Author: Ava March
Cover Artist: n/a
Buy Link: My True Love Gave to Me
Genre: M/M historical (Regency) romance
Length: 28,000 words
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Summary Review: A delightful Regency romance with characters who engaged the emotions.
Alexander Norton loathes the festive season. The revelry of the ton is a reminder of Christmas four years ago, when his first love, Thomas Bennett, broke his heart and fled to New York without a word. So when he encounters Thomas at a holiday ball, Alexander is determined not to let on how much he still hurts.
Thomas has returned for one reason only: Alexander. Having finally come to terms with his forbidden desires, he will do whatever he must to convince Alexander to give their love another chance. But instead of the happy, carefree man Thomas once knew, Alexander is now hard and cynical. Saddened to know he’s to blame for the man’s bitterness, Thomas resolves to reignite the passion he knows lies hidden behind the wall of disdain…
I’m rather fond of Ava March’s Regency stories, finding them rooted in the time period but not overly stuffed with extraneous historical detail, so I was really pleased to see not only had Carina included a historical story in their m/m Christmas anthology this year, but that it was one by Ava March.
This isn’t a Christmas story per se, although it’s set a few days before Christmas, rather it’s a story of young love, broken hearts and ultimately forgiveness. The story begins as our hero, nineteen year old Alexander, is attending a pre-Christmas ball. He’s there with his best friend from Oxford, Thomas, with whom he’s also in love. In fact, Alexander is so in love he can barely contain himself and seeks every opportunity to get Thomas alone. They make plans to visit Alexander’s father’s hunting lodge in the country but before anything can happen Thomas panics, leaving Alexander heartbroken. Fast forward four years and Thomas is back, newly reconciled to himself and wanting to make it up to Alexander. But the man he finds is so far removed from the sweet young Alexander he knew, that Thomas may never be able to get through to him.
There was much to like about this story, which as you can see from my summary above is almost in two parts. For me the beauty of the story was in the character of Alexander. When we first meet him he is so in love he almost irrepressible. His feelings overflow from him and I found myself warming quickly to him as a person. His love for Thomas makes him daring, leading to some scenes where they run the risk of discovery. It said much about Alexander and how he was so in the throes of young love that he would take risks like that during the time period the story is set. Alexander’s behaviour contrasts with that of Thomas who is a true proper English gent. He’s reserved and quiet, whereas Alexander is chatty. He’s not as grabby or hands on as Alexander and this made me immediately wary of their relationship. We don’t get into Thomas’ head until quite a way through the story but it wasn’t difficult to see that he was struggling a little at how quickly things were moving. I thought the author did a good job of sowing the seeds of doubt in the reader’s mind so that when everything blows up for Alexander, there’s an inevitability about it. That didn’t mean that my heart didn’t break a little for Alexander, because it did, and even more so when we catch up with him four years later.
Having spent so much time in Alexander’s head we then move more in Thomas’ as we see him trying to make amends to Alexander for his past behaviour. If my heart broke a little before it continued to break for the way Alexander had changed. His cynicism and lack of trust was so far removed from the happy, trusting man in the first part of the book. Thomas’ realisation that he had been the cause of the change provides the impetus for all his actions later in the book. What I really liked though, and what made this a five star read for me, was the way that Alexander doesn’t forgive Thomas, at least not easily. It takes a lot of time and persistence to get through Alexander’s hard shell and the reward was satisfying when it happened. For parts of this second half I read on in dismay at Alexander and his behaviour, but I knew it would be worth it in the end, and it was.
I also liked the change in Thomas, and how his time in the USA had given him to opportunity to break away from the stuffy tradition of the ton and reassess his life. He came back a better person and I found I was able to forgive him easily for his actions earlier in the book. After all they were the realistic reactions of a young and overwhelmed man.
My only niggle with the story was that I wanted to know what happened to the pair in the future, and in particular how they proceed into their HEA. However, this was only a minor point and one which may be addressed by a sequel.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this Regency story. It reminded me of why I love the genre, with some great descriptions of setting, and characters who remained true to the time they live in. Those readers who like historical m/m stories are going to love this one. I did.