Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello

Publisher: Soho Press, Soho Teen

Date of publication: October 3rd, 2023

Genre: Romance, Christmas, Holiday, Young Adult, Contemporary, Young Adult Romance, Contemporary Romance, Fiction, African American Romance

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ meets ‘You’ve Got Mail’ in this YA Christmas love story set in a London Black-owned bookshop.

Charming, handsome Trey Anderson balances the pressures of school popularity with a job at his family’s beloved local bookshop, Wonderland.

Quirky, creative Ariel Spencer needs tuition for the prestigious art program of her dreams, and an opening at Wonderland is the answer. When Trey and Ariel learn that Wonderland is on the brink of being shut down by a neighborhood gentrifier, they team up to stop the doors from closing before the Christmas Eve deadline—and embark on a hate-to-love journey that will change them forever.

Heartwarming and romantic, this read is the gift that keeps on giving, no matter the season.

First Line:

I’m about two seconds away from committing murder.

Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello

Important things you need to know about the book:

Love in Winter Wonderland is a medium to fast-paced book. The book starts fast, slows down around the middle of the book, speeds back up, and then slows down for the ending. I had no issues with the pacing of the book. It allowed me to digest some things that the author brought up and discussed. There was some lag in the middle (right around Trey’s shop party for Blair), but it didn’t affect how I liked the book.

There are trigger warnings in Love in Winter Wonderland. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Alcohol: Trey and Ariel underage drink throughout the book (in England, the legal drinking age is 18; both are shy of 18). Trey drinks until he is blackout drunk during Blair’s second birthday party.
  • Anxiety: Ariel suffers from anxiety due to bullying. Trey and his mother suffer from anxiety over the bookshop closing down.
  • Bullying: Ariel is bullied throughout the book by Blair and Bebe. She is bullied because of her weight, her painting (her hands are usually covered in paint), and her friendship with Trey. It is painful to read because, until almost the end of the book, Ariel doesn’t say anything back to them and internalizes everything.
  • Cancer: Ariel’s father passes from cancer before the book starts.
  • Cheating: I went back and forth on including this and eventually decided to include it. Trey emotionally cheats on Blair with Ariel. It never gets physical but emotional; he’s all in. Ariel discourages it at first but then gives in to it. Trey’s friends (including Blair’s sister) encourage his relationship with Ariel, which I found weird.
  • Death: Ariel’s father died from cancer earlier in the year.
  • Depression: Ariel’s mother suffered from a deep depression after Ariel’s father died. But she has come out of it by the time the book starts.
  • Eating Disorder: Ariel binge eats during the book. It is mentioned that she had an issue with binge eating and worked to keep her compulsion to do so under control.
  • Fat shaming: Blair and Bebe bully Ariel over her weight. Blair because she is insecure over Ariel’s relationship with Trey and Bebe because, well, Bebe is a colossal jerk.
  • Grief: Ariel is grieving the death of her father throughout the book.
  • Gentrification: Wonderland is a Black-owned business in an area that is in the process of being gentrified. Trey mentions that the area used to have multiple small businesses owned by different cultures that white developers were buying out. These white developers are looking to buy Wonderland, so Trey decides to save his family’s bookshop.

Sexual Content: There is sexual content in Love in Winter Wonderland. It mainly centers around Trey and Blair. There is a nongraphic sex scene, where Blair shows Trey her boobs (after he spends the night with her), scenes where they kiss, and one scene where Blair strips to her underwear and attempts to have sex with Trey. There are also a couple of near-miss kiss scenes between Ariel and Trey.

Language: There is a lot of language in Love in Winter Wonderland. There is swearing. There is also language centered around bullying.

Setting: Love in Winter Wonderland is set entirely in Hackney, England. Hackney is a borough of London. The author does a great job of describing Hackney and its community. She made it to a place that I would love to visit. I would also love to visit Wonderland!!

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Trey hates working in his family’s bookstore, Wonderland. He doesn’t want to run it. Instead, he wants to be a singer. But his thinking changes when two things happen. First, his mother tells him that Wonderland is on the verge of closing and is considering a developer’s offer to buy it out. The second, Trey’s father falls and breaks his leg. The shop becomes his responsibility and, soon, his passion. He would do anything to save Wonderland.

