Holidays in Blue
Début author Eve Morton’s Holidays in Blue is billed by Carina Press as a “forced proximity Christmas romance” and the blurb goes on to say how the two principal characters find themselves stranded together for Christmas. Some of my favourite seasonal romances use that particular trope, so I decided to pick up this book for review, expecting a lot of snow, a bit of awkwardness and flirting, plenty of sexual tension and a Christmassy atmosphere… and this book contains exactly NONE of those things. Okay, so it’s an ice storm rather than snow that strands the guys together, but when a book is billed as a “Christmas romance” I think it’s reasonable to expect it to have a) a Christmas feel to it and b) some romance in it – no?
Cosmin Tessler and Eric Campbell lived across the street from each other maybe twenty years before but never really knew each other that well, because Cosmin is around a decade older and moved away while Eric was still in school. But the age gap didn’t stop Eric from developing a crush on Cosmin, and it was thanks to watching Cosmin and his boyfriend making out one night (in the front seat of the bf’s car) that kind of cemented his suspicions that he wasn’t completely straight.
Eric became an actor and for a while starred in a (not-very-good) TV show, but seems now to spend most of his time failing auditions and narrating audiobooks, while Cosmin went on to become a teacher, writer, and radio personality.
The pair meet again – very briefly – when Eric is tending bar at the radio station’s Christmas party. Cosmin has just received the news that his contract is not being renewed so he goes to the bar for a drink. He’s been thinking all night that Eric looked familiar but wasn’t able to place him; Eric re-introduces himself, but Cosmin is quite rude to him and leaves.
They don’t see each other again until around a quarter of the way into the book, after Cosmin returns to his family home intending to sort through his recently deceased father’s possessions (and to look for the papers relating to his adoption) and Eric goes home for Christmas a few days early (his family is away visiting his sister, but will be back by Christmas Eve). Hearing the news of a coming ice storm on the radio, Eric, who doesn’t realise George Tessler has died, decides to go over there to check the old man is okay, and is pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Cosmin instead. The ice storm sets in quickly after that, and strands them together for a couple of nights.
That’s the set up, but what follows is far more the story of one man coming to terms with his father’s death and the other working through his feelings over his failed marriage than it is a romance. The author has some interesting things to say about grief and loss and moving on, but it’s very… cerebral (which does fit with Cosmin’s character), and while I did enjoy Cosmin’s journey as he comes to learn and understand his father more than he had done in life, it does give the story a more melancholy feel than I expected.
Cosmin’s story is the dominant one and we get a lot more insight into his situation than into Eric’s, but he has a journey to make, too. In his case, it’s learning to forgive himself for some of the things he did which led to the breakdown of his marriage, and to stop seeing himself in terms of failure.
Holidays in Blue does have some things going for it – the writing is generally good and sometimes lyrical (although some of the sex scenes felt as though the author wasn’t comfortable writing them), but the pacing is off; sometimes things move really slowly, and at others, they go from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. An example – Cosmin and Eric don’t really interact until the twenty-three percent mark; at thirty-three, they’re making out and talking about fucking. If I’d had a print book, I think I’d have been flipping through the pages looking for the missing chapters!
The biggest problem with it, however, is that the romance is a complete non-starter. There’s no chemistry between Cosmin and Eric, no real connection and very little by way of romantic development. At a rough estimate, they spend about half the book apart (possibly a bit more) and I didn’t feel I got to know either of them outside of Cosmin’s grief and Eric’s self-recrimination – and I didn’t feel they got to know each other outside of that either. Plus, they’re not “stranded, alone, for Christmas”. They spend two days and nights together (before Christmas) and then go their separate ways until the reunite in the penultimate chapter.
Ultimately, the book tries to be too many things and loses sight of the one thing that should have been front and centre. There’s a sub-plot concerning a friend of Cosmin’s whose daughter has an eating disorder and who has to be admitted to hospital, and another about Eric and an unexpected windfall (and the way he spends the money he inherited made no sense to me whatsoever). The book addresses a lot of important issues – grief, adoption, infidelity (there’s no cheating in the story) unemployment, anorexia, to name a few, but it’s too much for a book of just over two hundred pages, and it’s the romance that suffers and is squeezed out.
When it comes down to it, this isn’t a romance novel; it’s a story of self-discovery and learning to move on after loss that happens to have a romantic sub-plot. (And not a very good one at that). Needless to say, I can’t recommend it.