@marissastapley via Instagram


Boreal Book Club: Three Holidays and a Wedding by Uzma Jalaluddin & Marissa Stapley

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!

@marissastapley via Instagram

Three times the holiday magic. Three times the chaos.

As strangers and seatmates Maryam Aziz and Anna Gibson fly to Toronto over the holidays—Maryam to her sister’s impromptu wedding, and Anna to meet her boyfriend’s wealthy family for the first time—neither expect that severe turbulence will scare them into confessing their deepest hopes and fears to one another. At least they’ll never see each other again. And the love of Maryam’s life, Saif, wasn’t sitting two rows behind them hearing it all. Oops.

An emergency landing finds Anna, Saif, Maryam, and her sister’s entire bridal party snowbound at the quirky Snow Falls Inn in a picture-perfect town, where fate has Anna’s actor-crush filming a holiday romance. As Maryam finds the courage to open her heart to Saif, and Anna feels the magic of being snowbound with an unexpected new love—both women soon realize there’s no place they’d rather be for the holidays.

Uzma Jalaluddin & Marissa Stapley

Told from alternating viewpoints, Three Holidays and a Wedding is a charming, feel-good holiday rom-com that opens with an epic friend meet-cute.

The premise is delightful, as are the diverse cast of characters. Maryam and Anna are complex, yet are relatable. Readers will resonate with the challenges and expectations that are placed upon them whether they are cultural, societal, or familial. Both arcs are equally compelling and their personal growth become the focus of the story—Anna’s self-worth and Maryam’s second chance at love. Also a bit of departure for a romance novel is that Maryam and Anna’s friendship is just as important as their romantic relationships.

Filled with festive cheer, tropes, and family drama, Three Holidays and a Wedding is Christmas, Hanukkah, and Ramadan all wrapped up into a sparking and festive package!

UZMA JALALUDDIN is a teacher and also writes a funny parenting column named ‘Samosas and Maple Syrup’ for the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper.

She resides in Toronto with her husband and children.

MARISSA STAPLEY is a journalist and the bestselling author of Mating for Life, Things to Do When It’s Raining, The Last Resort and Lucky which has been optioned for television.

Stapley lives in Toronto with her family..

Scroll to read Girl Well Read’s exclusive interview with Uzma & Marissa about Three Holidays and a Wedding. 

@marissastapley via Instagram

GWR: How did the partnership come about?

Marissa: A few years ago, we were chatting and commiserating about some of the film/tv options for our various books, and how we’d love to someday write our own screenplay. Uzma mentioned an idea she’d had about the confluence of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Ramadan, something that happens every thirty years—and happened most recently in 2000. As she talked about how the stores were full of shoppers, the markets were empty of baking ingredients, and the airports were jammed, an idea began to take shape. It percolated for a long while before we reconnected on it and decided we’d like to write a novel that could be easily adapated into a classic multi-holiday film!

Uzma: When Marissa first broached the idea of turning my idea of a multifaith holiday romcom movie into a novel, I was intrigued but also surprised. I had never thought about it, though in hindsight I should have, as it was a great idea! I was in the middle of finishing edits on my last novel, Much Ado About Nada while also teaching high school, so I asked her for some time to think about it—two weeks, I think. When I had a minute to consider, I realized it would be a lot of fun, with real potential to do something different in the genre. Marissa had written holiday romcoms before, so I knew we would be in good hands.

GWR: Were you inspired by any holiday movies or other holiday rom-coms?

Marissa: I think we first imagined it as a sort of multifaith Love, Actually or Let it Snow! I think all the holiday (and Bollywood!) films we’ve ever seen inspired our sweet, inclusive, very fun story. We knew we wanted to have fun, and we knew we wanted to make people from many cultures and faiths feel seen. Personally, I was also inspired to write a book like this because I was raised in multifaith homes, with a Jewish stepmother, two Jewish half-brothers, and a Christian minister stepfather. We always celebrated both Christmas and Hannukah, and this has always added such a richness to the fabric of my life, and an understanding that there can be more to the holiday season than Christmas celebrations.

