Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

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Summary from Goodreads:
Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I’m not sure what I was expecting for Alexis Hall’s new Sourcebooks Casablanca release, Boyfriend Material, but it definitely wasn’t a hilarious rom-com narrated by Luc, a neurotic, paparazzi-averse twenty-something. His parents are rock-star famous but his dad walked out when he was three. Luc accidentally gets some (more) bad tabloid press, which affects his fund-raising job at a coleoptera charity – hilariously acronymed CRAPP – and must acquire a respectable, “proper” boyfriend ASAP. He gets set-up with Oliver, a very, very respectable, upstanding barrister with a stable, very staid, acceptable, non-paparazzi-bait lifestyle (incidentally, Oliver is also incredibly hot in his three-piece suits). So they agree to fake date – Oliver will appear in some “good” paparazzi photos and attend the Beetle Drive as Luc’s plus-one and Luc will come to Oliver’s parents’ ruby wedding anniversary do. (FAKE DATING, WHEE!!!!) So when does fake dating – involving sweet dinners at vegan pop-up restaurants, glass sculpture exhibits, quick lunches by the Gladstone statue, and meeting Luc’s batty-but-sweet mom Odile and her “special” curry and her mad-as-pants bestie Judy – become real dating with vulnerability and feelings and OMG PANIC??

Much of Boyfriend Material is Luc freaking out about feelings and learning to have feelings and be an adult and then maybe learning that Oliver isn’t quite as put-together as he thought. The entirety of the book is narrated from Luc’s perspective which makes his journey from panicked, emotionally-fraught bellend back to functional-ish adult feel very intimate and personal. You are 100% in Luc’s corner as the reader even if you want to bonk him over the head for being such a twerp on occasion. It also helps some of the tension in the plot, since it keeps Oliver’s point-of-view off the table throughout the book. When you hit the point-of-no return in this plot, when Oliver also to meet Luc halfway emotionally, it is delicious in the resolution.

Luc has a turn-of-phrase that had me snort-laughing in many places. For serious. On Luc’s and Oliver’s first “date” Oliver, who is a criminal defense attorney, says Luc can ask him that question that people always ask. Luc panics and asks if Oliver ever has sex in the wig….I died. Because that definitely isn’t the question Oliver is thinking of. Hall also absolutely shreds upper-class posh manners. One of his work colleagues is a posh twit, with an even posher, twittier girlfriend, who is a walking punchline about the declining mental acuity of the British landed aristocracy. There is a running joke about “dick pics” that includes the deepest deep cut from The Slipper and the Rose, a Cinderella musical from the 1970s (I screamed in delight, I love that movie). There’s a birthday party with Oliver’s friends that is delightful and then there is Luc’s friend group who are the absolute best, loveable friends who are there for him throughout the book despite said bellend-ness (and they’re hilarious).

I’m going to give a content warning, delightful though this book is. Both Luc and Oliver experience some really garbage casual homophobia – that very casual upper-class British kind that approves of being a Good Gay and not a Bad Gay. There is also an instance of really, really shitty casual homophobia (look, three out of four of Luc’s and Oliver’s parents are garbage, two of them because of said homophobia among other things). Given that this is an #ownvoices novel from Alexis Hall, I think this experience is probably fairly true to life, unfortunate as it is. I trust how Hall has shown how these situations play out. But it doesn’t make it any easier to read especially since Luc and Oliver are so likeable.

The steam level is low-boil/fade-to-black but definitely not G-rated. It definitely fits with this couple. Oliver is a character who doesn’t have casual sex and Luc is trying to turn his relationship-status around. A more descriptive type of sex scene would feel intrusive in this book. (For reference, the only other Alexis Hall book I’ve read is For Real which is SO HOT that I was sure my face was going to catch on fire during one scene, the pie scene. You know the one.)

I would love to see this adapted for a movie. My brain has already cast Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys as Oliver and Luc (look, Matt Rhys always looks vaguely nervous about something IRL and I shipped them hard in Death Comes to Pemberley) although they’re twenty years too old. I would also accept as Luc the guy who plays Jaskier in The Witcher, Joey Batey, who is both closer to the right age and can handle Luc’s humor but I’m not sure who would match him for Oliver then.

