A to Z (Coda #2)


Title: A to Z (Coda #2)
Author: Marie Sexton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Length: Novel / 230 pages
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

A guest review by Kassa


THE BLURB:

Zach Mitchell is stuck in a rut. His college boyfriend left him ten years ago, but Zach still lives in the same apartment, drives the same car, and feeds his ex-boyfriend’s ungrateful cat. His Denver business, A to Z Video Rental, is struggling. He has annoying customers, eccentric neighbors, and an unfulfilling romance with his landlord, Tom.

A combat boot-wearing punk with an attitude, Angelo Green was raised in foster homes and has been on his own since he was sixteen; he has never learned to trust or to love. He doesn’t do relationships, so when Angelo takes a job at A to Z Video, he decides Zach is strictly off-limits.

Despite their differences, Zach and Angelo quickly become friends, and when Zach’s break-up with Tom puts his business on the line, it’s Angelo who comes up with a solution. Together with Jared and Matt, their friends from Coda, Colorado, Zach and Angelo will find a way to save A to Z, but will they be able to save each other too?

Coda Series

THE REVIEW:

A to Z is called a Promises spin-off which is one of the selling factors for me. Having adored Promises, I was really excited to read the laid back romantic style of the author once again. This offering does evoke some of the highlights of the previous book but ultimately fails to live up to the same excellence due to the writing style. The alternating first person point of view is jarring and uncomfortable to read, which constantly draws the reader out of the experience. Although the characters are interesting and the plot contains a good romance with a deft touch of angst, drama, and confusion, the choppy narrative significantly lessens what could have been a much better book.

Zach Mitchell is introduced early on as the owner of a video rental store even though he hates movies and hasn’t seen very many. He’s fell into the job right out of college when getting high, drinking, and having sex were his main goals in life. Although he eventually cleaned up his act, he lacks a driving ambition that allowed him to drift into shop ownership without much forward momentum. When his new landlord comes on very aggressively, Zach naturally drifts into an unfulfilling relationship. Thankfully a bright new employee Angelo wakes Zach from his blind, rudderless life with the hope for something entirely different and exciting.

Once again Sexton has delivered a seemingly simplistic plot that works incredibly well. There is no big drama, no misunderstandings, and no car chases or angst filled weeping here. Yet the story is never boring, slow, or bland. Sexton offers a light, satisfying, and thoroughly absorbing style of writing that lets the reader indulge with delight. Here the story focuses on clueless Zach as he figures out what he wants and finally realizes the man working for him offers him much more than shop assistance. However their journey is not over there as they must work out the kinks of their relationship as two men not accustomed to being with another person. The tone is light and the pace moves swiftly even with a few obviously contrived situations. Here the inclusion of Jared and Matt is nice for fans but not really necessary and clearly orchestrated rather than natural.

That aspect doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of the book but what causes the story to stumble is the choice of writing style. Here the story is told in alternating first person point of view with Zach speaking in past tense while Angelo speaks in broken present tense. The two narrators bounce every chapter and often replay the last scene just from the other’s perspective. While this does help the reader see and understand both men, the change is jarring. Zach’s narration has a smooth, almost effortless style that sinks the reader into his cute and hapless thoughts and actions. Yet this is juxtaposed to Angelo’s more aggressive, choppy speech which is interesting but takes more effort. Just as I was getting used to one narrator, it would flip and I would have to spend time getting into the next one then it would flip again. While not fatally annoying, this style keeps the book very disjointed and always reminds the reader they are reading a book so you can’t sink into the story.

Here’s an example of the two narrators, first Zach and then Angelo.

The day arrived when I came home, and he was gone. On the bright side, that was my wake up call. After that I managed to get my shit together—for the most part, at least. But I never did get another apartment or another job. And when my boss, Mr. Murray, decided to retire, I took out a loan and bought the video rental store.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

So now here I am: thirty-four, single, and the not-so-proud owner of A to Z Video Rental. Did I mention that I hate movies?

He invites me over again two nights later, and we spend another night sittin’ on his livin’ room floor, watchin’ a movie and eatin’ takeout Thai food. When I leave I can’t help hopin’ he’ll ask me over again. Sure beats sittin’ at my place by myself.

The characters are interesting with very different personalities. The change in narrator allows both men to show their thoughts and emotions well creating well rounded characters. Zach is a nice change from the typical sweet and clueless protagonist. Here he doesn’t have grand ambition to be a CEO or incredibly wealthy. In fact, he lacks a driving force in his life and ambition before meeting Angelo. Instead of making Zach a pathetic character, it is refreshing to read a very common type man. Once Zach wakes up to his feelings for the other man, he transfers his desires and ambitions onto him. Zach suddenly has a focus in his life – Angelo – that while isn’t his entire life; it is the center of his life. Zach’s attention becomes sharper and there are several very lovely scenes with Zach showering quiet, careful affection onto Angelo’s ankle, his inner elbow, or some small piece of the whole that Zach adores.

While Zach has a steady, comforting presence and love, Angelo is the opposite. Abandoned by his parents at an early age, he has scrapped and worked for his life. He distrusts relationships and connections, craving a personal space that can’t be taken away or corrupted. Angelo struggles with his fear of commitment and abandonment but also has intelligence, strength, and compassion. He loves movies and sees the subtle nuance behind the obvious themes and is ultimately a complicated, interesting figure. His relationship to Zach makes for a good pairing while his friendship with Matt is surprising and entertaining. Matt is just one of the many colorful secondary characters that are introduced to add humor and flavor to the story.

