Scrudge and BarleyRating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Okay. Wow. So, I KNOW I’m a total sap, but this book exploited my weepy sentimentality more than once. This was a Christmas read that was almost as overlooked as poor Willie’s meager present on Scrudge’s desk, and I’m so thankful that the author allowed me to get my romance-loving hands all over this modern M/M “Christmas Carol.”

E.B. Scrudge is a mean one. He’s the CEO of Scrudge and Barley, the heartless insurance company he inherited from his lover, Cornelius Barley. Ol’ Corny was a heck of a miser, and delighted in laying off employees on Christmas Eve. E.B., or Ebbie to his intimates, continued this barbarism. He also has indulged in his personal assistant in the same manner as Corny did.

See, Ebbie was Corny’s assistant before he seduced Corny and became his stalwart companion and business partner fourteen years ago. With Corny in his grave, Ebbie’s got the reins, and he’s topping his dead partner in callousness. Willie, Ebbie’s devoted assistant, is blindly in love with the boss. He’s eager and anxious to take any of the affectionate scraps that Ebbie is willing to toss his way. Expect some seriously sexy not-at-all-HR-approved shenanigans. Whoo!

Thing is, Ebbie has had it pretty rough, too, as we observe in his travels with the Ghosts of Christmas: Past, Present and Future on Christmas Eve. Ebbie’s tortured beyond all bearing. I’m not going to belabor the plot as it follows the general scheme of the Dickens’ classic with a wholly modern and sexy view. Expect homophobia, shunning, and heartbreak.

In truth, I was expecting a bit of a cartoon. The ghosts are lampoons of some of the seediest gay tropes, from a bull dyke to a jaded drag queen, with a beefcake bottom pig in the middle. That said, they are rendered carefully, and with such attention that they are not just caricatures, and they expose Ebbie horrifically. Even Bill—short for Belinda—looks into Ebbie’s life and shares his sorrow over his tumultuous and tragic childhood.

Because Carol is a redemption tale, expect Ebbie to see the light and make amends in grand style. There were three points in the story that quite honestly brought tears to my eyes—and they were not all at the end. I was fully sucked into this story, and though Ebbie is hateful, hurtful and worthy of scorn, knowing that he’s going to get his and make everything right went a long way to keep me reading. He’s just that vile. Ebbie is the written epitome of the opportunistic 80s “greed is good” mantra; I had a strong reaction to him. And while the prose is whimsical in its construction—with numerous humorous asides to the audience and turns of phrase that harken to Dickens—it is not whimsical in message. This retelling never loses sight of the original: this is a life or death tale for Ebbie’s soul, and his heart.

The stakes are high for Ebbie, and also for his assistant Willie, whose continually spurned love for Ebbie is pure. Goodness knows why. As that’s one of the tenets of the opening, I can’t fault Willie’s judgment. He’s endured years of Ebbie’s abuse and heartbreak, and still goes back for more. Part of that is surely due to Willie’s lack of family connections, and it’s really tough to witness. Well, it was for me. The end was less trite than I expected, the joy and ebullience of Ebbie’s redemption being rather spectacular. I really—REALLY—loved how Ebbie fixed his relationship with Willie, corrected his most recent dastardly deeds,  and reached out to those he had never wronged to make their lives easier. This is, without question, a romance and an HEA.

If you like Christmas reads, and you dig retellings of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this book should be in your hands. As I can quote SCROOGED, and make a habit of reading A Christmas Carol to my kids every few years at Christmastime, it was a knockout read for me.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

veronica sig