Tradition means a lot to Maelyn Jones, especially the annual Christmas gathering with her ‘chosen’ family, along with her parents and brother, in Christina Lauren’s holiday romance In a Holidaze. Gathering at the Park City, Utah cabin has been a constant even through her parents’ divorce, the upheaval of cross-country moves and the shifting relationships. And then there’s Theo and Andrew. The sons of her parents’ best friends, Mae has always loved hanging with the two and her family believes she’s a great match for Theo—even though Mae has secretly harbored a crush on Andrew since she was thirteen. But this year, things feel different. After a fateful and disappointing make-out session with Theo, things are…awkward. And it only gets worse when it’s announced the cabin is being sold and the annual gathering is left in limbo. Leaving the cabin in tears, Maelyn and her family are hit by a truck…and then things get really weird.
Waking up on the plane headed to Park City, Maelyn knows she’s been here before. She knows everything that will happen—from who wins the snow creature contest to the news of the cabin’s impending sale. When a spill down the stairs lands Mae back on the plane two days previously, her suspicions are confirmed: she’s stuck in a Groundhog Day-like time loop. But now that it’s obvious The Universe wants her to live out her time at the cabin infinitely, Mae has to figure why she’s been given so many chances to relive these days, and what she needs to do differently to break out of the cycle. Could it be she’s actually destined to be with Theo? Or maybe this is the year she risks her friendship with Andrew by revealing her real feelings for him? And could there be a way to save the cabin for future generations? Or is it time to forge a new tradition?
Lauren’s time travel concept is a promising opportunity. There’s the prospect of how traditions and memories can sometimes mean reluctance to change, or a chance to reexamine relationships. And Mae is a fun but flawed person that readers want to root for. However, after a few time loops, the story settles into a conventional holiday romance with little character growth other than Mae. Lauren does contemporary romance very well—the dialog is witty, the sex scenes smoldering and affirming, and the setting is Hallmark Channel holiday movie perfect—but it all ends up feeling sort of generic. Even the supporting characters—a diverse and initially promising mix—finally comes off as a little too predictable, with flaws more endearingly perfect than character-building. And the central romance, while sweetly portrayed, holds little surprise in its course.
For readers who want a sweet and witty romance with a little twist, In a Holidaze provides a fun escape, the sort that Christina Lauren has usually delivered in the past and will likely continue to do so in the future. In their afterword, the authors mention that In a Holidaze was written before the pandemic took hold, and it might be their bad luck to release it at a time when the universe really is making the prospect of upholding holiday traditions and gathering with loved ones a fraught proposition. For many readers, In a Holidaze is a reassuring cozy treat, as predictable and warming as mug of hot cocoa. But readers hooked by the intriguing time loop concept will find themselves looking for a do-over.