Friday, February 6, 2009

Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen

TITLE: Whistling in the Dark
AUTHOR: Tamara Allen
PUBLISHER: Lethe Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 106k)
GENRE: Gay historical romance
COST: $8.00 (ebook at AllRomance eBooks), $14.58 print

Sutton Albright searches for a new life for himself in New York City. Getting wounded in battle cost him his future in music, then getting discovered as a homosexual cost him his college career. He’s at the end of his limits when he stumbles upon a job as an errand boy for a small diner, but the world in which he finds himself thrust offers new hope, new life, new choices. Jack Bailey is at the center of that new world order – gregarious, charming, quicksilver. On the surface, they don’t have much in common, but the world is changing, and unsurprisingly, so are they…

I’m the first to admit that historicals are not my preferred genre, but if I had to pick an era/place that does tend to work for me more often than not, it’s the first half of the 20th century in the US. I usually gravitate toward forties noir-type stories, but earlier periods work, too. Simply put, Whistling in the Dark is one of the best examples of historical romance that works for me that I’ve yet to find in ebooks.

There is a melancholy nostalgia to the story, in the pacing, in the prose, in the plot. Like the world the story depicts, the lives of the characters stand on the brink of change, propelled forward by passions they can’t contain and desires they don’t wish to ignore. Sutton grieves for his music, and when he is given the opportunity to play again, there is an innocent joy about his newfound fervor that is in a lot of ways representative of the period. Jack is the more jaded of the two, but he, too, has an innocence to him that would be impossible to realistically find in modern settings. Together, they dance along, trying not to miss a step. The fusion of their lives creates something new and wondrous, and it’s a credit to the author that it’s as seamless as it is.

Surrounding Jack and Sutton is a wealth of memorable characters, from the adorable Ox to the irrepressible Theo. Part of the reason I’m sure I got swept up in this is how easily I believed almost every personality. When Jack and his buddies swing through their nights in search of a few moments of fun, I joined them, totally and utterly. It was a completely immersive read; half the time, I felt I was sitting next to Theo, watching and joking with him as the events unfolded.

There is nothing graphic in the romance, so anyone looking for eroticism will be disappointed. What there is, however, is plenty of genuine emotion. Friendship. Camaraderie. Need. Hurt. It’s never too heavy, never too histrionic. Jack is all about false fronts when the story opens, laughing and joking his way through life and its problems, so it takes a little bit longer to get a true feel for him than it does Sutton. But when you do, it’s just as rich and satisfying. His growth in the latter half of the story made it impossible for me to put the book down. I absolutely had to sit and find out just what each of these young men were going to do for each other, how they were going to be made more simply through their association.

The hardest part about finishing this story was being jerked back into the present. I was that absorbed into the setting. It’s a heartwarming, endearing read, reminiscent of innocence long gone, and sets the bar high for others in its genre. Correction. In any genre.

Readability

9/10 – With the exception of the ending going on too long, it still amazes me that this was over 100k for as immersed as I got into it.

Hero

9/10 – The romantic in me wants to hold Sutton close and keep him safe

Hero

8/10 – It takes a little bit longer to get a real bead on Jack, but when you do, it sticks.

Entertainment value

9/10 – Until the ending that seemed to go too long, I was lost in this world and these men’s lives.

World building

10/10 – This is how I like my historical writing – deft, immersive, so unobtrusive you don’t even realize you’ve disappeared into the scene until you have to re-emerge

TOTAL:

45/50

3 comments:

Ann Somerville said...

I am so delighted you loved this book. It is a real treasure.

storm grant said...

This is a terrific book. And I don't love historicals either, but I loved this one!

girluknow said...

Thank you, Book Utopia Mom, for reading Whistling and for this wonderful review. It means a lot to me, to know you enjoyed it.

And thank you, Ann and Storm, for your lovely, supportive comments. You both have helped me so much.