When I picked this one up, I had vague ideas that I would like it, it was a Christmas read, and that I wanted to try this author. In addition to these things, I found that it touched me deeply and reminded me of long ago days when I worked at a rescue mission and tutored people to help improve their literacy, to help them finish up their diplomas and to help with job searches along with food distribution and maintaining the shelter. I’m not sure if the author meant to send messages and touch hearts or if she was just writing a story of two people who came to her wanting their story told, but I now feel reminded to take stock of myself when it comes to my appreciation for having my basic needs met and to consciously pay attention to the people around me even those on the peripheral edges. As you might surmise by my before mentioned words, this is no light, fluffy holiday read, but it is also no doom and gloom affair either. It is thought-provoking, warmhearted, tender and loving, despondent and hopeful all in one.
Judah Jackson has just gotten out of jail after doing his time for insider trading. He is starting over with only a few hundred dollars to his name, no friends or family, the damning ex-con status now on the many rejected job apps and the knowledge with eyes open of what his future will be. No businessman will touch him now. He is angry, bitter, despondent and humiliated as he falls even further until he hits the streets as homeless.
Toby comes upon a beating and robbery in progress and runs off the assailants becoming some guy’s hero. Only its not just some random guy; its the handsome bitter man who insulted him a few months back when he approached him for any work he could get. Toby’s been on the streets for a while and normally he can keep up his hope that a job will come his way, but the vulnerability and shame are there close to the surface too. Toby tentatively reaches out to Judah offering to take him to the church to get a plate of food and a warm place to sleep for the night and half-way expects to be painfully rebuffed again. There are all sorts of dark things in Judah’s expression, but what touches Toby’s heart besides the fact that Judah is quietly grateful to take his help is that Judah can’t fathom why Toby would help him. Toby wonders what Judah’s life has been like that he has to wonder why someone would be kind to him.
And that begins their friendship that grows slowly into something more as they survive on the streets, keep the other’s hopes up and try to find that elusive job that will provide so many things. They are content and even achieve a level of happiness, but when one of them gets offered the long awaited job, it changes the dynamics and threatens what they have together.
The story is told from both Judah and Toby’s perspectives, but in a way this is mostly Judah’s story. It is his journey through the refining fires that are forging him into something new. The pace of the story goes with this character-driven plot as it gently brings the reader along with Judah.
Judah was not a nice person at first, but as his story is revealed, it would have been more amazing if he hadn’t gone the way he did. I loved exploring the similarities and differences in the men’s circumstances and outlooks. They’re both homeless, but while Toby arrived in this place due to outside factors that he had little control over, Judah got himself into this place. Toby tends to be more optimistic and tenacious; Judah more skeptical though loyal and strong. They really compliment each other and I adored both of them. During the crisis point in the story, I was in pain right along with them.
The backdrop of the world of the homeless life and the other characters that move across Judah and Toby’s path was equally well written as the plot and main character development. The author found that happy medium in the telling giving the reality of this life without making it utterly bleak. It was honest without being brutally honest. The Christmas backdrop took a back seat to other themes, but the spirit of the holidays is present there on the sidelines.
So in the end, I was so vested in this story that I read it in two sittings. I would recommend it to those who are looking for a slightly spicy M/M Holiday Contemporary Romance with the emphasis on character development and a slow to build romance.
Just a reminder that 20% of the proceeds for this book go toward charity in support of the Ali Forney Center in NYC.
My thanks to Net Galley and Riptide for the opportunity to read and review this book.