Boyfriend Material is out tomorrow, July 7!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley – but our finished copies arrived at the store on Friday while I was finishing this review so OF COURSE I have already purchased one.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Two Rogues Make a Right by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #3)

42117309._SY475_

Summary from Goodreads:
Will Sedgwick can’t believe that after months of searching for his oldest friend, Martin Easterbrook is found hiding in an attic like a gothic nightmare. Intent on nursing Martin back to health, Will kindly kidnaps him and takes him to the countryside to recover, well away from the world.

Martin doesn’t much care where he is or even how he got there. He’s much more concerned that the man he’s loved his entire life is currently waiting on him hand and foot, feeding him soup and making him tea. Martin knows he’s a lost cause, one he doesn’t want Will to waste his life on.

As a lifetime of love transforms into a tender passion both men always desired but neither expected, can they envision a life free from the restrictions of the past, a life with each other?

I’d been wondering how this book would play out ever since Hartley found Martin hiding in his attic in A Gentleman Never Keeps Score, dragged him off to Will, and then realizing that Martin and Will have some “history.” (Also, Hartley being surprised about Will and Martin then wondering if the other two brothers – who are still school age – might also be attracted to men is kind of adorable, since he’s the only one who seems to think that might be unexpected. Oh, Hartley <3)

The plot of Two Rogues Make a Right? So sweet. A recovering ex-Navy opium addict with PTSD kidnaps his old friend, a consumptive, emotionally-straitjacketed baronet, and they hole up in a game keeper’s cottage to let the baronet recover from a bout of illness (in the absence of modern antibiotics what you need is fresh air, not the pollution of London). And maybe the two of them will rekindle not just their friendship, but also recognize it as something more.

If you love friends-to-lovers plots – plus some pining – this book is for you. Will and Martin have history as kids, then are separated when Will is sent to the Navy, plus what Martin has found out about his father, they tread very carefully with each other. Will, because Martin is chronically ill with tuberculosis and has been near death on occasion. Martin, because of what his father did to the Sedgwicks – and others – doesn’t quite know how to broach those subjects. In addition, Martin has been very, very closely guarded due to his illness all his life and has essentially has very little freedom to make his own choices. So they have “friendship feelings” and they also have “perhaps some romantic feelings” and “does it ruin the friendship to explore the romantic feelings feelings.” There is also “hurt/comfort” which is the gentlest part of this relationship – Will takes great care with Martin as he recovers from this exacerbation of his illness but then Martin gives care and comfort to Will when he faces his demons.

This romance feels especially poignant, to me, when I consider that Martin, suffering tuberculosis in a era well-before modern antibiotic treatment that could actually clear the infection, can only manage his symptoms. He has no cure. So when he and Will come together (that’s not a spoiler, this is a romance novel), they have no guarantee that they have decades together. But they are willing to love and take that risk. I was crying at the end. It reminded me of a Lorraine Heath from a few years back in this way.

This book is as sweet and gentle as A Gentleman Never Keeps Score is rough-edged and steamy. I loved it. Those Sedgwick males, gotta love ’em.

Two Rogues Make a Right is out tomorrow, June 23! [Note: I don’t think you necessarily have to have read the previous two books in the series, It Takes Two to Tumble and A Gentleman Never Keeps Score, but the backstory and family history of this book is very tied up in the revelations of the previous two. So the main plot can stand alone, but for the full picture pick up the first two. You won’t be disappointed.]

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

46263943Summary from Goodreads:
Named one of the most anticipated books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar, BuzzFeed, and more.

A novel of startling intimacy, violence, and mercy among friends in a Midwestern university town, from an electric new voice.

Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends—some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community.

Real Life is a novel of profound and lacerating power, a story that asks if it’s ever really possible to overcome our private wounds, and at what cost.

About four or five (six? what is time?) years ago, someone RT’d a reaction gif of Pride and Prejudice (from the miniseries) into my Twitter feed. It was clever and spot on, from a guy named Brandon who was a biochem grad student. He had a whole string of gifs from a live-Tweet of the miniseries so I hit the follow button. I have never regretted it as Brandon shared more and more of his writing, beautiful short stories and personal essays, and his quietly sarcastic humor with us on Twitter and in various literary publications. After he moved to my town for the MFA program in writing, our paths crossed often on campus and at literary events. And I’m absolutely floored by Brandon’s debut novel Real Life. (I’m not surprised, since he’s so damn talented and has a heck of a work ethic, but the book is still a stunner.)

