Noah Kinley is a New York Times bestselling author, only no one knows his true identity. He has written the romantic suspense series under a pen name and uses his best friend, Julie, as the face of his brand. One of the reasons for this is that Noah believes the books would not sell if people knew they were written by a middle-aged, bisexual man, but also that his family and former fiance think that he should be doing something better with his life and that writing is a “frivolous waste of time.”
Up until this holiday season, Noah has been happy living the life of a virtual hermit in his cabin, spending time on his writing and isolating himself from society. Yet, Noah now has writer’s block and has decided to do a house swap for three weeks, leaving his cabin in Maine to move to a large house in Maryland. However, Noah’s plans are sent into chaos when it becomes apparent that the people staying in his cabin are not the true owners of the house he is in, as he learns when Major Connor Harrison walks in while Noah is relaxing in the Jacuzzi.
Connor is guarded and difficult; he is home early because he has chosen early retirement from the Air Force, rather than dishonorable discharge. Noah’s naturally inquisitive and warm nature balances Connor’s personality perfectly and their interaction, which shift from the initial hostility in the bathroom to a sometimes shaky friendship, engage the reader and keep us speculating about the possibility of a romance between them.
I enjoyed the way in which Sarah Madison develops both Connor and Noah’s characters, using their personal situations. Connor has been left the house by his late father, but is unable to keep it because of the cost. He is planning to sell the property and adjoining stables, which were his mother’s pride and joy, to a developer. Madison uses her knowledge about horses to add an extra depth and believability to this part of the story and a different side of Connor is revealed when he is around the horses. He is commanding, yet gentle, and he shares his love for riding with Noah.
Connor provides a distraction for Noah from the predicament he is in about whether to reveal his identity as an author and his doubts about whether to begin writing speculative fiction. It is not just Connor’s sexiness and the mutual attraction, which Madison strengthens through their shared love of superheroes and Star Wars, but we also recognize that Noah genuinely cares about Connor and the future of his property.
The banter between Connor and Noah is generally lighthearted, but Madison also touches upon the serious issues of war and the issues faced by people in the service, even when they have returned home. This is a stark reminder of the reality of the contemporary world outside fiction and that there are service men and women away from their loved ones during the holidays.
Madison communicates the sexual tension between Connor and Noah very effectively, but even I was unprepared for their first sexual encounter. Both men are very passionate, but I really liked how Madison allows Noah to be particularly confident in these situations.
As Holiday House Swap is categorized as a “holiday” story, I felt a little disappointed that there was a lack of this atmosphere within the book. There are only a couple of references to the Christmas tree and the party that Noah hosts is hijacked by other events.
Despite this, Holiday House Swap is still a great read for this time of year, with solid characters, an absorbing romance, a little angst, and interesting drama.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.