Source: we received an e-ARC of the book through NetGalley for review purposes.
As you probably know, I love Marie Sexton. She’s one of those authors who never disappoints. I’m also a fan of Heidi Cullinan, although I haven’t read all of her novels. And now that they are teaming up to write a series of books set in the fictional town of Tucker Springs, I’m very excited to see what they do together.
Paul’s life was all about his girlfriend. He moved to a different town for her, and did everything she wanted. So when she dumps him he is devastated. Months later, he still hopes to win her back. But when she tells him that she’s living with someone else, a guy she was already sleeping with before ending their relationship, Paul decides that the best way to move on is to sell all her stuff. So he goes to the local pawn shop owned by El Rozal. They become friends, and soon lovers.
I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed this book considering how problematic it is. Paul is clueless and passive. He doesn’t notice that El is attracted to him, or that his girlfriend was using him. He was as close as a professional navel gazer as it gets. I’m guessing the authors were going for a beta, pushover hero who finds his backbone at the end of the book, but the character development wasn’t successful. Yet, I didn’t dislike Paul, I just found him charmingly exasperating.
The book’s problems don’t end with Paul. The story is told alternating between Paul and El, but Paul’s parts are narrated in first person, whereas El’s are narrated in third person. It’s a distracting way to tell a story and it breaks the flow. But again, I wasn’t bothered by it. I assume it’s just the way both authors write, each feeling more comfortable with a different type of narration, and it also fits each character -- self-absorbed Paul tells the story in first person; generous, self-assured El tells it in third.
What didn’t work for me at all was how easy it was for Paul to come to terms with his sexuality. It turns out that he had some experience with one of his neighbors, but then he met his girlfriend in college and that was that. He suddenly forgot he was attracted to men and never gave it a second thought. I found his previous experience too convenient. This is an aspect that brings conflict to the story but wasn’t properly explored.
The women in the story are slutty, cheaters, clueless and/or mentally ill. The lack of positive portrayals of women is an issue very common in the genre. It is disturbing and I’m disappointed to see it perpetuated in the work of two authors I admire.
Perhaps the story was too ambitious for such a short length. I enjoyed it, but the more I think about it, the more flaws I find. I liked the book despite all of that, but I can’t recommend it without giving you a huge warning.
Review by Brie
Grade: 3 (I think I’m being generous)
Paul Hannon moved to Tucker Springs for his girlfriend, but she’s left him with a house he can’t afford and a pantry full of useless gadgets. All Paul wants is to get back to normal, even if he's not sure what that is anymore. When he wanders into Tucker Pawn for a gift to win her back, he meets El Rozal, pawn shop owner and all-around cynic.
El Rozal doesn’t do relationships, especially not with clueless straight boys still pining for their ex. El may make his living dealing in castoffs, but that doesn't apply to men. Still, when Paul starts clearing out his old life, pawning kitchen equipment he never wanted in the first place, El is drawn to Paul in spite of himself.
Paul and El have nothing in common except a past full of disappointments. There's no reason to believe the two of them could fit, but in El’s line of work, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. When it comes to love, El and Paul may learn that secondhand doesn't mean second best.
Riptide Publishing. September 10, 2012.