Title: Hard Tail (Southampton Stories #2)
Author: J.L. Merrow
Publisher: Self Published
Cover Artist: Kanaxa
Buy Link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: contemporary m/m romance
Length: Novel (259 pdf pages)
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A gripping, fast-paced, and well-written out-for-you story set in rural England.
Finding love can be a bumpy ride.
His job: downsized out of existence. His marriage: dead in the water. It doesn’t take a lot of arm twisting for Tim Knight to agree to get out of London and take over his injured brother’s mountain bike shop for a while. A few weeks in Southampton is a welcome break from the wreck his life has become, even though he feels like a fish out of water in this brave new world of outdoor sports and unfamiliar technical jargon.
The young man who falls—literally—through the door of the shop brings everything into sharp, unexpected focus. Tim barely accepts he’s even in the closet until his attraction to Matt Berridge pulls him close enough to touch the doorknob.
There’s only one problem with the loveable klutz: his bullying boyfriend. Tim is convinced Steve is the cause of the bruises that Matt blows off as part of his risky sport. But rising to the defense of the man he’s beginning to love means coming to terms with who he is—in public—in a battle not even his black belt prepared him to fight. Until now.
Contains an out-and-proud klutz, a closeted, karate-loving accountant—and a cat who thinks it’s all about him. Watch for a cameo appearance from the Pricks and Pragmatism lovers. May inspire yearnings for fresh air, exercise, and a fit, tanned bike mechanic of your very own.
The Review: Tim Knight used to be an ordinary middle-class accountant for a Mill Hill, London firm. He had a wife, a BMW, a mortgage on his house, and his most daring activity consisted in winning a black belt in karate. His life may be a bit unexciting, but Tim is contented with keeping a low profile. He never caused his family any sorrow. Very unlikely his older brother Jay, who from his earliest years broke his bones on a regular basis and went on a self-discovery trip to Goa before opening a bike shop in their native Southampton. However, instead of making him the black sheep of the family, Jay’s shenanigans put him at the center of attention with none left for Tim, despite his best efforts to please everybody.
The day Tim’s job falls victim to his firm’s cost cutting measures is the day on which Tim’s comfortably dull life starts coming apart. Not much later his wife leaves him – for his friend, no less – and Tim finds himself minding his brother Jay’s bike shop while Jay is in hospital yet again. He’s also supposed to mind the shop’s only employee, Matt, who is a genius with bikes but otherwise apparently rather clumsy, considering the various bruises he keeps showing up with.
Over the course of the following weeks, Tim comes to reconsider his life. He realizes he misses London, and his marriage, far less than he’d have thought. A big part of that has to do with Matt, for whom Tim starts developing feelings he had denied himself for a very long time. But Matt is in a committed relationship, and Tim suddenly finds himself with a boyfriend of his own, Adam, without really knowing how he got there. Used to always go for the soft option because he never cared much one way or another, Tim gradually becomes aware that for the first time in his life he really wants something–someone–badly enough that he’s ready to fight for him
Tim tells this story from his 1st person POV in a catchy, witty and at times deliciously self-ironic voice that pulled me along, seeing me smoothly across the unfamiliar-to-me Briticisms that gave the sory such a nicely distinctive sense of place.
In the beginning Tim was so mellow he allowed everybody to just push him around. He let his wife walk out on him with his best farewell wishes, his mother and brother got to effortlessly shanghai him into unpaid shop-sitting, and Wolverine the cat had no problems bullying him into turning into a can-opener operator. Though once he figured out what he really wanted, Tim went about it with determination. He didn’t exactly turn from doormat to leadership personality, but over the course of the story, he certainly grew a pair. Even though sometimes his behavior appeared a little inconsistent, I found him believably drawn and grew to like him a lot.
Matt, on the other hand, was simply adorable right form the moment he literally stumbled onto the scene. I found him authentic as the abused part in an abusive relationship, and I liked that he found it in him to leave his violent partner of his own accord. He was no damsel in distress waiting to be rescued, he didn’t even ask Tim for sanctuary (though Tim of course ended up offering). Matt was brave, honest, and of a cheerful disposition despite everything that happened to him. I couldn’t help but taking him into my heart.
The most unsympathetic character in this book was, surprisingly, not Steve the vile boyfriend but Tim’s and Jay’s mother. Steve was merely a brainless brute (who actually remained quite sketchy outside of these denominating character traits). Now the mother? Perhaps she was meant to come across as protective in a lioness-defending-her-weakest-cub way, but to me, she was nothing but a bully if there ever was one, blatantly favoritistic (is this a word at all?) of Jay and unbearably condescending toward Tim. What she did to him throughout his youth bordered on emotional abuse, and the one-eighty she did in the end couldn’t redeem her to me. Unfortunately, she was quite realistic, too; I’ve met and despised people like her in real life.
The rest of the secondary cast were equally colorful and well-rounded, from Adam, Tim’s unlooked-for, sympathetic boyfriend down to Wolverine the squatter cat (who was an impressive character with a mind of his own, though the many references to his feline halitosis got a bit old after a while). For those who have read Pricks and Pragmatism, Luke and Russell indeed make an appearance ( since I haven’t read their story, they were lost on me – they didn’t do much to forward this story. But for their fans, meeting them again here might be a nice surprise and a treat.)
This book captured me and kept me turning the pages; I almost finished it in one setting even though I really should’ve been doing other things at that time. So consider yourself warned. 😀 Highly recommended!
Hard Tail will be released from Samhain Publishing on May 8th, 2012