The Lights on Knockbridge Lane
The Lights on Knockbridge Lane is a cute, fluffy (well, mostly) Christmas-themed story that is the very first male/male romance to appear in one of Harlequin’s main category lines. It’s the third in Roan Parrish’s Garnet Run series, and although characters from the earlier books do appear, they’re cameos and it’s not essential to have read those titles in order to enjoy this one.
Recently divorced Adam Mills moved back to Garnet Run with his eight-year-old daughter, Gus, after his husband decided he didn’t want to be a dad any more. Life as a single father has meant big changes for Adam; from a career as a photographer he’s gone to working in the local hardware store (owned by Best Laid Plans‘ Charlie Matheson) in order to provide for Gus and he’s determined to do whatever it takes to provide stability and make her happy. She’s adjusting to life without her “Papa” quite well, and is a bright, inquisitive child… albeit sometimes too inquisitive for her own good.
In the four months since he returned to Garnet Run, Adam has only seen his reclusive neighbour Westley Mobray out after sunset. Everyone who lives on Knockbridge Lane has an opinion about him; he’s variously a vampire, a witch, a devil-worshipper, a mesmerist, a gorgon or just a plain old freak, and even though he lives just opposite, Adam has never spoken to him, never waved hello or otherwise interacted. Which is why he’s surprised to see the man standing on his doorstep with Gus at his side – and even moreso when Mobray – Wes – tells Adam that Gus broke into his house through the basement window.
Embarrassed, Adam apologises, Wes leaves and Gus proceeds to explain that Wes has the best basement with four lizards and a huge hairy spider which he showed her and put right in her face! Adam is horrified (he’s terrified of spiders) while Gus’ face is lit with joy and enthusiasm as she tells Adam how interesting it all was – but Adam is stuck on the ‘shoved a tarantula in his daughter’s face’ thing and marches across the street to confront Wes, shoving aside his realisation that his reclusive neighbour is rather attractive.
After this less than promising beginning, the two men – and Gus – start spending time together regularly and get to know each other. Adam and Wes have strong chemistry and the attraction between them sparks early on, but Adam is understandably cautious about bringing someone else into his and Gus’ lives who might not stick around, and Wes struggles with an anxiety disorder that stems back to his teenaged years and has caused him to eschew social interaction. There’s a real sense of how hard it is for him to push himself beyond his comfort zone, but he does it for Adam and Gus and it’s lovely to see his growing ease with them.
The story takes place in the run up to Christmas, which is where the “Lights” come in. Adam asks an upset Gus what one thing would make this the most fun Christmas for her – and she says she wants “our house to have the most Christmas lights of any house in the world.”
No biggie, then.
The Lights on Knockbridge Lane does exactly what it’s supposed to do, provide lots of warm fuzzies and a good helping of holiday cheer. That’s not to say it’s superficial, because it isn’t. The characters are satisfyingly complex and are struggling to deal with emotional baggage, which, for Adam, is trying to process the breakdown of his marriage and his feelings of guilt over what may have led to it as well as his guilt over the way the divorce has affected Gus, while Wes seems to be hiding from his issues rather than attempting to deal with them in any sustainable way. Both men have to learn to face their fears and overcome them if they’re to move forward with their lives and with each other – but of course, there are a few hiccups along the way.
Adam and Wes are both likeable, memorable characters. Adam is sweet and optimistic and I liked that he’s so openly emotional; he feels things deeply and is often moved to tears by his emotions, which is something he’s struggled with over the years, especially when he was bullied and belittled for it when he was younger. Wes is more outwardly stoic, but that hides a very dry sense of humour and an innate kindness; he’s harder to read and shows his affection for Adam in unusual ways, such as reorganising his pantry alphabetically. Gus is a cute mix of eight-year-old confidence and insecurity, but there’s no getting away from the fact that she’s a plot-moppet – albeit a well-written and loveable one – who often comes across as older than her years, and needs some firmer boundaries set by her dad!
I couldn’t quite work out how a guy who kept a tarantula as a pet and let it roam around the house (*shudder*!!) and a guy who was terrified of them were ever going to be able to share a home. I’m with Adam on that one; spiders freak me out, so No Spiders would an absolute house rule! And I’m not sure I bought into all the science; Wes is working to create a viable sustainable alternative to electric light – an admirable ambition – but I couldn’t help but wonder how feasible it all was.
Those quibbles aside however, The Lights on Knockbridge Lane is a charming, low-angst Christmas-themed read about love, family and fresh-starts. It’s definitely one to curl up with – with a cup of cocoa – on a cold winter’s evening.