Title: Left on St. Truth-be-Well
Author: Amy Lane
Length: 37,924 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Mystery, Funny Guys, Comedians, Chicago, Florida, Surfer Guys, Mob, Light & Sweet, Sexy to the 999999s!!!
Rating: Really Liked It
Carson O’Shaughnessy has one task: track down his boss’s flighty nephew, Stassy, and return the kid to Chicago. Then Carson can go back to waiting tables and being productively bitter about his life. He didn’t count on finding a dead body in Stassy’s bed, and he certainly didn’t count on the guy in the flip-flops and cutoffs at the local café helping him get to the bottom of the crime.
But Dale Arden is no ordinary surfing burnout—he’s actually a pretty sharp guy with a seductive voice and a bossy streak wider than the Florida panhandle. When he decides to boss Carson right into his bed, Carson realizes Stassy’s not the only one who’s been lost. Carson likes to think he’s got his life all figured out, that sex with guys is your basic broom-closet transaction; he may just have to revise his priorities, because nobody plans on taking a left at St. Truth-be-Well and finding love at the Bates Parrot Hotel.
I won’t be the first to rave about how I love Amy Lane (and her books too), but I really, really love when she comes out with a lighter story between all those angsty ones. I’m trying to work my way back into reading all of those (the Johnnies books scare me), but I think that the fluffy and sweet ones will always be my favorites — at the moment that crowning achievement goes to the Knitting series books, which I gleefully reviewed last year.
This novella is a bit along those lines. While not really fluffy, they’re definitely light and sweet compared to some of her other work. Carson fucked up. He hasn’t had sex in months and his boss’ nephew Stassy has been giving him all kinds of come-ons at the restaurant. So when Stassy follows Carson into a pantry closet in the kitchen and then promptly flees, a look of upset confusion on his face after a full body kiss from Carson, Carson feels like a douche. Obviously the kid is gay, but it seems like he isn’t quite sure about it. And Carson thought he was finally going to get some action in his dry spell, even if the small and cute Stassy isn’t quite his type. He might have been able to put the whole incident out of his head if Stassy hadn’t run away to Florida the next day. It’s been two weeks and the boss wants Carson to drive down to Florida and bring the kid back home. He doesn’t have much of a choice — the boss is worried about Stassy — but it isn’t just that the boss of his restaurant is another kind of Boss in Chicago, but that of all things, Carson feels guilty that kid ran away right after he kissed him. Doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
The biggest surprise of all awaits Carson when he reaches the small beach town in Florida where Stassy is holed up. The Bates Parrot Motel turns out to be just like it sounds, which isn’t much comfort. The place is so run down it looks like it’s growing it’s own species of serial killer. Parrots in crusty, shit-lined cages squawk over his hearing of the undead looking lady at the reception desk. Though his boss is paying for the room, not even the prospect of getting to Stassy quickly can quell his fear of staying in this place for the night. A tour of the place shows everything from mold to insects to dried jizz, or whatever that mystery stain is. The Motel 8 across the street looks much comfier.
It isn’t until the next morning that Carson prepares to visit Stassy and load him up to drive back home. A breakfast at the diner across the road turns up a killer plate of fried heart attack and a heaping dose of too-cute waiter. Flip-flops, cutoffs, and a charming smile continually come back to his table to chat him up. An equal opportunity Carson wouldn’t have a problem taking Dale the waiter back to his room for the afternoon, it’s only the women he seems to want to settle down with, but the disarming smile and quick wit soon have Carson spilling way more info than he intended. Before he realizes it, Carson has company on his trek across the road to the Bates Parrot Motel to find their runaway. Unfortunately, what they find in the room isn’t Dimpled Blondie, but dead body covered in lye.
It looks like some major trouble for Stassy. Carson knows his task has changed — now he has to take care of the kid too, and by extension the kid’s new boyfriend — and it looks like it won’t be difficult to surpass the small town police in the intelligence and sleuthing departments. Dale is along for the ride, wanting to help his friend (Stassy’s new boyfriend) and using the time to get to know Carson better. It doesn’t take a whole lot of time to see how good they are together. They’re both men who have small town dreams and are more content to enjoy today than plan tomorrow’s.
Every now and then Amy Lane pulls a page out of Mary Calmes’ book and really gives the language and rhythm of her book a makeover. The beauty of this one is all in the words, thick in Carson’s voice and then shared by Dale in their rapid-fire dialogue. That, and Carson’s humor (though he often fails in comparison to Dale’s), are what originally bring these two characters together. Yes, they’re working together to solve a mystery, but it’s largely on the back burner for most of the book. The time they spend together is mostly them driving around, eating and talking and getting to know each other. And I found their conversations completely charming.
Speaking of the mystery, I thought that it wasn’t really the focus of the book. For the largest part of the book they aren’t actively working on it. Instead, it’s used as a device to bring them together and keep them together while they find out enough about each other to want to stay together. So, in some ways, the mystery failed for me. Or, perhaps I shouldn’t use the word fail, since that would imply that the mystery was the focus of the book. Rather, I found the mystery a bit anticlimactic. It was really funny, in it’s own way 😉 but it wasn’t what held my attention about this book.
Amy Lane fans will want to snatch this one up, of course, if they haven’t already. It’s short and funny and charming, so you can’t really go wrong. Carson’s voice might be somewhat difficult for some readers to get into, but that probably depends on how you usually feel about strong voices. As for me, I love them. And I continue to love Amy Lane 🙂
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 5 Really Like It, Authors J-L, Contemporary, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Amy Lane, Chicago, Comedy, Dreamspinner Press, Florida, Funny Guys, Light & Sweet, Mystery, Sexy to the 999's, Surfer Dudes, The Mob
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.
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 6 LOVE IT!, Authors G-I, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: California, Drug Use, Drugs, GFY/OFY, LA, Lou Harper, Lou Harper Week!, Old Hollywood, Roommates, Secrets & Lies, Self Published, Surfer Dudes