Real Life is a campus novel about a character who is always on the periphery of campus novels – a gay, black, and broke young man named Wallace in a prestigious biochemistry program at a very (very) white Midwestern university. This is not funny like Lucky Jim or navel-gaze-y like The Marriage Plot or Stoner. This is about one weekend in Wallace’s career in graduate school. Three days. One choice (accepting an invitation to hang at the lake with friends after his summer project goes wrong and he just doesn’t have the spoons to restart it that evening) that is the first domino in a chain of many to fall and lead him to the ultimate decision: should he stay in his graduate program and endure all manners of microaggressions and macroaggressions and continue to work doggedly toward his PhD or should he leave and take a chance on the unknown? Underlying all of Wallace’s actions is the knowledge that his estranged father died several weeks ago; no matter how much Wallace might try to keep the past buried safely in the past it bubbles up to confront him.

Wallace’s story is lovely, quiet, and so very, very real (Brandon always says he writes domestic realism and he isn’t wrong). Wallace is the kind of character who feels conditioned to keep an even keel and keep himself to himself, no matter how angry or happy or sad he might feel on the inside, because if he does drop the facade and express emotion he’s immediately smacked down for it. He’s picked on for his “deficiencies” – an absolutely maddening term and one I’ve heard used by faculty in the past to describe students from less-privileged (i.e. often code for “black”) backgrounds – and snidely dismissed by his adviser. His keep-your-head-down-and-work-hard ethic is thrown back at him as arrogant. Even though these events might seem like high drama, Brandon’s prose has such a calm beauty in his description. Even a description of breeding and plating nematodes has such beauty that we are hit with dismay when it’s revealed the plates are colonized by fungi, ruining the project. But it all feels so intimate, so quiet, particularly an extraordinary stream-of-consciousness chapter where Wallace narrates his childhood history to a lover (hook-up? lover? Booty-call isn’t right, either). Such a beautiful character study.

*Edit to add: at Brandon’s reading at Prairie Lights on Wednesday, he mentioned that some white reviewers see this novel as “raw” (or various similar descriptors) which…definitely not Wallace. I might concede rawness when it comes to showing the racist and homophobic micro and macroaggressions from his friends and colleagues, including one really awful scene where a fellow graduate student (and I absolutely despise this character) uses the n- and f- words before accusing him of misogyny. Brandon isn’t interested in coating their treatment of Wallace in politeness, to make white people feel better. There’s no window-dressing or walking-back to soften these characters. It feels raw because the “nice” and “who mean well” has been removed from the Nice White People Who Mean Well. They’re presented in all their ickiness.

I’m a bit worried I am not doing Real Life justice in my review. Sometimes, you finish a book and just sit in wonder. This book speaks to me on many levels and on other levels I know I have missed nuances. As a nice, white, straight, middle-aged lady, there are corners and layers in Wallace’s story that I will never uncover, no matter how hard I try because I just don’t have the experience or background to see them. To make up for this, allow me to link to three incredible reviews of Real Life, all by men who are both black and queer: Michael Arceneaux in Time, Jeremy O. Harris in The New York Times, and MJ Franklin also in the Times.

Real Life is an early contender for one of my best books of 2020 (and 2020 publishing is bananas, y’all). Please, please buy it, read it, recommend it for your library to purchase. Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting on pins and needles for Brandon’s short story collection, Filthy Animals. Real Life is available everywhere in the US today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and will be buying a copy at Brandon’s reading tomorrow. Also, he’s a friend, so take that as you will.

 

stuff I read

Cleanness by Garth Greenwell

45892271Summary from Goodreads:
In the highly anticipated follow-up to his beloved debut, What Belongs to You, Garth Greenwell deepens his exploration of foreignness, obligation, and desire

Sofia, Bulgaria, a landlocked city in southern Europe, stirs with hope and impending upheaval. Soviet buildings crumble, wind scatters sand from the far south, and political protesters flood the streets with song.

In this atmosphere of disquiet, an American teacher navigates a life transformed by the discovery and loss of love. As he prepares to leave the place he’s come to call home, he grapples with the intimate encounters that have marked his years abroad, each bearing uncanny reminders of his past. A queer student’s confession recalls his own first love, a stranger’s seduction devolves into paternal sadism, and a romance with another foreigner opens, and heals, old wounds. Each echo reveals startling insights about what it means to seek connection: with those we love, with the places we inhabit, and with our own fugitive selves.

Cleanness revisits and expands the world of Garth Greenwell’s beloved debut, What Belongs to You, declared “an instant classic” by The New York Times Book Review. In exacting, elegant prose, he transcribes the strange dialects of desire, cementing his stature as one of our most vital living writers.

