Glass Tidings by Amy Jo Cousins
Published by: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Order at: Amazon
Reviewed by: Erin
What to Expect: An unusual hero, Christmas tropes turned upside down, and a truly unique small-town holiday romance.
Eddie Rodrigues doesn’t stay in one place long enough to get attached. The only time he broke that rule, things went south fast. Now he’s on the road again, with barely enough cash in his pocket to hop a bus to Texas after his (sort-of-stolen) car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Midwest, USA.
He’s fine. He’ll manage. Until he watches that girl get hit by a car and left to die.
Local shop owner Grayson Croft isn’t in the habit of doing people any favors. But even a recluse can’t avoid everyone in a town as small as Clear Lake. And when the cop who played Juliet to your Romeo in the high school play asks you to put up her key witness for the night, you say yes.
Now Gray’s got a grouchy glass artist stomping around his big, empty house, and it turns out that he . . . maybe . . . kind of . . . likes the company.
But Eddie Rodrigues never sticks around.
Unless a Christmas shop owner who hates the season can show an orphan what it means to have family for the holidays.
Note: See the end of the review for content warnings.
Glass Tidings is a wonderful story that is a far more than it seems at first glance. On the surface, it follows a lot of familiar tropes: There’s a man with an improbably large, beautiful house who owns a Christmas store and yet…he doesn’t believe in the magic of Christmas! And who should come along but an a glass artist who makes ornaments! Circumstances happen, and the magic of Christmas, everyone learns to love again, etc, etc, it’s the story of many Hallmark movies that I love, and if this book had been that tropey, cheesy Christmas romance? I would have still liked it.
However, this is not that book. Eddie Rodrigues is a glass artist who works at Renaissance faires. He’s an itinerant worker who follows the fairs from town to town, then winters at a camp in Florida. He has no family, no money, and little more than the clothes on his back. He’s a good soul, but not immediately likeable. And I don’t mean that he’s cranky on the surface and a marshmallow underneath — he’s ingratiating on the surface and calculating underneath. Eddie has developed the survival skills of being likeable and indispensable, knowing what to say to get people to buy him things, to get people to just let him stay one more day…but never feeling like he really deserves any of these things. Nothing about his life is glamorized or idealized, even his work with the Ren Faires. He’s not traveling with them because it’s his life dream; it’s just a job he fell into.
Eddie witnesses a hit-and-run accident and ends up staying with Gray, first as a witness and then as they slowly become accustomed to each other. Gray is living in his too-big house that he bought with his cheating ex, living off the income from The Christmas Shoppe and the insurance money left to him when relative after relative died. He’s an orphan, entirely alone, and filling his days with reading and drinking one or two bourbons too many. He’s old before his time, isolated and drying up in this big beautiful, empty dream house.
When you set up a romance between two people who so obviously have a lot of growing to do and who have so many very valid reasons not to be together, you need to either throw them together in extreme circumstances (I’/m thinking of KJ Charles’ Jackdaw) or you have to spend a lot of time with them. Cousins takes the latter approach here, letting the story build slowly one day at a time, letting us see how Eddie begins to adapt to staying in one place and making something for himself, and how Gray learns to try and let someone into his life again.
The pace was a little slower than I would have liked at times, and the romance doesn’t follow a typical arc. I would describe the ending as HFN, though some might disagree with me. That’s not a complaint – I think HFN is the best ending for these guys, and they both still have a lot of growth to do in order to get to that big, booming HEA.
This is a book that made me sit and think for a while after I read it. It is filled with all those lovely holiday tropes, but with hidden teeth. It is by turns uncomfortable, sweet, hot, and filled with a very sneaky, subtle holiday spirit.
What you might not like: The hit-and-run scene at the beginning of the book features a child being very seriously injured in graphic detail. It was surprising and very hard to read.
