Life After Joe by Harper Fox
It’s not the breaking up that kills you, it’s the aftermath.
Ever since his longtime lover decided he’d seen the “heterosexual light” Matt’s life has been in a nosedive. Six months of too many missed shifts at the hospital, too much booze, too many men. Matt knows he’s on the verge of losing everything, but he’s finding it hard to care.
Then Matt meets Aaron. He’s gorgeous, intelligent and apparently not interested in being picked up. Still, even after seeing Matt at his worst, he doesn’t turn away. Aaron’s kindness and respect have Matt almost believing he’s worth it—and that there could be life after Joe. But his new found happiness is threatened when Matt begins to suspect Aaron is hiding something, or someone…
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
I wanted to read this due to a largely positive review and a new publisher. While I didn’t like the book as much as the other review, Life After Joe is a solid contribution to the genre. It’s not perfect and some of the angst goes overboard while the writing tends to be awkward and wordy. The characters are well rounded and interesting, with depths that are well portrayed among the angst. The story is strongly character driven and those romance fans who love underdog protagonists with a healthy dose of drama are going to especially appreciate this offering.
Matt’s having a bad year. His childhood best friend and long time lover has left him for a woman and all the trappings within. Matt hasn’t been able to handle his grief, instead spiraling into a self destructive tendencies. He’s drinking too much, sleeping around, and blowing off his duties as a doctor. He is disgusted with himself but he can’t quite get himself out of the hole he slid into, no matter how much he may want to. The first sign of hope comes from meeting the incredibly kind oil rigger Aaron. Aaron shows a kindness that almost hurts as much as Matt’s grief but slowly Matt starts to pull himself together with Aaron’s help. However Aaron has his own past and secrets which may throw Matt’s new happiness into a tailspin.
The story is somewhat drama filled as the first half goes into detail showing just how far Matt falls. This is both interesting and difficult since Matt’s depression and actions aren’t going to appeal to all readers. He drinks like an alcoholic, popping pills, and repeatedly picking up random strangers for dangerous sex. This is especially difficult to see against the information that Matt is a doctor, but displays virtually no awareness of his destructive behavior. Matt is both a frustrating and sympathetic character, likely both for most readers at different times. While I sympathized with his breakdown, I also got frustrated with his lack of spine. He didn’t seem to have the energy to stand up for himself but he also didn’t really justify his apathy. I didn’t always enjoy reading his journey and he wasn’t the most likable character for me at times, but reader preference is likely to vary.
Aaron is the real star of the story with his kindness and quiet intensity. He treats Matt well without giving the impression he’s pitying or condescending to the other man. One of the best scenes is where Matt is drunkenly passed out and Aaron simply leaves a glass of water, aspirin, and a bowl for Matt to be sick. There’s no overwhelming mothering, just support, understanding and strength for something better. The resolution between Aaron and Matt does stretch belief quite a bit (just wouldn’t ever happen) while I think going too easy on a very important point (Aaron’s past) but this isn’t likely to bother anyone too much. Either way the characters presented are thorough, well thought out and interesting.
The writing while competent without glaring mistakes or problems, tended to be wordy and awkward at times. The structure and verbose writing had me working while reading. I kept thinking there are too many odd comments mid thought thrown in and the clunky prose never let me sink into the story. It’s not enough to ruin the book but it did take away some of my enjoyment and I took much longer to finish the novella even though it’s rather short. For the most part though, this likely isn’t going to take away from the dramatic and interesting story, filled with seriously hot sex scenes and well rounded characters. A decent offering from a new author that I’ll be checking out again in the future.
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