Title: The Santa Mug
Author: Patric Michael
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novella (74 PDF pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Summary Review: Sometimes getting your present late is the best gift of all.
When Marlon died on Christmas Eve, Darren withdrew from the holidays, and life in general, until Max, the man who introduced him to Marlon, invites Darren to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving. Darren agrees and is immediately overwhelmed by Max’s large, boisterous family. He tries to retreat behind familiar barriers, but Max has other ideas for the reclusive young man. It’s not until Max delivers Marlon’s last Christmas gift, four years late, that Darren truly understands that love is the greatest gift of all.
I had this book for a year and intended to read it over the holidays in 2009 but forgot once the season was over and life took it’s usual toll. This year I was determined to read and review it and I’m truly sorryI waited so long because this is such a wonderful story about love and loss and love regained – the best kind of holiday book or any book about romance.
Darren had lost his lover Marlon 4 years ago on Christmas Eve in an automobile accident. His life remained at a standstill – it was probably more of a retreat as he withdrew from all his friends because he couldn’t bear to be around them without Marlon, especially on the holidays. He no longer cared what happened to him because he didn’t feel life was worth living any more. He and Marlon had been inseparable and he had always depended on him to be his anchor. Darren had no family of his own as they had disowned him when he came out and when he lost Marlon he was bereft. He abandoned his friends and only his best friend of 5 years, Max remained in his life, who made sure he was okay. As he was drowning his sorrows at the approach of yet another holiday Max called to invite him to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. At first he didn’t want to go but Max had always been good to him so he figured, for a few days he could be Max’s friend.
When they arrived Max’s parents assumed they were a couple and gave them his old room. The other members of Max’s family also treated them as a couple even though they both denied it and eventually they gave up since no one was listening. However for Darren, Maxwell’s family and the warmth of their welcome were insidious and gradually the ice around his heart started to melt. It took Darren a little while to open up to Max but with help from Max’s rambunctious family he was fighting a losing battle as he began to see Max for the person he was, someone who had stood by him and loved him for years. But what of his abiding love for Marlon? Max had lovely surprise present for him which made all the difference, a Santa mug.
I thought that The Santa Mug would be the usual holiday fare but it turned out to be original and heartwarming as well as heartbreaking, as I relived Darren’s and Marlon’s life together and understood why the holidays meant so much to Darren. Some of the scenes, especially those where they trimmed their last Christmas tree together were really poignant and touching. Darren’s character started out as someone who faded into the woodwork and whose shoes didn’t leave any impression in the snow because his personality was so tied to Marlon who, even in death was vibrant and colourful, and through Darren’s memories their love for each other shone. Now he had to learn to live without his crutch and be someone in his own right. Max, the best friend who always stood by him that he took for granted, was not as forceful initially, but he was an excellent foil for Darren and proved to be exactly what he needed – not another Marlon but someone who had his own place in Darren’s life.
What made this book so appealing to me was Max’s incredible family, each of whom was well drawn – from his twin neices to his siblings and especially his wonderful parents Emily and Carl who probably needed their own book. 🙂 Max’s and Darren’s courtship evolved from a safe comfortable friendship to romantic love, and although there is sex in The Santa Mug it’s not as explicit as some readers may be accustomed to or want but the story is well worth the investment. As for Marlon’s last gift which showed how much he loved Darren, in the end it wasn’t the gift that mattered so much as the man who brought it to Darren.
I have always loved Patric Michael’s stories and have reviewed a couple of them. He has a style all his own which shows that a memorable story does not have to hit you in the face but that subtlety is just as effective.