A guest review by Jenre
A lovely contemporary romance, chock full of sexual tension and sympathetic characterisation.
Sebastian Craig and Isabella Bryne have been best friends for five years in the Neverland of academia, and that’s where they’re planning to stay. So when Bella’s brother, Asa, offers them a rent-free summer in his gorgeous home before they move to their next college and degree, they jump at the chance. It looks like a good deal at first… but there’s more to Asa than meets the eye, and Sebastian finds himself suddenly hip-deep in complicated, grown-up problems and the frightening, bemusing prospect of having a family that will miss him when he’s gone.
When the best summer of his life finally ends, Sebastian has to make a difficult decision between staying in perpetual childhood forever, and facing adulthood—with all of its joys and fears. It seems that when Sebastian and Bella came up with a master plan for the future, they didn’t count on Sebastian being bewitched by Bella’s brother.
Sebastian and Bella are perpetual students, especially Sebastian. At 28 years of age he’s just about to embark on a second Phd, with a thesis which tries to prove to the world that crafts are a form of legitimate art. The only university which didn’t laughingly reject his proposal is across the country and Bella, his best friend, is accompanying him in the move. Before that, they have a summer together, staying in the home of Bella’s brother Asa, who has recently moved back to California with his seven year old son after a painful divorce, the ripples of which he is still trying to deal with. Asa and Sebastian are attracted to each other but neither want to start something which will be painful to let go once the summer is over.
One of the things I like so much about Amy Lane’s books is that her characters are always so well defined. The three main characters in this book of Sebastian, Bella and Asa are fully fleshed and rounded, sympathetic but also flawed. It made it so easy to like them, and to be engaged in their journey through the book. Sebastian is just such a delight. He’s outrageous, charismatic, talkative. The sort of man who is always the life and soul of the party, and loved by everyone. However, he’s also rather vain and self-absorbed at times, jumps to conclusions about people and clings desperately onto his youth, refusing to grow up, leave academia behind and get a meaningful job. Instead he clings to his, frankly useless, Phd thesis in the hope it will buy him some time before facing the real world. It was marvellous to see him have to face up to reality, to make some painful decisions and to change his outlook on life through his relationship with Asa and his son, Jordan.
Bella and Asa are very different to Sebastian in that they are quieter and comfortable in their own skin. However, they both try to hide their painful pasts in the silence. It was amusing to read the scenes where Sebastian is desperately trying to fill the silence with his chatter – especially as Asa gets him flustered, leading to inappropriate innuendo and flirting. It was also satisfying to see how Sebastian’s gift of the gab was able to diffuse awkward situations, and even lead to Asa and Bella opening up more.
For the first part of the book Sebastian and Asa’s relationship is fraught with delicious sexual tension, as both acknowledge the attraction but are reluctant to act on it for various reasons. I love a good build up of sexual tension and found myself squirming a number of times at some of the scenes. When the pair do give in to their lust, it was pretty explosive but with a underlying tenderness which I found added to the emotional depth of the book.
There were other things I liked about the book too, especially in the relationship with the three main characters and Jordan. There’s a fair bit of emotional content to the book, based mainly around Asa and his ex-wife, but there were also scenes brimming with humour. Given that Sebastian has an irrepressible cheeky sense of humour, it will come as no surprise if I tell you that I was laughing at a number of points in the book.
If I have any complaints about the book it’s that I was a little frustrated at how long it took Sebastian to come to his senses. In fact, for a fair bit of the last part of the book I wanted to slap some sense into him. I do get the impression that I was perhaps supposed to feel like that towards Sebastian at that point, but it went on a tad too long.
Despite that niggle, this is a pretty terrific contemporary romance. There was enough of a balance of humour and angst to keep me satisfied, as well as a set of sympathetic and interesting characters all of whom were very distinct and unique. If you’re looking for a book with an engaging hero (so engaging in fact that I was sad to leave him at the end of the book) and an absorbing plot then I’d recommend Bewitched by Bella’s Bother.