Letter Z (Coda #3)


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


THE BLURB:

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.

Coda Series

THE REVIEW:

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.

18 comments

  • I loved this book immensely and Angelo is definitely my favorite of all 4 guys. He’s such a complex person because of his past and I thought how the author fleshes him out in the novella is spot-on. To me, when all the problems/insecurities of characters all magically go away at the end of a book, it’s kind of a let down for me because that is not real life. Sometimes it takes a long while (if ever) for people to get over their past issues. Angelo has spent years feeling like the only thing he had that people wanted was his body. He is absolutely terrified that Zach will tire of him or leave him. So I can get why he has a hard time accepting that Zach really does truly love him. And the fact that Angelo still lusts after other guys and even how he still feels the need to sleep in his own bed or sleep over at Matt/Jared’s sometimes is so “real” to me. It’s taking time for Zach’s love to truly sink in, I think. Also, Zach GETS this about Angelo and is willing to stand back and let Angelo figure it out on his time and not Zach’s. Fantastic! I’m looking forward to their 3rd book because I feel like the author probably (hopefully) will settle Angelo’s insecurities and maybe he will finally get rid of that “bird in his chest” once and for all.

  • The stepping out issue with Angelo and Zach didn’t bother me so much (but only because of Zach’s prior approval and encouragement) as Angelo schtupping someone on Jared and Matt’s bed. That’s the ultimate in tacky, especially when Angelo was already well aware of Jared’s disapproval. It took me a while to understand where Angelo and Zach were coming from with the extracurricular activities, but I think the essence of why it was okay was when Zach asked if there was anything Cole could do that would cause Angelo to leave him.

    What I loved about The Letter Z was the break Matt’s perspective provided. I always feel manic-y reading Angelo, so having Matt’s calm, strong presence was a definite benefit. To be honest, too, the reason I bought this book was to get more Jared and Matt! (So give me more of them already!)

    Jonathan did not come across as a likable character, and I’m only slightly intrigued by Cole (and only because of the scene in Promises when he wishes Jared well with Matt–it hinted at someone real beneath the layers of fabulousness). I hope Ms Sexton has a gut-wrenching story planned for them, because I’m not sure I can work up enough give-a-dang.

    For me, this was the weakest of the three, but still an enjoyable ride.

    • Hi there!

      I agree with you this is probably the weakest of the three, although I enjoyed reading it more than A to Z (easier with 2 first person POVs). It doesn’t have the same emotional depth as the other two books so that’s a fair assessment.

      I also agree the whole Jonathan/Cole thing is not my favorite. I’m struggling to get interested because I like the author and I like the characters so I’m hoping I can get into Cole/J. We’ll see.

      I loe to hear what others thing about the infidelity. I’ve heard everything from readers hated it to didn’t mind and some liked it. I didn’t think of doing it on their bed until you mention it and you’re right, that’s a bit much.

      I have a feeling Matt/Jared will continue to pop up repeatedly *g*

  • I bought this and read the whole thing yesterday (it’s short). I thought it was very good and for complexity of characters, I might even say it is the best of the three books. I really enjoyed it.

    ****Spoiler type comments ahead****

    The whole infidelity/open relationship thing didn’t bother me at all and in fact, I am not sure that is how I would even characterize it. I think Zach understands Angelo very well and realizes he needs a bit of freedom, especially at this early stage in their relationship. Angelo has come to Zach from 10 years of partying and casual encounters and people don’t change overnight (if they ever change). I think Zach and Angelo both understand the difference between sex and love and as Angelo says, while sex with love is the best, sometimes sex and lust can be a lot of fun.

    Jared’s reaction seemed realistic to me, too. He’s gay and knows he’s gay but I don’t think he’s totally out and proud–he’s out but the proud part is still lacking. He blames Matt for not showing affection in public but I think it’s just as much Jared’s issue — which is sort of unfair to Matt and I could see this being a problem in the future. So, within this context, I could see that he’d disapprove of Angelo’s behavior and disapprove even more that Zach went along with it.

    It came across pretty clearly to me in this story that Matt is bi. He’s gay, now, because he is with Jared but if Jared were ever to go away (which I don’t think will happen), I could see Matt ending up with a woman. Matt has a past of fooling around with plenty of women so in that respect I think he understands Angelo’s behavior–he might not completely agree because he has a monogamous streak but I think he’s more willing to realize that different people work out things in different ways. Jared, I think, puts things more in the context of his own worldview.

    As for Jonathan–ewww. What a jerk.

    I liked the guyliner, too. 🙂 I’m looking forward to more from Marie!

    L

    • Great insights Leslie!

      I agree with you about Angelo. In fact Cole even says after they’re done “all that tension is gone. Your boyfriend is a smart guy.” Showing us that Zach knew the spark/lust would be gone once Angelo acted on it. Part of this is a bit forced since we don’t get to see Zach’s reaction and I have a bit of a hard time buying into it that Zach never feels upset or jealous at all. Since we don’t see his POV, he’s a little too good to be true in this offering. Not a criticism, just an observation.