Uzma: I love holiday movies, but they always came from a very specific, very Christmas focused perspective. I’ve learned so much about Christmas from watching holiday movies, and I thought—why not make them more inclusive by adding other holidays that are important to other faiths? Growing up in a Muslim household, the month of Ramadan, and the celebration of Eid that follows, is an incredibly special time of year. There’s so much food, sharing, acts of charity, and joy at this time of year, with the same quintessential quirks that are part of any holiday tradition. I would have loved to read a book, or watch a movie, that included some of those special traditions that made the holidays I celebrate unique.

GWR: Tell us about the writing process—with two main characters, did you each tackle one?

Marissa: Yes, I wrote the Anna character, who, like me, celebrated Christmas and Hannukah growing up. It was a lovely experience to write this character alongside Uzma’s Maryam, and learn so much about the Muslim faith and the meaningful celebrations of Ramadan. I even fasted for a day—and Uzma patiently fielded my many hungry texts, while also guiding me toward an understanding of the reason behind the fasting, what it’s like not to have sustenance, and the acts of charity this can promote. I was also moved by the idea of community so prevalent in the Muslim faith, which made me reflect on my own customs, beliefs and background. What I noted in the end was the throughline: as our epigraph in the novel says, it’s all “just one light.” No matter your faith or background, coming together is possible if you’re willing to listen, learn and accept both differences and similarities.

Uzma: This novel was my first foray into a writing partnership, and I learned a lot! It was fun to have the immediate feedback from a fellow seasoned writer. We made ourselves laugh so often, and the entire process was truly joyful. I also realized that both Christmas and South Asian culture shares a colour scheme of red and green. Writing can be a lonely profession, so for the time we worked on this novel together, it felt like I had a partner in the trenches. We both were the experts, and respected each other’s approach while providing feedback. It was intense and whirlwind—just like the holidays!

@uzmajalaluddin via Instagram

GWR: Give us your best Hollywood/Bollywood pitch for the book.

UJ & MS: A multi-faith holiday rom-com about the delightful havoc that occurs when Christmas, Ramadan, and Hanukkah all fall at the same time, and two strangers-turned-friends are snowbound in the small, charming town of Snow Falls along with the cast and crew of a holiday romance movie, nosy family members, and their lifelong crushes.

Also, we’ve done some dream-casting!

Maryam: Mehwish Hayat
Saif: Fawad Khan
Anna: Lily Collins
Josh/Chase: Justin Baldoni

GWR: What are some of the most important characteristics and dynamics that you wanted the relationships (romantic/friend/familial) in the story to have?

Marissa: I love including friendships in the rom-coms I write, and I loved the way the friendship between Anna and Maryam, which seemed unlikely at first since they had such different personalities and backgrounds, blossomed and grew throughout the story. To me, their relationship was just as important as the romantic ones! I also love family dynamics, and we made plenty of space for that here. Although Anna’s family was not as present in the story as Maryam’s, they still cast a long shadow and affected her deeply—which I think is so true to life; our backgrounds and roots are always so important to who we become.

Uzma: I can’t seem to stop myself from including lots of family dynamics in all the stories I write. This is likely a result of growing up in a large South Asian family scattered all over the world. I wanted to include the joys and havoc of family in our book, and make sure to include multi-generational storylines. I have a feeling readers will fall in love with Dadu, Maryam’s grandfather, a retired Bollywood film director and a total romantic! I also wanted to explore the sense of responsibility and loyalty that eldest daughters of immigrants carry in their families (speaking from personal experience!) which are a result of a deep sense of love and loyalty. The friendship that organically grows between Maryam and Anna is also very special, as is the sisterly bond between Maryam and Saima.

GWR: Can you speak to what holiday traditions mean to you and if you incorporated them into the story?

