Northern Star by Ethan Day

Northern StarWhy I read it:  Some of my Goodreads friends liked this one.  It sounded more genre romance than my earlier foray into this author’s work, so I asked for a review copy from the publisher so I could try it too.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Deacon Miller never had it all—he never really believed he could. Growing up in a broken home with an alcoholic mother and a revolving door of truly pathetic father figures taught him to keep his expectations low. Now at twenty-seven, on the night before Christmas Eve, his life is turned upside down yet again; his boyfriend has dumped him, he just fled the holiday family reunion from hell, and now to top it all off, a blizzard has left him stranded in an airport hotel.

Steve Steele has spent the better part of his forty-four years living a lie, ignoring his attraction to other men in an attempt to fit into the mold of the man he thought he should be, instead of living life as the man he knew himself to be. Recently divorced after coming home from work one day and coming out to his wife, Steve has floundered over the past year, desperately attempting to wade through the guilt and find the courage to start again.

That’s when a chance meeting in a hotel bar brings two lonely men together… and what should’ve been a one night stand turns into something much more than either one ever expected.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this book.  The premise grabbed me because I do like an angsty story and I liked that there was a reasonable-sized female cast in the story, only one of whom was a witch (Deacon’s mother). I felt that there was some attempt to explain Patty’s despicable attittude to Deacon – she had a back story and it was clear that she blamed Deacon for all of her woes (completely unfair of course, but there was some method to her madness, at least).  The other female characters were either sympathetic (Ashley, Clarissa, Steve’s mother, without being perfect) or positive (Mrs. Garibaldi).  The main part of the book was about Steve and Deacon which is what I want in a romance, so I’m fine with the secondary characters generally serving the story – but I liked things like that Ashley wanted to sneak out to a party after the prom and, generally, that Steve’s mother was supportive of Steve while not completely understanding him.  To me, that showed that some thought went into the characterisations and I liked that they weren’t one note – even Patty had more substance to her.

On the other hand, there were some aspects of the story which made me vaguely uncomfortable – such as references to someone talking about their feelings being one step away from “braiding each other’s hair”.  I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of certain things being described as “girly” or “feminine” when in reality, they are universal.  I don’t think a guy who can have a conversation about how he’s feeling, or a problem he’s having is “girly”.  As a “girl” I dislike it being seen as a perjorative.

Some of the dialogue felt strange to me. Some of it was great – the part where Deacon is telling it like it is to Patty in prison is one example.  But other parts felt inauthentic.  No-one talks in books like they do in real life – if they did, it wouldn’t make sense because in real life (in a face to face conversation) there is tone, body language and shared experience all mixed in, along with “um” and “ah” and whatever other verbal tics we each bring to the conversation.  So, I know it’s not going to be “real’.  I dont’ want it to be “real” because it would be unreadable.  But sometimes, there are conversations in books that go too far the other way – where things are spelled out almost as if the author is deliberately trying to tell the reader something rather than two characters having a conversation. Which doesn’t make sense because, of course, the whole book is the author trying to tell the reader something.  I guess what I mean is when I feel it is obvious, the conversation between the characters feels unreal to me.  There is also something which I particularly notice in m/m romance where pronouns are dropped by characters.  So instead of saying “I went” or “you won’t”, the dialogue is “went” or “won’t” – a little of this is okay for me but too much of it also feels a bit off somehow to me.  Perhaps I’m just a snob.

There were many editing problems in the book. “Elicit” and “illicit” were both used – both incorrectly.  There were some words missing from time to time as well so I had to fill in the gaps myself.  It wasn’t enough to make me put down the book, but I did notice it and near the end, it was a close run thing.

He’d been the one Steve had most worried about accepting his homosexuality, but in spite of his adversity toward anything resembling politically correctness, Mickey had been great.

Deacon was clearly depressed and I did wonder why it took him so long to get any treatment but then I remembered that the US health system is whacked and going to a psychologist or a counsellor is a lot more problematic to someone on a low income than it is here were we have universal health care.  I did like – really like – the way Steve called him on it though.  Deacon played the “I’m no good for you” card and Steve called bullshit.  He wouldn’t allow Deacon to play martyr and he called it for what it was – giving up.  That’s not to say I had no sympathy for Deacon – I did, but, as hard as Deacon’s life had been, he had good things in his life – his job with the Garibaldis (maybe it’s not high paying, but it’s a good, caring environment and he at least has a job), his relationship with his sister Ashley and if, he wants it, a relationship with Steve.  Steve never promised sparkly rainbows and butterflies but he promised to stick and work things out with Deacon – which is all anyone can ask really.  Also, by Deacon making that kind of unilateral decision, it negates Steve’s own agency in the relationship.  Steve’s a big boy and he can decide if he doesn’t want to be somewhere.  So, yay for Steve for being encouraging and supportive of Deacon but not putting up with crap either.

There were a few parts of the story which didn’t seem to go anywhere – money problems for Steve at the dealership being the first one which springs to mind and the tension between Clarissa and Steve seemed to be too easily resolved.  The story had a kind of episodic nature which, when combined with the other issues I had, made it difficult for me to feel deeply engaged at times.

I feel like the book needed a really good going over by an(other) editor to clarify the message, tighten up the dialogue and fix the mistakes.

The parts of the story where Steve’s straight friends are struggling to come to grips with Steve being gay and are asking him odd sex questions were mostly funny – the narrative did explain that the guys had always talked frankly about sex before (sports being the other main topic, apart from cars of course) so, I decided to take it that the guys were trying to include Steve in their usual conversations.  I don’t tend to have conversations like that however, so sometimes I was o-0 at the TMI.

There were parts of the book which didn’t work for me and parts which did, so the novel was a bit of a mixed bag.  I did like this however:

His new therapist pointed out that he had a tendency toward snap judgments and making unilateral decisions without consulting others—which he immediately decided was complete bullshit.


What else?   That said, this book was a lot more “romance-y” than Self Preservation – I was clear as to who the love interests were and the story arc was more typically romance – and that type of book is always going to be more appreciated by me, because I’m all about the HEA.

Grade: C



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