Is it normal for a romance to blossom between a man who’s in the closet and a man who’s never wanted more than a hook-up? How about when a clairvoyant grandmother and the ghost of a dead aunt are thrown into the mix, along with a stiletto-wearing twin sister, an Irish pub, a detective brother, and a mother who thinks her son just needs a good woman?
Greg Capello thought that he’d feel normal if he pretended he wasn’t gay, and now it’s making him crazy that he can’t stop thinking about his new boss Finn Sparks and Finn’s amber eyes, brilliant smile and strong hands, among other things. Finn thinks it’s not normal that instead of wanting to hop into bed with Greg, he’d like to know more about the man, like what’s under that starchy exterior, and who he’s talking to when it appears that no one’s there.
They can’t fight the attraction between them; every time they touch it’s electric. So Finn finds himself taking it slow and going on dates, for crying out loud. And Greg has to accept himself, or accept the consequences of staying hidden.
What’s normal anyway?
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An actual romance without much sex! Do these exist anymore? Anyway Back to Normal offers a look at two men who come together slowly, building a friendship and easing into the sexual attraction. This story stands out immediately because the two men don’t fall into bed immediately but they also don’t lack any sexual chemistry. There is no big tension keeping them apart, they simply move at a slower pace. I really enjoyed this difference and kept the story fresh and interesting, even during the slower parts.
Boudreau’s second novel follows Greg as he stands on the cusp of change. Fresh out of a divorce, newly pink slipped twice, and faced with an attraction he can’t deny, Greg is also on the verge of a breakdown. Although he’s used to hiding his feelings and problems away, Greg is slowly discovering that he can’t do that anymore. His slow awakening makes him focus on his goals in life and what being normal and happy means to him. With the support of his brother Joe and Finn’s surprising patience and help, Greg just may figure out his life.
The plot is very character driven and surprisingly light given the life changing issues Greg deals with. Coming out to himself and in his life is not an easy process and the novel does a commendable job by offering this with honesty. Greg fights himself and denies his nature outwardly while knowing the truth. He has some childhood trauma associated with being gay so it takes him quite a while to get over this and accept that being gay is not a death sentence. The story is very sweet and honest, letting Greg take time to accept his choices and come to terms with his feelings. Greg even sees a therapist who is instrumental in giving Greg new coping mechanisms and helping him be happy.
Greg is a good character and he sparks well with Finn. Both men grow and change considerably over the course of the novel. Greg changes from a scared, hiding man to someone confident, even aggressive and knows what he wants. Finn goes from being a one night stand emotionally distant man to focusing on one person and letting their needs come first. Finn is remarkably patient and understanding as he lets Greg take his time. Going weeks and months without much physical interaction is a huge change from Finn’s past one night stands. It’s nice to watch Greg take the time he needs and slowly accept this new relationship. Both men feel genuine and their connection realistic.
The addition of Greg’s eccentric dead aunt in his head is very well done. Not only is this a very funny detail but it doesn’t feel ridiculous or over the top. In fact I loved it when Aunt Coco had something to say, which was usually entertaining and witty. The writing has an ease which makes the pages fly by. I didn’t even notice how much I’d read until I had to put it down. Towards the second half of the story it does slow down some. There are several repetitive scenes of Greg training as a bartender and working at his new job. While these scenes are fine and nice to see people actually working in books, they also feel like filler. Just a way to show life goes on as Greg works out his issues and Finn is a stable, patient presence.
Unfortunately these scenes go on for a bit too long and there is no resolution to Greg’s job. He gets satisfaction from bartending but what about his goals of returning to teaching? This is dropped and unresolved. Also the ending is over the top. I don’t want to give any spoilers but this feels contrived and unnecessary, not to mention contrary to the progress Greg had been making. It shows how far Greg has come and provides a happy ending with Finn, but I felt it could have been done in a much better way.
Other than those few stumbles, this story is incredibly fun to read. There is great tension between Finn and Greg and the slow pace of their relationship is enjoyable to read. The dialogue and secondary characters have warmth and humor, keeping you interested and entertained. This is a story I’d read again for something light and totally satisfying.
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