A guest review by Jenre
Get into the holiday spirit with this superb second chance at love story.
Owen McKenzie has traveled to Vermont to spend an old-fashioned Christmas with his family when he finds himself staying at the same inn as his first love. Owen is disconcerted to realize he’s still attracted to Caleb Black but refuses to pursue him. Caleb left him once, and Owen’s not going down that road again.
Caleb is ready for a second chance with Owen and gets it when fate and the matchmaking McKenzies conspire to strand the two men in a rustic cabin during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. Can Caleb convince Owen to rekindle their romance so they can stop spending their holidays apart?
Owen is on his way to spend a few days in a country hotel with his family. He’s just about to make some major changes to his life having taken on a new position as a vet in a small town and hopes to have a quiet Christmas with his family – or as quiet as Christmases ever are for the McKenzies – safe in the knowledge that his mother has promised to stop setting him up with blind dates. When he arrives at the hotel, Owen is stunned to find that one of the guests is his first love, Caleb. The attraction between them is still strong, but there’s a lot of hurt in Owen which proves to be a barrier.
There was much to like about this story which managed to be very different to the previous L.B. Gregg books that I’ve read, whilst also retaining the author’s quirky style. There were a couple of themes in the book which served as the main focus. Firstly, there is the theme of family. The McKenzies are a bright, rumbustious family, headed by the indomitable Patricia whose obvious love for her son often manifests itself in meddling, and an ability to say the most embarrassing (and yet also very astute) things about Owen. Owen is the youngest of the family and as a result is overshadowed by everyone else, especially his older brother, Ryan. I enjoyed the scenes with Owen and his family a great deal, as they said much about how Owen allows his family to dictate his life, how he is eager to please and yet how close and loving they all are as a family. I also liked how as the story progresses, we get to see the internal effect that having such a boisterous family has on Owen, leading to his sense of detachment, and how he begins to break away from that as his relationship with Caleb is rekindled.
The second theme of the story is that of a second chance of love – or rather love rekindled, as neither man seems to have ever stopped loving the other. As Owen is the first person narrator we, at first, only get his side of the story and as with many first person narratives my sympathy was with Owen. The back story of Owen and Caleb – how they met and important points in their past relationship – is skilfully interwoven through the story through a series of short flashbacks which I felt worked well within the narrative. It also allowed me to see the yearning and nostalgia that Owen feels about his time with Caleb which is then underwritten by hurt feelings, and a desire not to be hurt again. The hesitancy Owen feels about Caleb is therefore wholly understandable when placed in context with how badly he was hurt by Caleb in the past.
This story is completely character based. There’s no great mystery, no action sequences (unless you count snowmobiling), no scenes of high drama. Instead there are several beautifully written scenes where the characters interact with one another and we learn about their feelings and motivations mostly through dialogue. This means there’s quite a large cast to the story with the McKensies making up 6 characters, Caleb and his friend May, the two owners of the hotel and Keith, Owen’s ex-lover. Each character has an important role to play in the unfolding drama and so it never felt overcrowded. Even Keith, who for a long time made me wonder what exactly his purpose was in the story, was there to show us something of Owen’s behaviour in his past relationships. Actually, I felt very sorry for Keith by the end of the book, and part of me wishes for a happy ending for him too.
Overall, I was thoroughly engrossed in this story of family and love re-found. The pacing of the story is swift – but not as fast as some of the author’s other books, and there’s lots of the humour often seen in L.B. Gregg’s books, found mostly in the interaction between the family and Owen. In terms of emotional content, this has to be one of the best books I’ve read by this author. The conversations between Owen and Caleb made my heart ache, especially in the way that Owen holds back, fearful of getting too emotionally involved and in the intense yearning between the couple.
If you’re looking for a romantic story with a holiday theme which is strong on character and witty dialogue, but also has an underlying tender emotion, then I highly recommend Mistletoe at Midnight. I enjoyed it a great deal.