A guest review by Jenre
Len Parker is laid off during the recession in the early eighties and decides to go back to college at home in rural Michigan, where he reconnects with his best friend from high school, Ruby. He’s overjoyed when she marries Cliff Laughton and overcome with sorrow when she dies an untimely death, leaving behind her husband and two-year-old son.
Out of work again, Len finds a job at Cliff Laughton’s sorely neglected farm. Cliff is still mourning his wife, struggling to raise his son, and has little enthusiasm or energy left for work. Len immediately begins to whip the farm—including the two Laughtons—into shape. Working side by side, Len and Cliff grow ever closer, but loving another man takes a lot of courage. They’ll have to stand together as they face faltering business, threatening drought, misguided family, and Midwestern prejudices to protect what might be a lifelong love.
After reading and enjoying Love Means…No Shame (reviewed here), I was eager to read the next book in the Love Means… series. Part of me was also a bit worried because this second book is a prequel to the first book and focuses on the relationship between Len and Cliff, the father of Geoff from the first book. As the first book begins with the death of Cliff, I was concerned that knowing that Len and Cliff only get 20 years of a HEA would spoil my enjoyment of this prequel. I shouldn’t have worried though because I found that since the story is taken from Len’s third person point of view I was so caught up in his feelings that I forgot about the future of their relationship and focused on the present.
The story begins with Len in his senior year at high school. He’s got a huge crush on the star of the school play, Cliff Laughton, so much so that he’s volunteered to do the lighting for the play so that he can gaze at the object of his crush from afar. At the party to celebrate the success of the play, Len is surprised when Cliff singles him out and they have an ‘almost kiss’ moment. Fast forward 5 years and Len is out of a job due to the recession. He is offered a job by Cliff who has recently lost his wife and now has a young son (Geoff) to care for. Len soon gets the rather run down farm back in shape, but can’t help it when all the old feelings for Cliff come flooding back.
There was much to enjoy about this book and I found that I liked it even more than the first book in the series. Like the first book the story is just essentially a gentle, sweet romance about two men who meet and fall in love. There’s a few bumps along the way but these are never bad enough to detract from the slow, smooth progression of the romance. Len is a very sympathetic character and I liked his sensible, down to earth personality. He’s a good problem solver and a hard worker and it’s difficult not to like someone so pragmatic and willing to get his hands dirty. Len also has a realistic approach to his sexuality and I liked that he had found a ‘mentor’ in an older guy, which led him to being happy, comfortable and well adjusted to the idea of being gay. It made a nice change to those heroes who have struggled with their sexuality and had bad experiences as a result.
The fact that we only get Len’s thoughts meant that I found it more difficult to understand Cliff. He does struggle with his feelings, not just about being gay, but also the guilt he feels by moving on from the love he had for his wife. As Cliff isn’t much of a talker, I never really got to see him work through those struggles because they happened in his head ‘off page’ as it were. In some ways I would have liked a scene or two where he and Len really talked through those feelings that Cliff has. Don’t get me wrong, there are some scenes where they discuss how they are feeling but they tended to be quite short and were followed later by scenes where Cliff had thought things through and come to a decision.
One highlight of the book was Geoff. I often don’t like the way that kids are shown in m/m books because they tend to be quite nauseatingly cute and take up far too much page space. Whilst Geoff was definitely cute – and perhaps the most well behaved child ever – he wasn’t irritating, quite the opposite in fact. The way that Geoff’s language and mannerisms were shown was just so accurate for a two year old and I found myself smiling on a number of occasions. Also, because Geoff is such a huge part of Cliff’s life he was around most of the time, but his presence didn’t overwhelm the story. I felt that the way that Cliff has to work his life around Geoff was accurately shown and Geoff’s character added much to the charm of the story.
In many ways this was a story about family with Len and Cliff’s family played a large part in the book. I thought that the dynamics between the family members were written well and I especially liked the way that Len is slowly integrated into Cliff’s family. If I have any niggles about this aspect of the book, it was that the character of Janelle was a little too over the top at times, especially towards the end of the book.
If you’re looking for a gentle, uncomplicated romance with the emphasis on the sweet rather than the hot, then you can’t go wrong with this book. I was drawn into the lives of these men and finished the book with a smile on my face. Highly recommended.