge to like you? Cal doesn’t think so. Stealing a picture of his best friend and her children and using it to convince the judge he’s a straight lawyer with a straight family is a victimless crime, since Mary Ann, his best friend since law school, has no idea she’s his wife in the eyes of Judge Winthrop. Until, incensed by the latest case where a man set a Christmas tree on fire, the judge orders the criminal to spend the holiday with a god-fearing, white, heterosexual couple and learn the true meaning of Christmas! So, for the next three days, Cal has to keep his closet door even more tightly closed as Gage — the man who set the Christmas tree on fire — comes to stay with his ‘family.’

Mary Ann is going to kill him.

Gage can sense something off almost from the start. For one, there are three toothbrushes in the bathroom when there are four people living in the house; for another, he hears Cal and Mary Ann talking about Cal sleeping on the floor. Well, it’s none of his business. Not every family stays together, and at least Cal is there for the kids. All Gage has to do is smile, be polite, and endure … until a surprise guest arrives and suddenly Gage is sharing the guest room bed with Cal, and it’s a very small bed.

This is a farcical holiday story for the modern age, and while it’s very well written and the banter between the characters was great, the book feels very one note. And that note is exhausting. Mary Ann’s mother, Betsy, comes to visit for the holiday, having been kicked out of her bridge party for cheating. She’s the token terrible relative, saying anything and everything offensive that she can. She believes in nothing, but repeats every right-wing talking point like an obedient parrot, with no individual thought. What she says is horrible and awful, but everyone looks at her like she’s someone to be indulged. Only once does any character — Gage — try to correct her, but he’s not a member of the family and so never does it again. Other than that, Betsy is allowed, and seemingly encouraged and welcomed, to spew any ridiculous thing that enters her head, from how well children are paid in sweat shops, to how poor people just need to accept their lot. For some reason, she never goes down the LGBTQ+ hate train; perhaps because there wasn’t time with all the “libtard” this and “woke” that.

Betsy’s the court jester, I suppose, but she’s also the star of the show. Once she shows up, she’s in every scene, stealing the air from every room, and Gage and Cal get brushed to the side. Betsy is exhausting, and every moment she’s in is exhausting. And it’s a pity. Before she showed up and it became the Besty book, the story had me hooked with Cal and Gage’s banter, Mary Ann and her children, and the whole fake-dad, fake-marriage schtick. Even though it didn’t read like a romance, I was having fun with it, and then … well, Betsy and her politics.

The romance isn’t all that strong. While the two men have some good moments, so much of the focus of the parts of the story involving Gage and Cal are about the family. Gage thinks Cal is married and has no intention to even think thoughts, let alone feel feelings, because this is someone’s husband and his kids are right there. Cal is attracted, clumsy in his desire to both be close to Gage and to not be caught out by Gage, and it had honest potential.

If you want a book that reads like sitting down to the most terrible family dinner with the most vacuous and thoughtlessly cruel queen bee, then this is the book for you. While it is written to be satirical, it comes off in many parts as shrill, and the tonal shift from the slow romcom to the horrible holiday is jarring. For myself, while I enjoyed the writing enough to consider the author’s other books, I really don’t recommend this one.