A to Z by Marie Sexton
Zach Mitchell is stuck in a rut. His college boyfriend left him ten years ago, but Zach still lives in the same apartment, drives the same car, and feeds his ex-boyfriend’s ungrateful cat. His Denver business, A to Z Video Rental, is struggling. He has annoying customers, eccentric neighbors, and an unfulfilling romance with his landlord, Tom.
A combat boot-wearing punk with an attitude, Angelo Green was raised in foster homes and has been on his own since he was sixteen; he has never learned to trust or to love. He doesn’t do relationships, so when Angelo takes a job at A to Z Video, he decides Zach is strictly off-limits.
Despite their differences, Zach and Angelo quickly become friends, and when Zach’s break-up with Tom puts his business on the line, it’s Angelo who comes up with a solution. Together with Jared and Matt, their friends from Coda, Colorado, Zach and Angelo will find a way to save A to Z, but will they be able to save each other too?
A to Z is called a Promises spin-off which is one of the selling factors for me. Having adored Promises, I was really excited to read the laid back romantic style of the author once again. This offering does evoke some of the highlights of the previous book but ultimately fails to live up to the same excellence due to the writing style. The alternating first person point of view is jarring and uncomfortable to read, which constantly draws the reader out of the experience. Although the characters are interesting and the plot contains a good romance with a deft touch of angst, drama, and confusion, the choppy narrative significantly lessens what could have been a much better book.
Zach Mitchell is introduced early on as the owner of a video rental store even though he hates movies and hasn’t seen very many. He’s fell into the job right out of college when getting high, drinking, and having sex were his main goals in life. Although he eventually cleaned up his act, he lacks a driving ambition that allowed him to drift into shop ownership without much forward momentum. When his new landlord comes on very aggressively, Zach naturally drifts into an unfulfilling relationship. Thankfully a bright new employee Angelo wakes Zach from his blind, rudderless life with the hope for something entirely different and exciting.
Once again Sexton has delivered a seemingly simplistic plot that works incredibly well. There is no big drama, no misunderstandings, and no car chases or angst filled weeping here. Yet the story is never boring, slow, or bland. Sexton offers a light, satisfying, and thoroughly absorbing style of writing that lets the reader indulge with delight. Here the story focuses on clueless Zach as he figures out what he wants and finally realizes the man working for him offers him much more than shop assistance. However their journey is not over there as they must work out the kinks of their relationship as two men not accustomed to being with another person. The tone is light and the pace moves swiftly even with a few obviously contrived situations. Here the inclusion of Jared and Matt is nice for fans but not really necessary and clearly orchestrated rather than natural.
That aspect doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of the book but what causes the story to stumble is the choice of writing style. Here the story is told in alternating first person point of view with Zach speaking in past tense while Angelo speaks in broken present tense. The two narrators bounce every chapter and often replay the last scene just from the other’s perspective. While this does help the reader see and understand both men, the change is jarring. Zach’s narration has a smooth, almost effortless style that sinks the reader into his cute and hapless thoughts and actions. Yet this is juxtaposed to Angelo’s more aggressive, choppy speech which is interesting but takes more effort. Just as I was getting used to one narrator, it would flip and I would have to spend time getting into the next one then it would flip again. While not fatally annoying, this style keeps the book very disjointed and always reminds the reader they are reading a book so you can’t sink into the story.
Here’s an example of the two narrators, first Zach and then Angelo.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
So now here I am: thirty-four, single, and the not-so-proud owner of A to Z Video Rental. Did I mention that I hate movies?
He invites me over again two nights later, and we spend another night sittin’ on his livin’ room floor, watchin’ a movie and eatin’ takeout Thai food. When I leave I can’t help hopin’ he’ll ask me over again. Sure beats sittin’ at my place by myself.
The characters are interesting with very different personalities. The change in narrator allows both men to show their thoughts and emotions well creating well rounded characters. Zach is a nice change from the typical sweet and clueless protagonist. Here he doesn’t have grand ambition to be a CEO or incredibly wealthy. In fact, he lacks a driving force in his life and ambition before meeting Angelo. Instead of making Zach a pathetic character, it is refreshing to read a very common type man. Once Zach wakes up to his feelings for the other man, he transfers his desires and ambitions onto him. Zach suddenly has a focus in his life – Angelo – that while isn’t his entire life; it is the center of his life. Zach’s attention becomes sharper and there are several very lovely scenes with Zach showering quiet, careful affection onto Angelo’s ankle, his inner elbow, or some small piece of the whole that Zach adores.
While Zach has a steady, comforting presence and love, Angelo is the opposite. Abandoned by his parents at an early age, he has scrapped and worked for his life. He distrusts relationships and connections, craving a personal space that can’t be taken away or corrupted. Angelo struggles with his fear of commitment and abandonment but also has intelligence, strength, and compassion. He loves movies and sees the subtle nuance behind the obvious themes and is ultimately a complicated, interesting figure. His relationship to Zach makes for a good pairing while his friendship with Matt is surprising and entertaining. Matt is just one of the many colorful secondary characters that are introduced to add humor and flavor to the story.
Overall I think the story would have worked better written in alternating third person pov in the same tense. I wish the entire novel had featured the same effortless, absorbing ease that is depicted in Zach’s narrative. However, A to Z is still an engaging, light, and quick read with a touch of angst, drama, and a few overly contrived scenes. The end result is a warm comfort read with strong romance and a lasting happy ending. While it doesn’t live up to Promises, A to Z still stands on its own.
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