Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Alex Ross can’t catch a break when it comes to Christmastime. With a long history of bad holiday experiences—like getting rejected under the mistletoe or playing referee to his mother’s divorce—he’s just trying to survive it.
New in town and a stranger to everyone, he plans on ignoring the holiday altogether. That would be easier if his ridiculously cheerful new neighbor would cool it on the Christmas hype. Nicholas is annoying and loud. Worst of all, he’s also impossibly attractive and nice to everyone. It’s getting harder for Alex to deny his interest, especially when Nicholas leaves Christmas cookies at his door and wages a snowball fight against him on the coldest day of the year.
Can Alex open up to him and get into the holiday spirit before he endures another ruined Christmas?
I had a bit of trouble getting into this story because Alex’s issues are deeper than the blurb would lead you to believe. He is new in town, set for grad school, but school wasn’t the main reason he’s away from home for the holidays. His mother and stepfather are going through a divorce but his mother also suffers from severe depression. His family, particularly grandparents, are big time homophobic bigots and he misread signals of his best friend, who is now an ex-friend. That last one really made me sad because come on, Mike. He is way in the closet and really has some internalized homophobia.
So now he has fled from Los Angeles to Omaha in search of a new start away from it all. His plan is to get close to no one, let no one in and so save himself from having to leave again.
Nicholas, on the other hand, is a ray of sunshine. Or maybe a Christmas light show. He’s relentlessly cheerful, caring and giving. He loves Christmas and everything to do with it. He has some amazing friends and he shares Christmas joy with everyone. Naturally, he bugs the heck out of Alex.
They have a meet-cute over a box of peppermint bark, where Alex acts like a complete tool. “Alex was indifferent to peppermint. He didn’t have a personal grudge against the flavor, not really. At Christmas, however, indifference became loathing. You have to get past the times he is so rude and obnoxious before he is likeable.
In a coincidence, they end up living in the same apartment building, actually on the same floor. This gives them proximity and gives Nicholas ideas. For his part, Alex desperately wants a new friend but he is terrified that what happened with Mike will happen again. It’s very difficult for him to claw his way out of the fear. As we get to know his story, Alex was breaking my heart. “He bit his lip, rolled over in bed and tried not to cry. His cheeks burned hot with shame.”
Nicholas, despite his positive outlook, is lonely and he is bewitched by Alex, even when Alex isn’t being his best. “Looking down at his apron and socks and then across the room at the baked goods littering his apartment, he was almost ashamed of the overindulgent way he’d been acting.” Nicholas uses baking as a means to stay busy when everyone has holiday plans, so he has no reason to be ashamed. He doesn’t give up on Alex and the way the two of them flirt, via snow and baked goods, is adorable. Nicholas also teaches Alex the value of chosen family. “Alex always used to think the concept was cheesy and ridiculous. Family couldn’t be changed, he’d always thought. You were given one of them. Family was family, friends were friends and the lines were clear.” But he comes to see the difference. Family are the people who have your back no matter what, not necessarily the ones who share your bloodline.
The steps from fearful Alex to true Alex are sometimes very baby steps but he is brave and moves forward. Their date in the blanket fort was so perfect I wanted to cheer. “Here, things were private, soft and quiet. They could talk and truly get to know one another.” It was so Nicholas. The epilogue was also perfect, although I do want to know what happened with Alex’s family.
This is a sweet, low angst holiday story that will definitely go on my holiday re-read list.
The cover, ornaments and Christmas lights and that snowman, is perfect.
ebook, 209 pages
Published December 9th 2019 by NineStar Press
Edition Language English