Title:The Letter Z (Coda #3)
Author: Marie Sexton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Length: Novella / 120 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5
A guest review by Kassa
Sequel to A to Z
Spin-off of Promises
Zach and Angelo have settled into their new lives in Coda, Colorado, finding their place in the community with the help of their good friends Matt and Jared. Zach and Angelo are also working out the particulars of their relationship, but when they make a decision Jared disagrees with, Angelo finds himself at odds with his partner’s best friend. And his best friend’s partner.
When the four decide on a quick trip to Vegas, Angelo thinks he and Jared may be back on the right track. But a chance encounter with Zach’s ex-boyfriend will make Angelo question everything about himself and his relationship with Zach. Matt and Jared have always been there when Zach and Angelo needed help. But when it comes to sorting out their relationship, their friends may do more harm than good.
The Letter Z is the third book in the same grouping as Promises and A to Z (reviewed here and here). Marie Sexton is a clever magician in combining the couples from the two books into an interesting third novella in the series. You have to read the books in order to fully understand this offering as the two main relationships grow and develop in ways that won’t make sense otherwise. The issues tackled and how they’re handled may not please all fans and I personally was at times uncomfortable and dissatisfied, yet at the end Sexton turned me into a huge fan of Angelo and Zach, even more than my previous faves Matt and Jared. I didn’t think it was possible but it happened so I’d highly suggest fans seek this novella out and see for yourselves.
Zach, Angelo, Jared, and Matt all decide to head to Las Vegas for an impromptu mini-vacation. There has been some tension among both couples and best friends due to Angelo’s recent actions and this trip ends up bringing most of those issues to head. Against the glittery lights of the Vegas nightlife to the harsh reality of daylight, both couples examine their relationships and what works for them. Then they must face the equally tough challenge of accepting their friends’ choices.
The story blends two first person point of views, Angelo in present tense and Matt in past tense. Whereas in the previous book (A to Z) the shifting from third person/past tense to first person/present tense kept jarring me, the blending this time is incredibly smooth and a much easier transition. So right away the ease of reading and flowing, natural prose expected from Sexton delivers very well. In fact the story is so quick and engaging, I finished it before I expected. I just couldn’t stop reading. The narrative flows from one view point to the next with an emotional intensity that is gripping and keeps you wondering. The novella shows how two happy couples aren’t completely issue free and still have to work on their relationships.
The action is very character driven and focuses on the two relationships. The mini-vacation to Vegas is almost a distraction, although not a bad one. The main reason seems to be to introduce Zach’s ex Jonathan, who will star in his own book coming up. Jonathan brings up a lot of Angelo’s issues and insecurities, which force Zach and Angelo to really examine their relationship and what each gets out of it. Jonathan also surprisingly offers insight into Zach that ends up invaluable to Angelo. The ex here is well handled and skates that fine line of acting like a dick yet is not an unlikable character.
Matt and Jared offer some very nice scenes but feel like the supporting best friends they are. Their relationship has some personal, alone moments as readers can see how they’ve progressed. I had forgotten Matt was a “gay for you” character so his discomfort at open displays of affection comes across well and I liked that he didn’t immediately shed his straight thinking even after a few years. He and Jared have a different sexual relationship than you find in most romance novels so the time spent on reflection and explanation is refreshing and interesting. They reminded me of why they are such a great couple and solid characters. Unfortunately in my opinion, they are also completely upstaged by the intensity and flash of the relationship between Zach and Angelo.
Zach and Angelo’s issues and complications caught my attention much more vividly than the other couple and thus their growth made the book more interesting for me. Angelo starts the story by cheating on Zach with Jared’s ex-fling Cole. However Zach knows about it before it happened and even gives his blessing. Their reasons for the pseudo-open relationship are then explored through Angelo’s point of view and contrasted with Matt’s confusion for the rest of the book. It’s not an easy relationship and not one I’m entirely convinced will work. This is the part that sometimes had me uncomfortable and dissatisfied because I’m just not convinced their relationship will survive with the current boundaries. However, the couple has a lot more growth and change to come so I can envision a happy ending. By the end of the novella, the story has done a commendable job of explaining and telling the reader why their relationship works the way it does and showing how happy Zach and Angelo are, so whether or not you believe this is a highly personal reaction.
The Vegas setting is nicely descriptive and enjoyable, but the real stars are the characters themselves. You’ll want to read this story to not only revisit great couples but to follow their progression as no doubt the author is going to have more books in this series. As much as I love Matt and Jared, I have to give Sexton some kudos for swinging me over to Angelo and Zach’s side as a big fan. I’m looking forward to seeing where both of these couples go from here. Some of the issues handled may not appeal to all readers – infidelity is somewhat of a hot button in the romance genre – but give this a chance to see how the characters react and the reasons for their choices. Oh and for the completely fabulous Ziggy Stardust mention.