Title: Christmasing With You
Author: William Neale
Cover Artist: Deana C. Jamroz
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M, holiday
Length: 18,000 words
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A lovely holiday story with two very likeable protagonists but have lots of tissues handy.
Andrew Bastion lost his partner to a violent and senseless criminal act. Devastated and all alone, he questioned how he would ever get through his first Christmas season without the husband he so loved. But when Drew’s best friend convinces him to “find people who need help and help them,” he finally begins to focus on something other than his own grief. And to his great surprise, he meets the one man with the ability to help heal his broken heart. Christmasing With You is a shamelessly heartwarming, upbeat holiday story that will require tissues, smiles, a box of good chocolates, and the willingness to believe that Christmas miracles really happen.
Christmasing With You is the first of 42 holiday stories published by MLR Press and if this is an example of the rest of the collection readers will be in for a real treat. I am an unabashed lover of Christmas stories at this time of year, so I eagerly cracked this baby open to get myself in the spirit.
On Drew Bastion’s 36th birthday his best friend Mike told him that it was time to start living again six months after Bill, his husband of 11 years whom he idolised, was carjacked and killed. Drew always regarded Bill as indestructible so when he was murdered he was devastated and could not move on with his life after the tragedy. Since he couldn’t cope with the grief he took a leave of absence from his job as head of a prestigious law firm, and it wasn’t until Mike made him see what he was doing to himself that he agreed to, as Mike urged, “find people who need help and help them.”
Drew decided to volunteer at The Cleveland Hunger Center at Thanksgiving mostly to get Mike off his back and it was there he met Cameron the director of the center, a man who was committed to his job of helping the poor. After working at the center for a short while Cameron consulted him about a personal legal problem, and they got to know and appreciate each other. After a while Drew thought that maybe he could move on with his life and Cameron was just the man to help him heal. They started seeing each other initially to discuss Cam’s legal problem but this morphed into getting together for coffee and dinner. It took a while before Drew saw Cam as someone who could mean more to him than a colleague but Cam’s southern charm was hard to resist.
Christmasing With You integrated Drew’s and Bill’s life into the story in a way that wasn’t morbid, and William Neale made sure that there was enough humour to offset the sad times as Drew’s memories sometimes threatened to overcome his best intentions to move on. Cam was a great foil for Drew, and his character, while not as strong as Drew’s was just as three dimensional, and being southern he was so real and compassionate that I felt his warmth. Their first Christmas together embraced Bill as well as Drew and Cameron and the food reflected Cam’s southern roots.
I loved how the author incorporated the local colour into the story. I have never stayed in the City of Cleveland although I have driven through the State of Ohio several times because it’s just a few hours away by car from where I live and I always promised myself to visit some day. This book gave me a real sense of place with the farmer’s market and Shaker Square which resembled a vintage Christmas card. Apparently Shaker’s Square was one of the first suburban shopping centers in the United States built for that purpose, and it had retained its nineteen-twenties charm. Old-fashioned garlands lit with tiny white lights and large red bows wrapped each of the classic period light poles and framed the buildings’ roof lines – just the right setting for Christmasing With You.
The romance started slowly as expected. Drew’s life had revolved around Bill when he was alive and consequently his entire personality took a nose dive after his death. Eventually Drew accepted that Bill was really gone and Cam became a part of Drew’s life, almost as if he had always been there, but Cam made sure that Bill would remain a wonderful memory through a special Christmas present. The two supporting characters – Mike who was really funny and supportive and Mamie, Drew’s seventy-plus sprightly friend who lived next door – were just as well rounded as the MCs and I really liked them.
The story was both heartrending and heartwarming which is a difficult balance to achieve but I think that William Neale managed to do so. However be prepared for some tearful sentimental moments and lots of Christmas spirit. Also do have a box of tissues handy if you have a soft heart. 🙂
I hope you enjoy this book. If you like Christmas stories I think you will.