by Roan Parrish
Series: Garnet Run #3
Also in this series: Best Laid Plans
Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Can one man’s crowded, messy life fill another man’s empty heart?
Raising a family was always Adam Mills’ dream, although solo parenting and moving back to tiny Garnet Run certainly were not. After a messy breakup, Adam is doing his best to give his young daughter the life she deserves—including accepting help from their new, reclusive neighbor to fulfill her Christmas wish.
Though the little house may not have “the most lights ever,” the Mills home begins to brighten as handsome Wes Mobray spends more time there and slowly sheds his protective layers. But when the eye-catching house ends up in the news, Wes has to make a choice: hide from the darkness of his unusual past or embrace the light of a future—and a family—with Adam.
It’s another Garnet Run book! Like the previous books, there’s loads of pets in this one, but they’re not as cuddly as cats and dogs… This book is about family – the ones you choose to make, and how you can keep choosing them. While this is the third book in the series, it can be read as a standalone without any issue.
“Adam’s mission was clear: In order to convince his daughter that they could still have a wonderful Christmas despite leaving Mason, their home, and all their friends far behind them, he just had to find a way to procure the most Christmas lights in the whole world.
What could possibly go wrong?”
Adam’s daughter Gus is the center of his world. He doesn’t have a problem with that, though unfortunately his ex did… after eight years of broken promises and shoddy parenting. Heartsick but determined to give Gus the best life possible, he’s moved back to his hometown of Garnet Run in order to be closer to his sibling River, so they can help with childcare. After all the upheaval in their lives, all he wants to do is give Gus the best holiday possible. So when the one thing Gus wants for Christmas is the most Christmas lights in the world, Adam sets out to do that within his limited budget – and with some unexpected help from one of his new neighbors. Wes is reclusive and only comes out of his house at night, leading neighbors to speculate he’s a vampire or some sort of witch. But he can’t quite resist the cute single dad and his charming daughter, and before he knows it he’s eating boxed mac and cheese and helping them decorate. There’s something between the two, but between Wes’s reasons for keeping to himself and Adam’s trust issues, is there any hope for a Christmas romance?
This book definitely hits the neighbors and the grumpy/sunshine tropes. Adam is touchingly sensitive, the kind of person who’s moved to tears frequently by his emotions. He’s optimistic and generally positive, even when trying to learn about the hundred different types of nails stocked at the hardware store he works at. But his ex has taken a toll on him, and it’s harder for him to trust anyone, especially the handsome neighbor who his daughter is absolutely fascinated with.
“I’m a vampire-werewolf hybrid who practices witchcraft and worships Satan. I’m extremely busy.”
Wes is geeky and “weird” (his words), and I absolutely loved it. He prefers tarantulas, snakes and lizards to furry creatures, and spends all of his time on his scientific experiments. He’s caring, but in his own way, like when he rearranges Adam’s pantry alphabetically. While Adam’s baggage is glaringly obvious, Wes’s is harder to tease out. There’s a reason he hasn’t voluntarily left his house in the daylight for four years… until Adam and Gus.
“It was so damn charming that Adam Mills, never having made a pie in his life, would decide that this pie would be perfection. It was so optimistic, so sweet, and so utterly unrealistic. But what the hell was reality anyway?”
The fact that Adam’s a single dad is hugely important to the story. It’s not just the relationship between Adam and Wes, but also the relationship between Wes and Gus and how they all interact together. In many ways, Gus is the impetus for them to get together (with a very original and hilarious meet-cute), from the titular lights to a school show-and-tell. And while at times I would’ve liked a bit more of Adam and Wes one-on-one, I appreciated the focus on Adam and Gus as a package deal. The only negative to that? Gus is a bit of a plot moppet. Of course she’s interested in the same things as Wes, of course she perfectly parrots all of her dad’s hard-won social-emotional literacy. Look, I have an eight year old, and so much of Gus’s reactions and commentary struck me as much too wise for her years. But even with all that, it was hard not to love her, especially when seeing her through Adam and Wes’s eyes.
“Sometimes,” Adam said, tipping her chin up and kissing her forehead, “feeling cozy and loved and together is more important than scientific truth.”
It’s got lots of the usual holiday character as well. There’s sweet Christmas scenes like baking cookies and picking out and decorating a Christmas tree. As you’d expect from a book with lots of family issues, there’s a big focus on found family as well, especially with Adam’s quest to give Gus a memorable Christmas. Despite the family drama, it’s sweet and not too terribly angsty (hard to be when you have an adorable 8yo demanding waffles all the time). As for negatives, besides the plot moppetness, Wes’s experiments seemed very farfetched to me, to the point that it knocked me out of the story sometimes.
Overall, this is cute and heartwarming, a fun holiday entry to the Garnet Run series. I’m very much looking forward to the next one!