Title: Promises (Coda Book 1) Second Edition
Author: Marie Sexton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: May 14, 2019
Page Count: 228
Reviewed by: ParisDude
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Can a man who loves his small hometown trust it to love him back?
Jared Thomas has lived in the mountain town of Coda, Colorado his whole life. He can’t imagine living anywhere else. But Jared’s opportunities are limited—the only other gay man in town is twice his age, and although Jared originally planned to be a teacher, the backlash that might accompany the gig keeps him working at his family’s store instead.
Then Matt Richards moves to town.
Matt may not be into guys, but he doesn’t care that Jared is. A summer camping and mountain biking together cements their friendship, but when Matt realizes he’s attracted to Jared, he panics and withdraws, leaving Jared all too aware of what he’s missing.
Facing Matt’s affair with a local woman, his disapproving family, and harassment from Matt’s coworkers, Jared fears they’ll never find a way to be together. But for the first time, he has the courage to try… if he can only convince Matt.
**Meant to Be**
Jared has simple goals for his freshman year of college: make friends, lose his virginity, come out, and maybe fall in love. He doesn’t anticipate getting caught between his friend Bryan and Bryan’s flamboyant ex. Through the awkwardness, Jared learns love doesn’t always mean sex and the most meaningful connections might have nothing to do with romance.
I have to admit: in some parts this book turned out an almost painful reading experience. Not because “Promises” and its prequel “Meant to Be” were so bad, quite the opposite (very much the opposite, make no mistake). But the story made me walk down memory-line more than once, and I realized that even if I was pretty sure I had come to terms with my past long ago, there are issues that still hurt when someone pushes the right buttons. And Marie Sexton did with both stories. You see, I’m basically a small-town-boy, too, just like Jared Thomas. He has grown up in little Coda, Colorado, whereas my background is a small village in the Alps. Different settings, but the same amount of everybody-knows-everybody-else, the same amount of pettiness and prejudice, and the same amount of snide, nasty remarks towards anybody or anything even remotely “different”, resulting in the same tendency to make yourself as small and invisible as possible when you’re a gay boy. And the same tendency, once you’re an adult and have come out, to remain unobtrusive and discreet.
Jared is as lucky as I am to have the support of his family. He has his mom, his brother Brian and, most importantly, his sister-in-law Lizzy, who triggered off warmest loving feelings in my breast throughout the book. She really must be the most endearing person in the whole universe, understanding, caring, funny, and smart—I confess I fell a bit in (platonic) love with her. Where Jared’s and my experience differ: I moved to Vienna, then to Paris. And Jared, after finishing college, returns to his hometown. His insecurities and his need to be left in peace make him prefer to work in the family store rather than try to get a job as a teacher. Which is a fairly silly self-sacrifice as he has got the necessary diplomas, the ability, and the patience and love required to be perfect for the job (we can see it when he starts tutoring some youngsters and is a huge success). Jared pretends to be happy with his quiet, subdued life. But he’s lonely. Very lonely. He realizes that strongly when a stranger waltzes into the store one day: Matt Richardson. The new police officer, Matt would be any gay guy’s wet dream. Tall, tanned, hunky, muscular, broody-scowly-taciturn. Straight as they come, as bad luck would have it. But lonely as hell, too.
Of course, Jared and Matt strike up an immediate and deep friendship, buddying around while drinking beer, talking about football, or going on mountain bike rides. Yet Jared soon senses their relationship shift. That he is immensely, physically and emotionally attracted to handsome Matt doesn’t come as a surprise. But that straight Matt should feel drawn to the young, sweet man with the wild, curly hair, too, soon starts to trouble the police officer. And that… “thingy” they both feel for each other starts to interfere with their friendship. Because Matt has just as many issues, the origins and causes of which are to be found in his past, as Jared. And that is not the best base neither for buddy-buddy-ship nor for anything stronger.
I didn’t know the author Marie Sexton before reading this book, so I didn’t expect much when I started the first chapter, to be honest. But I was soon engrossed, swept away, overwhelmed, following the ups and downs, the sizzling-hots and icy-colds of the perfectly paced plot. The book is written in that deceptively easy-going style that keeps many things unsaid, understandable between the lines only, but still as clear as spring-water from the Colorado mountains. Nothing is forced, nothing is far-fetched, everything feels and sounds and looks so out-of-real-life; everything is subtle, even when one of the main characters behaves like a perfect dick (sometimes even both of them do). Maybe (probably, pretty surly even) it’s my own (his)tory that made the whole plot find such a resonance in myself—I suspect I’d be behaving a lot like Jared if I were still living in my Austrian village today (I didn’t move to the Paris metropolis for no reason). So, all his angst, his anger, his frustrations, his hopes, his longings, ambitions, lusty feelings, deceptions, sadness, they all echoed through me so much that I had to smoke even more calm-down cigarettes than I usually do in the evenings. I really went through a rollercoaster of emotions and was amazed by how genuine the whole story felt.
I could go on and on in this fashion, but I don’t want to bore you to death with my own stories. Suffice it to say that this is one truly amazing, excellent book. Of course, if you’re looking for a nice ‘n’ cosy low-burning romance, don’t open this one. But if you want to feel stirred up and challenged, if you want to know what young guys sometimes have to endure in order to accept themselves, their love, their place in the world as gay guys, this is a must-read. I often wondered how Marie Sexton could know all the things she shows us—she’s neither a guy nor gay, after all. But obviously, she’s either a mind-reader or simply emphatic enough to understand and express many of the things I thought I had forgotten but must have merely been suppressing. Big, huge thumbs-up for this one, and I’m certain I’ll check out Sexton’s other books too. PS: the prequel “Meant to Be” included in this edition turned out just as extraordinarily to-the-point as far as first encounters, first sex experiences and first fallings-in-love are concerned. Not as angsty, so it’s the perfect read to round off the book.