Two empty-nesters. Two bruised hearts. One chance to make things right.
Oliver expected to miss his daughter when she left for college, but he’s surprised by the size of the hole she leaves. Or maybe he hadn’t expected to spend his days watching grass grow and making sad cookies. Or to lose his job. Meeting Nick—the uncle of his daughter’s roommate—is a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy forecast. Nick is focused, talented, and as beautiful as the dollhouses he builds. Being near him might bring light and purpose to Oliver’s life.
Nick expected to miss his niece when she left for college, but he’s still figuring out how to cope with her absence, when his brother reappears after twelve years, complicating the emotional puzzle. Then there’s Oliver, the sweet, calm, and competent man who looks at Nick like no one ever has. Spending Sundays in Oliver’s company is the balm he needs, though Nick is waiting for Oliver to decide their relationship is too much work.
But just as Nick begins to get comfortable, Oliver’s need to provide for of the people he loves threatens to pull them apart. If their relationship is to survive, they will have to learn to let go. For Oliver, this means asking himself what he really wants, this time around. For Nick, it means letting himself grieve the people who can’t come back and love the people who always will.
Kelly Jensen’s new Hearts & Craft series kicks off with Sundays With Oliver, a gently moving character-driven romance featuring two men in their forties (well, one is thirty-nine, but still…) who have to deal with significant life changes, prompted, in large part, by their becoming empty-nesters.
Oliver Jurić is a wholesome kind of guy; good-humoured, self-deprecating and one of life’s caretakers. When the story begins, it’s just days before Oliver is due to take his daughter Dani to her new home in NYC where she’s going to college. It’s a huge change in both their lives, and while Oliver is excited for Dani to be going out into the world to make a life of her own, he’s sad, too, knowing her absence will leave a hole in his life he’s not sure how he’s going to fill. But that’s not the only major change on the horizon; just before moving day, Oliver loses his job and, feeling slightly ashamed and not wanting to disappoint anyone, he doesn’t say anything and allows his family to believe nothing has changed, intending to get to work on applying for other jobs once Dani is settled in her new place.
Nick Zimmermann has a successful business making bespoke dollhouses – some original designs, some intricate miniature replicas of actual buildings – and every tiny item of furniture and décor inside. He’s intense and focused; he loves the work and is incredibly good at it, but he’s a very solitary person and he thrives on precision and routine. It’s clear from early on that Nick is neuroatypical, although his differences are never really labelled (ASD is mentioned once, but only in passing), and instead, the author shows us how his fascination with numbers and time, his need for rigid routine and his difficulty making eye contact contribute to his being – in his own words – “different” and “difficult to live with”. Like Oliver, Nick is facing the prospect of a lonely house once his niece Emma, his late sister’s daughter, has left for college in New York, but while Nick knows, rationally, that he’s going to miss her, he has yet to fully process the emotions that go along with missing someone.
Nick and Oliver meet for the first time on moving day when it turns out Dani and Emma are to be roommates. The first time Oliver sets eyes on Nick, his first thought is that the man seems to be trying to disappear into the background; the second is that he’s gorgeous. After the four of them have unpacked and put away as much as they can, they head out for an early dinner, and after the two girls leave, Oliver and Nick stay on for dessert, bonding over their feelings of loss and being at a loss. When Nick picks up the bill, Oliver suggests that next time is on him – although they don’t really expect that to happen. Yet neither can quite forget the other – or the spark of interest and attraction they’d felt for the first time in ages.
A few weeks later, Oliver makes a spontaneous visit to the city to see Dani and has stopped to look in a bakery window when a familiar voice breaks his concentration – and he turns to see Nick standing beside him. When, after going to the girls’ dorm, Oliver discovers Dani is out for the day, he and Nick decide to spend the day together, and quickly discover that they enjoy each other’s company, opening up a little about things they haven’t really spoken about to anyone else. Oliver confides in Nick about his job situation and how he’s having no luck whatsoever finding something else, and Nick talks about his work and about Emma – and surprises himself when he offers to show Oliver his current – unfinished – project. After this, Sundays become ‘their’ day.
I loved watching the connection between Nick and Oliver grow as they learn to navigate their lives without their girls around and deal with the various issues life throws at them. Nick worries that he’s ‘too much’ or ‘too quirky’ for Oliver to handle (thanks to comments by a previous partner), but Oliver simply accepts him as he is, making room for Nick’s ‘differences’ very subtly and naturally, respecting his need for routine and room to think. Nick tries hard to make room for Oliver in his life, and encourages him to think about outside the box when it comes to finding work. Oliver has always loved baking but never thought about doing it as a job – he’s always focused on being able to provide for his family and thus sacrificed something he loved in return for a regular salary. He has to learn that he can no longer be his family’s sole financial support – and that it’s okay not to be – that there are alternative options for financing Dani’s time at college and that he can’t continue to pay for all his parents’ daily needs or fund emergency repairs or new appliances. He’s one of those characters who has taken a lot upon himself to the point of being taken for granted – and he has to learn that it’s okay to put himself first.
Nick has never properly processed his sister’s death three years earlier – or his parents’ deaths more than a decade before that – and has become a bit lost, his world confined to his routines and to Emma as a way of self-preservation and avoiding processing his grief. But shortly before Emma leaves for college, that narrow world is shaken up by the unexpected appearance of his older brother Cameron, which disturbs Nick immensely. Cam has led a somewhat nomadic life since leaving the army twelve years before, and Nick doesn’t know – and doesn’t really want to know – what he’s been doing during the intervening years. He doesn’t want Cam at the house and tries to avoid him where possible, silently fuming as Cam starts fixing things around the place and working on the garden, tidying it up, planting and growing things and generally changing things Nick doesn’t want changed. I admit, I didn’t like Cam much to start with, didn’t like the way he just invades Nick’s space, but it soon becomes clear that he really cares about Nick and wants to help – but doesn’t quite know how.
Sundays With Oliver is what I’d call a ‘quiet book’, with the focus firmly on the central relationship and character growth as Nick and Oliver slowly come to terms with the changes in their lives and fall in love. That’s not to say there aren’t some rocky moments – there are – but it all feels very organic and realistic, and the romance is beautifully written, full of touching, tender moments and gentle humour that show just how much the couple care for each other. There’s a wonderfully rounded secondary cast which adds colour and depth to the story, and food-lovers will enjoy the descriptions of Oliver’s culinary endeavours! Sundays With Oliver is a charming romance and I’m happy to recommend it.