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Marie Sexton

REVIEW: Between Sinners and Saints by Marie Sexton

REVIEW: Between Sinners and Saints by Marie Sexton

Dear Ms. Sexton.

I’ve enjoyed your writing before, but it was Kaetrin’s review of this one that made me pull it out of Mt. TBR. I was interested in the concept and knew I could trust your writing. I’m glad I did, even if it wasn’t what I expected.

Levi Binder works in a gay bar and enjoys the “perks” of his position at least once a night in the bar’s storage room. He’s uninterested in relationships and is happy in his “work.” The only fly in his ointment is phone calls from various representatives of his Mormon family, trying to get him to see the error of his ways. Oh, and his hip and thigh, which after being abused by standing all night and then surfing during the day, hurt like a bitch. So he sees a neuro-muscular massage therapist (and I learned something new there–had no idea that neuro-muscular rehabilitative massage existed, let alone what it was). His therapist is Jaime, a quiet sort of guy who seems a bit skittish. Levi keeps coming onto Jaime, Jaime refuses and finally, when Levi won’t back down, kicks him out. And good for him, I say.

With the help of some friends, Levi figures out why Jaime not only won’t consider sex, but categorically refuses to be touched–he realizes that Jaime was probably sexually abused as a child. We already know this, because Jaime has thought about it, giving us a bit of an info-dump. Levi and Jaime work their way back to a professional relationship and then a friendship, because Levi now understands the boundaries, without ever actually discussing the sexual abuse with Jaime. He and Jaime also figure out that Jaime can sleep without nightmares in Levi’s bed because he finally feels safe, so they spend a lot more time together. But Levi starts to fall for Jaime without realizing it, and ends up changing as a result. First he tries to abstain from his easy bar sex and when he falls off the wagon spectacularly and dangerously with a bar patron, he quits the bar.

All of this is interwoven with Levi’s continuing struggles with his family, who variously want him to stop being gay altogether, or stop having gay sex, or stop having meaningless sex, gay or not, or stop working at the bar, his means to meaningless gay sex. But Jaime adores Levi’s large family (parents, Levi and five siblings, nineteen sibling offspring), and when Jaime and Levi finally start exploring the sexual side of their relationship, after they’ve figured out they’re in love, they have to navigate the shoals of Levi’s family’s disapproval, their place in it, Jaime’s past, and their growing love for each other.

I can’t believe that summary had to be so long, because the plot isn’t that complicated. It’s not a Romantic Suspense. No one has to save the world from the Big Bad. But it IS complicated nonetheless, with relationships and interpersonal tangles and the book is all the richer for it. Levi has a LARGE family, but most of the siblings and his parents have solid, individual personalities, which is a pretty good trick. Or, you know, damn hard work as a writer. :)

Here’s the thing, though: this book was an Inspirational. Now, admittedly, I’ve read one “true” Inspy in my life (Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love), and while I enjoyed it in an academic way, atheist me doesn’t particularly want to read any more. And although this book is a m/m romance, it’s definitely an Inspirational, proving that the two are NOT mutually exclusive (and really, it’s only the Christianist h8ers who claim they ARE mutually exclusive). While I appreciated the writing and the characters and understood how the inspirational nature of the story was good and right, even necessary, for the characters, it was…unexpected to me.

Because the story is REALLY about how Levi finds his way back to the bosom of his religious family, finds his way back to his religious beliefs (although not necessarily to his church), through his relationship with Jaime. It is precisely his religious family who help Jaime heal. And Levi eventually believes that God brought him to Jaime, precisely as a gay man in a Mormon family, not only to help Jaime heal, but also to draw Levi back to his family. (Clarification: although the narrative itself is as much about Levi’s emotional journey as it is about Jaime’s, Levi’s own motivation is ALL about making sure Jaime is safe and happy. So while my description here might make Levi sound selfish, he really really isn’t. All he wants in life is for Jaime to be happy and to feel safe.)

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Inspirational aspects are brilliantly done. The story is utterly compelling. The characters were solid, consistent, even fascinating. And while I absolutely could see that anonymous sex was, indeed, wrong FOR LEVI, the book felt to me like an utter condemnation of anonymous sex for everyone (although, don’t all romances that believe in finding “The One” and living together in happy monogamy forever after, amen? I guess so). And it’s not like I felt the religion was pushed on me or was trying to convert me. I did NOT feel proselytized to in the slightest, like I did with the Rivers. But readers who care about this type of thing one way or another should be aware that Levi’s journey back to God is a huge part of this book.

