This was a re-visit for me with a story and characters that I adored to death the first time around. I was eager to see what adding a narrator to the mix would do for me so I happily took it up again in audio format. The short of it is that my opinion of the story itself didn’t change.
The story is a standalone, it’s not terribly long, and it had depth without drawing too hard on me as the listener so it was perfect for a holiday listen while getting some stuff done off my list.
I really enjoyed reading with Rusty Baker’s perspective (I just realized that I almost called him ‘Dusty’ Baker who was the coach of my favorite baseball team so forgive me if I slip and do that again later.). The author did a good job making me believe that I was reading the thoughts and words of a heart-warming young man that isn’t the quickest on the uptake, but he sure had it where it counted most.
Oh and I gotta say that I really enjoyed the setting of this one since I grew up right there in the Northern California foothills so I saw it all perfectly when it was being described.
So anyway, on with my summary. Rusty grew up in an upper middle class household in the burbs with parents who seem to only consider him as a future success story for them and a way to be connected with all the right people. His grades are mediocre as are his sports gifts, but they see Berkley grad and lawyer. Rusty really tries to please them, but at the same time he’s honest and worried that he’s not measuring up. He’s definitely not doing what makes him happy.
Fortunately, he has his sister and the kind maternal housekeeper who gives him some support. And then he makes a ‘best’ friend, Oliver Campbell, who he met as new transfer kid his senior year. Oliver is nothing like the other kids or his usual group of friends. Oliver’s looks, family background and even sexual orientation make him not potential best friend material with Rusty’s other friends or his parents, but he doesn’t care. From the moment Oliver looked on Rusty’s stupid friends with amused tolerance with that bright smile and Rusty takes up for Oliver against his friends, they are best buds. Oliver is so brilliant and bright that Rusty can only wonder what Oliver would want with a slow guy like him, but he holds tight to that friendship regardless.
At least he thinks they are until his last night in town before going away to Berkley. Oliver gives him the best kiss he’s ever had and sends him away to think about that kiss and think about Oliver. So between figuring out how to survive as a pre-law student at Berkley with a horny roommate who’ll do it with anyone and feeling so far away and alone from all he knows, he does think about Oliver and Oliver is his lifeline. Oliver helps him survive school- well survive period in some ways so when he comes home he owns up to what he feels for Oliver and that gets him thrown out of his home and disowned just before Thanksgiving.
Oliver and the rest of the Campbells are there to show him what family and love can be. Rusty embraces it and is determined to stand on his own two feet and have Oliver even if he has little to offer in return. Finding the perfect Christmas present and being able to offer something so simple as a bed are high on his list.
The plot is the coming of age and discovery story of Rusty. It was a gently paced story that brought out several emotions in me. I enjoyed how it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t angsty either. I was a little bummed about the white people clichés since it’s not true of everyone, but I do get that some people are which is why we have the clichés. Oliver and his family are the family that everyone wants to be a part of and be friends with. And Nicole, Rusty’s younger sister, was so fun. She adores her brother and totally supports him through everything. I loved seeing the brother-sister dynamic which gave extra depth to the story. Rusty’s friend from college is a hoot and a scene-stealer. I had a roommate like that and we’re still great friends nearly thirty years later.
Even though this is all from Rusty’s point of view, the other characters in the story shine through. He sees it all even if he doesn’t get the significance of what he’s seeing, but that’s what he has Oliver for. These two are such opposites, but they are adorable together. Rusty has strong principles which is amazing considering the people who raised him and he is stalwart about things though he is a tender guy when it comes to love and feeling his way when it comes to a relationship with Oliver. Rusty takes his time arriving at truths and how he feels, but he does get there.
Oliver is so patient with Rusty. Oliver is uber-smart and is academically capable of so much, but he sees the value in Rusty. He’s way ahead of Rusty about his feelings and who he wants, but he waits for Rusty to catch on. He champions Rusty and tries to make up for the lack in his life- well besides Rusty’s kid sister, Nicole who’s also there for him. I grinned with the early efforts of the two guys together. It was so authentic how they didn’t just fall into bed and achieve sexual perfection nor did the daily aspects of their relationship just come together.
The narrator, Nick Russo, was brilliant. He nailed Rusty’s voice. I had no doubt that I was listening to Rusty tell his story. The slower, methodical, yet wry tone along with the pacing, the inflections were superb. I have another book he narrated and after this, I am as eager for his narration as I am for the story.
So when it finished, I found myself smiling big and happy that I got to spend some time with Rusty and Oliver for Christmas. Those who enjoy slow-paced character-driven coming of age M/M Contemporary Romance should give this one a try.
My thanks to Riptide for the opportunity to listen and review this book.
Romance Roundabout #409
Audio # 21
This story focused on family acceptance, being together for the holidays, finding the right gift and not worrying about how much monetary worth to the gift, oh, and enjoying the fun kitschy things like home-made kid ornaments and a ceramic Santa cookie jar.
I want to zero in on the kitsch-y stuff. As a child, we definitely made our fair share of ornaments and crafts that only a mother or grandmother would love so there are those. But there is one item that stands out in my mind when I think Christmas kitsch. My mom kept it for years and it was hideous and a little scary to speak truth, but when I moved out and my mom packed up a little box of Christmas ornaments and decorations for my first tree in my own place, it was this that I secretly wanted.
And what is that item you ask? A two foot Frosty the Snowman plastic light-up decoration. By the time I went away to college this thing looked like it had been taken out and dragged behind the car with its scraped paint, stains, dents, and the fact that it didn’t actually light up anymore because I accidentally set the thing on fire one Christmas (longer story, doesn’t reflect well on my intelligence so we’ll skip that). But yet, we never threw it away and it came out each year to sit on the floor by the backdoor.
What about you? Do you have/had any hideous, kitschy holiday decorations?