christmas kitschRating: 5 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

Rusty Baker is gorgeous, rich, and somewhat spoiled. He is also sweet and caring with an enormous heart, and would never intentionally hurt anyone.  Rusty is not the sharpest guy around, and he knows it, but he tries incredibly hard and wants to make those around him happy.

When little, brown skinned Oliver Campbell arrives at Rusty’s school, Rusty immediate befriends him, taking him under his wing and sort of oblivious to the fact that most of his friends are kind of jerks to the poor and openly gay Oliver.  Over the year, and especially the summer, Rusty and Oliver become inseparable friends.  And as Rusty gets ready to go to college, Oliver confesses his feelings for him, feelings that take Rusty by surprise, but ones that he thinks he might share.

Rusty’s first semester at college is a disaster.  He knows he is not cut out for Berkeley.  He only got in because his father pulled strings. His family has long ago decided exactly who and what Rusty should be, regardless of his own dreams, and Rusty is doing his best to meet those expectations. But although Rusty works himself to the bone trying to succeed, he is just way out of his league among the other students.  Rusty pushes himself to mental and physical exhaustion because he knows not everyone (including Oliver) gets this kind of chance at college. And he is determined to do his best, even if he has to go down with the sinking ship. At the same time, Rusty’s larger than life roommate Rex is determined to help Rusty figure out just where his feelings lie — with the girls he had been dating, or with boys like Oliver. Rex means well, but Rusty just finds himself even more overwhelmed.  But as Thanksgiving break nears, Rusty finally realizes that, in fact, his heart belongs to Oliver.

When Rusty comes home for break and takes Oliver in his arms, his parents catch them kissing and give Rusty and ultimatum — Oliver or them.  And suddenly Rusty is on his own, no more college, no more home, no more family. But that is not quite true. Oliver’s father immediately takes Rusty in, his extended family showers him with love and affection. They help him get a job, and an apartment, and a car, and slowly get himself back on his feet after his parents abandon him.   And Oliver wants nothing more than to be with Rusty, to live together and make a home.  But even though Rusty is slowly finding his way, it is hard for him to want Oliver to leave his own home and live with Rusty. With his Dad, Oliver has a home and dogs and furniture and good heat and all the things he deserves.  And with Rusty he has a dump of an apartment and a boyfriend who can’t even take care of him.  But slowly Rusty learns that with Oliver he has a home.  And together they have a family.  And that with both of those things, and the love that they share, they really don’t need anything else.

Sigh. I had a hard time even sitting down to write this review, because you guys, this book is just so good. Easily one of the best I have read all year. I just loved it, and I just want to tell you that you will love it too, and just to go out and buy it. And do we really need to waste our time talking about why when you could be reading it right now?  (I suggested the Amy Lane Rule on Facebook where I just tell you “It’s Amy Lane, bitches” and you all nod sagely and say, “That’s all I need to know”).  But ok, this book deserves more than that, so here goes.

First off, Rusty. Let me tell you about Rusty.  Such an amazing character here, I fell in love with him immediately.  Rusty is the most warm, caring, loving guy who just wants to be loved in return. His realization that his parents don’t really care about him more than for what what he represents about THEM is just heartbreaking.  We learn he gets kicked out on the first page, and then the story backtracks to when Rusty first meets Oliver. So we know it is coming, and we can see the signs in the way they make decisions for Rusty, the way they are so buttoned up and rigid and don’t even bother to talk to him while he is away at school.  Yet somehow this frigid pair creates a young man who just exudes love.  Who wants to take care of everyone and protect them with his big strong body.  Who wants to please people and make them happy.  Rusty’s heart is huge, and it is so wonderful to see him realize that he does have love in his life and people who adore him and who are his true family.

As I said, Rusty isn’t the sharpest guy.  He more than makes up for it in heart and perseverance, but a lot of what is going around him sort of goes over his head.  He doesn’t realize that his friends are all assholes until they are gone.  He misses a lot of conversations because they just go too fast for him to follow what people are talking about.  He doesn’t even realize he is gay until it is sort of pointed out to him by everyone.  Rusty powers through school and does his best, but where he excels is when someone tells him what to do and he can follow instructions, like his job working construction for Oliver’s dad. Rusty works himself to death at college, but he is just not cut out for it and he knows it. And Rusty is so hard on himself. He thinks he is stupid, he dismisses himself all too easily. It is only the love his new family shares, and Oliver’s complete and total acceptance of him, that help Rusty feel better about himself.

Rusty is just this mix of heart and vulnerability that drew me in and made me love him.  I hate to compare books, but if you are a fan as I am of Patrick in Clear Water (another Amy Lane book that all of you should be reading), then you will love Rusty.  Their challenges are different, but both men share a self awareness of their own weaknesses, and a deep need for love and acceptance that just makes you want to hug them and give them all the best in life. Rusty is the heart of this story and just a fabulous character.

And the real strength here is Oliver.  Oliver is patient, but determined. He knows he wants Rusty, but he also knows he needs to wait for Rusty to figure it out. And when that fails, he needs to give him a little nudge.  Oliver is small and gay and poor, but he isn’t intimidated by the rich jerks at school. He comes from a place of such love that he has the inner strength and confidence to see him through.  And he shares that strength with Rusty, in what often ends up being a mix of patient hand holding combined with a bout of ass kicking when Rusty just gets so mired in his own doubts and insecurities that he can’t see his way out.  I loved when Oliver is like, ok, so Rusty, you are going to fuck me and now, got it?  Because Rusty is so scared of being enough for Oliver that he is putting it off.  These two are such a perfect match and there is so much love and warmth between them.  They make a fabulous couple.

This story is filled with other wonderful characters as well. Oliver’s father basically adopts Rusty from the moment he is kicked out. It is just Oliver and his dad, and his father is so supportive and loving.  Their small little house filled with warmth and love is such contrast to Oliver’s own frigid parents and sterile mansion.  I loved Oliver’s extended family, and the way they blow in and take Rusty into their hearts, at first only because Oliver loves him, and eventually because they love him too.  And I loved Rusty’s sister who is still in high school but stands up to her parents and is determined to keep Rusty in her life despite their bigotry. And even Rex, who is so larger than life, has sex with just about anything and anyone, and has no shame about it.  I loved how we see that this guy who at first seems so big and brash and overwhelming is also so incredibly caring and loving. He takes care of Rusty while they are school and becomes an important part of his life.  I would so love to hear Rex’s story (hint, hint).

So I will tell you there is nothing I didn’t love about this book. It is warm and sweet and full of heart. The characters are lovely, people you want to root for and see find their happy ending.  It is emotional and a little heartbreaking at times, but not overwhelming in angst.  But there is so much love here, so much sweetness and wonder, that I finished it feeling so warm and happy inside. This one is just fabulous and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Get out there and get reading!

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