The Boxer (The Contenders #2)

Title: The Boxer (The Contenders #2)
Author: Jan Irving
Buy link:
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Sports (Boxing)
Length: Novella (121 pages)
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

A guest review by Buda

Summary Review: This is a story full of heart, which I liked better than the previous book.

This review contains what may be considered spoilers for those who have not read the first book in the series, The Janitor.

The Blurb:

Former boxer Dane Connelly faces losing it all, everything he fought for in The Janitor. He’s hiding problems with his fight-damaged eyesight from his uptown lover, Noel Atherton. How can he be a man for him if he can’t see to fight or to paint? And now the vicious killer Narone, who almost broke him in the ring, is out on parole, looking for payback. Dane is desperate to protect the man he loves.

But Noel has had enough of sleeping alone in their empty bed, aching for Dane, so he devises various exotic scenarios to seduce him, giving his lover the sexual domination he needs. He knows Dane is not being upfront with him, and after being patient for months he’s growing alarmed something is really wrong. Now Noel has to use his body and his heart to fight for his beloved boxer.

The Contenders

The Review:

The Boxer begins two years after The Janitor ended and much has changed in that time. Noel’s father has completed his prison sentence and run off to Tibet. And the man he hired to harm Dane all those years ago, Gerrard Narone, has just been released on parole. To add to the stress of Narone’s release, Dane has taken to spending his nights in the gym’s office, leaving Noel alone in their big bed.

In the first scene, Dane sneaks off into the alley behind the gym to indulge in a smoke break and encounters a young man, Ally, who has just had the crap beaten out of him by a group of schoolmates…and Ally’s own very closeted boyfriend. In his very Dane way, the boxer completely charms young Ally into coming back into the gym with him and letting him fix up his bruises and cuts. Dane sees his younger self in Ally and is determined to help him get his life back together, just as Charlie had once done for him. This is an interesting and beautiful relationship, if a bit stereotypical, wherein Dane does all the giving and Ally reluctantly but greedily soaks up the loving care and attention until that time when he grows comfortable enough to give some of it back. It is in his relationship with Ally that we see the very best of Dane, the legacy of the impact Charlie had on his own life.

But Dane, charming as he is, is not well. He has been suffering episodes he terms brownouts, a byproduct of his epic fight with Narone in the first book. These episodes have left him feeling less than confident in his ability to “delight” his lover, Noel, from whom he has hidden his condition. The episodes come more frequently as Narone makes Dane aware he’s back to settle the score. Dane’s stress level rises as he tries to keep safe those whom he loves.

After three years, Noel still has no idea how to deal with Dane outside the bedroom. That much is clear when, instead of talking to Dane about their issues, he threatens to move back into his father’s house. Neither man wants that, of course, but, in the past, talking about their issues has led to arguments. Noel knows Narone is back in the picture and has hired an investigator to track him down and keep him away from Dane and the family they’ve created. But, though he’s known Dane all this time, he still won’t let himself understand why Dane feels he needs to face Narone himself, in a physical confrontation that is bound to leave Dane with more permanent injuries.

Eventually the confrontation does come–both between Dane and Noel and between Dane and Narone. I was actually excited to see Dane confront Noel with his issues and do it in a way that made Noel think about how he’d been reacting to and treating Dane.

I thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with our friend Dane. When I started reading The Janitor, I had issues with Dane’s simpleness, but those faded into the background as the story progressed. In this book, it was never an issue. Dane comes across as mildly ADD, yet not stupid in any way. He is charming, sweet and seemingly untainted by the horrors of his past. He looks forward to the future with optimism and wants everyone around him to be happy and safe. He is exactly who young Ally needs, just as Charlie was for young Dane.

The issues I had with this book are all about the sex that was ramped up in a wholly unnecessarily way. I won’t begin to pretend I understand the Daddy dynamic Dane and Noel have going, but it did get on my nerves–especially on their second trip to the salon. I rolled my eyes so many times during that scene I was afraid they’d pop out of my head completely!

I was a bit confused by the time line as well. In the beginning, it is mentioned that Noel had first seen Dane “two years before”; but towards the end of the book they’ve been together for three years. It doesn’t matter to the story (except in relation to the prison sentences), it’s just one of those puzzles I hate leaving unfinished–especially when I want to reference time frames in a review!

If you were on the fence about continuing to read the series after finishing The Janitor, I will say that this book, despite a few issues, is much better. The histrionics of book one are gone, and the Narone and Ally plots are handled well. I very much enjoyed The Boxer. Recommended.

Now, can we give it up for the cover art?! Hello, Hotness!!


  • Decisions, decisions… I may end reading it after all since I trust you when you say this one is better and I also don´t like giving up a series half way (even less if it´s a book) but… Will I survive the rolling eyes part??… lol To read or not to read, this is the question 🙂
    Thank you for the review 🙂
    PS Both covers are stunning without doubt

    • Hi, Helena. I, too, hate giving up a series part way through, so I understand how you feel. The nice thing about this book is that Dane and Noel have some sweet moments together and Noel winds up gaining a better understanding of Dane by the end. As for the eye rolling part, …well that scene is easy to spot–it’s the second trip to the salon–so you’ll be ahead of the curve if you decide to skip it. 🙂

      Thank you for the kind comments. I hope you’ll let me know your thoughts if you decide to read it again.

      • Done. Finally. I too liked this book more that the first one. I´m glad I trusted your recommendation and thanks to your review I still have my eyes in place 🙂
        Now I should be following Noel´s reading tastes and go for ZAM´s Family Unit, another title in my never ending pending list.
        Thank you again 🙂

        • LOL Helena, I’m so glad you still have your eyes in place! Thank you for letting me know you not only read but liked this one better. I cracked up at the mention ZAM’s book. That one I haven’t read yet, either. Guess I should put it on my list, too! Thanks again for the feedback. It’s most appreciated!

  • Buda
    Thanks for your review. Im glad to see you doing the followup review in this series and you enjoyed the book. The characters have grown? Great. I may read this one after all.

    • Hi Hannah. I did enjoy this book much more than the first. That said, there were moments I cringed (the “Daddy” talk and the second trip to the salon being the most prominent in my mind). But I really do think Dane and Noel grew between and even within this book. I hope you enjoy it if you go ahead with it. Please come back and let me know.

  • Buda
    What a wonderful, thoughtful review. I can see how you connected with the characters, and that despite your issues you enjoyed The Boxer.

    Obviously I can’t appreciate all the nuances because I haven’t read either story but they do sound exciting and more important, different from the run of the mill stories we have been getting lately.

    The cover is on my list for my Top 25 for 2011 – you’re right, it’s outstanding.

    • Thanks, Wave. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that while reading The Janitor I was so worried about Noel taking advantage of Dane that I forgot to really let myself go with the story. Dane’s a grown man with full mental capacities, he just looks at things with a much less jaded eye than the rest of us do. (I mean, is talking to your goldfish so much different from talking to your plants while you water them? Nah, not really.) With The Boxer, I relaxed and enjoyed the ride.

      Coverboy’s mouth just makes me want to bite and pull on that bottom lip. Scrumptious! Massive kudos to April Martinez, the cover artist.


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