A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: This story had an appealing premise, but I couldn’t really get into the long-winded, inner dialogue-heavy narrative style.
The Blurb: Gracen loves Christmas. It’s his favorite time of the year. So much so that he works as a mall photographer for the season, taking pictures of children with Santa. There’s something about seeing all those happy families that he finds satisfying, which may be slightly odd since he’s so very alone, himself.
Working three jobs is never fun, but when Jesse takes a part time position as a greeter elf at Santa’s Workshop in the mall, he meets Gracen and realizes that maybe job number three isn’t that bad, after all. The handsome photographer appeals to him, even with all Jesse’s family issues.
Two lonely men, one Santa’s Workshop, elf costumes, curl-toed shoes and a camera. They aren’t exactly a recipe for finding that someone special… except maybe they are.
The Review: Gracen is a fairly famous photography artist who also owns a photography business. He takes the job as a mall photographer not because he needs the money, but because he loves the atmosphere.
Since the loss of their parents, Jesse has singlehandedly supported himself and his sister and paid off taxes and mortgages for a big house during the last six years by regularly working two jobs. The third job, the one at the mall, is a necessity for Jesse, even though it puts him on four hours of sleep a day.
Jesse and Gracen discover a mutual attraction, go out together and start what Jesse thinks of as a fling, but soon becomes more for both of them. At first both men fight the attraction to various degrees, Gracen because he fears to have his heart broken, Jesse because his family history contains a deep dark secret that might plunge him and a possible lover into disaster. While Gracen soon starts positively pursuing the possibility for “more”, Jesse has a much harder time to give up fighting – it takes a physical and mental breakdown through which Gracen practically carries him, and the uncovering of another big secret in Jesse’s family until Jesse finally can believe that Gracen is serious about him and might actually, really be his “someone special”.
It was the premise of the whole Santa-Elf thing that first drew me to this story; I found it original and the romance promising. And it was, actually, a nice enough story. At the core, this is a simple boy-meets-boy, spiced with Jesse’s dark secret and the hint at a mystery this secret’s solution poses, and with the sweet HEA that was to be expected from a holiday story. (By the way, I found the ending toothachingly saccharine, but as always, this might be just me.
Both Gracen and Jesse are positive, good guys, reasonable, responsible and considerate who think a lot and talk things through rather than doing the incommunicado that so often leads to avoidable misunderstandings. The rest of the acting cast is very manageable; there’s Gracen’s friend and agent Alonzo (in my opinion, actually the best character in the story), Jesse’s sister Jasmine (who’s supposed to be about twenty, I think, but most of the time acts like a fourteen-year-old), and Alonzo’s PI friend Veronica, who was one tough lady.
Still, I couldn’t really enjoy this book as the writing style didn’t really appeal to me right from the beginning, and by the end, outrightly grated on my nerves. Everything, everything is explained, rehashed and mulled over in both character’s inner musings. Long, chatty passages of narrative meticulously follow the character’s trains of thoughts, even along winding paths and sidetracks. Here’s an example of Gracen’s thoughts (this is about a very minor character, an employee of Gracen’s, who’d treated Jesse with disrespect earlier in the book)
“… Joel was gay, yes, but that wasn’t a good enough reason for being an elitist asshole. Besides which, Joel had no reason or right to act that way. The guy had grown up in a trailer park outside Tallahassee. Gracen had known that when he’d hired Joel. He hadn’t known that the bastard was… well, a piece of shit, apparently, because calling him a bastard wouldn’t be technically true. As far as Gracen knew, Joel’s parents had been married when Joel was conceived. He didn’t care if they hadn’t been, though. The point was, having come from humble beginnings, Joel should be more tolerant of people, not less so….”
And this is Jesse:
“…. He had only the fuzziest, vaguest recollection of getting to Gracen’s and didn’t know whether he’d undressed himself or if Gracen had done it for him, but he didn’t much give a damn. He’d missed work because of something as stupid as being tired! Okay, maybe more than just tired, but what kind of man couldn’t manage to push that aside when he had bills to pay?
A weak one, Jesse told himself, his mental voice angry and disgusted. A weak, pathetic piece of shit who deserved to lose his house and be on the fucking street.
If it were just him, he could deal with it. Jesse was sure of that much. It wasn’t just him, though. There was Jazz to think about, too, and she deserved so much better than that. Just the thought of his sister’s life and future being derailed was enough to make Jesse cry, and he wasn’t a crier, damn it….”
To me, these verbose inner monologues were increasingly annoying. The purpose of this writing technique was probably letting readers participate in all the inner workings of the characters, but on me, it had the opposite effect. I felt separated from the characters to a point where I couldn’t relate to any of them, I felt told what I was supposed to think about them, and in the end, I simply stopped caring about them, and consequently stopped caring about the whole story.Consequently, when the solution to Jesse’s family mystery approached (which could actually be guessed from at least twenty pages away, in my opinion), I couldn’t have cared less, and once I reached the ending I felt glutted on sticky sweetness like after eating an entire box of Christmas candys in one go.
As always, this opinion is only mine; others might love this book just for the things that bothered me so. I, though, can’t really recommend it.