Stray by Ash Penn

Title: Stray
Author: Ash Penn
Publisher: Loose Id
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Length: Novel / 230 pages
Rating: 3 out of 5

A guest review by Kassa


THE BLURB:

Bar worker and serial slut Terry Seymour is hardly charm personified when it comes to romance. In fact, he doesn’t believe in love at all despite his latent desire for his best friend of fourteen years, builder Marc Pierce.

Dan Hutchinson is a young, homeless man living in a derelict house Marc’s halfway to renovating. When Marc announces Dan’s moving in for a while, Terry is understandably miffed. After all, it hasn’t been that long since Marc spilt with his boyfriend of a year, so why is he intent on bringing a total stranger into their home?

It seems to Terry there’s more to this arrangement than meets the eye. Marc must be providing Dan with food and lodgings in exchange for sex. And with the lusty vibes Dan sends his way, it’s not long before Terry succumbs to the boy’s talents between the sheets. But carrying on with Dan behind his best friend’s back is not easy. Or desirable. And when Terry’s plans to oust Dan fail, he’s the one who finds himself out in the cold.

THE REVIEW:

Stray is an interesting read and one that’s likely to evoke a variety of reactions. The author took a huge chance in making the main character a jerk. He’s not likable, he’s not a nice guy, he is in fact a manipulative ass that pretty much thinks he’s always right and can treat people like crap because he chooses to. He does a lot of bad things to his best friend and also potential love interest. Yet the story attempts to show that he has charm and a gruff heart underneath the exterior. Personally I found Terry so unlikable that I hoped someone would drop kick him into the ocean and everyone would be better off but reader reaction is going to vary. Since I couldn’t appreciate the main character’s charm, I didn’t like the book sadly.

Terry Seymour is a slut with a bad attitude. He has commitment issues and is in love with his best friend and roommate Marc. After Terry has managed to sabotage Marc’s past relationship, he finally thinks he’s on track to have his best friend back once and for all. Unfortunately cute little twink Dan shows up as the new object of Marc’s affections in need of a place to stay and help and Terry is determined to get the kid out as soon as possible. If that means sleeping with the boy to show just what a slut he is, Terry’s up for the job. What starts as a campaign to rid Marc of a bad influence soon turns confusing as Terry can’t shake Dan and his determined pursuit of the surly man.

The story is character driven and follows Terry as he initially tries to get Dan out of their life, then tries to get Dan with Marc, and finally just tries to .. get Dan. Since told from Terry’s first person point of view, the reader is intimately and immediately aware that Terry is not always a nice person. He’s snarly, sulky, willing to sleep with anything and everything, unapologetic, and basically an ass in every way. He’s pissed that Marc brought a twink into their house and supporting him, even over Terry’s objections. What starts as a half cocked idea of proving Dan is a slut like Terry turns the heat up between the two men and soon Dan is pursuing Terry. Dan’s relentless chase is interesting but confusing. I just couldn’t see why Dan would want anything to do with a man that constantly insults him, puts him down, and tells him he doesn’t matter and isn’t special. Dan supposedly can see a glimmer of feeling but really, this is wishful thinking.

I could see Dan putting up with this in short measure but for as long as he did and the extents that he did, honestly I couldn’t help but think Dan was better off with someone else – anyone else. Not to mention Terry doesn’t change by the end of the book. He’s still the same person he was at the beginning and I could envision all sorts of angry fights between the two with Terry blaming Dan for anything going wrong. Considering Dan’s past, he may be used to this behavior in short measure but he finally stands up for himself and chooses (of all people) someone that is uncommunicative and surly. Terry’s actions are not only unlikable but they’re destructive. He potentially ruins a job for Dan out of spite and he has a big part in ruining Marc’s past relationship. Although there is some closure between Marc and Terry towards the end, the issue isn’t really resolved. I wished there had been more acknowledgment from both Terry and Marc but it’s mostly left unsaid. There is also some mild tension due to the fact that Terry basically steals Marc’s potential boyfriend Dan but on the whole this is handled well since Dan isn’t interested in Marc much more than a friend.

The quick pace and good prose choice kept me reading even though as I disliked Terry and his actions more and more. The distinctly British flavor to the story is probably what saved it for me and kept the book from being thrown as the mannerisms, dialogue, and details were charming and unique. The British flair is rare in contemporary stories so I appreciated the change a lot and enjoyed the change of pace. This definitely helped when I kept wondering why anyone in the book bothered with Terry. The family issues surrounding Dan are nicely introduced and interesting. A disapproving, stiff British family may be a cliché but it felt honest and real when portrayed against Dan’s confusion and fear.

While this certainly isn’t a bad read and the nicely British setting is charming to read, the main character ruined it for me. I don’t mind unlikable men if there is something that redeems them, some charm that makes you adore them regardless of their actions and for me Terry never achieved this. Instead I was left thinking Terry didn’t deserve his happy ending. The supporting issues of Dan’s confusion about his sexuality and family issues coupled with Marc’s longing for his ex round out a nicely paced and put together story. If readers like Terry despite his actions, you’ll likely enjoy this offering. If you’re the type that dislike unredeemed jerks as leading men.. this could be a tricky read.

6 comments

  • Different tastes I suppose. I loved this book, not only for the British flavor but the spendid characterization. I found Terry a lovable jerk who fancied himself protecting his best-friend and unrequited love, Marc, from further heartache. Granted, his methods might be a bit unorthodox.
    I thought Terry redeemed himself beautifully in the end.

    Kudos to Ash Penn, I wish her much success.

    Reply
  • Hi, Kassa! Very good, informative, analytical review. This:

    “Terry’s actions are not only unlikable but they’re destructive”

    would drive me absolutely bananas as a reader. 🙂 That and the fact that the main character achieves no character growth or redemption towards the end. I’ll steer clear of this one.

    Reply
  • Oh, Kassa, I found Terri redeemed himself nicely. None of the characters are particularly well behaved in this story. Kind of refreshing, actually.
    **
    I loved Stray and think it a nice start to a great career for Ash Penn as a M/M romance writer.

    Reply
    • Really? You thought Terry was redeemed? I thought he remained an ass! I don’t mind the unconventional characters. It’s refreshing and I realize the jerky Brit is very hip and “in” so to speak. I didn’t mind the behavior of the other characters so much as Terry never really changing. He wasn’t even particularly sorry for his actions, which is why I thought he never redeemed himself.

      I did like the setting quite a bit and will be interested to see where the author goes in the future.

      I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum on this book – those that loved it and those that loathed it. Interesting I was in the middle. I didn’t like Terry but I like other things so I’m interested to see opinions.

      Reply

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