Muscling Through

Title: Author: J.L. Merrow
Cover Artist: Angela Waters
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Romantic Comedy
Length: Novella/70 PDF pages
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Review Summary: A delightful story set in Britain with two wonderful protagonists who will tug at your heart strings (if you have a heart) :)


The bigger they come, the harder they fall… in love.

Cambridge art professor Larry Morton takes one, alcohol-glazed look at the huge, tattooed man looming in a dark alley, and assumes he’s done for. Moments later he finds himself disarmed—literally and figuratively. And, the next morning, he can’t rest until he offers an apology to the man who turned out to be more gentle than giant.

Larry’s intrigued to find there’s more to Al Fletcher than meets the eye; he possesses a natural artistic talent that shines through untutored technique. Unfortunately, no one else seems to see the sensitive soul beneath Al’s imposing, scarred, undeniably sexy exterior. Least of all Larry’s class-conscious family, who would like nothing better than to split up this mismatched pair.

Is it physical? Oh, yes, it’s deliciously physical, and so much more—which makes Larry’s next task so daunting. Not just convincing his colleagues, friends and family that their relationship is more than skin deep. It’s convincing Al.


Occasionally I read a book that I didn’t have high expectations for and it blows me away because the characters are so wonderfully portrayed and the story is not only simple but so complex on another level that I can’t wait to immerse myself again in the characters and the world.  That’s what happened to me with Muscling Through.

Larry and Al are opposites – physically, socially, educationally and in every way possible, but they were made for each other and their romance played out wonderfully on the page. J.L Merrow has such a keen sense of comedy and writes such incredible dialogue that the characters were a joy as I got to know them. The humour in Muscling Through is not slapstick – far from it – this is understated Brit play upon words, masterfully delivered by Al, and the story made me appreciate all over again what good writing is all about.

The guys met under strange circumstances, and as is usually the case when one is drunk, mistakes occur and situations can be misread so drastically that a simple misunderstanding could have blown up, but it never escalated to that level here. The romance was well paced, imaginative, incredibly funny, hot, and so heartfelt and sensitive in the way that Larry and Al dealt with their own insecurities I marvelled at the author’s skill in writing such well crafted characters. Both men were imperfect and real and Al’s “voice” as he talked about Larry drew unforgettable pictures of the man he loved. It wasn’t what he said but what was unsaid that made me love Larry.

Al and Larry met in an alleyway one evening and Larry misread Al’s intentions. Al stopped to have a pee, or as he called it a “wazz,” because he had had a few beers, and Larry showed up before he was finished relieving himself. Al’s comment made Larry in his drunken state think that Al intended to rob him and he quickly handed over his wallet. His money or his life? No contest. But Al was determined to see Larry safely home so that he didn’t end up as someone’s prey, which of course set the stage for another huge misunderstanding on top of the first one. :) By the time the evening was over this was a comedy of errors which another author might have capitalized on for weeks, if not months, but luckily J.L. Merrow is the type of writer who doesn’t believe in extending misunderstandings needlessly between her protagonists in order to increase the word count, so that situation was resolved quickly. This set the tone for the rest of the book and I can’t express how much I adored it.

Told from Al’s 1st person POV, his “voice” was quite distinctive and you will absolutely love his witticisms as he described the people in Larry’s life and their reactions to the romance. There is no subtlety in Al who is what some people would call “simple”, he says things the way he sees them, but even though he was not the brightest bulb he was more intelligent than most people. He said whatever came into his head with no filter but Larry adored his man and didn’t care that Al probably had no more than a 4th grade education while he was an Art History professor at Cambridge, a most unlikely match – the important thing was that they connected. Al had one talent – he was an artist. But would that be sufficient to sustain a relationship over the long term and how would Larry’s parents and colleagues view such a match? Was the attraction only sexual as everyone thought, or was there an emotional connection? Here’s an example of their conversation:

“God, you’re a work of art all by yourself,” Larry said. “I mean, even without the tattoos you’d be amazing, but with them—where did you get them? I’ve never seen designs like these. They’re reminiscent of Australian aboriginal art, but there’s a subtle difference—it’s intriguing.”
I liked that he liked them. “There’s this bloke on Orwell Street. I told him what I wanted, and he done them for me.”
“You designed them?”
“Nah, I just drew a picture on some paper and told him what colours I wanted and stuff. It was him what done the tattoos.”
Larry smiled. “That means you designed them.”

Muscling Through is well paced and the clever dialogue is one of elements which elevates this book from many others I’ve read recently; it was so honest I could imagine Al talking to me in his local dialect.

The book has an incredible sense of place which was facilitated by the British slang used throughout that maintained its authenticity. All of the characters were three dimensional and each one had his or her views of Al, positive and negative, which gave the book more than a touch of real world dynamics. As for the sex, although there was lots of it, it was just right for this couple.

If you love British stories, and even if you don’t, this is a romance that you will truly enjoy and savour and I will re-read this novella whenever I need a lift. Muscling Through is a wonderful read – don’t miss it!

Highly recommended.

Muscling Through will be released by Samhain Publishing on July 19 but don’t hate me for reviewing it early because you can pre-order. :)


  • I needed a good book yesterday and remembered this review so I did an insta-buy and loved it as much as you did, Wave. Al and Larry were a very sweet and wonderful couple and I totally enjoyed their story. Thanks for the great review!


    • Leslie

      It took you this long to remember Muscling Through? lol. I’m very glad you enjoyed Al and Larry and their story. :) It was my pleasure to review this book – it will definitely be on my list of Top Books this year.

