Title: Hot Head
Author: Damon Suede
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novel/ 105K words/320 paperback pages
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
Review Summary: At its core this is a love story on the biggest stage – New York City
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…
Since 9/11, Brooklyn firefighter Griff Muir has wrestled with impossible feelings for his best friend and partner at Ladder 181, Dante Anastagio. Unfortunately, Dante is strictly a ladies’ man, and the FDNY isn’t exactly gay-friendly. For ten years, Griff has hidden his heart in a half-life of public heroics and private anguish.
Griff’s caution and Dante’s cockiness make them an unbeatable team. To protect his buddy, there’s nothing Griff wouldn’t do… until a nearly bankrupt Dante proposes the worst possible solution: HotHead.com, a gay porn website where uniformed hunks get down and dirty. And Dante wants them to appear there—together. Griff may have to guard his heart and live out his darkest fantasies on camera. Can he rescue the man he loves without wrecking their careers, their families, or their friendship?
They say that everything is big in Texas but in New York City, which is the backdrop for Hot Head, firefighter Griff Muir is really large: 6 ft. 5 ins tall, 245 pounds of solid muscle, and everything on his body matched his height, from his size fifteen feet to his “beer can dick,” :blush:but what impressed me most about Griff was his heart. From the ashes of 911 Damon Suede has written a novel that’s raw, dialogue that’s fresh, a plot that grips you and makes your stomach ache, prose that entices, and characters that are so incredibly complex, flawed and over the top you will have no doubt who wrote Hot Head because the author’s fingerprints are all over every page. This book has all the elements I look for in an unforgettable story – drama, human tragedy, family, heart, guts, excitement, the unexpected, and above all, unconditional love.
Hot Head opens on the 10th anniversary of September 11, and the firemen from Engine 333/Ladder 181 were toasting their 343 dead comrades in the Stone Bone where Griff worked part-time as a bouncer. All of the neighbourhood bars allowed firefighters to drink free on this one night every year since the Twin Towers fell, and Griff was at the Bone with his best friend and fellow firefighter Dante Anastagio with whom he had been secretly in love for years. Of course he would never tell Dante about his feelings because he was definitely straight and the horniest ladies’ man around. If Dante knew about the way Griff felt, their friendship would be over. At the end of the evening Griff was ready to go home but Dante wanted to talk to him and the problem seemed pressing. They barely escaped unscathed from the bar and were so drunk that when Griff woke up the next morning he was in Dante’s bed (a place he’d never been) and he had no idea how he got there, why he was naked, and most important, why Dante was beside him, and what had happened between them, if anything.
Dante had scraped together every cent he could lay his hands on and bought an old ramshackle fixer-upper brownstone near his parents’ home into which he poured every cent of his salary and spent every spare minute renovating. The place was a money pit even with the physical help of his family and Griff, and when he could no longer meet the mortgage payments, despite working a couple of other extra jobs, the bank was set to foreclose. He told Griff he had only one option to earn some quick money to stave off immediate foreclosure: make a porn movie. As a bonus, if Griff joined him they could double the fee. Griff was horrified, not only at the thought of making a porn movie but doing so with Dante, because he would not be able to control his arousal and Dante would know his secret.
Reading Hot Head I was transported to the delicious mix of the ethnic neighbourhoods in New York – Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island, Yonkers, Queens – in all their decaying decadence against the glamour and glitter of preppy upscale Manhattan. The smells and different races living on top of each other trying to make a living and barely doing so were realistic and immediate and I felt as if I were living this story rather than reading it. The city was alive and the atmosphere sparkled underneath the mosiac that made up the Big Apple, but that apple had a worm at its core because of the reality that was 911.
Hot Head is a book you will want to savour. The characters are exceptionally well drawn and New York City with its beauty and flaws is a fitting canvas for Griff’s and Dante’s romance. Amidst all of this rich history and the daily grind of work Griff and Dante are two men who have a new reality – they are in love with each other but in their world of firefighters that love is not welcome. Nothing in this book is predictable. The emotions are gritty and raw, the protagonists are flawed, the supporting characters are as diverse as you would ever want to meet in the pages of a book, people get hurt, the writing is mostly great even though at times it’s so over the top that I had to admire Damon Suede for having the balls to dare write such prose and dialogue. But the prose is so rich and intense it made me forgive the author’s excesses as he writes the way he lives, OUT LOUD! There are some parts of the book that I gutted out and others where I wanted to scream, but when I’m emotional about a book it’s usually because the story moved me and Hot Head kept me on the brink and will stay with me for a long time.
When I read the book the first time I emailed Damon about 5.00 A.M. the next day and told him that he owed me a night’s sleep because I stayed up all night, sucked into the plot and the characters. Is Hot Head perfect? Not by a long shot, but it shouldn’t be perfect because there are so many emotions overflowing on the pages. People are untidy and they have human frailties, they are unpredictable and stupid, but sometimes just when you’re about ready to give up on them they are so incredibly generous and loving that you want to hug them. That’s exactly how they were portrayed in Damon’s M/M debut novel. This book is obviously a labour of love for the author because I could feel his emotions on the page. There is love of family, friendship, fun, grief, sex and more sex, but the author never forgot that the characters are what are important. Everything in the book is on a grand scale with no apologies. Hot Head is more than a romance. It’s also part of the Twin Towers aftermath but not in a way that’s maudlin. Sure, thousands died when the Towers were blown up but the book did not dwell on what is now history, it embraced it and moved on.
I did have a few quibbles especially about the extended photo sessions with Griff that went on for 3 days, and Dante’s jealousy during those sessions that seemed OTT, but the author can be forgiven for some of these indulgences after writing such a wonderful book. I can also overlook some of the almost purple prose such as the descriptions of Dante’s “medium rare, wine stained ” mouth and “scarab” eyes, because the cioppino, Dante’s favourite meal, more than made up for these small excesses.
Griff grew incredibly during the book and evolved from the overgrown 6’5″ shy, self effacing character with no self confidence into a wonderful man who knew he was loved by the one person who meant the world to him and was the core of his life. He was a contradiction because he was huge in terms of his physical proportions, but on the flip side he was emotional and needy. I could feel the heat and intensity between the protagonists because Dante was no slouch either where his feelings for Griff were concerned. Dante was like a bright flame that burned at both ends and Griff was the moth. Dante loved danger, embraced it without thinking about the consequences, and lived his life on the edge. However he was the one constant in Griff’s life who took care of him when he suffered from panic attacks for years.
All the characterizations were well drawn and you will love the Anastagio family, especially the parents and Dante’s brash sister Loretta. There are too many characters to mention but Tommy Dobsky, a paramedic who almost died horribly in a hate crime, will break your heart, and he’s coming back in the next book in the series, Hard Head.
Hot Head is entertaining, vibrant and original, the writing is fresh, the protagonists kick butt, and oh! before I forget, the sex is off the chart. 🙂