Bastards And Pretty Boys by K.Z. Snow
Charles Larkin is finally happy with his life…for the most part. He’s happy with his new summer getaway—a rustic cottage he just bought on a small Wisconsin lake. He’s happy that his ex-wife, whom he divorced because he couldn’t play straight anymore, has become one of his best friends. He’s happy he can breathe again.
It’s only Kenneth, Charlie’s boyfriend of five months, who makes this new life less than completely satisfying. Charlie feels they’ve never been quite right for each other, and Kenneth cements that conviction when he makes a disturbing confession. Charlie knows their time together is quickly coming to an end. Problem is, Kenneth doesn’t know it. And he tends to be rather possessive.
Planning to spend a quiet, relaxing two or three weeks at Cloud Lake—fixing up his place, reading, even attempting to overcome his fear of water—Charlie is less than thrilled to discover his next-door neighbor is one hell of a looker. He doesn’t need that kind of distraction, especially since his issues with Kenneth haven’t yet been resolved. But there’s a ninety percent chance the neighbor is straight, has a wife or girlfriend, and could be leaving the next day. Charlie clings to those probabilities.
Only, Booker isn’t going anywhere, and he isn’t that easily ignored. And neither is his unexpected, none-too-savory baggage. And neither, for that matter, is Charlie’s. But when two people care enough about each other, they figure out how to help carry each other’s baggage…or cast it aside.
This particular story surprised me because it didn’t feel like the writing I was expecting. Although I haven’t read the entire backlist of Snow’s, usually her writing engages me almost immediately. I read/reviewed her Utopia X series and had a lot of problems with the plot but the writing was strong in many places and engaging enough that I finished the books each time. This time the writing felt stiff and awkward with odd word choices that didn’t fit the characters. The plot as well, although about relationships, had some outrageous twists that left me wondering why some choices were made.
The lengthy summary touches on the main points of the story without delving into the few semi-spoilers. Charles Lankin has been divorced for two years but recovered rather well. He’s now out of the closet, best friends with his ex-wife, and dating a very respectable masculine man for his first committed gay relationship. Unfortunately when Charles buys a weekend cabin at a rustic lake, his dreams of a peaceful vacation are shattered first by an unexpected confession of Kenneth’s and then by an equally unexpected interaction with Charles’ hot neighbor. The tangled web between all the men grows much smaller when a surprise connection is uncovered. Charles and Booker must leave their issues behind for a chance at happiness.
The story itself revolves around the problems and conflicts that arise even in the most seemingly perfect relationships. Charles is struggling to find happiness in a relationship with Kenneth but sees unhappy parallels to his defunct marriage. Not helping matters is a sudden strong attraction to his neighbor who makes his own attraction to Charles very clear. The various problems each man brings to the new relationship and emotional scars make up the body of the story while there is a side plot involving a person from Booker’s past that is attempting to cause problems between the two men. Not to mention Charles’ boyfriend Kenneth is not ready to be pushed aside, no matter what he confessed.
While trying to stray away from any spoilers, Charles’ response to Kenneth’s confession is baffling and ill fitting with Charles’ later reactions. Not to mention the later exposed connections between all the men slide just onto one side of ridiculous and convenient. There had to have been another way to clean up the problems then to tie all the complications up so neatly and connected. Furthermore, there is an added part of the story that is dropped and never mentioned again. Charles calls his ex-wife and asks her to employ a private investigator to help Booker’s problems. There is another scene when Charles checks up on the progress and then nothing is mentioned again. The actual resolution to this particular problem doesn’t happen within the space of the book but is left ambiguous with a statement from Charles that it would be taken care. When or how is not mentioned, which didn’t satisfy as a resolution and puts those scenes into question. Why add such details when they are dropped later?
The actual characters are decent but felt somewhat two-dimensional. There was actually very little drama and angst with only a small amount of soul searching for either man, given their issue laden lives. Although the lack of extended angst is nice, a bit more depth to either man would have helped. They clearly have great chemistry together but what made one or other man special is not fully explained or elucidated. This is partly due to the choice of first person narrator, Charles. The first person narration doesn’t bother me as a reader, but the odd choice in verbiage often reminded me I was reading a story rather than experiencing it. This odd choice of words jarred the story in numerous places, making the flow stuttered. Often sentences felt short and abrupt without an inherent ease.
Keen arousal spangled my groin.
“Maybe we should take this inside,” I said, my voice nearly anaerobic.
Ardor sent our breath sawing through the air.
But our respiration was shallow, a rapid counterpoint of intake and outflow between slack, parted lips.
I walked in farther. Picked up a scaly cone and sniffed it. The sticky residue it left on my fingers was pleasantly fresh and piquant. I was about to sink to the ground and sit there for a while, listening to birdsong and sampling the perfume of pine sap, when I heard a car come down the road. Pivoting, I glimpsed it between the trees.
His compassion touched me. It was all the more genuine for not being mawkish. I liked this man. I liked his lack of pretense.
This is also likely to vary from reader to reader, but I was simply surprised as I found previous work easier and more engaging (plot problems aside) than this particular offering. The too stiff prose translated to the action as well, making it seem jarring and disconnected. An additional small qualm is the repeated questioning of marijuana drug laws, which seemed to indicate a strong preference of the author’s or perhaps making a point. Considering the controversial nature of such laws, this inclusion is uncomfortable. But again, this is likely to be very reader specific. I personally didn’t like the point made repeatedly but others may not have an issue.
For the most part this story attempts to show the various problems in everyday men and their relationships. I didn’t find the writing as easy and engaging as I have in the past but perhaps others will connect more sharply with the characters. The various connections between the men slid too far into an easy solution and when the solution wasn’t resolved on page, I was left feeling cheated by the story. I hope I haven’t given away too much and as always, check it out and see for yourselves.
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