What I loved: The thoughtful writing, The unusual heroes, the slow, sweet growth of their relationship. It’s unusual and smart and well-written, and you should definitely add it to your holiday TBR!
Wrapped Together by Annabeth Albert
Published by: Lyrical Shine
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Order at: Amazon
Reviewed by: Erin
What to Expect: A sweet enemies-to-lovers story with a little second chance romance.
For a stationery store owner, the holidays are great for business. But for Hollis Alcott, Christmas reminds him of the tragic events of three years past, and the last thing he wants to do is take part in Portland’s over-abundance of festive cheer. But Sawyer Murphy, a hunky gift shop owner whose brother is married to Hollis’s sister, has made it his mission to pluck Hollis out of his holiday blues. And his plan is beginning to work. Wrapped in the warm glow of newfound passion, the former business rivals hit up Portland’s finest holiday traditions—and Hollis’s icy attitude begins to melt like snowflakes on his tongue. But he isn’t sure he can trust anyone with the only gift he has—his heart—without breaking it like an antique ornament. Unless he can find the courage to take a leap with the one lover he never expected . . .
The Portland Heat series is perfect for those times when you want a sweet, non-challenging, angst-free read. Sure, there is sadness and loss here (Hollis is still mourning the death of his parents years earlier) but overall, this is a sweet holiday romance with a dash of kink and a whole bunch of happy family feelings.
Hollis and Sawyer are each half of two sets of twins. Sawyer’s twin brother Tucker is married to Hollis’ twin sister Charlotte, and the foursome grew up together. They were all best friends through school, and Tucker and Char falling in love, getting married, and having kids was just the icing on the picture-perfect cake. Then, Hollis and Char’s parents died and the center fell out of their lives. When Wrapped Together begins, Hollis spends his time in his quiet, often empty, fine stationery store. He doesn’t date, doesn’t socialize, and can’t stand his old childhood best friend Sawyer. Sawyer is loud, his store is messy, he keeps trying to push Hollis out of his comfort zone…and Hollis has been in love with him for years.
One of the issues with Wrapped Together is that there are a few too many stories happening here. It starts as “two rival store owners compete for a holiday decorating contest” which is one story I like very much. And then it’s “oh no these childhood friends have history” and “man learns to embrace his kink” and “the rake learns to settle down with The One” and “can he learn to love Christmas all over again???” Not that all those things can’t be in one book, but they don’t necessarily feel as integrated as they should. Wrapped Together gave me happy good-book feelings when I read it, but once I was done, I forgot chunks of the plot and it didn’t make as much sense in retrospect.
I think the pining was well-done: Sawyer is clearly desperately in love with Hollis, but his reputation for being flighty and sleeping around aren’t doing him any favors. (I should add that there isn’t slut-shaming here. Hollis has just seen Sawyer go from guy to guy, and doesn’t want to throw out decades of history on a fling.) Hollis has shoved Sawyer away as aggressively as he has to protect his own feelings. The longing felt between the two of them is palpable. The longing also add fuel to the sex, which is very very hot and a little kinky. There’s a lot of banging in this ultra-sweet Christmas book, which I do appreciate.
Albert has a way of describing setting that is very immersive and a little magical. This book feels like you’re right in the middle of a Christmas card, with the crisp air and the sweaters and holiday coffee and the twinkling lights. Unlike Glass Tidings, this is a much more traditional, conventional Christmas story.. If you want to read a gay Hallmark Christmas movie with explicit sex – and who doesn’t? – this book is exactly what you’re looking for.
What you might not like: This is a very conventional Christmas story, with all the white, Christian, heteronormative themes that implies.
What you’ll love: This is like a sip of sweet, warm eggnog. Holiday spirit in sexy book form.
Erin is a full time contributor to Binge on Books. She is a voracious reader and reviewer who has been been reading romances since she stole them from under her neighbor’s mom’s bed while she was at work. You can read all her reviews here.
Connect with Erin on Twitter: @booksandjoe