      As for Jared and Matt, I agree too. I think Matt is bi, but I don’t see him with another guy. I think he’s only willing to explore that side of him with Jared, since he has just a few hangups about homosexual relationships. I think Jared got a bit of a bad rap in this book since I could see why he reacted the way he did. I also thought Matt gave Zach too little credit a lot of the time while Jared did the same for Angelo. Pure best friends supporting their guys sort of a thing.

      I’m interested to see how she redeems Jonathan for his own book with Cole.

      • Re: Zach — I keep thinking of that cheesy quote, “If you love someone and set them free…” I think that is where he was coming from in relation to Angelo. I think he is very secure in his love for Angelo and Angelo’s love for him.

        There is also the dimension that Angelo doesn’t/didn’t bottom when he’s fooling around, but only bottoms for Zach. I actually thought they were very nuanced as a gay couple. Good stuff…

        L

  • Great review! I haven’t read the first two stories yet and although I’m not fond of the ‘open relationship’ theme I’m sure I’ll add this one to my reader at some point.

    • I think it’s only open for now. The 4 characters of Sexton’s aren’t without issues and they aren’t cured by falling in love so it’s a process. I think Angelo will be able to fully commit to Zach, just not right now. It’s worth reading because as soon as Angelo does commit, I think it’s going to be worth it 🙂

  • Geat Review
    Even though I really enjoyed both of the previous books I think will wait a little while to read this one. I had planned to buy The Letter Z the day it came out but when I read the excerpt I saw that the story could be going in a direction that I wasn’t crazy about so I decided to wait until some reviews came out to see if the excerpt was an accurate example to the way the story would be going. I am glad I waited because a pseudo-open relationship just isn’t my thing, it just doesn’t scream romantic to me. I am sure I will eventually read The Letter Z because I do like this author but I will wait a while, after all I just recently read A to Z and I think right now this book would just make me depressed about the path those characters have chosen.

    • Hi Amanda, I can understand where you’re coming from. Like I said a lot of readers don’t find “open” relationships romantic nor something they want to read. I think the author knows that and took a chance. I’m kind of with you in that I know successful couples do that, but when I sink into escapist romance, open relationships are not it lol.

      I do think this book straddles a line. It shows the very faithful Matt and Jared against Zach and Angelo who are figuring things out. Z/A’s relationship won’t be open forever is how I read it. Instead right now dealing with Angelo’s commitment phobia gives him some room. I think that’s why these two caught my attention since I don’t think either one wants an open relationship per se, they’re just trying to figure out how to stay together through some issues.

      But that’s just my impression.

  • I have this one waiting for me but wasn’t sure I wanted to read about relationship “challenges”. But I’m sure I’ll pick it up soon because I’m curious. Nice review.

    • That’s always the fear when an author writes a sequel. They put the HEA in jeopardy. Thankfully here Matt and Jared are still going strong and Zach and Angelo have room to go. There are relationship challenges to both but it’s a quick novella so thankfully not endless problems and emotional trauma.

  • Kassa
    Lovely review. Even though I still have not read these books (same crappy excuse about time) 🙁 your descriptions of the characters and their relationships in this review are so vivid I feel as if I know them already.

    Infidelity is not a hot button issue with me (I love Bareback by Chris Owen one of the ultimate ‘cheating’ M/M books) 🙂 so I would find this an interesting complication to allow for character growth rather than a turn off. I love the fact that this is done with the partner’s approval and I would really want to explore the rationale behind it.

    Ziggy Stardust? One of my ultimate David Bowie albums and movies!! This makes me even more eager to read this series. We have a long weekend coming up soon so maybe I’ll read rather than work. 🙂

    • Hi Wave,

      I know you’re super busy so it’s hard to pick up 2 novels just to read a novella. Keep the series in mind though because I think it’s very well written with a lovely cast.

      You hit on the right points in that the infidelity is done with his partner’s knowledge and approval. Their reasons are interesting and complicated and show perhaps why their relationship won’t work or maybe it will. They’re still figuring this out. They don’t automatically turn perfect just because they fall in love so it’s nice to see them stumble and make some mistakes but with the best intentions. It feels honest. I’m not sure how long readers would tolerate those mistakes *grins* but for now I think it works.

      Oh and Ziggy, so fabulous! I totally agree.

  • Great review, Kassa. I really enjoyed the first two books in this series. The alternating POV in book two didn’t bother me — I know some readers didn’t care for that device — and it sounds like it is handled more effectively in this story. This is definitely going on my “read sooner, rather than later” list. Thanks for your review!

    L

    • Third to first, especially with tense problems, tends to not work for me. I can’t get into a rhythm and flow of reading that way. Here the use first person POV worked much better and made the pages fly by.

      I don’t always like where the author goes but she always explains it though the characters and their reasoning so really what more could you ask for? This is shaping up to be a great series.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: