Why I read it: Some of my Goodreads friends have rated his series very highly so I bought all three using a 50% off Kobo coupon.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Rafe Bridges stopped mixing business with pleasure long ago, but when he receives a call from an intriguing cop who needs help searching for an old family friend, he breaks down and takes on the case. With each day that passes, Rafe becomes further fascinated with Jeremy Halliday…but the biggest problem isn’t his attraction to the cop or his growing need for him. It’s the tiny little detail of Jeremy being straight.
Jeremy isn’t as immune to Rafe as he’d like to believe and as they work together, sifting through a case that is more mysterious and dangerous than it seems, Rafe draws away from him. Knowing he might miss out on someone incredible, Jeremy has to figure out what and who he really wants. And soon.
Nothing is black and white anymore.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): I found this book very hard to grade. It was very readable and there were things about it that I liked but there were also things which bothered me and the more I thought about them, the more they did. I appear to be an outlier regarding this book however, so YMMV.
I’m not a gay man so I’m a little uncomfortable saying some of the things I’m going to say because really, what would I know? I know that there is wide diversity in the LGBTQ community as well, so I’m not saying that characters like Jeremy and Rafe could not be real. But they seemed so inconsistent I had a hard time matching what I was told about them, what they did and what they said. Anyway, BIG caveats about what follows and possibly, apologies in advance. I’m not expert on gender or sexual identity.
Jeremy is a straight guy – or so he thinks. He’s dated women and had sex and sure, while none of those relationships/encounters has been spectacular (which the reader knows is code for: gay), he’s never been attracted to a guy before and he’s never even thought about it. Really? Okay, so if I buy that (which was a stretch but I can get my head around it) does it then follow that within a week Jeremy is accepting that not only he’s attracted to Rafe, they’re in a sexual relationship (he’s even saying “I love you”) and he’s come out to his dad and sister? I know things often happen quickly in fiction but it was too fast for me. This is a guy who’d never even considered he might be gay before. It had never even crossed his mind. If he’d been set up that he’d been deeply in denial, then I could go with the idea of a whirlwind romance (I mean, it might make me roll my eyes a little bit, but I could go with it). But that’s not his set up. The reader may see the “code” but he doesn’t. And yet, here’s this guy accepting in a week that everything he thought he knew about his sexuality was wrong – not just accepting it, but embracing it. For me, that was one jump too far.
The part where Jeremy was confused and spoke to his sister about his feelings was, I thought pretty well done. That felt authentic (again with the caveats and the what would I know etc etc). I liked that Jeremy did have some struggle about it even if I felt it was way too quick.
The book wasn’t super explicit but some things about the sex scenes struck me as odd (just pretend there’s a big CAVEAT all over this page okay?). Jeremy is about to give head to Rafe and asks Rafe to “ask for it”. Which is fine. Sexy even. Rafe, is a man who’s been out and proud for over 12 years. He knows who he is and while he doesn’t advertise his sexuality in the professional arena, he’s nowhere near the closet. He’s not shy or retiring. But he stumbles over his answer and says “T-take me in your mouth”. That seemed, to me, not like something
a guy Rafe would say. I expected he’d say “suck my cock” or something like that. Maybe that says more about the gay romance I usually read. I could totally accept it from a younger/less experienced or shy character but it didn’t ring true for Rafe.
After they both get off, they fall asleep and then wake up and have anal sex. Here’s the whole scene.
Hours later, Jeremy surprised both of them by waking and starting all over again. When he asked for more, Rafe hesitated only a moment before reaching for two condoms from the bedside table and covering them both. When Rafe moved over him, he was incredibly gentle and slow. He ran his hands over Jeremy like he was the finest treasure, and when he took him, it was such an exquisite mix of pain and pleasure that Jeremy roared with his release. As he lost himself, Rafe was there, holding him tightly.
I’m starting to feel picky but I noticed a lot of language which made me feel for the first time I understood what people mean when they talk about the fetishisization of gay men in gay romance. The language above was too flowery to feel authentic to these characters. And, if the bedroom door was to be open as it was in the previous scene, why close it for this?
There was a time in the book where Rafe was thinking about Jeremy and thinks to himself “how gay was that?” There was a bit where Jeremy thought he’d “pansied out” about something. I could accept that language better from Jeremy’s character than Rafe’s but still it jarred. There was a lot of internal angsting on both Jeremy’s and Rafe’s parts which felt, to me, a lot like the stereotypical teenage girl’s “does he like me?”. It just didn’t ring true for me. It’s not that I don’t think a gay man would wonder – I imagine anyone might wonder about this stuff from time to time – but the way it was written, it came across to me as discordant with the characters.
