Title: Beyond the Norm
Author: Shawn Lane
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, BDSM Light
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
After closing his bar one night, Dave Johnson rescues Kyle, who is on the run after witnessing the murder of a federal agent in San Francisco. Dave knows Kyle is trouble but can’t help falling in love; Kyle loses his heart but fears he’s bringing danger to Dave’s doorstep. When Kyle’s pursuers close in, the two men are at an impasse. They can either separate and live in safety and loneliness, or find a way to stay alive and together.
Beyond the Norm is the first book by Shawn Lane published by Dreamspinner Press. I generally enjoyed this mostly quiet, gentle, predictable tale, but not without several niggles. It’s one of those stories where I got to the end and said to myself “Well, that was okay;” there isn’t anything horrendously wrong with it — the writing was fine, the characters developed and sympathetic, the plot generally believable, the pacing pretty even — but it isn’t one that wowed me, nor did I think it sucked lemons. Books like this are also some of the most difficult for which to write reviews.
Told in alternating third-person POVs, the tale opens with bar-owner Dave closing up in the pouring rain, only to find two guys beating up a third in the parking lot. After saving the beautiful, young Goth Kyle, he takes Kyle home for tending. Though grateful for the warmth, food and shelter Dave provides, it’s obvious that Kyle is on the run from someone or something, and he remains closed-lipped about it. The two hit it off immediately and soon there are deeper feelings involved, making it difficult for Kyle to leave when he feels it’s time; after all, what is after him could endanger Dave, too. It’s taken out of his hands, however, and decisions need to be made that would affect both of their futures.
First thing first: I am not a writer or in the publishing industry, but the blurb contains what I feel to be a big spoiler and am surprised it was included. I picked up the book not reading the blurb first, so the “witnessing the murder of a federal agent” part came as sort of a surprise to me (I suspected something of the kind, but not the specifics). I would have thought that it is an aspect of the story that should have been kept under wraps. But that’s just me, perhaps.
I liked both protags — “nineteen and three-quarters” Kyle the Goth guy and biker-ish nice guy Dave — and thought they were a good match. I didn’t feel that it was the “opposites attract” story that others feel that it is as both heroes are on the fringes in some way. It isn’t as if Dave is some high-power business man or judge or something, and being with a Goth would be so outrageously odd to those around him that they would have incredible barriers to get past to be together. Because that kind of tension and conflict isn’t present, it makes it a gentler story, which was fine with me. I also felt both characters grew during the course of the story, which is always a good thing.
Dave has the opportunity to take care of and protect someone, something I think he never felt like he wanted before. He jumps right in, though it’s obvious that he’s a little uncomfortable and embarrassed by it at first. The story mostly takes place in the few weeks around Christmas, and how he acts in preparation for the holiday as someone with a Jewish mother and agnostic father is sweet to watch. He also bends over backwards to let Kyle be who he is and, outside of Kyle’s smoking habit, more than encourages him to be who he is. Recognizing that Kyle could bolt any moment, Dave doesn’t push him for answers, even though he could have.
Kyle as a spirited young man on the run who had a difficult life as a teen and a secret from his recent life to keep felt realistic to me. I liked that he wanted to make some improvements in himself with Dave’s encouragement. His internal conflict over wanting to have a normal, stable, reliable home and relationship and wanting to keep Dave safe was heartbreaking to watch at times.
There was a good amount of chemistry between them and they seemed suited in the bedroom where I found the generous amount of smexxin fairly tame, even with the inclusion of some bondage/restraint.
A few issues:
I had difficulty believing that Dax, the federal agent Kyle witnessed being murdered, would bring Kyle, a fifteen-year-old homeless street kid, into the situation he was in — for years — with Kyle not leaving for some reason that I didn’t feel was explained fully. It seemed highly unprofessional and unrealistic and it bothered me as I read through the story.
The last part of the book felt a bit convenient and contrived to me, but unfortunately, explaining it would include spoilers. I’ll just say that, beginning with the evening where the dramatic climax began, it all wrapped up a bit too neatly and quickly for me.
Beyond the Norm is, even with the few issues I had, a generally pleasant read with interesting characters that I think those looking for a contemporary romance will like and Shawn’s fans will love.