Dreamspinner Press (April 2015) 49 pages / GLBT Romance
This novella has two appealing main characters, one of them a chunky, hardworking bear of a small-town bar owner, the other (the narrator), a sophisticated city bartender with a controlling mother and a load of guilt. These two meet in spring when Mike, the bar owner, is in Chicago on a business trip and happens to drop into the bar where Casey works. There’s instant chemistry, but on his way to Mike’s hotel room after work, Casey gets the devastating news of his brother Brandon’s sudden death and rushes off without calling Mike to let him know.
Fast forward to autumn: Casey is living in the wreck of a house Brandon wanted to rehab, trying to work off his guilt at not spending enough time with his brother when he had the chance. Ms. Dyal captures the painful emotions of loss very well, and Casey’s obsessive guilt is very convincing. His desperation at running out of money and the need for a job are completely believable, and – since this is a romance – I can accept that the bar Mike owns happens to be in the small town where Brandon lived. (They had to get back together somehow, after all.) I can see that Mike has a similar situation with guilt and obligation because he’s lost his dad and has had to take over the family business. Clearly, the story is about two men helping each other break free of old baggage. And the sex, when it finally happens – the building anticipation is very well-done – is steamy and affectionate.
But … The story feels rushed from the point that they reunite. There are improbabilities all along, starting with the idea that a man of 23 would answer a call from his mother on his way to a romantic encounter with the first guy who’s had such a strong effect on him. Since he was already in the lobby of Mike’s hotel, it made no sense that he would not even leave a message at the desk before taking off to deal with his brother’s death. (He tells Mike later that he had no way to reach him, which was a bald-faced lie and I was surprised Mike didn’t call him on it.) We never do find out what happened to Brandon, except that it involved a hardware store and an accident. A critical episode like that needed just a little more explanation.
The situation with Brandon’s house doesn’t make sense, either. The author states the Brandon put in enormous amounts of time on the place, but when Casey gets there it has only a microwave and intermittent plumbing, and even though he has poured his life savings into the place, when the story picks up again it doesn’t sound as though his time and money have fixed anything at all, His mother, who is a doctor, doesn’t seem to recognize that Casey is suffering from depression and probably needs an intervention. Instead, she cuts off support.
Then Casey goes to look for a job, and reunites with Mike … and the storyline goes south. Casey apologizes for standing Mike up, they click perfectly, all difficulties fall aside, tough problems resolve themselves instantly, a big stubborn bear who has been resisting good advice from people he trusts suddenly turns compliant when someone he barely knows says the same thing—and a rep from the notoriously difficult music industry hands over the keys to the magic pumpkin because Mike doesn’t want to do the touring that music promotion requires. It’s too much, too fast, too easy, and I felt shortchanged because the characterization was really good and I wanted a story with more substance.
I’d like to give this more paws, and if the author had taken the time to flesh out the potential of this scenario, I think it would have been a much better read. Five stars for sensuality, and for portraying a plus-size gentleman as sexy and attractive, but the pacing just does not work for me. For a reader who only wants to get to the clinch, okay, but I do wish Alicia Dyal had given this storyline time to develop more fully. Just as I was getting to know the characters and really wanted to see them tackle Brandon’s wreck of a house and the difficulties of juggling a music career and a bar and really getting to know each other, they have some lovely hot sex, pack up Billy Bass—and that’s all, folks.
Good characters, excellent scene-setting, but I think this author could have done better.
This review was provided by Ace Katzenbooks for the May 2015 issue of The Book Breeze.