@hannahmarymckinnon via Instagram


Boreal Book Club: The Christmas Wager by Holly Cassidy

Welcome to STYLE Canada‘s Boreal Book Club: a monthly meeting narrated by Girl Well Read, for bookworms who’re looking to scour new pages. Since we aim to shine a spotlight on all things Canadian in life and style, beauty, and health and wellness, it goes without saying that every instalment of the Boreal Book Club will feature a Canadian author and their latest title. Be sure to use the hashtag #BorealBookClub to share with us on social!

@hannahmarymckinnon via Instagram

One rivalry. Eight days until Christmas. Let the holiday games begin.

When LA-based real estate developer Bella Ross arrives in the sleepy, mountain town of Maple Falls, she has one mission: to acquire the local failing Christmas shop, Always Noelle, securing the promotion of her dreams. Nothing can get in her way. Except the shop owner’s stubborn grandson, Jesse Harrison.

Both refuse to budge, until an unlikely wager is struck: Bella and Jesse will compete in the Maple Falls Holiday Games, an annual tradition of eccentric feats of strength and skills. Winner decides the selling price. They’ll give each other a run for their money, but as the competition heats up, Bella and Jesse’s icy feelings toward each other begin to thaw. It’ll take a Christmas miracle for them to admit there’s a spark, but what if it’s just another game?

Holly Cassidy (taken by Robert McKinnon)

The Christmas Wager is not your typical rom-com, it’s a rom-competition.

Told from alternating perspectives, the story is perfectly-paced by the holiday games. In this enemies-to-lovers tale, Bella and Jesse have incredible chemistry—readers won’t know who to root for. Cassidy strikes the perfect balance between wit and romance.

Maple Falls is just as charming as the supporting cast. The secondary characters are not only endearing, but they really bolster the themes of community and family.

This sparkling Christmas romance has it all—charm, banter, clever games, and all the small-town feels. The Christmas Wager is the perfect holiday read!

HOLLY CASSIDY/HANNAH MARY MCKINNON was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland, and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favour of writing.

She now lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons.

Scroll to read Girl Well Read’s exclusive interview with Holly Cassidy about The Christmas Wager. 

@hannahmarymckinnon via Instagram

GWR: As an author of both rom-com’s and thrillers (Hannah Mary McKinnon), does your writing process differ, or do you approach each the same way?

HC: In thrillers, the pressure of coming up with a twist at the end that nobody will see coming is immense. That pressure fell away, which felt great…until I realized while the expectation would be for my characters to end up together, I had to find unique obstacles (literally in this case) to pepper their journey with. Writing romance isn’t easy, either!

Other than that, I approached this book the same way I did my others—with a detailed outline, character interviews, and an approximate sketch of Maple Falls. I can’t write until I know (or think I know) the major plot points and the ending. Without those I meander around like a person in the forest with no map, wondering where I’m headed.

GWR: What was the inspiration for The Christmas Wager

HC: In short: the year 2020. My mum passed away a couple of months after the pandemic hit and I couldn’t get to Switzerland to say goodbye. It was one of the most gut-wrenching, guilt-inducing experiences of my life. During that time, I worked on my sixth book, the thriller Never Coming Home under my real name, Hannah Mary McKinnon. Although it’s crime fiction, it turned out to be funny (dark and twisted humour, but humour nonetheless) and that happened because I needed to escape someplace where I could laugh when everything else felt so desperate.

I enjoyed writing the humor so much, it got me thinking—could I go back to my romantic-comedy roots (my first book, Time After Time, was a rom-com). If so, how, and when would I do that? I didn’t want to stop writing thrillers but do both if possible, so I played around with a few ideas. To be honest, I didn’t do much with them until my agent asked if I’d thought about writing a romantic-comedy. Now that’s what I call serendipitous! I had so much fun working on The Christmas Wager and bringing Bella and Jesse together. It was truly a delight to explore the lighter side of life before going back to my fictional murderous ways. Writing crime and romantic-comedies has turned out to be a great balance for me.

