Title: Beneath the Surface
Author: Kate Sherwood
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novel (200 pages)
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by jeayci
Review Summary: Delving beneath the surface results in what appears to be Twu Wuv, if it lasts past the initial excitement.
Blurb: When Peter Carr’s company sends him to Southwestern Ontario to sweet-talk the town into agreeing to a gravel quarry proposal, he welcomes the challenge. Technically he’s a lawyer, but really he’s a problemsolver. He just never expected the problem to be Caleb Sinclair, the passionate but introverted artisan carpenter who lives next to the proposed quarry site.
“Know your enemy.” That’s Caleb’s philosophy. And trying to turn fertile farmland into a gravel pit earns Peter the title of “enemy.” Caleb loves that land, and if he has to make peace with his homophobic neighbors to make war on Peter, so be it. Except knowing his enemy doesn’t turn out anything like he expected. Peter’s not the fairy-tale monster—he just might be the first step to happy ever after.
Review: The title for this book is wonderfully apt. Peter starts out as a rather surface sort of guy, one who enjoys the thrill of The Game and basically sees all of life as part of that game. At the beginning of the story, his business partner and best friend asks, “Is this all there is?” Peter pretends to misunderstand her, not wanting to go below the surface to the extent a real answer would require. But the question haunts him throughout the story, and eventually he discovers the answer.
Since it’s a romance novel, I don’t think I’m spoilering anything to tell you the answer he finds is that no, this isn’t all there is. In fact, there can be a heckuva lot more if you meet the right person and allow yourself to develop a relationship with them. And despite their obvious differences, it’s clear that Caleb is the right person for Peter. I’m a little less certain that Peter is the right person for Caleb, though he’s happy enough while we see him. Caleb has a real depth, which I think contributes to Peter’s desire and ultimate ability to delve beneath the surface.
Caleb is a delightfully complex character and I fell in love with him almost immediately. He’s painfully shy, but honesty and doing the right thing are so fundamentally important to him that he pushes past it when necessary. Even when he’s uncomfortable, because he’s pushing his emotional comfort zone, he has a talent for saying the right thing and making other people feel better. At one point he makes a bit of a speech to his best friend’s wife that brings her to tears. He’s alarmed that he said something so horribly wrong as to have that effect. But I’d gotten rather teary myself, because his words and the emotion behind them were so heart-felt and beautiful.
It took me a bit longer to warm up to Peter, but he won me over as he fell for Caleb and changed as a result of that. I’m not sure how much I’d have liked Peter if I’d spent much time with him pre-Caleb, so I don’t think it was just getting to know him better that made me like him more. And I still never liked him as much as Caleb, though I think he actually became a better man as he got to know and care for Caleb. I could see how Caleb could have that effect on people, so I found that completely believable.
I found their relationship believable, but would have found it more so if it had happened over a bit longer period of time. They start out basically opponents, on opposite sides of the quarry issue. They struggle with developing a relationship under the circumstances. This results in an instant attraction which results in some push-pull for a while, then a decision to take a chance and see where it might go, and ultimately to a HEA.
Overall that’s a great development pattern, it just seemed to happen a little fast for my taste. Especially considering where Peter started out and where he ended up, I’d have liked to see a bit more time elapse so I could better believe the change would last. They seemed to get from what seemed an impossible situation to a settled HEA too quickly for me to be confident it really would last once the initial shine wore off.
I also thought Caleb’s brother was a bit too over-the-top, unredeemed and unredeemable, more caricature than character. And it cast Caleb’s past behavior with him into a bit more of a martyrish light than I’d have liked. But aside from that I thought the characters were well-developed, complex, and mostly likable. The story was engrossing, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end.