Title: Between Sinners and Saints
Author: Marie Sexton
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Diverse
Length: Extended novel/98K Words/276 PDF pages
Rating: 5+ stars, DIK
Review Summary: Engrossing and incredibly moving!
Levi Binder is a Miami bartender who cares about only two things: sex and surfing. Ostracized by his Mormon family for his homosexuality, Levi is determined to live his life his own way, but everything changes when he meets massage therapist Jaime Marshall.
Jaime is used to being alone. Haunted by the horrors of his past, his only friend is his faithful dog, Dolly. He has no idea how to handle somebody as gorgeous and vibrant as Levi.
Complete opposites on the surface, Levi and Jaime both long for something that they can only find together. Through love and the therapeutic power of touch, they’ll find a way to heal each other, and they’ll learn to live as sinners in a family of saints.
I didn’t think that Marie Sexton could top One More Soldier, a book I love and have re-read many times, but Between Sinners and Saints showed me a different side of her writing and proved once again what an incredible author she is. The plot and characters moved me so much that I couldn’t put this novel down, and for me to read a book that’s 98K words straight through without switching is huge and a testament to the writing, especially in view of the tough themes.
Leviticus (Levy) Binder had left home 10 years ago when his Mormon family refused to accept him for who he was, a gay man. He missed his family but he didn’t miss the lectures about his lifestyle and he no longer visited them regularly because of the tension every time he went home. Levi was one of the hottest bartenders at a bar in Miami called “The Zone” which kept him supplied with as many anonymous sex partners as he wanted, but recently he had become disenchanted with all the free sex and was beginning to feel too old for the nightly grind – getting laid was no longer special or even pleasurable because he had sex so often, and his nightly routine of taking men into the back room of the bar for a quick hookup was becoming a drag. In addition, recently he had been experiencing pain in his lower back and leg and he was at the point where the pain made it almost too difficult to work or enjoy the one sport he loved – surfing. On the advice of his brother-in-law, a doctor, he sought the services of a professional massage therapist, and when Levi met Jaime Marshall he turned out to be the best thing in his life but also his biggest challenge.
Jaime lived his life without family or friends. He had been damaged mentally and physically as a result of being raped by a family member at a very early age. To add insult to injury his mother disbelieved him when he told her what happened and she did not seek even the most basic therapy for her son, so he grew up without any professional help. He left home at 18 and never looked back. As a result of his childhood trauma Jaime was afraid of personal contact with anyone except his dog Dolly, and he couldn’t stand to be touched, which seemed strange in view of his career choice as a massage therapist. When Levi met Jaime he tried his usual line for a quick conquest but he could not make a dent in Jaime’s armour, and after a few weeks of his aggressive pursuit Jaime refused to continue seeing him professionally. In the meantime, the pressures from Levi’s family to change his lifestyle were increasing and compounded with no sexual relief for those weeks he was pursuing Jaime, Levi became so tense and angry he had a meltdown and decided to prove to everyone that he was just as self destructive as they thought. This morphed into a blowout which made him realize afterwards he couldn’t continue the way he was living. After a lot of begging, Jaime allowed Levi to come back for treatment but he imposed certain conditions, and from then on they became best friends, something Jaime sorely needed although Levi still hoped for a different relationship because he was falling in love with his friend.
The protagonists will grab on to your heart especially Jaime who was vulnerable and scarred from his past experience. He was a complex character who was so fragile it seemed as if he would break at any moment, but he was by no means weak and he proved to be the catalyst throughout the story. Levi’s family fell for him despite his being gay which went against everything they believed in, and he showed them at last what a wonderful person Levi was and how he had changed his life for the better. Levi’s love for Jaime was unselfish, and he was so tender with him you will fall for him too. Both characters grew exponentially throughout the course of the book and the development of the plot to its conclusion was well crafted. This plot could have become a quagmire because of the themes of faith, homosexuality, rape, and a family in crisis, but the author wove them into a tapestry for a wonderful and moving story that will make you admire the way it unfolded and how the family conflicts were resolved without taking the easy way out.
The characters were all flawed, including Levi’s parents who wore blinders and initially could not see any viewpoint but their own, but Jaime opened their eyes and hearts to another path and showed them that if you truly loved someone you would accept them unconditionally. This story is by no means a quick fix for religious prejudices and hate, and at times it was hard for me to understand why for 10 years Levi was treated like a pariah even though his family did acknowledge reluctantly that homosexuality was not a choice.
The author integrated a lot of information about the Mormon religion into the plot without making me feel that it was an info dump. The doubts each member of Levi’s family experienced about the path they had chosen, and the impact their decision had on Levi seemed realistic as they tried to balance their love for him against their faith. To her credit Marie Sexton didn’t demonize the Mormons or make Levi’s family into selfish unfeeling people, instead they were portrayed as sincere believers whose lives were governed by strict religious principles. But faith can be a two edged sword and this was a thread that was woven throughout the story in a non-judgmental way.
Between Sinners and Saints could have been a downer because of the emphasis on religion and how people’s faith and beliefs affect their lives, but it was actually fun. Jaime’s dark sense of humour emerged and some of the supporting characters rationalized their own departure from the strict teachings of their faith while still hoping to enjoy the benefits of a heavenly afterlife . 🙂 The characters were all fully fleshed out and the family dynamics were complicated as expected, but there was also a lot of love and friendship.
If you read my reviews you know that I’m not fond of overpowering angst but I realize that some of you love angst. However, although there was angst here because of the themes, it was not overwhelming and the well written characters trumped everything else. I absolutely loved this book and highly recommend it.