Settling the Score


Title: Settling the Score
Author: Eden Winters
Publisher: Rocky Ridge Books
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary m/m romance
Length: 305 pages/84900 words
Rating: 4.25 stars out of five

A guest review by Sirius

Summary: Can love emerge when two broken hearts with desire for revenge meet unexpectedly?

This review contains what might be considered spoilers

Blurb:

Closeted mechanic Joey Nichols’ life is good. His boyfriend landed a major Hollywood role, and is well on the way to superstardom. Joey’s bags are packed and soon he’ll leave small town Georgia and join the man of his dreams in California, to live out, proud, and together. Days before his planned departure, his lover outs Joey during a televised interview and announces that they’ve broken up, leaving Joey to face the bigotry of the locals alone.

Bestselling author Troy Steele knows all about having life turned upside down by the media. Now a recluse, Troy shuns all the trappings that come with writing books made into blockbuster movies. He spends his time exacting revenge on a former flame via his novels and hiding out in rural South Carolina, watching celebrity gossip shows. Joey’s fifteen minutes of fame bear an eerie similarity to the plot of Troy’s latest work in progress. What if Joey could be transformed into everything the fickle ex wanted, as Troy is writing for his fictional hero, and secretly wishes for himself? Once polished, could a diamond-in-the-rough good ole boy confront his ex, then walk away, pride intact? These are Troy’s questions, and he’s counting on Joey for answers.

Review:

Joey Nichols is a car mechanic in a small city. His lover and roommate left to pursue Hollywood stardom recently and Joey already has a ticket purchased to join him very soon. That is until his lover participates in a celebrity gossip show where he publicly outs Joey and breaks up with him. Joey has to deal with the fallout, and luckily his family does not seem to mind that he is gay, but he still has to deal with a broken heart, sudden unasked-for fame and not always a pleasant reaction from some people in the town where he lives and works. Enter Troy Steele, famous writer and recluse who is penning a book with a protagonist whose life reminds him of recent twists and turns from Joey’s life, and whose heart was once broken in a manner similar to Joey’s. Troy’s assistant Erika convinces him that it would be a good idea to hire Joey as a research assistant so they can observe him and ask questions in order to write a great character. They also want for Joey to go through everything Troy’s character goes through in the book, including getting a makeover in all areas and then, if he so desires, to confront his ex to show him what he has missed.

I loved this story, which has themes of Pygmalion and Cinderella, but at the same time twists some of the clichéd themes from these stories on its head. Joey is in a sense a unique character. In the hands of less gifted writer I would have gagged at the possible excess of sugar in the character’s depiction. Besides failing to figure out that his ex was a very crappy human being, Joey practically has no flaws — he is sweet, kind, hard working, adorable, handsome and just very, very sexy. He has low self esteem and does not seem to be aware that he has all those wonderful attributes, but to me it does not count as a real character flaw. Having said all of this, to me Joey was believable, a real good boy-next-door and decent person. The way he handles himself after his ex’s betrayal is admirable, the further self-doubts he voices just about broke my heart, and the way he interacts with Troy is just so delightful and sweet.

I liked Troy too. A talented writer who in the past experienced a similar heartbreak to what Joey did, and who keeps executing revenge on his former flame in his books over and over again. Troy is flawed, but he knows he needs to change because focusing on his past, while giving him a lucrative income, also is destroying his soul. I think it is fair to say that Troy recognizes himself in Joey and hopes that writing this particular book will help him change as well.

I really liked the way this story in some ways played with the cliché of storylines like this, but in others did not go the clichéd route. When I read the blurb I had expected Troy to be a hardened asshole in the beginning of the story and eventually realize that the revenge is not a good thing and apologize to Joey for using him. I would have said that something like this happens and at the same time not quite like this. I think the main difference to me is that I am not sure whether author wanted me to see Troy as hardened asshole who only thinks about revenge or not, but I definitely have not. Yes, he thinks about revenge, but Troy cared about Joey too much from the beginning, and he could not watch Joey’s agony from the break up on TV. He was honest with Joey from the start; in other words, Troy did not come off to me as a cold, unfeeling man, and because of this, to me the typical storyline played out a little bit differently, more nuanced so to speak.

Troy’s assistant Erika was an absolute delight. She is a shark with total loyalty to her boss while at the same time possessing a kind heart. It is so easy to portray a character like this as a caricature, but I thought that Erika was anything but. She truly shone and I thought that she maybe even outshines Troy and Joey a little bit. This woman was truly a force of nature.

“And if the man turned out to be yet another money-grubbing, egotistical asshole? No problem, Erica ate those for breakfast”

and

“Leave that to me,” Erica assured him, frightening Troy. At times he wondered if, instead of a recurring role in C.I.A., she’ d worked for them in truth and maintained connections.