A quick up-front disclaimer: I know Garth socially, and through Twitter, and absolutely love to hear him discuss books and have conversations with other writers. His first book, What Belongs to You, is incredible.

Cleanness is comprised of a series of vignettes narrated by the narrator from What Belongs to You, an unnamed, gay American teacher in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is lonely, aching in the aftermath of a breakup with his long-distance boyfriend, and trying to find connection in a city he will soon leave. The longing for true companionship as an openly gay man is palpable.  At times, it seems the city itself, Sophia, is the narrator’s only real friend. In the third vignette (“Decent People”) the narrator joins in a protest march and even in this large crowd, even when he finds friends and one of his students, he still remains apart but his narration about the path of the march reveals a hidden depth of affection for his adopted city.

The central three vignettes of the book present the arc of the narrator’s long-distance relationship with a Portuguese man, “Loving R.” These stories are tender, beginning with the exuberance of finding a person who is so right for your heart and ending with the bittersweet realization that age and distance might be insurmountable odds. Greenwell has bookended this section with two incredible chapters of the narrator seeking sexual release in D/s encounters found through dating apps. In the first encounter, “Gospodar,” the narrator is the submissive, seeking release through willing humiliation, to be nothing, until the scene turns terrifying; in the second, “The Little Saint,” the narrator is the dominant in the scene with a younger sub who invites the narrator to use him as needed. Both of these scenes are breathtaking in the beauty of their sentences and the honesty of the narrator’s desire. By placing them either side of the “Loving R.” section, they underscore the different types of connection we seek as humans, without judgement for desire or kink. But in looking back on those chapters, we also feel the narrator’s loss of R. very acutely. At times I thought of Jane Eyre, Rochester’s idea of the cord, tying him to Jane somewhere under his ribs, and were it to break he would bleed inwardly. The narrator of Cleanness bleeds inwardly and, as a gay man in a country that is unwelcoming to those who fall outside of the cis/het binary, he bleeds silently or, at times, with shame (the final story, “An Evening Out,” is incredible).

“But then there’s no fathoming pleasure, the forms it takes or their sources, nothing we can imagine is beyond it; however far beyond the pale of our own desires, for someone it is the intensest desire, the key to the latch of the self, or the promised key, a key that perhaps never turns.” (~p 38, I don’t have a finished copy to check the page number)

Cleanness is beautiful, emotionally naked, raw, frank, tender, and explicit. A book to sit beside Edinburgh and How We Fight For Our Lives. Even though Cleanness is a sequel of-sorts, you don’t have to have read What Belongs to You to read Cleanness but I highly recommend that you do because it puts several of the narrator’s experiences into perspective.

A content warning for brief sexual violence on the page (neither long nor gratuitous, perhaps two pages at most).

Cleanness is out today, January 14!

Dear FTC: Thank you so much FSG for the review copy.

Edited to add: Please read Colm Toibin’s review of Cleanness in the New York Times Book Review. I could never do Cleanness the justice it deserves.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · sleuthing · stuff I read

Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian (Page & Sommers #1)

44785311._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.

Cat Sebastian: Do you want a galley of my new post-WW2 m/m mystery-romance?
Me: OMG YES PLEASE

Hither, Page is a m/m romance and mystery set in the village of Wychcomb St. Mary. If you like Grantchester, and want a bit of romance, too, this first installment in Sommers & Page is as if Sidney Chambers was a hot doctor, instead of the vicar (and if you’ve seen the TV adaptation, James Norton is almost a dead-ringer for Dr. Sommers) and Geordie was a jaded spy, and they were both gay. This is a romance set in the immediate aftermath of WWII so many lives have been shattered and not put back together, if they ever will be. The resolution of the mystery was a bit too tangly but I enjoyed the characters of Sommers and Page, and so many of the side characters especially Edith and Cora and Wendy, very much.

Also – everyone wash your hands and don’t share utensils/cups, etc. because tonsillitis/strep throat in the early antibiotics era is contagious as all get out.

This is much less steamy than other Cat Sebastian romances.

