Better Than Good by Lane Hayes

betterthangoodWhy I read it:  I saw some buzz about this one in my Goodreads timeline so I bought it.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Matt Sullivan understands labels: law student, athlete, heterosexual. He has goals: graduate and begin his career in law. One fateful night, Matt tags along with his gay roommate to a dance club and everything changes. Matt finds himself attracted to the most beautiful man he’s ever seen. All labels go flying out the window.

Aaron Mendez doesn’t believe in labels, and he’s leery of straight curious men. He makes it clear that he’ll hide his fabulous light for no one. While Aaron can’t deny the attraction between him and Matt, he is reluctant to start anything with someone who is still dealing with what this new label means—especially when that someone has a girlfriend.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I enjoy a good Out-For-You story.  I liked that here, Matt acknowledges that he’s always been attracted to men and women but it was just easier to go with the flow and date women.  Until he met Aaron, the risk/reward ratio was such that he was happy to date only women and stay in the bi-closet.  That’s kind of my catnip actually – someone you care about enough to take risks for.    I had mixed feelings about the book however. I can’t say that I liked the writing style. It felt choppy and pedestrian to me most of the time but I was engaged enough by the story that I found myself keeping on reading anyway.

The story is told from Matt’s first person POV and I’ve seen in other reviews the comment that this helps be more sympathetic to him when he’s a dick.  This is true. Matt’s narrative style is kind of blurty and list-like.  It didn’t flow smoothly for me. For example:

Aaron outdid himself in the kitchen. He accepted help only from Jay and Katie when he was ready to present his masterpiece Puerto Rican fare. He’d made a few dishes using plantains and a rice and chicken dish called arroz con gandules with a secret sauce called sofrito. Everything tasted amazing, and I admitted I was more than a little impressed with his culinary expertise. Jay made a batch of sangria to complement dinner, and before long everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves, perched around the living room coffee table. It was homey and comfortable. I tried to help clear away plates but was ushered out of the kitchen with a kiss from the chef.

For the most part, the dialogue felt more realistic and I thought that was the highlight of the book.

I really liked Aaron – he’s out and proud and joyful and fun and it was easy to see why Matt was attracted to him – not just sexually, but as a person.  I felt that some of their courtship story was truncated by telling instead of showing but when they were on page together there was true chemistry.  There were a couple of times when Matt said or thought things that felt un-Matt-like. He’s a jock, big and broad, not terribly in touch with his feelings (which is part of why seeing him get thrown for a loop by his attraction to Aaron was such fun to watch) but I just couldn’t buy him thinking:

I could have wept with the sweetness of it. I had never felt so connected and one with a partner. A wave of feeling, so strong I was weak with it, made me wonder why everything was so much better with Aaron.

not even in his own head.  That sounded like something maybe Aaron would say – he’s very open about his emotions but Matt? Not so much. And there were a couple of lines that just felt clumsy – mostly in the sex scenes – I think a good editor may have tidied it up some more.

When I was fully enveloped by his hot channel, I stilled myself to await his signal.

I didn’t think the story went far enough in bringing Matt out of the closet – at the very least, I wanted him to have told his family before the book finished.  Given that was the essential conflict of the story, it didn’t go far enough in “resolving” it, IMO.

I expect I will read the other books in the series – the next one features Jay and Peter, who, in this book have been happily together for five years and the third, due out later this year, is about Curt, Matt’s gay roommate. But it’s not the writing style that will make me pick up the books.  It’s because I liked the characters in spite of it.  I have a feeling that this was Ms. Hayes’ first book so maybe there will be more showing in future books and the writing will smooth out some.  I ended up enjoying the story but it wasn’t what it could have been with a more deft authorly hand I think.

What else? It was a little pricey for its length (at Kobo it was retailing for $6.64 when I bought it but it only runs about 150 pages. There are a few typos in the book as well – decent for descent for example.  I bought it with a 30% off coupon which made the price more palatable. I’d recommend picking it up when it’s on special rather than paying full price for it.

Grade: C+


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