It’s been more than a year since Harrison suffered sexual assault at the hands of a woman he should have been able to trust. More than a year since Harrison all but begged his then-partner Paulo to let him go—at least for a little while. Still not entirely comfortable in his own skin again, Harrison wonders how now could possibly be the right time to try meeting with Paulo again. After all, Paulo is Italian, loaded, and devastatingly handsome. Surely someone with such a sparkling pedigree would find someone else—someone better than broken Harrison.
Prior to following through on Harrison’s wish for zero contact, Paulo was sure to set up a time and place for the two to reconnect—a Christmas to-do at a mutual friend’s house. When the day and time arrive and Harrison doesn’t show up, Paulo is all but distraught. Determined to win back the man he loves, he dogs Harrison’s steps looking for any chance to rekindle the passion he once shared with Harrison.
Coming together, however, might be something of an issue because Harrison’s best friend Pru is spending the holidays with him. Pru knows one thing: if Paulo’s not careful, his devotion to Harrison will truly ruin the all-consuming love they might otherwise share. In her estimation, Paulo has some pretty big hurdles to clear to win the chance at a do-over with Harrison.
Several cars, planes, and countries away, Harrison’s and Paulo’s paths finally cross…but they’ll have to confront their inner demons if they are to have a real chance at being blissfully happen.
Overall, I liked this story well enough. A few things that were definitely in my plus column: the couple is established, there is a ton of angst, and one character pulls out all the stops to prove his love to the other guy. The best thing about the “established couple” is that they have history, even if Harrison and Paulo are technically on hiatus for most of the story. I love having a clear idea of who to root for in a story—but the “being on hiatus” gives us the tension of a get-together, also…one with potentially higher stakes because these two could end up calling it quits since they have full knowledge of what it will take to stay together.
For those sensitive about sexual violence, please be aware that none of it happens on-page. The violence itself has happened in the past (indeed, in a previous book). Harrison and Paulo are left to figure out how, and indeed if, they can be themselves and how they can be a couple again. There are some overt trope-y trope elements like Harrison’s glasses being a physical barrier representing the emotional barrier he’s created in the aftermath of the trauma he’s suffered. The emotions felt like they were laid on a bit thick as well, but I am no judge of how anyone heals after being subjected to such an attack or how anyone reacts when such an attach is perpetrated on someone you love.
One word of caution…this is the third book in the series. I wouldn’t have picked it up if there hadn’t been the disclaimer that it can be read as a stand alone. By and large, this holds true for Christmas Craic (and the companion book Mistletoe). At the same time, there is so much heavy lifting done in Harrison and Paulo’s relationship that has been set in motion in the previous book(s), that I found myself half wishing I’d been able to read them to fully appreciate the reactions both men have to their situations and each other.
Michael is as Catholic as the day is long—something that’s hard to reconcile with the fact that he’s gay. The best advice anyone can offer him is to just not act on it—something that’s hard when he’s got the biggest crush in the country on an old coworker who just happens to be straight.
Tom isn’t exactly a good-old-boy, but he definitely likes to let the lads under his supervision have their fun as long as they keep their noses fairly clean and get their work done. Little did Tom know the “lads” were more than just pushing the envelope with their teasing of Michael. It got so bad, in fact, that Michael left their little farming job to work a different farm. Tom only found out about the teasing through a group post on Facebook. From there on out, he’s got a front-row seat to the torment these lads put Michael through—all because he’s one of the only few gays in town.
When Tom starts sticking up for Michael and, unbelievably, making an effort to actually be his friend instead of just his one-time coworker, Michael is on cloud 9. Who wouldn’t love to have captured the attention of their crush? He worries, however, that the more Tom learns about how awkward, shy, and, well, gay he is, it will send Tom packing.
Incredibly, Tom doesn’t overlook Michael’s character—awkwardness and awesomeness alike—he actually admires it. To Michael’s eye, however, there’s a huge gap between admiring someone and wanting someone. Despite increasingly frequent hints that Tom just might be open to a friendship and maybe even a very close one, Michael starts to worry that he is far to emotionally invested.
These delicate questions and teeming feelings all come to a head one night under the mistletoe. Just one kiss isn’t enough to cause an epiphany, but it is enough to open the door to an even closer friendship than either would have thought possible. If Michael’s meddling stepfather and tormenters don’t send one or both of them packing sooner rather than later.
Mostly, I thought this book was long. Very very long. I hesitate to say it moves at a glacial pace, but then again, the first story (plus the two snippets centering on other side-characters, which are obvious bonuses for fans of this series, but were a lost cause if this story is read as a stand alone) at least culminated in a fantastic resolution that everyone was rooting for. In Mistletoe, there is a lot of waffling.
Part of the hesitation stems from the very nature of Michael as a character. He’s just coming to terms with being gay and, as a hardcore Catholic, mulling over what his attraction to other men means for him spiritually. So, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys reading about characters faced with some serious soul searching and being buffeted by their own feelings, the pressure that comes from the expectations of others, and has strong undertone (well, more like overtones) of religion, this waffling is probably very titillating. I reached my limit about half way through the 200 odd pages of this story. Especially when it felt like Michael was prepared to take matters into his own hands and we get sent back to square one courtesy of an off-page supporting character. It just felt like all the soul searching and contemplating was laid to waste and we have watch Michael rebuild all that…which, to me, made the book feel slooow.
On the bright side, although Michael feels like he gets knocked back to the very beginning, Tom’s character then starts his own slow soul searching. He is similarly buffeted by his own desires, pressure from others, and expectations from others just as Michael was. Summarized in so many words, it sounds a lot more boring that it is (but I didn’t feel the overall storyline was nearly as emotionally charged as Christmas Craic), but one thing that helps alleviate this is the fact that each chapter is told in alternating POV—which helps break up the feeling of repetition somewhat.
Another positive is that this book really does do well as a stand alone—I’ve venture to say that’s due, in part, to the fact that this is a straight up get-together story. Another factor that works in this story’s favor, despite being in a series, is that whatever backstory these characters may have (and it’s clear they have some), it never felt anywhere near as weighty as that of Harrison and Paulo’s. Taken all on it’s own, this is a tend if somewhat slow, get together between two young small town men—one who’s always know he was gay and one who’s falling in love with the right person regardless of the gender.