Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Shape of a Heart by Kimberly Gardner

TITLE: The Shape of a Heart
AUTHOR: Kimberly Gardner
PUBLISHER: Aspen Mountain Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $5.00

For the past two years, Zach Jensen has been grieving the death of his partner, the first man he ever loved, the man he spent a decade of his life with. Even now, just walking into the bookstore they owned together has the power to break him. When his business partner hires a new barista, Zach’s immediate attraction terrifies him. He doesn’t want to betray Jay. He’s not ready. But Keith Harte is. And he’s not afraid of his attraction to his boss. He’s willing to act on it. As long as Zach is willing to take a chance…

The opening of this short novella is gut-wrenching in its honesty. Zach walks into his store and gets overwhelmed by memories of his dead partner. The grief comes through the virtual page, and within paragraphs, the reader is completely in Zach’s corner, feeling the depths of his pain, aching for him to find some measure of peace. This was the story I was hoping to read, frankly, and though it’s suggested this is what the story will be about, ultimately that isn’t true. As a result, I ended up being disappointed by the entire experience.

The first half works to some degree. There are no scenes as painful as the first, and after Keith is introduced, some of the exploration of Zach’s emotions is a tad shallow. There’s still a certain charm about the story, though, since both Keith and Zach are very likeable men, so I didn’t mind so much when the romance felt a bit of a retread. However, once the two have their first date, the story shifts. The focus is no longer on Zach getting over his grief and moving on, but on Keith and an ex-boyfriend who is now stalking him. This particular development seemed to come completely out of the blue. If it was hinted at early in the story, it was done so vaguely that it left no impact on me whatsoever. The entire last third is devoted to Keith’s growing paranoia and his stalker ex’s tactics to terrify him. It felt like a completely different book, just as Keith felt like an entirely different character. It didn’t work for me at all, but the worst was probably the ending. All the resolution happens off the page. Zach arrives on the scene, they talk a little bit, and then it jumps to the epilogue a year later. It’s not fulfilling and feels like a tremendous copout, even if I actually cared about what was going on at that point. I didn’t. I missed the Zach and his grieving angle a lot, and kept waiting for that to come back.

It never did. A lot of the questions I had regarding Zach and his dead partner were never answered, either, which didn’t help at all with making up for the switch to Keith in the end. All the potential I saw in that pivotal first scene disappeared, leaving me unfulfilled and ultimately disappointed.


7/10 – Minor headhopping, but mostly easy

Hero #1

7/10 – So much potential in grieving partner lost as soon as he sleeps with Keith

Hero #2

6/10 – The stalker ex comes out of nowhere and completely changes the character

Entertainment value

5/10 – Potential gets lost in stalker story that comes out of nowhere and the grieving widow angle disappearing

World building

7/10 – The food details were great, but Zach’s life and history which is so pivotal never gets followed through



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