A guest review by JenreTHE BLURB
Charles Larkin is finally happy with his life…for the most part. He’s happy with his new summer getaway—a rustic cottage he just bought on a small Wisconsin lake. He’s happy that his ex-wife, whom he divorced because he couldn’t play straight anymore, has become one of his best friends. He’s happy he can breathe again.
It’s only Kenneth, Charlie’s boyfriend of five months, who makes this new life less than completely satisfying. Charlie feels they’ve never been quite right for each other, and Kenneth cements that conviction when he makes a disturbing confession. Charlie knows their time together is quickly coming to an end. Problem is, Kenneth doesn’t know it. And he tends to be rather possessive.
Planning to spend a quiet, relaxing two or three weeks at Cloud Lake—fixing up his place, reading, even attempting to overcome his fear of water—Charlie is less than thrilled to discover his next-door neighbor is one hell of a looker. He doesn’t need that kind of distraction, especially since his issues with Kenneth haven’t yet been resolved. But there’s a ninety percent chance the neighbor is straight, has a wife or girlfriend, and could be leaving the next day. Charlie clings to those probabilities.
Only, Booker isn’t going anywhere, and he isn’t that easily ignored. And neither is his unexpected, none-too-savory baggage. And neither, for that matter, is Charlie’s. But when two people care enough about each other, they figure out how to help carry each other’s baggage…or cast it aside.
This delightful novella from KZ Snow was a quick undemanding read about the end of one relationship and the beginning of something new. It focuses on first person narrator Charlie who has bought a summer getaway by a lake and is starting a two week holiday at the house. Helping him move in and clean up the place is his lover Kenneth and his ex-wife Carolyn. Charlie has reached the point in his relationship with Kenneth that he has started noticing all the things that he doesn’t really like about him and forgetting the reasons which brought them together. When Kenneth tells Charlie that he’s been sleeping around on him, Charlie knows that it marks the beginning of the end for them, but gives himself a week to think before he calls off the relationship. As Charlie is settling into his holiday he meets Booker who owns the house next door. They hit it off immediately but Booker’s got a dodgy past and Charlie needs to get past that before he can commit himself.
There were quite a lot of things I liked about this story. Firstly was the character of Charlie. He’s had a bit of a rough ride when it comes to relationships. His marriage was a sham because it took him a while to realise he was gay, then he went off the rails and slept around before settling with Kenneth who he has begun to realise is not someone he loves or wants to continue seeing. When he meets Booker, therefore, he’s at the stage where he’s happy with his sexuality, he’s had time to ‘sow his oats’ and also to experience a steady relationship. Charlie’s ready to give love a go and he finds it in Booker, falling quickly for him. I had a great deal of sympathy for Charlie and found his feelings for Kenneth and Booker and the way he works through that to be realistically done. Also realistic was the relationship between Charlie and Carolyn. We are never told how long it is since they divorced, but it is hinted at several times that it was a dark and difficult time for both of them. It was nice to see the aftermath of that time and how both characters had moved on with their lives. Another great thing about Charlie is that he is rather a sensible person. When Booker tells him about his past he at first reacts badly. It doesn’t take long for him to realise that he was a bit of an idiot and so he apologises to Booker, thus avoiding a big misunderstanding which would have ruined the tone of the book and made me lose sympathy with Charlie. Instead the two men talk about their problems and their pasts and actively seek to help each other. It was this more than anything which made Bastards and Pretty Boys a special read.
Booker is seen only from Charlie’s point of view, and as Charlie falls for him pretty quickly, that view is rather idealised. Booker, it seems cannot do wrong, has a fantastic body, is great in bed, etc, etc. This meant that it was more difficult to understand Booker. Booker himself is completely perplexed at times over Charlie’s sudden feelings for him, leading to some scenes which were difficult for both men. In fact most of the book, apart from the opening section with Carolyn, Kenneth and Charlie, and a short scene between Kenneth and Charlie at the end, is focused on the relationship with Charlie and Booker as they talk and interact with each other. This lent the book quite a large emotional intensity which added to its romantic feel. I liked that the general tone of the book was relaxed and focused on the romance as it made a nice change from some of the other books I’ve read recently. This was also reflected in the setting. Nearly all the action happens around the cottage where Charlie is spending his holiday. I found the descriptions of the cottage, the lake, the pine forest and the nature surrounding it, to be quite lovely and fit nicely into what is a quiet story of two men who fall in love. Even the tension, which is introduced later in the story, is heightened by their isolation.
I did have one slight niggle with Bastards and Pretty Boys which was that on at least three occasions various different characters spouted off their views on the Cannabis Law in the US, mostly saying how ridiculous it was. The first time it happened I thought it was a bit strange, then on subsequent occasions it jolted me out of the story and made me feel like I was being lectured to. The subject was relevant to the book but I thought it rather unsubtle to have the authors own views injected into a book in this fashion.
Overall, I really enjoyed Bastards and Pretty Boys. It was a light, romantic read containing realistic characters who are sensible enough to know that they’ve found someone special. I recommend this book to those who love a good, well written romance as well as fans of the author.