Very early in 2022 I found a couple of holiday romances to place on this year’s to read list for reading during the holiday season as I wind down my reading year. Roan Parrish’s The Holiday Trap was one that found its way on that list by virtue of its place on Buzzfeed’s Most Anticipated LGBTQ Romances of 2022 list and that I had been meaning to pick up a Parrish book anyway. Honestly, the premise of The Holiday but queer was likely going to pull me in no matter what (one f/f pairing, one m/m). Our house-swappers are Greta Russakoff who while she loves her family needs a break from their overstepping and an escape from their tiny Maine hometown following her mom and older sister forcing her to participate in a holiday date auction that they knew she would hate (for various reasons explicitly stated by the character in the text). Truman Belvedere (a last name I had entirely forgotten he had) just discovered that his boyfriend of almost a year has a secret life that includes a husband and a daughter. Reeling from this discovery, he needs a place to re-group far away from New Orleans. Enter Greta and Truman’s mutual friend, Ramona, who facilitates a month-long house swap between them.
As the book proceeds, we get the stories of Greta and Truman unpacking what about their previous lives wasn’t working for them and finding new romantic interests. The New Orleans based story is all queer found family to balance out the overstepping, co-dependent family of birth that Greta is emerging from. It’s a pretty textbook instalove scenario as Greta meets Carys on her first full day as she’s wandering the neighborhood walking Truman’s dog, Horse. Carys is almost entirely the opposite of Greta, which gives her a nice counterbalance to examine herself against. But my favorite part of Greta’s arc centers around the community of older gardeners whom she becomes involved with. Truman and his love interest Ash’s story, in counterbalance, was a slow burn, featuring characters unsure if their feelings are requited and struggling with self-worth. It is also in many ways a hurt/comfort romance that focuses on the process of uncovering the details of who someone is and how to bring yourself to a relationship even when you don’t feel as though you can. The story on Owl Island is similarly focused on community, and specifically how a small community can survive by a bit of ingenuity and relying on each other in times of need and learning to ask for what you want. There’s also a significant storyline featuring a parent with dementia that I thought was well done as I’ve got a bit of my own experience in that regard, but it may be difficult reading for others.
The pacing of two relationships on different paths made for a book that could feel uneven at times. But, unlike several reviews of this book that I’ve seen I preferred having the two together as opposed to wanting them to be their own books. When executed well (which it was most of the time), having the parallel structure allowed each narrative to elucidate the other. Which feeds in a bit to why I think so many other reviewers felt disengaged from Greta’s storyline. Truman has real, honest friendships with people who tell him the truth, even the hard truths. Greta… doesn’t and finding those people who can be truthtellers to help her is counterbalanced in Truman’s story as he learns to listen to the people who already do that for him and learn to trust himself again. The holidays are present in the story as the action takes place over the month of December (Chanukkah, Christmas) but they are not the focus even though they are drivers for some of the action, especially the idea of how you can learn to change and shape the way you fit into the life of your community. While things went a bit off the rails during the epilogue, I still found a lot to enjoy with this one, 3.5 stars.