Monday, February 7, 2011

Bastards and Pretty Boys by K.Z. Snow

TITLE: Bastards and Pretty Boys
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 35k)
GENRE: Contemporary gay erotic romance
COST: $5.50

Charlie Larkin’s latest purchase—a cottage on a lake—will give him a retreat as well as a hunky neighbor who distracts him every time he sees him. His boyfriend of the past five months isn’t quite as thrilled about the distraction, calling to mind all the doubts Charlie is starting to have about their relationship. Those doubts become even stronger when he actually meets the neighbor. Booker is gorgeous, talented, and fun to be with, but as Charlie learns more about him, he has to decide for himself what it is he really wants…

I have a love/hate relationship with this author’s work. On the one hand, her work tends to have a very lyrical literacy to it, helping it stand out of the crowd, and when her characters work, they really work. On the other, she often makes stylized choices within them that seem more about the craft than the storytelling, as well as having a propensity for liking soapboxes. This is one of those stories that falls on the short end of the scale for me.

Told in 1st person, it’s the tale of Charlie Larkin, a twenty-nine year-old man whose divorce two years earlier was about his finally coming to terms with the fact that he’s gay. A successful business owner, he has bought a cottage on a lake, partially because he wants to face his fear of the water, partially as a retreat. His next door neighbor catches his eye right away, but when Charlie’s boyfriend notices his interest, the boyfriend turns it against him, using it first for some hot sex, then announcing that Charlie isn’t the only guy he sleeps with. Charlie has started wondering if he and Kenneth (the boyfriend) really have much in common, but it’s his budding relationship with the neighbor, the practically perfect Booker, that helps to make up his mind.

I liked Charlie at the start, primarily because of the author’s voice. She really does have some different turns of phrase than what’s normally out there, and I find the lyricism of it compelling more often than not. My problems begin when Booker starts revealing his secrets to Charlie. Booker is an ex-con, on parole from time spent in jail for dealing marijuana. It’s a minor offense—a point repeated more than once—and provides one of those soapboxes the author is fond of. This one is about how drug laws in the US need to be revamped, an opinion that not only Charlie and Booker become vehement about, but so does Charlie’s ex-wife later on in the story. I loathe being preached to in a story. It’s hard to do it well. Most of the time, it’s obvious and heavy-handed, which is exactly how this came across to me. It doesn’t matter if I agree or not (I did in this case, and frankly, usually do). It’s the manner of how I feel being lectured to that bugs me so much.

This personal peccadillo aside, the story derails for other reasons as well. Halfway through, the plot takes a complete left turn, when Charlie and Booker’s lives outside the lake become inextricably linked. I found it completely implausible that such a coincidence could occur, and almost gave up the story on the spot. I hoped that it would rectify itself somehow, but honestly, it only got worse. Plot points were introduced and never followed through on (the help he gets from his ex-wife), and the ending was too pat and too abrupt.

I’d like to say at least I had the romance to fall in love with, but I didn’t. Yes, the two leads have chemistry and they’re actually quite sweet with each other. But Charlie is head over heels in less than a week, in spite of everything he’s learned about Booker, and I didn’t believe for a second they’d survive the long haul. Charlie idealized Booker too much to make him any kind of equal partner. I can sometimes let myself go and give insta-love more quarter, but not in contemporaries like this one. Toss in all my other issues with the story, and this one’s a miss for me.


8/10 – A smart voice gets hindered by completely implausible plot twists and a plot that just wanders off

Hero #1

6/10 – Showed promise at the beginning, but never lived up to it

Hero #2

5/10 – Sweet, but idealized since seen through Charlie’s eyes

Entertainment value

4/10 – I liked the start, but the implausible plot twists as well as a romance I don’t believe for a second will last dragged this down

World building

6/10 – The lake is its own vital character, but the rest of it falls to the wayside in the face of Charlie’s needs and feelings



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