GWR: Maple Falls sounds like the perfect place to spend the holidays—was this inspired by somewhere you have lived and/or visited?

HC: Gosh, I wish it were real because I’d visit all the time…or I’d live there. I grew up in Interlaken, Switzerland, and drew on my thirty-five-plus years of experience skiing in the Swiss Alps. Maple Falls is an amalgamation of the towns and villages I’ve visited there: Grindelwald, Saas-Fee, Verbier, Wengen, and Zermatt, to name only a few. There’s also a lesser-known place called Schwarzsee, which is at the end of a valley and has a lake, exactly like Maple Falls. It’s so beautiful, and I can’t wait to return to the mountains.

@girlwellread via Instagram

GWR: Do you have a favourite character in the book?

HC: Other than Bella, Jesse, and Pops, Gladys from the Merryatrics made me laugh so much. I want to be like her when I grow up. Full of mischief and mayhem! Ooh, and Buddy the Belgian shepherd was a firm favorite. I based him on my childhood pet.

GWR: Can we just take a moment to appreciate the Holiday Games… How did you come up with these? Have you played any of them before?

HC: Back in Switzerland, when I worked for an IT recruitment company, we held annual Christmas parties. One year we decided “just” having dinner wasn’t enough fun, so we added team games. When we played the Human Singing Christmas Tree, everyone had such a great time and it turned out to be our best party in a decade. Thankfully, I didn’t have to sing because I’d have been worse than Bella, but that game was definitely my favourite to write.

As for choosing the games, I love to bake so Munchable Movie Magic was a quick decision. I imagined other outdoor events because Maple Falls is so pretty, and because I’ve participated in a winter obstacle course called Polar Rush a couple of times. It was hilarious…and freezing. The one game I’d like to try is Dead Dead Snowman as it would satisfy the crime writer in me, ha ha.

GWR: Christmas is a holiday that is steeped in tradition—what are some of your favourites and did you incorporate any of them into the book? 

HC: When our sons were younger, we’d leave cookies and milk for Santa, and carrots for Rudolph, of course. Seeing the excitement in their eyes was magical and we tried to keep them believing for as long as possible. I adore Christmas Eve and it’s my favourite holiday. Unfortunately, we don’t have any family close by, so typically the five of us (we have three sons) eat dinner, play card games, and watch a movie before opening one gift each. On Christmas Day we forgo the turkey and have raclette, a Swiss meal of melted cheese, potatoes, pickles, and salads. Yum! These traditions have been passed down from our families. My husband, Rob, opened a gift on Christmas Eve with his, and I played card games and ate raclette on Christmas Day with mine. I hope our sons will continue them, as traditions also help us remember those we’ve lost, and who hold a special place in our hearts.

The one family tradition I included in the book is a home-made Advent calendar, which also happened to be the inspiration for the next Holly Cassidy book!

@hannahmarymckinnon via Instagram

GWR: Is there significance to your pen name? And can you tell us about the next Holly Cassidy book?

HC: That’s an easy one. Holly for the holidays. Cassidy because it means “curly-haired” (if you look at my author photo, you’ll see why we chose it) and HC stands for Happy Christmas. Yes! I’m excited to share that there’s another Holly Cassidy book in the works for 2024. I can’t wait to share more details about my new couple, Callie and Marco—and the very special cat Dazey Rocket.

GWR: If your book was a beverage, what would it be?

HC: It’s got to be a hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream! Sweet, fun, and indulgent.

GWR: Can you share what you are working on now?

HC: My ninth book (as yet untitled) is another Hannah Mary McKinnon thriller about the rise and violent demise of the all-female pop-rock band called The Bittersweet, and is set to publish in July 2024. It’s written from the drummer, Vienna’s point of view and it’s a dark and twisted tale. I’d say it’s my most ambitious suspense novel yet, not only because it features two distinct parts, blog posts, radio interview transcripts, and newspaper articles, but because it’s about the music industry, which was a world I didn’t know well at all. It was such fun to research and write, and I can’t wait for the release.

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