There was one stylistic thing that made me want to scream. EVERY TIME Jaime wanted to talk with Levi about something difficult, he’d start massaging Levi’s hand. And EVERY TIME he did that, you’d tell us why:

Jaime found it easier to look back down at Levi’s hand rather than to face him.

He concentrated on massaging Levi’s hand, and Levi realized the massage gave Jaime a sense of security–he was relying on what he knew to get him through something that made him nervous.

Instead, he took one of Levi’s hands and began to massage it in a familiar way. It meant he didn’t have to look in Levi’s eyes when he started to talk.

I got to the point that I was screaming at my phone, “Yes, I get it! I really really do!” Trust your readers to get it a bit more than that, okay? Say it the first time, then…don’t. Trust your readers.

All in all, you took serious risks with this book, as you did with Strawberries for Dessert, and the characters carry the day. But the sexual abuse and Inspirational aspect, no matter how brilliantly handled (and they are, don’t get me wrong), means this book probably won’t make it to my Desert Island Keeper file in Dropbox.

Grade: B

Best regards,
-Sarah

Goodreads | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

GAY WRITES REVIEW: Strawberries for Dessert by Marie Sexton

GAY WRITES REVIEW: Strawberries for Dessert by Marie Sexton

This review is part of our Gay Writes celebration. Don’t forget to comment on the original post for a chance to win one of those prizes as well as commenting on this post for a chance to win a copy of this book.

Dear Ms. Sexton:

Heidi Cullinan (whose books I dearly love) went to the extent of writing a vignette on her LiveJournal in which her characters read this book. I figured it was worth checking out. While I wouldn’t say that I adored it, the book took some amazing risks, has some fabulous characters, and is a really interesting, different love story.

Jonathan is frantically running the rat race but accepts a blind date introduction a former boyfriend sends his way. The first date with Cole is awful: Cole is very effeminate and Jonathan insists on answering business calls all through dinner. Cole leaves, but offers Jon a second chance, which he takes. The second date turns into an on-again, off-again sexual liaison when they’re both in town. Jon travels for his job and Cole travels because he’s independently wealthy and can’t stay in one place for very long, so they’re not together that often, but it becomes more and more often as their relationship grows and strengthens.

The story is told from Jonathan’s first person perspective, except for emails from Cole to the former boyfriend who set them up that start each chapter. I like the risk that you took in that experimentation. I also LOVE the fact that their first date didn’t work out and that they’re not superhot for each other right from the start. Their attraction for each other grows as their relationship deepens and you show this by only letting the readers into the bedroom after the sex starts to mean something to both of them. I also love the fact that Cole utterly fulfills every stereotype about flamboyant gay men. That in particular almost makes me adore this book. It’s not all just about two “manly” men falling for each other. The skill in this book and in Cole’s characterization show m/m romance spreading its wings a little bit and that’s just fabulous! (Pun totally intended.)

This story is just about two men falling in love and overcoming their issues to be together. And as in real life, their issues tend to change the further they get into the relationship, which is also refreshing to see. At first, Jon is embarrassed by Cole’s flamboyance. But he comes to accept it and enjoy it, even before he truly understands it. Jon has to learn to step out of the rat race, he has to learn what’s important in life, he has to learn whether his pride or his love is more important or whether he can compromise between them. And eventually, of course, he makes the right choice.

And Cole learns…well, that’s the main problem I had with the book. Cole learns he can’t live without Jonathan, but he’s right about everything else in the book. He learns, I guess, to accept affection, but it’s a little difficult to feel sympathy for him towards the end when he’s forcing the crisis between himself and Jonathan. I understand WHY he leaves Jonathan the way he does and I agree that it probably couldn’t have happened in any other way. But it felt…manipulative? And while I ached for him, I wanted to slap him around a bit for being a little bit cruel.

Overall, I love the risks this book took with Cole’s character, with the narrative construction, with the slow build of the relationship. And even when the characters frustrated me, they did it precisely because they felt so real.

The book is obviously the third in a series, with two other couples mentioned often — although it’s completely a stand-alone — and I’m looking forward to reading the other two earlier books.

Grade: B+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

Amazon Buy Link

We have a DIGITAL copy of this book to giveaway, bundled with a digital copy of the first in the series, Promises. Comment by 10am EST Tuesday to win! (One win per person for the day of our Gay Writes giveaways, but feel free to comment on all posts to increase your chances of winning!)