Lovers Leap by JL Merrow, narrated by Mark Steadman.

Lovers Leap audioWhy I read it:  I received a review copy via the publisher.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  If they looked, would they ever leap?

Good-looking, confident, and doted on by his widowed mum, Michael is used to thinking only of himself. Getting shoved off an Isle of Wight pier by an exasperated ex ought to come as a wake-up call—but then he meets Rufus and he’s right back to letting the little head take charge. Rufus is cute, keen, and gets under Michael’s skin in a disturbing way.

Would-be chef Rufus can’t believe his luck when a dripping wet dream of a man walks out of the sea on his birthday, especially when Michael ends up staying at the family B&B. Life is perfect—at least until Michael has to go home to the mainland.

Rufus can’t leave the island for reasons he’s entirely neglected to mention. And though Michael identifies as bi, breaking his mum’s heart by coming out and having an actual relationship with a guy has never been his plan. With both men determined to keep their secrets, a leap of faith could land them in deep water.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  This book was an audio delight. The narration was, with only small exceptions, excellent and the story entirely suited the audio medium. One of my favourite things about JL Merrow books is her sense of humour and here I was actually laughing out loud in places.

A word of warning however: Michael says things, most especially at the start of the story which are biphobic, homophobic and transphobic. While he does gain something of an education in the book, the time frame is very short and it is not clear that at the end of it, he has resolved all of his issues. He, at least, acknowledges that he has them and he’s working on them but he’s incredibly lacking in self-awareness (awareness in general, really)  at the start of the story and his journey doesn’t go into the kind of detail which fixes all of his… rough edges.

When the book begins, Michael is holidaying on the Isle of Wight with his girlfriend of only a few weeks. He’s not a big thinker so the fact that they’ve only been shagging for a short time and maybe going on holiday together is a bit soon hasn’t crossed his mind. He doesn’t make a good first impression on the listener. He’s obviously selfish and, when Trix shoves him off the end of the pier, it’s difficult to not be in some sympathy with her.

Michael identifies as bi but he’s clearly uncomfortable with it. Things like giving blow jobs are “gay” and the idea of having an actual relationship with another man is anathema. It’s fine to fuck around with another dude but relationships are to be had with women. Lots and lots of women. It may be an overstatement to call them relationships, come to think of it.

Anyway, when Michael walks out of the frigid water he stumbles across Rufus, a resident of the island. Rufus is a leap baby and it is his fifth birthday (officially. Unofficially, he’s 20). He’s also cute and friendly and newly-single Michael doesn’t have a discriminating dick. However, Michael does find himself wanting things with Rufus he’s never contemplated before and, very quickly, the thought of not having Rufus in his life at all leads Michael to make some huge changes.

Along the way, Michael makes frenemies with Rufus’s best friend, single-mum Liz and hilariously falls foul of Rufus’s dad.

Most of the story takes place in the space of a week or two and therefore, there’s not a lot of time for deep character dissection and intricate growth. Ordinarily, I’d also say that kind of time frame indicates a more HFN ending than a HEA but there is a sweet epilogue which takes place four years later and which shows that my suspicions were true – Michael and Rufus have what it takes to make things work.

Both main characters have POV sections (the story is told in third person past tense) and each was given a distinct voice by Mr. Steadman (who is clearly British and therefore well able to handle the accents. Win.) I think Merrow has a very British sense of humour and it was obvious that Steadman got the jokes because he delivered with expert comedic timing. I think I would have chuckled had I read the book but I’m sure I found it funnier to hear it. Technically, I had a niggle with some of the narration however. There were, perhaps half a dozen times when Steadman appeared to lose his place and finish a sentence early or insert an unnecessary and inexplicable pause. This sort of thing can be sorted out with judicious production and editing and it was a little disappointing they weren’t attended to because the rest of it was so professional and smooth. Still, it wasn’t a huge deal I guess.

What else? Rufus was so sweet; very much a nurturer and care-taker but also well able to stand up for himself. I was pleased to see him advocate for himself with Michael and it was this, more than anything, which gave me confidence in their HEA. It was easy to see that hanging around with Rufus was going to be good for Michael; he was going to be called on his bullshit but also surrounded by people who accept non-heteronormativity and are lavish with affection.

Michael isn’t all cocky player though – there are plenty of hints that he has a softer side and the reasons he is conflicted aren’t hard to figure out.

The story has an element of farce to it in places but it is not a light and fluffy book. Ultimately, it is a story about acceptance and family and following one’s own dreams even if that means someone else is disappointed. But the heavier bits are well shaded by the funny and the ridiculous and the overall tonal balance works. I could wish that Michael wasn’t such a doofus at the start, but otherwise, it was a winner for me and I’d definitely recommend it.

Grade: B+

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