Author: Lori Toland
Publisher: Self Published
Length: Novel (220 pages)
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
Blaze Shinozuka, a hot talent who auditions as a replacement guitarist for world famous pop star Cassie, is thrilled when he draws the attention of celebrity manager Jason Stockton—and not only because it could make his career. His instant attraction to Jason sends his world careening off its axis and drives him to make a move. But Jason reacts by trying to put distance between them, and Blaze finds himself thrust into the gritty world of rock ‘n’ roll while falling for a man he shouldn’t touch, let alone love.
Straight-laced Jason Stockton is always professional and never dips his pen in the company ink. But there’s something about Blaze that leaves him wanting what he shouldn’t, and the guitarist’s exotic beauty and compelling innocence turn out to be the temptation Jason can’t resist. But just one lie in the national media sets off a chain of events that pushes Jason and Blaze apart. Can they find a way to be together in the cutthroat, jealous world of rock ‘n’ roll even after the music stops?
Replacement Guitarist is the first published work by author Lori Toland and one that I had mixed feelings about. While I didn’t dislike this fairly angsty book as a whole, I did have some issues with it, which I will try to describe in a bit.
Blaze is hired as the replacement lead guitarist for pop star Cassie on her upcoming tour and is immediately attracted to her manager, Jason. Blaze — who was raised in a traditional and conservative Japanese family on Hawaii, and who went against his parents’ wishes when he studied guitar instead of piano — is a bisexual virgin, so all of these emotions are new to him. Jason, who is also bi, has worked hard to get where he is as manager of some of the hottest acts around. One of his self-imposed rules is not to play with the talent, so to speak, but against his better judgment he is drawn to the young, innocent Blaze. Unable to keep their hands off one another and quickly developing deeper emotions, the two begin a relationship, but several Big Misunderstandings and long partings get in the way of their happiness.
I requested Replacement Guitarist because I was in the mood to read about the “gritty…cutthroat, jealous world of rock ‘n’ roll” that the blurb describes, but I feel I didn’t get that. Yes, there are small peeks of what it must be like in the music business and on tour — seemingly-endless bus rides, cities and hotel rooms that look the same, eating from catering tables, missing your loved ones — but these glimpses take up very little space in the overall novel. Much of the book is spent on the smexxin (of which there is a lot), the protags thinking about each other, the protags angsting over each other, and some other non-sexual interaction between the protags and a few other secondary cast members.
Moving beyond the disappointment of the misleading blurb…
The story is told in alternating — and at times head-hopping — third-person POVs, and mostly from Blaze’s standpoint. What this means is that we get more insight into his character than we do Jason, and because of this, I felt that I got to know Blaze better. A twenty-three-year-old bisexual virgin, Blaze has a shyness, insecurity, innocence and naiveté about him that charms Jason, who is more worldly. This lack of experience, however, comes through in his thoughts and words in a way that, for me, made him often seem much younger than his age to the point where I had to remind myself that he is in his early twenties and not mid- to late-teens. I liked that, while he was anxious to tell them, he didn’t delay coming out to his traditional parents and was able to stand his ground when they reacted as expected. Considering he is such a disappointment to them already, it was just one more thing for them to dislike about him. He obviously has a passion for his music, though I would have liked to have witnessed him in action.
Jason’s character felt much less developed to me and as such, I never really connected with him. We are told that the thirty-two-year-old comes from a famous Hollywood family, that he had a heart-breaking romance that makes him wary of giving his heart away again, that he and Cassie grew up together, and that he doesn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs because of his past, but these are often told to us in passing comments or thoughts. We do not see his family. We hear only get the barest of details about the college boyfriend that left him with a broken heart. There is a mere mention of his long-standing relationship with Cassie. There is one paragraph talking about the reason he won’t touch booze or drugs.
For secondary cast, some are more developed than others. I got a really good feel for Blaze’s family and Jason’s sweet, fast-talking assistant, Jennifer. Manipulative bitch Cassie is one of those horrible female characters/caricatures we often find in the genre, though we don’t see her unless she is creating trouble of one kind or another; in fact, it seems as if her only purpose in the book is to cause conflict. A few crew and other musicians play a part, but none that make an impact.
Like I said above, much of the book focuses on the protags thinking about and angsting over each other — when they are not in each others’ pants. After a while, the smexxin and angst got old and I wanted to see other parts of their lives: the music, the interaction with the musicians and crew, everyday actions such as meals and quiet time. For me, perhaps the best part of the book was when Blaze goes home to Hawaii and has interaction with various members of his family.
While the writing is fairly decent overall, I felt at times it was unpolished and incorporated some amateurish technique. For one thing, there is an annoying overuse of the same words over and over. I am not exaggerating when I say that “the older man,” “the younger man,” “the taller man,” “the manager,” “the guitarist,” “the other man” to distinguish between the protgs appeared sometimes as often as twice a paragraph, and especially in the first part of the book and during the smexxin scenes. I realize that it can be difficult to distinguish between two male protags, but there has to be a better way to do it than this.
Also, there are two Big Misunderstandings — plot devices that I’m not a fan of — the resolutions for which didn’t mesh for me. The first’s “make up” was very melodramatic and had the characters acting inconsistently with the scene, and the second one felt incredulous, a chance meeting to make things right.
With some technique issues, problems with character development and a surplus of smexxin, I think in the end Replacement Guitarist will be one of those middle-of-the-road reads for me. I would be interested in reading the next story by this author to see her writing develops.Author Link GoodReads