A guest review by Lasha
Summary Review: Off-beat love story that surprises you — in a good way.
When shy Midwestern transplant Nate meets the cool Californian Jez, he’s instantly drawn to the sexy surfer even though he didn’t know he was gay. The two become first roommates, then friends. Does he have the courage to explore his other feelings?
I do believe this is Lou Harper’s first longer story, having read a few of her short stories before. Hanging Loose is a wonderful little novella that explores some uncharted characterizations and plot points. In short, when a book that surprises even jaded old me, it is one you should buy.
We start off in first person POV with Nate. Having missed his bus back to his house in the Valley, he decides to crash on the beach, when he runs into hunky surfer Jesse (Jez) and Jez offers him his couch for the night. The next morning, Jez asks Nate to be his roommate and from there the relationship develops from friendship to love. Throw in some well-written secondary characters like Jez’s elderly gay neighbor Arthur and Nate’s actress friend Sandy and you have a memorable cast of characters. In fact, Nate’s relationship with Arthur is beautiful. Get your hankies ready! But the best one is Mark, who Nate meets at an industry party Sandy drags him to as her “date.” Nate has his first gay kiss with Mark. Marks then dubs him his ‘lucky charm,’ as everytime Mark kisses Nate he gets an acting job. So most of the book Mark is chasing Nate around trying to kiss him for luck — even after Nate and Jez get together. This is vastly amusing.
There are no vampires, werewolves, cowboys or pirates in Hanging Loose. Just normal people living their everyday lives trying to make a living and survive in Los Angeles. I liked that fact as Nate seemed very down-to-Earth and compassionate while Jez was more of a free spirit whose Golden Age Hollywood actress-grandmother left him this wonderful beach house when she died. The grandmother is referenced quite a bit in the book and even though she is dead, her presence is felt by Jez (and the reader.) Jez, on the other hand, seems like the character in the book who is drifting through his life, trying to find a purpose. You really don’t find out why he’s so lost until late in the book and wow, I never would have guessed that. (No, it is nothing bad, but just a very original plot point). It is then you realize his characterization is a little more complex than you originally thought and this laid-back surfer has a lot more depth to him.
The relationship between Jez and Nate evolves naturally and feels organic, like the tide coming in. They fit. There is no screaming fights or tempestuous banter, rather these two work hard at keeping their relationship going – like every normal couple. They love and care for one another and it shows in everyday details rather than big showy events. Personally I enjoyed their relatively drama-free love affair having read a lot of books lately that had some over-the-top couples in them. Their relationship fit extremely well into the overall atmosphere of the story.
My only real complaint about Hanging Loose is that while we hear about Jez being a surfer, we really don’t see that. From the blurb I was hoping to get Shaun from Shelter, but there really isn’t much actual surfing in the novella. As a former surfer myself, I would have loved to see that sub-culture brought into the book and explored as I think that would have added one more layer to Jez’s characterization.
There is no good way to describe Hanging Loose because the plot is not your typical m/m romance. Yes, there is a love story and our protagonists get their HEA, but this book doesn’t really fit into any category boxes I know about. It is fresh, original and quirky. If I could compare it to a movie that would be My Beautiful Launderette, which also had those same elements. Basically it cannot be pigeon-holed — and that is a good thing. I like it when a book surprises and delights me in a new way. So, if you are a risk taker and like something a little different than bonding werewolves or cowboys in love, then try Hanging Loose, it doesn’t disappoint. Recommended. (BTW, I happen to adore bonding werewolves and hot cowboys in love, I was just giving an example. )
Book is released Tuesday, June 7th on Loose Id’s site.