Story Rating: 3.25 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars

Narrator: Michael Dean
Length: 9 hours, 39 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Two days before Christmas, Stanley gets a phone call informing him that his half-brother is dead. Hans was the only family he had left, for all that they were never close, and now there will never be a chance to be close. No chance to reconnect, to find out who they are as brothers. It’s a punch to the gut that leaves Stanley breathless, but the hits keep coming. His brother has — had — a son. He’s an eight-year-old boy named Angus and Stanley is now the legal guardian. And Angus was the one to discover his father’s body two days before Christmas.

If it weren’t for Justin Bridges, the child therapist who had already been working with Angus in an effort to help him come to terms with his mother’s sudden death due to cancer not too long ago, Stanley has no idea how he’d manage to keep any of this together. Justin knows Angus. He knows how to coax him into eating, into living even with his world torn down around him. And he knows how to coax Stanley, too.

Stanley has been getting by ever since breaking up with Maddox, his long term partner who he .. well, who he abandoned while Maddox was in the hospital. Never one for knowing how to deal with his emotions, Stanley ran away when Maddox needed him, and while one could argue it was the best thing he could have done — Maddox now has a husband who loves him and twin children he adores — it was still a crappy thing to have done. And now Stanley is back in his hometown where his brother died, where his ex lives, and maybe where his own future is.

This is a holiday story filled with love, acceptance, and forgiveness. While there is the trauma of a lost parent, the two adults are there to support the child as he needs it, and more importantly, to support one another as Stanley has to learn to take on the role of father, especially when he never wanted a family to begin with. Stanley’s own relationship with his father was toxic, and the last thing he ever wanted was to continue that legacy. But with Angus, it’s different. Angus makes him feel connected to his brother, makes him feel needed and wanted and — for all that they’ve just met — loved. And Angus is an easy child to love back.

Justin knows that fact first hand because he, too, is half in love with Angus. As a therapist certified to be a foster parent, he half has it in his mind that if Stanley bails — as he has threatened to do once or twice already — he can pick up the pieces and take Angus home with him. Justin’s so close to the boy that he almost feels like an uncle already. Maybe a little too much so. But when Stanley and he both seem to feel an instant connection, Justin can’t help but think it’s fate. Fate that brings the two of them together so they, and Angus, can form themselves into a new family.

And that’s part of my hesitation with this book. The pace is so fast that it feels like a whirlwind, with Angus losing his father and learning he has an uncle the day before Christmas, and then it’s the three of them — Angus, his uncle, and his therapist — coming together as a family unit. And the fact that Justin has some real attachment issues with Angus, feeling as though Angus is his, or ought to be, and how he doesn’t want Angus taken away from him … He’s the boy’s therapist, not his father or family, and he comes into the book with these feelings, which means he’s been having this close bond with his patient even before the boy’s father died. Justin knows Angus has an uncle who has custody, but he still thinks of Angus as something that can be taken away from him or as something that he can gain as his own, and it didn’t really work for me. It also made Justin’s interactions with Stanley, the flirtation and the closeness, feel more calculated than they were perhaps meant to be.

A lot of this book was saved for me by the narrator, Michael Dean, who has a lovely conversational style. It’s easy to listen to him; I found his reading pace to be neither too slow nor too fast (normally I listen at 1.5 speed, but this time I was able to leave it on normal), and his voice is warm and welcoming, which is perfect for a holiday read. He made Stanley’s emotions, the confusion, the uncertainty, and the instant and shocking (for him) love he felt for Angus very real. And he managed to make Justin seem more thoughtful and sensitive then his actions or thoughts painted him to be.

If you’re going to give this book a try, I do recommend the audio book. I’m not sure I would have been able to tolerate Justin without him.

Joyfully Jay