The holiday season is not Chef Mario Garcia’s favorite time of year. His job is particularly demanding around the holidays and he is estranged from his family after coming out as transgender, so he is lonely and stressed. The one bright spot for Mario this year is a dishwasher at his restaurant, Viktor Popov.
Victor (Vitya to his friends) used to be a respected professor with multiple degrees, until he was exiled from his country for being gay and speaking out. He was given some forged papers and a bit of money, and brought to America where he is now desperately struggling to make ends meet. Things are made worse by the fact that Vitya’s eyesight is steadily declining, making it harder to do his job and get by. But he has no money for treatment and losing his job could mean disaster for him.
When Mario realizes that the hotel where he works is overlooking Chanukah celebrations, he convinces his reluctant boss to allow him to plan a Chanukah meal. Realizing he is in way over his head, Mario asks Vitya for help in capturing the foods and traditions of the holiday. It gives the men a chance to spend some time together, which leads to the pair acting on the long attraction they have shared. The two have a kinship, both being men who are often overlooked and ignored, and Vitya and Mario find something special together. But with Mario stressed about work, and Vitya on the brink of financial disaster, not to mention that Mario is Vitya’s boss, there may be too much standing in their way to make it work.
Every year I try to read at least one Chanukah romance and so I was delighted when author E.M. Lindsey offered this one up for review. Chanukah stories are pretty thin on the ground in this genre, and as someone who celebrates the holiday, it is important to me to showcase them on the blog. This book turned out to be a perfect choice, as To Touch the Light is a really lovely story that so nicely connects the romance to the holiday.
Mario is driven to add a Chanukah celebration to the resort’s festivities as he recognizes it is a holiday that is so often overlooked. With the holiday falling so close to Christmas, a huge religious holiday with celebrations that begin earlier each year, the Chanukah celebration can be forgotten in the excitement. He wants Jewish families and their friends to find a place where they can fit and feel accepted and seen.
What Lindsey does so well here is use the holiday and these themes of being seen, of not being dismissed and overlooked, to tie into each of these characters. As a trans man, Mario often has trouble fitting in. He is coming to accept himself and his body, but he still has times where he struggles with body dysphoria. Many of the men he dates lose interest when they realize Mario is trans. Between that and losing a connection to his family, Mario struggles with being brushed aside. Vitya faces challenges as well, barely scraping by and living one step away from financial disaster. People view him as a poor, nearly blind dishwasher who speaks broken English. Few people take the time to really see him, to get to know him, to recognize that he is a highly intelligent man who has lost almost everything in his life.
This story could have felt depressing and overwhelming, but instead it feels poignant and ultimately uplifting. Lindsey does a really wonderful job drawing these themes out throughout the book and then giving us the reward of seeing both Vitya and Mario find their happiness. They are both such sweet, caring men. Neither believes they will find love, yet together, they find that happiness and support both have been needing. The romance here is warm and sweet and satisfying, perfect for a holiday read. And Lindsey combines it with a lot of heat and some super sexy scenes between the men. The book is not sex heavy overall, but the scenes with the men together are intense and really hot.
This book is part of Lindsey’s Irons and Works series, but works completely as a stand alone. Mario and Vitya are new characters to the series, and while there are a couple of places where it was clear they were interacting with other series characters, I had zero problem reading this one without having read any of the others. That said, this book has certainly made me interested in reading more of Lindsey’s work.
Overall, I just loved this one. It made me think and touched on some important issues, and at the same time this was a rewarding romance with lots of love, sexiness, and a great happy ending for Vitya and Mario.