Hollis hasn’t had much Christmas spirit since his parents died three years ago. It feels wrong to celebrate without them, no matter how much his sister and her extended family encourage him to join in, so he plans to spend the holidays working in his stationery store, hanging out with his cat, and rewatching SHERLOCK. Hollis's friend Sawyer knows Hollis can never resist a bet, though, and Sawyer is determined to reignite Hollis's holiday cheer with a series of wagers that can't help but make this Christmas extra special for both of them.
Romances where one person's down on Christmas and the other one's all, "Let me introduce you to the magic of the holiday season!" are my favourite. They give both parties plenty of opportunity to do fun things together and explore traditions new and old. In this case, Sawyer draws on his and Hollis's intense family connection (his twin brother is married to Hollis's twin sister) to concoct a slew of holiday enticements. He also convinces Hollis to participate in some Portland events that'll feel familiar even to non-Oregonians readers, like the local small business association's window decorating contest, Portland's official tree lighting ceremony, and a train ride through the Oregon Zoo's animal-shaped holiday lights.
Some holiday romances use the season as a rough framework on which to hang a relationship. It's winterish (or summerish in southern hemisphere romances), there're a few decorations floating around, and life is otherwise fairly normal. In contrast, WRAPPED TOGETHER goes all in with romance and Christmassy feel alike; a sure way to keep my attention glued to my ereader's screen around this time of year.
The resulting romance is lovely and affecting, but in Annabeth Albert's signature fashion there's also a fair measure of tension due to Sawyer's and Hollis's differing personalities. Sawyer is an outgoing person who's keen to try new things and be in the thick of it all. He's also had what Hollis considers a lot of casual relationships. Hollis is a quieter, reserved introvert who's less than thrilled with crowds and still grieving for his parents. He's got considerably less relationship experience than Sawyer, and he fears he'll become just another notch in his friend's headboard. Both men have to adjust their attitudes, and their ideas about one another, to make the connection they crave.
In addition to all the wonderful holiday stuff and contrasting personalities, Albert seeds the story with her usual telling (and delightful) details. Hollis's stationery store contains a carefully curated collection of products, and I want to go there so bad even though I probably couldn't afford much. The street where both Hollis's store and Sawyer's family business reside sounds equally appealing. The pair's shared history pops up time and again. And there are lots of little nods to the previous Portland Heat novellas.
Which I should tell you, I hadn't read when I picked up WRAPPED TOGETHER. Portland Heat is a series of standalones that you can read in any order, provided you've accepted that every romance must end in an HEA. I'll warn you, though, reading any one of these novellas is liable to make you want all the others right away. I got BUNDLED UP, a collection of the first three books, immediately after I finished WRAPPED TOGETHER, and I had no choice but to snag KNIT TIGHT as soon as I'd finished them. Now I eagerly await DANCED CLOSE, Albert's March release.
So whether or not you're already familiar with Annabeth Albert, those of you on the hunt for a sweet, affecting holiday romance want to get your paws on WRAPPED TOGETHER. I read it in two sittings (which would've been one except I got sucked into the National Dog Show), and the rest of the series proved every bit as enticing.