My only niggle is that while I easily pictured Joey and Troy as good friends, to me they lacked chemistry and erotic appeal when they were together on page. I cannot give you any reasons why, it was just a feeling. Maybe it is just a more quiet type of chemistry, but I just did not feel that they sizzled on the screen. I am not talking about them sizzling in bed only; the story only has two sex scenes with Troy and Joey, so that is not much to judge on, but I am talking about their interactions outside of the bedroom. Your mileage may vary of course.

27 comments

  • I don’t want to gush too much, but I do want to chime in to add how very much I loved this book. 😀

    Reply
  • Hey, ya’ll! Thanks for the kind words, and thank you, Sirius, for such a flattering and eloquent review. No, Troy was never intended to be cold and hard; he’s just not really socially adept. He honestly doesn’t know how to interact with others, thus his seclusion. I picture him as the kid on the sidelines, hoping someone will invite him to join the ballgame but never daring to ask. He quietly snivels while walking away, squaring his shoulders and pretending it doesn’t matter, then does an “I’ll show them!” via his books.

    And I had to trim a few Erica scenes. She did overpower the story at one point.

    Reply
    • Thanks for writing it Eden, I am not surprised that Erica overpowered story at some point, but if you decide to write more about her, I am so not complaining 😉

      Reply
  • Hi Sirius,

    I’ve read this too and really, really loved it. Just like Buda said above, I liked the fact that their relationship built slowly. I also loved the way Joey’s dialect was included into the story.
    And that hairdresser, wasn’t he a blast?
    My only niggle was Erica; at times she almost stole Troy’s and Joey’s thunder.

    Reply
    • Oh I was not nearly as smitten with hairdresser as I was with Erica :).

      Heh, I agree that at times Erica almost stole guys’ thunder, but to me it was not a niggle 🙂 I mean if character is well written sometimes IMO they take a life of their own.

      Reply
  • I loved this book! Joey really comes into his own in so many ways, and Troy blossoms in his company. Plus Erica kicks ass!

    Reply
  • Sirius, thanks for the great review. You may or may not recall I won this as a Free Read. I have to say, I loved it. Joey was such a boy next door that I couldn’t help but love him, especially when his little heart was crushed but he kept trying to believe there was goodness in his ex. I would agree that the chemistry between Joey and Troy was understated, but I definitely felt it there. Actually, that was one of the things I liked so much about the book–that we weren’t repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with how much they wanted/needed/loved each other (see my Breaking Logan’s Laws review for an example).

    Those supporting characters, especially Erica and the hairdresser? Awesome!

    So, yeah. I’m thrilled you liked the book, too. 😀

    Reply
    • Hey Buda, yes I liked this one a lot. Oh, gods no, no I did not mean that I wanted them to say how much they loved each other and needed each other in every sentence. I have not read the book you mention, but stuff like this can easily be “lets throw the book against the wall” material for me.

      Of course chemistry is totally subjective, and for me it is hard to explain, but “I know it when I see it” kind of thing. Let me think of few examples where I thought characters were hot, hot, hot on the page.

      Oh, this one for example which Leslie reviewed:
      http://www.gaybook.reviews/2010/03/13/take-my-picture/.

      I thought characters were smoking hot on the page, and I thought they were smoking hot *from the minute they interacted” and way way before they had sex for the first time and told each other that they loved each other.

      For me chemistry is in everything – dialog, just descriptions, thoughts of the characters, it is just there or it is not, for me of course.

      What else on the top of my head? Oh, of course as example of quite chemistry “Whistling in the Dark” by Tamara Allen. Characters’ visibly erotic interaction constites two kisses in the whole novel. Neither do they project screaqming erotic appeal and unrequited lust, they are too damaged and traumatized for that, but I never doubted that attraction on more than “lets just be friends” level is there.

      Do not get me wrong, I can totally be persuaded that understated, quiet chemistry is there, I liked these guys together, I guess i just wanted more of that “special something”?

      Glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
      • Sirius, I haven’t read either of the books you mentioned, but for me, one of the greatest couples is Ty & Zane of the Cut & Run series because all you mentioned: dialogue, descriptions, thoughts. Add humor to the mix and I’m sold.

        I think part of why the chemistry was so understated in this book is because of Troy’s social awkwardness, as Eden mentioned. He’s really not able to express his interest in or attraction to Joey like another man might, so he does it in his own way (the truck, for example).

        Anyway, don’t want to turn this into a novel-length debate, just wanted to express my appreciation for your review and the book. 🙂

        Reply
        • Thanks Buda and yes, I aqree with what you said about Troy’s social awkwardness. I love Cut and Run series so much 🙂

          Reply

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