Marissa: I really enjoyed incorporating some of the holiday foods I enjoyed as a child and teen—such as rugelach, brisket, and especially potato latkes—plus Christmas cookies and other holiday baking. And then, everything I love most about Christmas was included, too: most especially, candlelight Christmas eve services, which have long been an important family tradition and are all the more special because they take place at my stepdad’s church; Christmas pageants; and the general, joyful spirit of love and giving that is the spirit of the season. These traditions are mine and my family’s north stars in so many ways, and repeating them every year is such a comfort.

Uzma: Special foods are integral to every holiday, and Ramadan is no different. Since this is a month of fasting, families typically eat together early in the morning, before the sun rises, and then break fast together at sunset. I enjoyed including descriptions of chai, samosas, and special desserts that a typical Hyderabadi Indian family would make for this time of year. In addition, Maryam’s family finds a tiny mosque in the small town, where they attend evening prayers that are important to them. And since her grandfather is a retired Bollywood director, they also watch movies together!

@uzmajalaluddin via Instagram

GWR: What do you hope readers will take away from Three Holidays and a Wedding?

Marissa: I return to the epigraph of the novel, the idea that although the world is full of many cultures, traditions, faiths and backgrounds that make us different, we are all human and—if we’re doing it right—we are all committed to peace, love, and inclusiveness. Especially in the age we’re living in, where world events have caused such divisiveness and there is much darkness and pain around the world, some of the concepts this book puts forth might seem idealistic, but I want to believe a world like Snow Falls can be possible, one where many faiths and cultures co-exist, make space for each other, are not threatened by each other, and seek to listen and learn from each other. I also hope the takeaway is, quite simply, joy! This book was a true pleasure to write, and a collaboration I won’t soon forget. In fact, I hope as a writer I get to return to Snow Falls one day! It’s a book that’s meant to make people feel happy. I think we’ve definitely accomplished that with this charming tale.

Uzma: Representation of different people and experiences is always important to me. I hope through this story, my readers will feel the comfort of recognizing their own authentic experiences on the page, or perhaps learn something new. We are all different, even when we belong to the same culture or ethnicity, and yet one thing we share is the need to be loved and accepted. I hope readers who pick up our special book will enjoy watching such disparate people find joy in each other’s company, despite their differences—or maybe because of them!

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

Marissa: A chai-spiced hot chocolate with extra whip?

Uzma: Nothing beats a cup of chai, leave out the hot chocolate for me!


What’s next for you both?

Marissa: My next solo novel, The Lightning Bottles (Simon & Schuster, October 2024), takes place in the 90s and is about an alternative music megastar (think Kurt Cobain) who goes missing at the height of his fame. The story follows his wife (who is also his bandmate) as she embarks on a life-changing European road trip to find out if he’s still alive—and if they can reconcile after all they’ve been through. But I’ve also got more holiday rom coms coming, under the new pen name Julia McKay. Next fall, I’ll be releasing The Holiday Honeymoon Switch (Putnam/Penguin Canada) for fans of The Holiday Swap and The Unhoneymooners, about best friends who trade one’s cabin Christmas vacation for the other’s Hawaiian honeymoon after she’s left at the altar—and both find love they weren’t expecting.

Uzma: My next solo project is a bit of a departure for me, but something I’ve been wanting to write for years—a mystery! I’m a big fan of the genre, ever since I picked up my first Agatha Christie novel as a teenager, and I’ve been wanting to try writing my own ever since. Right now, I’m in the early stages of drafting. My first adult mystery features an older woman, a South Asian detective who solves crimes in her Toronto community. A sort of desi Miss Marple, except I plan to tackle a lot of social issues including organized crime, family dynamics, grief, gentrification, identity and immigration, alongside the mystery-solving. But at its heart, the novels will be about the many ways ambition is limited by personal circumstance, and the fun of following along as an older woman who thought life had passed her by, figures out her next act!

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