Title: Twelve Days
Author: Isabelle Rowan
Cover Artist: Mara McKennen
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novella/70 PDF pages
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A wonderful and touching sequel to one of my favourite books.
Christmas can be a time of love and joy, but to three men at the bookstore called Margins, it also brings reflection on what was and what will be, highlighting the importance of home and family during a hot Australian Christmas. Their lives are intertwined by the bookstore, but individually David has difficulty reconnecting with the son he knew, John discovers something about the father who abandoned him, and Jamie braces himself for what he thinks will be his first Christmas on his own.
Twelve Days is the sequel to A Note in the Margin reviewed here almost 3 years ago which introduced me to Isabelle Rowan’s writing. That story moved me beyond words and tears and I’ve re-read it many times even though there’s lots of angst (if you read my reviews you know that angst is definitely not my favourite thing), but Margin was compelling and drew me back repeatedly into David’s and John’s world. When I read that a sequel was being released I was afraid to read it because I wasn’t sure it was even necessary, and I was concerned that it would spoil my memories for what has become one of my favourite books. I needn’t have worried!
Our two MCs, John and David, are living together a year later and David seems to have put his past behind him, for the most part, but he has mental lapses where he’s in his own world. John worries about him and is afraid that one day he might come home and David would be gone.
Jamie, son of the previous owner of the bookstore, who was an amazing character in the first book, is a wonderful young man but he had issues around being on his own for the first time in his life. He wasn’t brave and he clung to John and especially to David because he felt close to him since he and his mother were the only friends that David had when he lived on the streets.
Australia was as hot as Hades and the blistering summer heat seemed all wrong to John who found it unbearable just before Christmas. Meanwhile Jamie was trying to persuade him to spring for seasonal decorations in Margins, but David came up with the idea of doing hand drawn pictures of the advent calendar each day of the Twelve Days of Christmas as a present for Jamie and the children who visited the bookstore every day.
For John, home meant being with David who had become such an essential and integral part of him that he couldn’t imagine life without him. He was so in love with David who was far removed from the filthy, homeless derelict who used to occupy a chair in the used books section of Margins every day until closing time, much to John’s disgust. A year into their relationship everything had changed. They needed each other and John was determined never to give up on the man who had come to mean so much to him. As he said to him at one point “Who would have thought that the quiet man with his life stuffed into a backpack could turn my world upside down.”
David loved John but he relapsed occasionally and at those times he didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even his son Adam. He had developed coping mechanisms to deal with everyday living and the author didn’t minimize how much his past was still a part of his present. Some of the more heartbreaking episodes in the story were when Adam tried to reach out to his father who couldn’t bear to see him or even talk to him on the phone because he was still caught up in the issues that led to his total mental breakdown. David really wanted to re-connect with Adam but his body and mind were at war with each other. Eventually one morning he reached the breaking point and was so agitated and overwhelmed he took off.
This story seamlessly updated A Note in the Margin as if it were additional chapters of the book and reminded me why these characters, especially David, made me love them so much after all this time. David was such a gentle soul who had suffered so much that he had difficulty coping with everyday life, but he had evolved tremendously since he was homeless and showed John how much he cared about him, even being openly affectionate, something he would never have done before.
John couldn’t bear to be physically far from David and when he wasn’t around he missed him terribly although he was so quiet at home he hardly seemed to make an imprint. David’s silences had impressed me before and it was clear that they would always be part of his character. John showed amazing growth and made an incredible turnaround for a man who initially didn’t care for those who were less fortunate and wished they would disappear off the face of the earth. He demonstrated his love for David in many ways, especially by recognizing and accommodating his need to feel free to leave at any time even though this would cost him emotionally.
Jamie’s character was also nuanced. Externally he was high spirited but in reality in his private moments he was afraid to experience life and venture out from his safe cocoon. He was very needy and David was there for him and encouraged him to grab life by the horns. I was really touched by how affectionate David was towards Jamie, even hugging him — something he would never have done a year ago because he couldn’t bear to be touched. In effect he and John became sort of surrogate uncles to Jamie.
The prose was exquisite as David’s heart gradually mended and all the empty spaces in his and John’s lives were filled.
Isabelle Rowan has written a moving sequel about the men in Margins. Twelve Days is a gentle, wonderful tribute to the power of love and recovery as David and John came full circle. The characters were incredibly well drawn, all of the missing pieces from A Note in the Margin were resolved and the MCs had their HEA.
This story is not a standalone and you should read a Note in the Margin before Twelve Days.