Friday, 19 May 2017

The Truth About Goodbye by Russell Ricard


This review was first published on the WROTE Podcast LGBT website. 

The Truth About Goodbye is the self-assured debut novel from Russell Ricard, handling a tough subject with humour and grace. How does one move on from the grief of losing one’s husband? Of course, everyone is different, but it is Sebastian’s story which is told here. On the face of it, an ageing chorus boy, is dealing with two significant life events. The one year anniversary of the death of his husband, and turning 40 in the midst of an unforgiving and cruel environment; the New York show scene.


Sebastian’s well-meaning friend, Chloe, tries to make him feel better by setting him up with a date, failing miserably as Sebastian is still trying to accept and move on from his husband’s death. (Not surprisingly. A year is not that long when it comes to the loss of a true love.) Sebastian has tried a variety of distractions, including throwing himself into his choreographing work, with limited success. In the end, he has to face his grief alone, with all the requisite elements it throws at him. Anger, both at himself and his husband for leaving him, guilt at what was said or not said on the night he died, and fright at the thought of losing what they had forever, and erasing it with someone new. Through techniques taught by his lifestyle guru and grief counsellor, Sebastian gradually learns to accept his aloneness, and not be afraid of it. It is this journey of acceptance and dealing with loss, on which the novel is founded.
A very self-assured book, yet not an over-confident one.
Sebastian has lost a lot, as we discover through the book. Abandoned at birth, then losing his eccentric but much-loved adoptive parents, followed by the death of his husband, it seems inevitable that Sebastian expects to lose everything he loves. As he gradually learns to accept that loss, and realises that life is for living, not waiting to die, we see him blossom from a fragile, vulnerable man to one who regains his confidence and vitality. The emotional way he finally looks back on the night his husband dies, and eventually accepts it, is accomplished. Like I said at the beginning, this is a very self-assured book, yet not an over-confident one.
I didn’t get the strong feeling this was a “New York” novel, or even one set in the show business arena. There are elements of dance, as Sebastian is shown tutoring a group who are already stealing his thunder as younger, fitter versions of himself, but the main story is about how he deals with a painful event in a life that has been defined by loss. The author has a talent for letting the reader into the lives of his characters from the beginning. Sebastian is flawed but you feel his pain, as he doubts his own sanity and viability as a man alone. Middle-aged wild child, Chloe, is frustrating but ultimately endearing. Greg, Sabastian’s nemesis and rival, could easily be a caricature but somehow manages not to be. And Reid, Sebastian’s potential love interest, is cute as a button and kind with it, but is it too soon for Sebastian to find love?
Due to the central premise of the book, there is a fair amount of navel-gazing, but Sebastian’s friends provide light relief, notably ex-Rockette Chloe. The dialogue between them felt real and convincing. Sebastian comes across as fragile, needy, a little bit tetchy, but ultimately I liked him and wished him well. You get to know about his family, why he is the way he is. It’s a balanced story that pulls you with it, like a seemingly calm river hiding rip currents beneath the surface. I found it to be that rare thing, a fairly light read that leaves an echo long after it has been completed.

BLURB


Sebastian Hart has dealt with a lifetime of goodbyes. And now, a year after his husband Frank’s death, the forty-year-old Broadway chorus boy still blames himself. After all, Sebastian started the argument that night over one of Frank’s former date items, someone younger than Sebastian who still wanted Frank.

Challenged by his best friend, the quirky ex-Rockettes dancer Chloe, Sebastian struggles toward his dream of becoming a choreographer and grapples with romantic feelings for Reid, a new student in his tap class.

Ultimately, Sebastian begins to wonder whether it’s his imagination, or not, that Frank’s ghost is here, warning him that he daren’t move on with another love. He questions the truth: Is death really the final goodbye?

Sugar & Spice by Garett Groves


Hello! Review time again. This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast LGBT writers website.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although part of a series (Spice of Life), it was a standalone, straightforward read, with zingy dialogue and two engaging main characters.
When I first started reading, I thought Max, the young, hot, clueless wannabe model, was a bit of a knob, to be honest (US readers, that isn’t a good thing.) He certainly didn’t endear himself to me when we were first introduced. Yes, he has the body, but he also has a self-destructive streak that I wanted to slap out of him. It was hardly surprising that Lucas, the older man who had been around the block a few times, was wary when Max made play for him in a gay bar. Encounters like that seem rarely destined to last.

But Lucas was a sweetie. I had the feeling that the author was trying for David Gandy, but I read Lucas as Henry from Cucumber. The image was thankfully shaken off when he and Max first hook up for their first pearl-clutching sexual encounter, after which, Lucas has the presence of mind to leave, rather than fall headlong into an improbable “mind-blowing sex all night” scenario.

And it is this restraint which makes the book work. Max does all the running. Lucas is the one holding back. At 45, he has doubts about his viability both as a lover and and photographer, so when Max has eyes for no-one else, he is understandably wary.

Max is also learning a sharp lesson in humility, after being fired from his job and dumped as favoured model for his photographer ex-boyfriend, but he is also wary of Lucas’s motives for wanting to hire him for his own photography purposes.

When they begin to work together, the awkwardness is almost painful, and Lucas’s attempts to make things right between Max and his former crush are excruciating, but in a good, “read it behind my fingers” way. You’re never really sure whether these two will make a successful couple. The odds seem stacked against them, for all Lucas’s wealth and Max’s worldliness, but the pay-off is worth the slow burn. (No spoilers – the author guarantees an HEA on Amazon. Also, no cheating or cliffhangers – good to know for people who hate both, like me.)

The author has paced this book very skilfully, creating an enjoyable, fun read with depth, and characters that feel real and well-rounded. And Lance, Max’s frenemy, is hilarious. I spent most of the book not trusting him, expecting him to stab Max in the back. Will he? Won’t he? Read it and find out.

BLURB

After getting rejected by the only guy that he’s ever allowed himself to feel something more than lust for, Max Williams has convinced himself that the bachelor’s life is the only way for him to live. At 28, Max has everything he needs for it: a smoking body, just enough money to keep the drinks coming, and an endless supply of guys that are more than happy to keep his bed warm at night. Still, he can’t shake the feeling that something is missing.

When he loses his day job thanks to his partying and the modeling career he’d been trying to build collapses, Max isn’t sure of so sure of himself anymore, but there’s one thing he knows without a doubt: something’s got to give.


Lucas White has a reputation of his own–and he’s tired of it. The security provided by his cushy job as editor-in-chief of a legendary local photography magazine has kept him stagnant for too long both professionally and personally. He never dreamed he’d be able to retire by the age of 45 and start his own passion project, but that’s exactly where he’s found himself and it hasn’t been an easy transition.

While celebrating his last day at the office, Lucas and Max get up close and personal at a new bar and Lucas’s entire world turns into a photo negative. Max is the perfect model that he’s been looking for to bring fresh eyes to his new venture, but he looks so much like someone who once broke his heart–and Lucas isn’t sure that he can look at Max’s beautiful body every day for work without continuing to touch it.

Against his better judgment, Lucas hires Max. As they start working together, the line between employer and employee quickly blurs, and not even the pact they made to remain strictly professional seems to keep things in focus. Though they know better, neither man can resist their desire for something more–but Max is afraid of commitment, and Lucas can’t stomach the idea of being taken advantage of by another pretty face. 

Will their differences bring them down, or will they come together like sugar and spice?