Overall I think the story would have worked better written in alternating third person pov in the same tense. I wish the entire novel had featured the same effortless, absorbing ease that is depicted in Zach’s narrative. However, A to Z is still an engaging, light, and quick read with a touch of angst, drama, and a few overly contrived scenes. The end result is a warm comfort read with strong romance and a lasting happy ending. While it doesn’t live up to Promises, A to Z still stands on its own.

13 comments

  • I’m coming late to this party. I’ve just read Promises immediately follwed by Ato Z (and I’m raring to go with the others).

    I loved both these books, and think Marie Sexton so clever to have written two books in such a different way, but that complement each other. All the way through I was conscious how different a couple Zach and Angelo are from Matt and Jared – and that’s good writing. I really loved the alternating point of view – I wouldn’t have wanted the smooth style all the way through as it gave both men a different voice. I loved the intensity of Promises – it is a quality in books which always captures me. However, I also loved the down to earth, non driving nature of A to Z. After all, that is how life is for many of us; fairly humdrum on a day to day basis interspersed with good times shared with good friends, but made even better when shared with an understanding lover.

    I’m really looking forward to the rest of her books.

  • i loved the alternating point of view. it was so lovely to see inside the head of a m/m protag who wasn’t so schooled. his voice was so distinctive that it resonated with me…
    love it love it love it…
    -kkm

  • You definitely hit the nail on the head; while I enjoyed the story overall, the changing POV was a little jarring at times and pulled me from the moment more often than not. It was nice to see Jared and Matt again, but I agree that they weren’t really necessary to the story and felt somewhat contrived.

    I eagerly look forward to this author’s next offering, and although A to Z didn’t quite live up to Promises (in my opinion), Marie Sexton remains on my must read list.

    • I think that refrain is going to become pretty common – that A to Z is good but not as good as Promises. And that’s ok. Coming out of the gate with such a strong first novel is great and definitely puts this author as one to watch.

      I, too, look forward to what she publishes in the future. I wonder if it’ll be a spin off of a spin off?

      • A spin off of a spin off Kassa? 🙂 That’s really good.
        I’ve read Promises and liked it a lot – this one, with the alternating POVs I’m not sure if I’ll like as much, but I’ll give it a try.

        You’re right, it’s usually the other way around for an author but maybe our expectations were too high after Promises.

  • Great review. I *adored* Promises, it had me in tears, and I was so excited when this new book came out. But while I liked A to Z, it just lacked that same intense emotional punch, and I couldn’t really figure out why. I think maybe you put your finger on why: the choice of alternating narrators.

    This is only the author’s second novel though (in a way it seems like it should be the other way around, with A to Z the debut and Promises the stronger second novel), so her style must still be evolving and changing as she learns and grows. I’ll still definitely get her next book.

    • Hi there and thank you! I loved Promises as well so I can hear where you’re coming from.

      I think you described it so well that it lacked the same intensity and emotional punch. I think the narrator had something to do with it but I also think just the story or characters in general didn’t have the same impact. It isn’t horrible and the author is still one to watch.

      It shows how great an author is when readers may not love one book but still clamor for the next. Kudos to her.

  • I agree the alternating POV jarred and I was irritated by it at times, but it didn’t distract enough to get me to want to abandon the book. Not like other stories with bad writing, trite plots or flat characters.

    It’s funny to say, but I read this book before its companion (Promises), and because I liked this book so well, I went to Promises. I loved how Zach, once he ‘got a clue’, adored Ang, became his constant and understood (most of the time) what was happening with Angelo.

    • I agree, Merith, I really did enjoy the way Zach adored Angelo. It was very lovely and loving–his descriptions of his skin and so on. Very nice!

      L

      • Hi you two!

        I’m going to agree with both of you and say I loved how Zach adored Angelo. It’s like the man became his focus and it was really lovely to see.

        I didn’t like the alternating POV like many but I agree, it’s definitely not enough to pitch the book and give up.

        I’m curious what you thought of Promises AFTER reading A to Z. Did you like one more than the other?

        • Probably Promises, mostly because it was so intensely emotional, seeing Matt go through what he did and finding out what he had to put up with (only to have Jared not quite as there as Matt thought).

          The ending of Promises had me roll my eyes. I can understand why Matt might have been targeted in a delusional way, but to the extent he was? Nope. I didn’t buy it.

          I think what I loved best about A to Z was the way Zach was with Angelo, how clueless Zach was about his own feelings. A to Z might not have been as intense, but I think it was more real.

  • Great review, Kassa. I think I liked this a little bit more than you. The alternating POV was annoying at first and I didn’t like Angelo’s voice at the beginning, but once the story got going, it didn’t bother me anymore. I really liked Angelo as a character–more than I thought I would–and I enjoyed his interaction with Matt and Jared, which helped in making him his own person, not just an extension of Zach. I thought his conversation with Matt at the football game was very funny.

    There were a few parts that seemed a little rushed (opening the theater at the video store) and a few scenes that seemed sort of pointless (Angelo cutting his hair) but all in all, it worked for me. One thing I liked better than Promises was that the big climactic scene near the end seemed more realistic to me.

    I enjoy this author and look forward to what she might have coming out next.

    L

    • Ooo thank you for pointing out the ending. Yes here the ending is much more realistic and understandable even with a hint of Happy For Now (in that town anyway). So I did like that more.

      Plus while I thought Matt/Jared was a bit artificial, I liked the four of them together. Especially Matt and Angelo who seem to be opposites but just fit as friends. It seems male friends aren’t seen in m/m since any men are usually getting it on, are ex’s, or in love. So it’s really nice to see a strong, masculine friendship that has no hint of sex involved.

      Im glad you enjoyed this as much as you did and can rave about it as the author is a good author and I can’t wait to read more.

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