Dear FTC: Many thanks to Cat Sebastian for the galley. I bought a copy, too. 🙂

mini-review · Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Counterpoint by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #2)

41808799Summary from Goodreads:
Twisted Wishes lead guitarist Dominic “Domino” Bradley is an animal onstage. But behind his tight leather pants and skull-crusher boots lies a different man entirely, one who needs his stage persona not only to perform, but to have the anonymity he craves. A self-imposed exile makes it impossible to get close to anyone outside the band, so he’s forced to get his sexual fix through a few hot nights with a stranger.

When computer programmer Adrian Doran meets Dominic, he’s drawn to the other man’s quiet voice and shy smile. But after a few dirty, demanding nights exploring Dominic’s need to be dominated, Adrian wants more than a casual distraction. He has no idea he’s fallen for Domino Grinder—the outlandish, larger-than-life rock god.

Dominic is reluctant to trust Adrian with his true identity. But when the truth is revealed prematurely, Dominic is forced to reevaluate both his need for Adrian and everything he believes about himself.

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Mackenzie Walton

The Netgalley gods smiled upon me and granted me access to Counterpoint – and just in time since I was tearing through the end of Syncopation.

I was really intrigued by the character of Dom in the first book – a quiet, bookish guy who has created a “public” stage persona to handle the social pressure of being an emerging rock guitarist. I imagine that this is a problem that rears its head for a lot of musicians – how public is too public is you are a naturally private person or have social anxiety? I mean, I probably wouldn’t handle “getting photographed by paparazzi or randos while buying toilet paper at the store” levels of celebrity well. I can only imagine how intrusive that is and understand why the Lady Gagas of the world have such out-sized stage personalities.

Counterpoint opens as Dom is out at dinner, enjoying a book, when he makes the acquaintance of an attractive man, Adrian, who turns out to be a computer programmer for a bank and also has an interest in the book Dom is reading (vintage gay literature). A conversation leads to dinner, leads to a future date, leads to a very, very hot night of bondage and sex. Dom eventually decides to tell Adrian who he is, particularly that he’s an over-the-top Goth-ish killer guitarist for the hottest new rock band on the charts as opposed to the bookish, glasses-wearing twink he’s shown Adrian thus far. And this leads to a lot of soul searching on both their parts, how to be both private and public with their sexual preferences (both have suffered homophobia and Adrian, as a pansexual, has received some awful garbage from his family), and where they want this new relationship to go.

This is a fabulously well-crafted, kinky, queer romance. I do love quieter romances (plot-wise), ones where the tension in the relationship doesn’t come from outside forces like murder, shady dealings, society, etc. but from the stuff that each person brings to the relationship. A good relationship brings out the best of each person, and I think Zabo shows an absolutely lovely couple on the page.

Zabo lists some content warnings on her Goodreads “review” (covering specifics that I didn’t peg during my reading, but some readers might need to know about).

I do hope Zabo has a book planned for Mish, the last but certainly not least member of Twisted Wishes and the only woman, who really plays her sexuality close to her chest in Syncopation and Counterpoint so I look forward to seeing where she goes. (Mish is the bassist, she’s awesome.)

Counterpoint is out today.

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley and I plan to buy it when it’s available.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Syncopation by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #1)

untitledSummary from Goodreads:

There’s no resisting the thrum of temptation in this male/male rock-star romance from genre-favorite author Anna Zabo!

Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer—insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.

Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems—something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter. If Ray’s up for the challenge.

Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band—or his heart. And Zavier has always had big dreams; this gig was supposed to be temporary. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Mackenzie Walton

I got pitched the second book in this series (Counterpoint, coming out in September, so keep your eyes peeled) and it sounded so damn good that I immediately bought Syncopation and inhaled it.

This novel is So. Good. It starts with an emerging rock band, Twisted Wishes, on the edge of stardom (think Fun. or a harder-edged version of Family Crest – this is kind of a music subgenre where I’m not super-up on what’s new) when a) their drummer quits/gets kicked out due to substance abuse and b) footage of the blowup ends up on the internet. They need a new drummer ASAP and none of the applicants do well until Zav shows up. Zav was a few years ahead of Ray and Dom, lead singer and guitarist respectively, in high school and in the intervening years has been a tympanist and the enfant terrible of the classical music scene. Except he’s now been fired from his gig due to an (ill-advised, in my opinion) relationship with his conductor and persona non grata in the symphonic community. Zav nails the audition and hits the ground running with the group’s upcoming tour.