Ariel is a quirky, shy artist who has known Trey from afar for years. When she gets invited to apply to the same art program her father attended, Ariel knows she needs a part-time job to cover the tuition. So, when the job at Wonderland falls in her lap, Ariel accepts. She becomes deeply involved in Trey’s plans to save Wonderland. But, with a monetary amount that is staggering (50,000 pounds) and a two-week time limit, she needs to think fast. What Ariel doesn’t take into consideration is her developing feelings for Trey. As the Christmas Eve deadline looms and the developers become brazen in their attempt to buy Wonderland, Ariel wonders if they will make it. She also wonders if her heart will survive working so close with Trey. Can Trey and Ariel save Wonderland? Will Trey realize that Ariel is the girl for him? Or will he miss his opportunity?

Main Characters:

Trey Anderson: I didn’t like Trey when the book first started. But his character growth throughout the book was terrific. He went from being a slightly self-involved kid only interested in his needs to this fantastic young man who wanted to save his family’s legacy. My only quibble with him was that he strung Blair and Ariel along. It wasn’t intentional, but he did it. And his treatment of Ariel when she missed the interview was awful, considering who was behind her missing the interview and how it happened.

Ariel Spencer: I loved her. Her character growth over the book was similar to Trey’s. I liked that she finally told Bebe and Blair what she thought of them. Of course, not before being put through hell by them. I loved her strong and supportive friend base (Annika and Jolie were her true ride-and-die friends). My only quibble with her is that she kept letting Trey in, and he kept hurting her. I wondered how the future would be for both of them.

Secondary characters:

Each of the secondary characters was great. They were just as fleshed out as Trey and Ariel. Of course, some of them did get what was coming to them. Others were great as the supportive best friends or parents. The main secondary characters are:

Trey’s parents and younger brother (Clive, Mrs. Anderson, Roen), Trey’s best friend (Dre Denton aka Boogs), Boogs girlfriend (Santi Bailey), Santi’s identical twin sister and Trey’s girlfriend (Blair Bailey), Bebe Richards (Ariel’s bully, Blair’s frenemy, and Annika’s cousin), Noah Spencer (Ariel’s younger brother), Annika (Ariel’s best friend), and Jolie (Ariel’s other best friend).

My review:

Love in Winter Wonderland is a well-written book focused on Trey and Ariel’s budding relationship and Trey and Ariel trying to save Wonderland, Trey’s family bookstore. This book touches on numerous subjects, from bullying to gentrification. The author did it in a way that it didn’t feel forced down your throat, and you wanted Trey and Ariel to succeed.

The storyline centers around Trey, Ariel, and their rush to save Wonderland. I liked that it was written realistically. Trey tried raising the money without the internet before listening to Ariel and posting about the shop’s plight. And, it took traction. I liked that while I knew it was a foregone conclusion that Ariel and Trey would save the shop, the author didn’t cement that idea at the end of the book. I also liked that Trey’s father slowly realized that he needed to modernize how he sold books. If Trey’s father wanted his business to survive, his store had to compete with the boxcutter bookstore down the street. It was painful to read, but I am glad he finally saw the writing on the wall.

The storyline centered around Trey and Ariel, and their relationship was cute. I liked seeing how they went from frenemies to friends to something more. But I wasn’t a huge fan of Trey cheating on his girlfriend. I want to clarify that he was emotionally cheating (he checked out of their relationship emotionally right after Ariel started working at the shop, so 3-4 chapters into the book). That aside, I loved the back-and-forth and the banter that Trey and Ariel had. Of course, they ran into issues (that pesky girlfriend), but they overcame them by being open with each other.

The end of Love in Winter Wonderland was what I expected. I did like how the author wrapped everything up. I also liked how she left it as happy for right now instead of a happily ever after. And the author’s note broke my heart. Before I forget, the author also does include a playlist for the book. At the beginning of each chapter (be it Ariel or Trey), she had a Christmas song sung by Black artists. I wrote each one down so I could listen to them (and yes, Mariah is featured).

Many thanks to Soho Press, Soho Teen, NetGalley, and Abiola Bello for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Love in Winter Wonderland. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

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2 thoughts on “Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello

  1. I love how you give recommendations based on the book you reviewed. I wish I was better at doing that!

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