Jonah Levinson has managed to avoid his parents for four years by moving across the country to Seattle. But now he is finally coming home to Connecticut to celebrate Chanukah with his family and to tell them he is gay. Jonah loves his parents, but they never seem to be quite satisfied with him, yet visiting isn’t something he can continue to avoid.
Jonah has made a great life for himself as a successful writer and he wants to distance himself as much as possible from his past. That goal is challenged immediately when he is picked up from the airport by none other than his high school nemesis (and child of his mother’s good friend), Dr. Ethan Rosenberg. For all that Jonah’s parents find fault in him, Ethan can do no wrong. Jonah’s memories of the way Ethan treated him in high school have never gone away, despite the fact that Ethan is being weirdly friendly to him.
When Jonah arrives home, the family Chanukah dinner turns into a week of everyone trapped in one house as a giant storm snows them all in at the Levinson’s. It is an awful lot of family time, especially when combined with no power, dwindling food, and cramped quarters. Things get even more complicated when a family heirloom goes missing and they know one of the family has stolen it during the black out. Even worse, Jonah has to share a room with Ethan, forcing them to interact more than he wants.
As the men spend more time together, Jonah realizes that Ethan truly has changed. Not just become a nicer, more caring person, but one who is attracted to Jonah and definitely interested. Jonah is beginning to return the attraction, but he is wary about giving his heart to a man who hurt him years ago. Not to mention that the mystery of the stolen heirloom is heating up, and Jonah still hasn’t gotten up the nerve to come out to his family. The longer they are snowed in, the more complicated it gets, but Jonah is finding that begin stuck with Ethan might be the best part of all.
Every year I try to read at least one Chanukah story for the holidays, so I was really excited to find this older story to read for Throwback Thursday. Holiday Outing is definitely on the older end of the m/m romance spectrum, published back in 2008. I was pleased to see how well this story holds up even after six years though. Because almost the entire book is spent in the Levinson’s house and without power, the technology and real world events aren’t really much of the plot. So with the exception of a gift of an iPod shuffle, this one really holds up great and feels totally current.
What I really like most here is the way Amara balances some serious issues with a lot of levity and fun. On one hand we have Jonah who has a lot of issues around self worth and dealing with his hypercritical parents. He is trying to work up the nerve to come out, to tell them about his writing and what his life is really like. When Jonah sees Ethan, he is also dealing with the memories of his unhappy high school as well as Ethan’s cruelty and how it affected him long after he graduated. But at the same time, the story has a lot of lightness and humor to it as well. I loved Jonah’s narrative voice. His exasperation with his parents, his sense of humor, and his commentary on his crazy family are a lot of fun. The banter and the wit add a nice balance to the heavier issues making this a fairly light story that is also funny, sweet, and sexy.
The mystery element here is a nice component as well. I say mystery because the question of who took the heirloom runs through most of the book and Jonah and Ethan have fun playing amateur sleuths trying to figure out who took it. This is really a side plot though and this definitely isn’t a mystery story. It just adds a nice bit of intrigue, as well as providing a great way for us to get to know the various family members better and for Jonah and Ethan to bond as they try to crack the case. I did enjoy the way it all came together and thought that was clever, though I did find the resolution after they figured out the thief to be a little too simplistic. [spoiler] We are talking about something that would have made international news and money that would change all of their lives. It just seemed to all tie up a bit too neatly for realism when we are talking about an item of such phenomenal value and interest. [/spoiler] But as I said, I think it was a clever set up and added a nice element to the story.
So I really enjoyed Holiday Outing and thought it was a great holiday tale. As I said, Jonah is there to celebrate Chanukah and I like that Amara does include some rituals and holiday traditions in the story. That said, this isn’t “religious” in that sense and I think, as with most Christmas romances, it can easily be enjoyed by anyone regardless of religion. I love a good snowbound story and I really enjoyed seeing these guys move forward from a difficult past and find happiness together in the snow.