Merry Measure by Lily Morton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Arlo Wright’s introduction to his sexuality came when he saw his older brother’s best friend, Jack Cooper, in his sweaty football kit. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to enjoy the revelation because he promptly knocked himself out on a table.

Relations between them have never really moved on from that auspicious beginning. Arlo is still clumsy, and Jack is still as handsome and unobtainable as ever.

However, things look like they’re starting to change when Arlo finds himself sharing a room with Jack while on holiday in Amsterdam at Christmas. Will the festive spirit finally move them towards each other, or is Arlo just banging his head against a wall this time?

Rating: B+

Lily Morton is one of my go-to authors whenever I’m looking for a sexy, funny, low-angst read, and in Merry Measure – a standalone Christmas romance – she delivers all those things and more.  It’s a charming friends-to-lovers story that’s full of warmth, humour and Christmas spirit (the bottled kind as well as the other!), featuring two wonderfully endearing leads and a marvellous supporting cast.  Fans of Ms. Morton’s will need no urging to pounce on this one – and if you haven’t read her yet and are in the mood for some festive sweetness and snark, then here is as good a place to start as any.

Primary school teacher Arlo Wright is flying to Amsterdam for Christmas, where he’s joining his brother Tom and a few other close friends in order to celebrate Tom’s engagement to his boyfriend Bee… as soon as Tom does the actual proposing.  Arlo is terrified of flying, so he’s glad to be travelling with his brother’s best friend Jack Cooper, upon whom he once had a massive teenage crush, and who is now as much Arlo’s friend as he is Tom’s.

Arlo and Jack arrive at the hotel to discover there’s been a mix-up with the rooms – and Arlo discovers that maybe his crush on Jack isn’t quite as dead as he’d thought it was.  Jack had originally intended to travel with his boyfriend, but they’ve recently broken up; Jack contacted the hotel to cancel his double occupancy, but instead, they’ve cancelled his room – and this close to Christmas, it’s going to be nigh on impossible for him to find anywhere else to stay in the city.  He’s about to start looking anyway when Bee suggests that Jack share Arlo’s room – it’s got two beds after all – and after a couple of moments of awkwardness, Arlo agrees.  After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Okay, so it’s all a bit predictable, but Ms. Morton transcends the tropes and puts her own stamp on them.  Arlo and Jack are totally adorable, both individually and as a couple.  Arlo is a complete dork in the best way; he’s scatty and warm and funny, his brain-to-mouth filter doesn’t always work and he’s vibrant and full of life. Jack is equally lovely; quieter and more reserved, he’s the “measure” to Arlo’s “merry”, a bit of a perfectionist whose predilection for tidiness and detail and planning comes out more strongly when he’s anxious. He knows Arlo had a crush on him when they were younger (he thought it was sweet) and knows he’s grown out of it, which is probably for the best.  But the previous Christmas something shifted and Jack experienced a real coup de foudre, suddenly seeing Arlo in a completely different light, the pull of attraction hitting him completely unexpectedly. But not only is Arlo is his best friend’s little brother, the Wrights have been more like family to Jack than his own has ever been, and he doesn’t want to screw that up. He hopes he’ll be able to go back to seeing Arlo the way he did before – but that hasn’t happened, and Jack doesn’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.

Jack and Arlo have chemistry by the bucketload, and their transition from friends to lovers is perfectly believable because of the way their relationship is set up; this is a short-ish novel, but the romance doesn’t feel rushed or forced because they’ve been known each other for so long and have always held a special place in each other’s lives.  They speak and act like adults – which I loved – and although Arlo does jump to a couple of conclusions born of his own insecurities, the author doesn’t allow them to fester or become ridiculously overblown. These guys talk to each other openly and honestly, those small moments of trust and intimacy showing just as strongly as the snarky banter or the love scenes, why they are such a good fit.

One of the hallmarks of Ms. Morton’s books is the way she writes close friendships and familial relationships. Most of her series centre around a particular friendship or family group, and in much the same way, this story features a terrific supporting cast of close-knit friends and family who tease each other mercilessly but who obviously love and care for each other deeply.  And while I’m not generally a fan of the ‘evil ex’ trope, there are times when watching such characters get their just desserts is so thoroughly delicious that I set aside my reservations and just enjoy it – which is exactly what I did here when Jack’s obnoxious ex turns up at a very inauspicious moment.

Merry Measure is a fun, sexy, feel-good read that’s peppered with laugh-out-loud moments and full of festive cheer. The Amsterdam locations are gorgeous and vividly described, the characters are warm and funny, and the romance is delightful.  It’s just the thing to while away a few hours on a chilly winter’s evening.

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