Zabo captures the life of a an up-and-coming touring musician so well: the decidedly unglamorous tour bus life (no matter how swanky a bus), living out of hotels, the groupies, the shitty media and paparazzi presence that only increases as Twisted Wishes climbs the music charts. And speaking of things that increase…the sexual tension gets tighter and tighter. It is so bonkers that when Ray and Zav FINALLY get it on around the 50% mark I’m pretty sure that all the secondary characters sighed in relief right along with me. (So hot though. So hot. *fans self*) I kind of guessed the plot twist, but it was still a delicious denoument.

Definitely going to read the next book.

Update: Zabo lists some content warnings on her Goodreads “review” (covering specifics that I didn’t peg during my reading, but some readers might need to know about).

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.

 

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #2)

35564594Summary from Goodreads:
Once beloved by London’s fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.

Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.

Content Warning from Author: This book includes a main character who was sexually abused in the past; abuse happens off page but is alluded to.

The squealing that happened when I found the digital galley for A Gentleman Never Keeps Score on Edelweiss….I apologize to everyone in a three-county radius.  I was that excited.  Because I have wanted to read about Sam Fox ever since I read Cat Sebastian’s description of the book on her Twitter.

Sam is an ex-prize-fighter and publican, the owner of The Bell which Sam sees as an integral part of the Free Black community in London. It’s a place to get news, get a hot meal, get a decent drink, and socialize with other members of the small London community. When Sam’s friend (and future sister-in-law and community midwife) Kate asks him to recover a nude painting she posed for as a younger woman in need of money, he agrees. With some trepidation because a Black man caught house-breaking in Regency London would not come to a good ending.

In the course of planning out his house-breaking, Sam runs into Hartley. In the alley behind Hartley’s own Brook Street house – the target of Sam’s mission. Hartley was bequeathed the house from Sir Humphrey Easterbrook (more on this below) and after a series of comical misunderstandings Sam and Hartley get down to business.  The painting.  Which, unfortunately for Sam, is likely no longer in the house because the artwork had been removed from the walls before Hartley took possession.

But this doesn’t mean Sam’s mission is at an end because Hartley would also like to recover a painting from Sir Humphrey’s collection. Hartley allowed himself to be a sort of “kept” man by Sir Humphrey when a teen because it would ensure that his brothers would be able to attend school or university, and not be destitute. And now that Hartley has inherited the house, and a little money, and has the clothes, and the curricle this means his is a gentleman – he feels like what he gave up to Sir Humphrey has been worth it, even the fact that he can’t bear to be touched.  Except that someone has spread a rumor about Hartley’s sexual orientation and now he’s an outcast in Society. If this painting is ever made public, he could lose his life.

So the most unlikely pair begins to work together to find these paintings. They also begin very, very cautiously to work toward each other and find middle ground as a gay, cross-class, bi-racial couple in Regency London. Along the way they create a family of non-Society “outcasts,” from Kate and Nick (and other members of the Black community) to Hartley’s valet/man-of-work Alf, a young gay man, and Sadie, a young unwed mother abandoned by her “respectable” family due to her pregnancy who becomes Hartley’s cook. Hartley’s brothers Ben and Will also pop up (although I was slightly disappointed that Ben did not bring his “sea captain” and the kids).

I love this book. Sam Fox is the sweetest man ever invented, I swear. He’s such a cinnamon roll. Hartley is a wonderfully multi-layered character with the way he uses his privilege to mask his hurt and protect Sam. The way Sam and Hartley actually talk through their issues and misunderstandings is just A+.  Also, there is a scene late in the book that just filled my heart to bursting. (Incidentally, there is also a scene that is so hot that you will need to fan yourself. Holy cannoli. This book gets steamy, y’all, and it’s so well-written.)

Small trigger warning, as the author herself stated in the description, Hartley was abused/coerced as a young man, alluded to in the previous book, It Takes Two to Tumble, and clarified here, but Sebastian does not go into details on the page. Just FYI if you need to know ahead of time.

Now, I am intrigued at all the places Cat Sebastian is going these days.  Her next book, due in the fall, is A Duke in Disguise, about a guy who doesn’t want to be a duke (I think?) and a bookseller who just wants to get on with her publishing business.  And then we get a book the third Sedgwick brother, Will, who is apparently involved with Sir Humphrey’s son Martin and that was a twist I was not expecting (nor was Hartley, who then gave us a hilarious aside wondering about the probability of all the Sedgwick males being gay).

Dear FTC: I read this thing like yesterday once the galley was downloaded on my iPad and I’ve had this pre-ordered on my Nook since that was possible.