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
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.
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”
“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.