Rafe has been out for 12 years but his father basically won’t have anything to do with him and his mother repeatedly talks to him about giving up this gay nonsense and settling down with a nice girl. As much as it was clear Rafe loved his parents and wanted a relationship with them, I couldn’t understand why he actually did have a relationship with them. They were constantly demeaning and awful to him. He was otherwise such a strong and put together character, I couldn’t quite understand why he hadn’t just told them they either accept him for who he is or he was gone. It’s possible I was just grumpy by this point however.
What else? The suspense/action part of the story involved Rafe’s investigations into a missing girl. Again, there were parts of the story that didn’t ring true for me. The girl’s actions felt forced into the plot rather than organically arising out of it. My feeling was that the author wanted the characters to be in a certain place at a certain time and for certain things to happen and manipulated the plot to make it so.
In case you are wondering why, given all the above, I rated the book as I did, well, we watched Ghost Shark last night. And that really puts things in perspective.
The story was eminently readable and while I was reading I found it entertaining even if I was vaguely uncomfortable for
a lot some of it. There were parts of the story which jarred and inconsistencies with the characterisations which bothered me more the more I thought about it. I do plan to read the next book in the series at some stage – maybe I was just having a bad day and read it all wrong.
I …. blame Joanna Chambers for the fact that I was reading this thinking “gosh, what a difficult book, and what a thoughtful review” and then … he came roaring his pleasure, and I laughed so hard, I nearly rolled under my desk.
I think it was brave of you to try and untangle some of these issues – brave in the non Yes Minister sense 🙂 I kind of wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole, but I’m really glad, and admiring, you tackled. Obviously the issue of authenticity is a really really complex one, and has some really toxic elements to it, like I’ve heard some readers saying they feel, you know, m/m written by women is less … I don’t know … real, or right, or good, or proper, or authentic or *whatever* than m/m written by Real Queer Men. Which kind of makes me itch because actually most of my favourite m/m writers are, in fact, women, and there are plenty of heroes in het romance who speak to me, and with whom I am able to identify, who were also written by women (Laura Kinsale, most obviously, and I like Jessica Scott’s heroes but, uh, mainly I want to … have sex with them… which isn’t because I can’t identify with them, it’s just because I don’t, and actually I find them more compelling and attractive as characters because they seem like people, not just romantic leads, if that makes sense). And, by the same token, I’m sure there are plenty of female characters written by men who are effective and plausible and appreciated by women… okay I can think of Buffy. But there must be more 🙂
I haven’t read this so I shouldn’t try to pick at it, because I’ll just look like an idiot. I think one of the minor insectionalities that I can find occasionally quite troubling about m/m sometimes is the fetishisation of masculinity, moreso than the other stuff. Like it’s okay to like cock if you’re also built like a Navy SEAL and like cars. And some of this reads to me like it might … come from that sort of place? Maybe? Which might be why the more tender sex scene comes across so oddly, since, you know, being tender and loving is culturally perceived as anti-masculine.
As for the more issue based stuff – I personally don’t feel there’s any sort of rule that queer books should address queer issues. I know I’ve read people talking about m/m who feel it’s not often conscious enough of homophobia or whatever, and I’m always like “dude, I can get that in my own time.” So I really enjoy sort of implicit utopia queer romances where it’s just not a problem, full stop. In fact, I tend to seek them out. Being queer doesn’t have to be always about coming our, or homophobia, or being hated by your own parents. In fact, sometimes I really need it not to be.
But, to me, it seems like the book wants to have both? So Jeremy accepts his homosexuality straight off the bat and it’s fiiiiine – which, again, would be fiiiiiine if there wasn’t also a lot of other more “realistic” stuff about family, identity and etc.
@AJH: I was feeling pretty grumpy by the time I got to the “roaring his pleasure” scene so I mainly just rolled my eyes.
As I was saying to you last night on Twitter, I don’t hold the view that an author has to write from their own experience because: vampires etc. I think males can write female characters and females can write male characters and all the other variations on that theme. But there are some who do it better than others, or at least there are some books which succeed for me better than others.
I know that men can be tender and loving – I see it in fiction all the time (also in real life in fact :)) but the characterisations in this book felt so discordant to me it kept throwing me out of the story. I found it difficult to get a handle on the characters because they kept acting/speaking in ways that didn’t seem to fit what else I knew about them.
On the other hand, this book seems to be popular so it obviously worked for a lot of people.