Title: Hanging Loose
Author: Lou Harper
Publisher: Self Published (Harper Books)
Length: 37,026 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: GFY/OFY, Drug Use, California, Old Hollywood, Surfer Dudes, Secrets & Lies, LA, Roommates
Rating: LOVED It!
When you fall in love, it can’t all just be hanging loose…
After graduating from art school Nate left the Midwest for sunny Southern California, not quite sure what he hoped to find. It was almost certainly not falling in love with another man. His whole world and assumptions about himself begin to slowly turn upside down on one hot summer day. Seeking respite from the heat and his loneliness at Venice Beach he has a chance encounter with a handsome blond surfer.
Jez is friendly, easygoing, and just a little bit mysterious. Openly gay, Jez offers Nate a place to stay, and the two men become fast friends. Nate makes new friends, adjusts to his new life, but his unbidden attraction to Jez keeps growing. In their moments of closeness Nate realizes that he wants Jez more than just a friend, but it might be too late. To make Jez his, Nate has to face not only his own fears and insecurities, but his mysterious mate has secrets of his own.
Warning: Al fresco man-love, a scene-stealing old coot, and a relentless California sun.
Though this was Lou Harper’s first published book and the first one I ever bought of hers, it lingered in my vast online library for just under two years before I decided to start reading her backlist. You could say I caught the bug to read all of her books after reading and falling in love with Harvey and Gabe (and Denton too) in Spirit Sanguine, and that unexpected review of such a wonderful book is what made me decide to go back and read this one. It didn’t hurt, of course, that I’d only heard good things about it.
What I found when I read it (and this was the first one I went back and read), was not only that Lou had started out with some pretty good characterization under her belt but that I really liked her style. I get really upset when I so often read books that end preemptively, just when things are getting good. The best ones are where the couple plods along and you don’t just get to see the honeymoon phase but what their lives are like as an actual couple and how they deal with that. That’s what makes a real romance in my opinion, and I’ve found that the more romance I read over the years that I really need that in a contemporary romance where the central plot is the romance. That’s what I really liked about this book — it didn’t seem to follow a typical romance plot structure, which meant that it kept me on my toes.
Hanging Loose starts with Nate, a new transplant to LA. He’s unfamiliar with the way the city runs, the weather, navigating public transit, which leaves him on Venice Beach and night without a jacket and miserable. He’s approached by Jez, and while initially wary, agrees to his invitation to stay at his home. The two get to know each other and eventually come to a roommate agreement. What follows is is a pretty standard GFY, or maybe more accurately OFY story (more on that in a bit). Nate is straight and Jez is openly gay. They become pretty good friends as Nate settles in and they come up with a routine. Nate starts to make friends, one of which is the old man Jez bakes for and spends time watching over. But Jez is mysterious in a few ways. One is the attraction between the two, which Nate takes a while to understand and Jez is of course, wary of, being that Nate has until now apparently not been attracted to men. The rest is Jez’s romantic history and his family history and the tales of Old Hollywood passed down from his grandmother Adelle.
Lou mentioned in her interview with me earlier this week about the reason she first wanted to write and publish this story:
I started writing Hanging Loose after reading a GFY story I didn’t find convincing. To me, the core of the story is that sexuality is complex and there are many shades between straight and gay. Following the character’s journey coming to terms with his own nature and desires was what I wanted to explore.
That’s always been a problem for me as well, that a GFY story done right needs a depth of character study to keep the realism instead of knocking me out of the story. But I didn’t know her feelings yet when I started reading Hanging Loose, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a really interesting dynamic between Jez and Nate as they first get to know one another. Right away, just in the first few pages when Nate meets Jez, he feels a little tingle of connection between them:
“I’m straight,” I blurted out at last. There was a tiny voice deep down telling me I was full of shit. I gagged it. I felt myself blushing in embarrassment as soon as the words left my lips. I didn’t even know why I just assumed he was gay…
“I won’t hold it against you,” he said, smiling…
That dynamic made it more plausible later for Nate’s sexuality to be more fluid than originally expected and I liked how Lou made that issue ultimately intersect with Jez and his history and his own secrets that he’s keeping from Nate, who in a way becomes the aggressor the future into the book you read.
This is really a “Loved It” book for me — I was with it and totally engaged through the whole read — so I don’t have any criticism at all. For a novice writer this book was simply wonderful. There’s a lot more that I really loved about this book, but in effort not to spoiler you about some pretty significant pieces of the book, I’ll mostly leave those alone to say that I thought the last 35% or so of the book was where the characters really shined… when everything is finally out in the open. One of the relationships I love the most in the book is Nate’s friendship with Arthur, which was ultimately what tipped this book up in the 5 star rating for me. I thought it was portrayed beautifully and aligned well with Nate’s development.
So, by all means do I recommend this one. Going back and reading this book wasn’t just something that I had always wanted to do but really it cemented Lou’s talent in my mind and made her forever an author that I’ll cheer on and get excited about.