Title: Life After Joe
Author: Harper Fox
Publisher: Carina Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novella (115 PDF pages)
Rating: 4.50 stars out of 5
Summary Review: Two people deal with life’s blows in different ways but when they are thrown together can they mend each other’s hearts? Matt and Aaron find out that if they want each other badly enough they will do almost anything to be together.
It’s not the breaking up that kills you, it’s the aftermath.
Ever since his longtime lover decided he’d seen the “heterosexual light” Matt’s life has been in a nosedive. Six months of too many missed shifts at the hospital, too much booze, too many men. Matt knows he’s on the verge of losing everything, but he’s finding it hard to care.
Then Matt meets Aaron. He’s gorgeous, intelligent and apparently not interested in being picked up. Still, even after seeing Matt at his worst, he doesn’t turn away. Aaron’s kindness and respect have Matt almost believing he’s worth it—and that there could be life after Joe. But his new found happiness is threatened when Matt begins to suspect Aaron is hiding something, or someone…
At 27, Matt’s had sunk as low as he could possibly get after his lover, Joe, whom he had known since childhood, leaves him for a woman. There had never been anyone else for Matt but Joe, which was why the deceit hit him so hard. After 6 years of living together when they were like Siamese twins, he was suddenly dumped and his dreams of forever were gone. Not only had Joe left him but he had been carrying on a discreet affair for 2 years all the while professing his love for Matt. When Joe told him that he was getting married Matt fell apart because he had had no warning that anything was wrong, and he had trusted Joe and believed his lies. Now 6 months later the hurt was just as raw as the day Joe left and Matt had been trying to forget in an alcoholic haze and in the arms of strangers, many of whom used him because he was there for the taking.
One evening when he was at his usual pickup joint, the Powerhouse, drunk out of his mind, he saw Aaron sitting at the bar and tried to pick him up for one of his brief sexual encounters. Aaron didn’t want him, or anyone else for that matter, and every week when he showed up at the bar he rejected all the men who tried to take him home or just have a quickie. Several weeks later, after making an exhibition of himself in the bar by having oral sex in public while drunk and high, Matt was thrown out of the bar and had the misfortune of being worked over by two hoodlums who were lying in wait for him, but he was rescued by Aaron who had apparently followed him to make sure he was alright. After despatching his attackers Aaron walked him home and left him there; apparently he still didn’t want Matt.
If things weren’t bad enough, a few days later Matt’s life took an even worse turn when Joe’s wife showed up and demanded that he put his flat up for sale since it was jointly owned with Joe, because they needed the money. To me sending his wife to the flat instead of going there himself showed that Joe had no balls, another ringing endorsement. Not long after, Matt almost overdosed on pills and even he was not sure if it was an accident or a deliberate attempt to end it all because this was one more stab to his heart. In the middle of all his troubles, including the fact that he was in danger of losing his job because he hardly showed up for work, Aaron reappeared in his life and gave Matt a reason for living. But just when he started believing that Aaron really cared about him he began to suspect that he’s living a double life, and it’s deja vu all over again.
This angst filled story was at times overwhelming as Matt tried to deal with his grief about his faithless lover, as well as his troubles resulting from the way he was handling the breakup. At first I pitied him, then I was disgusted at the depths to which he had sunk. Some events I could not rationalize as he was a doctor yet he was having risky sex with people he could not even remember the next day. I found one encounter revolting but I suppose the author was trying to show that if someone is self destructive he doesn’t really care whether he lives or dies and will do anything to assuage the heartache. At times I wanted to slap Matt and tell him to wake up and stop acting so childish but at others I really felt for the character as his emotions were laid bare.
What saved Life After Joe from becoming maudlin was the other protagonist, Aaron, who was Matt’s opposite in temperament. Aaron had suffered an even more serious blow but he dealt with his grief by using other coping mechanisms, and when he started falling for Matt he tried to make him feel secure by spending all of his free time with him because he knew he had trust issues. But of course there were many missteps on the way to the HEA.
I really liked both characters which were well drawn and even though Matt may have been the weaker protagonist and had many flaws, he was likable and sweet. Aaron had a responsible job on an oil rig which meant that he was away for a lot of the time; this brought Matt’s trust issues front and center as he wondered whether the same situation was happening all over again. Aaron turned out to be the more complex character with a tough exterior but he was just as sensitive as Matt. He dealt with his grief in a different, more adult way, but when the chips were down Matt rose to the occasion and helped Aaron to heal. Just in case you think that this was a slow moving romance with no excitement or humour, there is an episode in the book where Matt took his courage in his hands in an effort to repair his relationship with Aaron when it seemed that it was all over. I won’t go into details about this episode because that would be a spoiler, but it did strain credibility about basic security measures that were not followed on what was a top secret vessel where security should have been paramount, and at times the actions of some of the secondary characters seemed like a comedy of errors. However, this is not real life and authors are allowed some latitude to make up situations that lead to the conclusion they want.
Harper Fox is a fresh new talent in the M/M genre with great writing skills and I hope that her other books are just as imaginative and entertaining as this one. Both protagonists were three dimensional, and the plotting worked well, other than that one incident that I thought was a bit heavy handed for the situation. I enjoyed this story a lot despite all the angst. The emotions of the characters will captivate you and you won’t want to put this book down until you find out how it ends. I will be checking out the other books that Harper will be releasing soon through Loose Id and Samhain. While she doesn’t have a website currently she does have a Wiki page here.
Joe appeared briefly in the book but I found him to be a flat, cardboard cutout figure – perhaps this was intentional. Lou, Matt’s and Joe’s friend from childhood, was three dimensional and had a fair sized role in the story, but I couldn’t warm up to him because he was manipulative and had his own agenda which he seemed determined to achieve.
Life After Joe will be released June 28 as part of the launch of Carina Press, a subsidiary of Harlequin Enterprises. What most impressed me about this publisher was that in addition to a very good story, the usual spelling and editorial errors that I have become accustomed to lately in M/M romances were missing. If this trend continues many readers will be checking out Carina to buy their offerings. Of course this is only one book and I don’t know if the quality will be maintained over the long term, but this is a great debut.