  • Just finished reading the book and I love it! I have not read such a refreshing story in a while. Do you know if there is a sequel? I hope so.

    • Hi Suzi

      Wasn’t this just the greatest couple?

      I’m interviewing J.L. (Jamie) Morrow in September so that’s one question you can ask her. I’ll write a post about the interview in early August so watch for it.

  • Wave, thank you for recommendation, so funny and Al was so adorable and I totally agree that it is much more nuanced stuff than just pure fluff. Thank you.

    • Sirius
      This is one of those books that might get overlooked for different reasons, and I was pleased to bring it to your attention. I’m happy you enjoyed it. :)

  • Just got the book – read most of it while I was waiting for my son to finish his class (it’s a 2 hour class). I thought this story was adorable – funny, romantic, touching. The author maintained such a nice, light touch with the narrator’s voice throughout. I’ve read Pricks and Pragmatism by this author but nothing else. I think I’m going to start going through her backlist! Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Pea
      Thanks for coming back and letting me and other readers know that you enjoyed this book. It’s my favourite of all her books so far. :) LOVED Al’s “voice” and narration.

  • Hi Wave

    got this early this morning, stayed up to read it ……..brilliant writing. There is such an underlying poignancy to all the humour that occasionally made my eyes fill. Larry and Al are probably the most original M/M couple I’ve found so far. They are wonderful together.

    Lovely review.

    • Raine
      I’m so happy you weren’t disappointed with Muscling Through. Whenever I review a book so far in advance and give it such a great build-up I wonder if I’m the only reader who would like it. :)

      Aren’t they the most wonderful couple? And the humour was so heartfelt in many places.

  • Thank you – this looks completely charming. I read the excerpt on the publisher’s website and it made me laugh. I’ve pre-ordered it.

    • That’s great Pea. I think you will really love this book and the characters are very funny. Let me know what you think after you read the book.

  • I so need a pouting little green man right now.
    Oh, well at least the review’s great so I’m glad I’ve pre-ordered. Now I just have to wait for the 19th to come.

    • Well the green man is pouting but Christian has hidden him from you .lol

      I really hope you enjoy Muscling Through as much as I did Eva.

    • Actually it’s not fluff. I almost passed this one over too because I thought it would be the same old, same old. There are lots of nuances and subtleties in the book even though Al is the probably the least subtle person in the universe. :) He really is something else because almost everything is over his head – great characterization of both protags.

      I hope you enjoy the book. Please come back and let me know what you thought of it.

  • So glad I pre-ordered this one also, the excerpt really sold me.
    Great review also, you hit on all the points that will make this a great story!

    • Thanks Rdafan7. I tried not to reveal much of the plot except for the guys’ first meeting. I hope you enjoy Muscling Through.

  • Wave, you are so lucky to get to read this already. I’ve pre-ordered and it’s anguishing to have to wait so long to read it! JL Merrow is an auto-buy for me, I love her style.

    • Meraehl
      You will have something to which to look forward. :) I thought that Jamie did an excellent job on Muscling Through and I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed the characters. After you read it please come back and tell me what you thought of the book – I’m really interested in your perspective. :)

  • Gosh darn it! I ran off to go buy, only to discover it hasn’t been released yet. *sigh*

    You are such a tease!

    Can’t wait for it to be released!

    • Sorry Merith. I might have said that it wasn’t being released until July 19th. lol.

      The anticipation will be worth it – trust me. 😮 The price is also incredible. :)

  • Can’t wait to get this one. Some books are a “must buy”, even if it means blowing the budget. Then again, it seems Samhain is the place to go when watching the pennies.

  • Wave, thanks for the fabulous review! I’m thrilled you liked it. Al was one of those characters I just adored writing and I hated to have to stop!

    While I’m here, I’d like to say how much I owe to fellow author and co-conspirator Josephine Myles – when I first sent Muscling Through to her it was a very short story indeed; by dint of creative suggestions, enthusiasm and general slave-driving she chivvied me along to beef it up to its final length!

    And at the risk of further frustrating readers – Jo’s got her own novel, Barging In (), coming out from Samhain in September – and I can tell you now, it’s a cracking good read! 😉

    • Jamie
      You’re very welcome. I really loved Al and I have already re-read Muscling Through and will probably do so again before the weekend is over.

      Jo seems very talented – first of all, all the work she put in with the two anthologies, then helping you with Muscling Through. I have Barging In already but the readers on the site will kill me if I review it before the release date (although I might sneak it in a few days early when they’re not looking. ) :)

      Thank you for dropping by.

    • Aw, thanks hon! I love this story, and it was a real privilege to be able to watch it grow (and grow, and grow!) And what’s more, I didn’t even need to suggest you added in any more sex scenes, did I? ;D

      And thanks for the Barging In plug – much appreciated! :hearts02:

  • I’m not going to read the review yet. Can’t wait to read this. Feels like I’ve been waiting forever even though it’s only been a few months. Still have 11 more days :sad:

    • There’s nothing in the review except how much I love the story. lol.

      I guess I’ll have to wait until you’ve read the book and you can tell me then if the review is on the money. 😕

      • *grumbles*grumbles*

        I actually did pre-order it. As a side-note, wow on the samhain book prices compared to other publishers like DSP. With the quality they usually keep that’s an excellent price.

        • Sometimes it seems as if Samhain is giving these books away because their prices are so competitive. :) Great time for purchasers.

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