Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Tamara Allen

REVIEW:  The Only Gold by Tamara Allen

REVIEW: The Only Gold by Tamara Allen

 

Dear Ms. Allen,

This review is long overdue. I loved this book when I read it last year, so much that I put it on my Best of 2011 list. But I didn’t get the review written in proper time, and then the Dreamspinner Press debacle happened and Sarah and I stopped reviewing DSP’s books. Your review became collateral damage of that decision. Then you retrieved your rights from DSP, and I swore to myself that I would review it as soon as it was available. You’ve self-published it (at an attractive price, no less), so here we go!

Tamara Allen Only GoldJonah Woolner is a bank clerk in New York City. He is a very good bank clerk, and when his superior retires he hopes to be promoted to replace him. But instead, the bank owner names an outsider, Reid Hylliard to the position. Jonah is devastated; Reid is charming, handsome, and charismatic, and he soon wins over everyone but Jonah. But Jonah’s antipathy is not just sour grapes. He genuinely fears that Reid’s policies will undermine the bank’s business and undo all the good work Jonah has achieved. Reid sees Jonah’s animosity clearly but refuses to accept it. He works to win Jonah’s friendship and then, slowly, more than that. But just as Jonah succumbs to his attraction to Reid and hesitantly begins to believe in an emotionally satisfying life, their fortunes and that of the bank are jeopardized by a bank heist that places them in mortal danger. And worse, it may or may not involve Reid.

One of the aspects of your novels and short stories that I enjoy so much is your ability to create not just a sense of place, but the fullness of the historical moment in which you are writing. As you did in Whistling in the Dark and If It Ain’t Love, you paint a compelling, rich picture of life in New York City, this time in the late 19th Century. Jonah commutes to the bank by a combination of walking and streetcar, and we make that journey with him. The bank comes to life through your words, as do the people who work there. Jonah’s boarding house is full of the kinds of characters that populated Americana novels of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they are utterly believable. For me this novel recalls the writers of the urban landscape of the United States in that era, like Dreiser writing about Chicago in Sister Carrie. More recently, it brings to mind Steven Millhauser’s Martin Dressler, which painted a minutely detailed portrait of an ambitious young New Yorker. These are the kinds of books that causes me to forget that I’m sitting in a suburban house in Northern California in 2012 because I’ve so thoroughly immersed myself in the milieu. Anyone who reads my reviews knows how high a premium I place on context and historical authenticity. For me, you’re the gold standard, and this book is an exemplar.

But the characters are just as compelling as the context. Jonah is not an easily likeable character. He is extremely disciplined in his approach to his work, and he has little personal life that we can see. He cares about the bank almost too much, the way a more emotionally rounded person might care about another human being. And yet, I had to respect him. His devastation at being passed over for promotion wasn’t just a reaction to his thwarted ambition, he really worried about the bank.

Reid is a complex character. We see him through Jonah’s perspective, and we share Jonah’s suspicion, puzzlement, and unwilling attraction. Where did he come from? He’s obviously intelligent, gifted, and ambitious. Why this bank, now? And why is he attracted to Jonah? This is a classic opposites-attract setup, but Jonah isn’t one of those characters where, when he metaphorically takes off his glasses and gets a good wardrobe, turns into a gorgeous stunner. He really is prickly, repressed, and hidebound. So what does Reid see in him? Does he have an ulterior motive?

At first, Jonah resists, but then as he gives in, he warms up, and Reid sheds some of that obvious, self-protective charm and becomes more genuine. He’s still a mystery, but he’s more approachable.

“You said it yourself. I’m not one to take risks. I’ve been as careful in the planning of this venture as any officer in the bank.”

The searching light returned. “I was wrong,” Reid said quietly after a moment. “You’ve taken one damned substantial risk.”

“Being involved with you?”

“Handing over your heart.”

Jonah raised an eyebrow. “Very sure of yourself, as usual.” That provoked a low laugh, and Jonah was glad to feel more of the tension ease from the limbs wrapped around him. “The damnable thing is—you’re invariably right.”

“Good. That’s the one thing I most wanted to be right about.”

Jonah smiled. “Does everything come to you so easily?”

“Easy? You?” Reid snorted. “Jonah—”

“Jo.”

Reid’s narrowed gaze could not mask an elated light. “You’re just trying to prove me wrong.”

Jonah laughed. “That’s part of it. But only a very small part.” His kiss encouraged more, and Reid took his breath away.

As Reid opens up, Jonah is more willing to let down his guard, and the romance that develops between them is warm and very believable, as is the way you deal with the historical issues surrounding homosexual relationships (I should note here that as with your other stories, the sex scenes are not at all explicit).

Even after the physical and emotional relationship deepens, it’s obvious that Reid is still hiding a lot. I found the contrast between Jonah, who is naturally reticent, and Reid, who seems so extroverted but masks so much, intriguing, and assumed it would cause conflict. And it did, but not at all the way I expected. The storyline ratchets up once the possible heist comes into play, and we move from a rather leisurely character study to an action plot. There are hints of it in the earlier parts of the book, so it’s not out of the blue, but I still found it a bit disconcerting. I probably should have anticipated the mystery better (and Reid’s role in it), and I’m sure other readers will figure it out much more quickly; I think I was subconsciously avoiding solving the puzzle because I wanted to stay in Jonah’s head.

The HEA is quite satisfying, and again, it’s believable for the time period. I closed the book wanting to read it all over again. I can still see Jonah walking to the streetcar, or walking with Reid down the streets of 19th-century New York. Once again, you’ve written a compelling, romantic novel that makes me glad I have one more Tamara Allen book left in my TBR.

Grade: A-

~ Sunita

[Note: The Only Gold is available for 30 percent off the regular price at All Romance ebooks until April 15. ]

 

AmazonBNSonyKoboARE

REVIEW: Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen

REVIEW: Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen

Dear Ms Allen,

159021049201lzzzzzzzI had heard high praise for your novel, “Whistling in the Dark,” after my initial foray into m/m stories. And I’d actually bought a copy of the book in its previous form though I hadn’t read it yet. So, when you offered the new and improved version to us for review, I decided it was time for me to get off my lazy butt and actually read the darn thing.

It’s post war New York City and everything is changing. Old conventions are being abandoned for the bright new possibilities as flappers bob their hair and raise their hemlines. People can actually buy a newfangled contraption called a radio and listen to music in their homes. Sleek cars cruise the streets and wild parties take place on rooftops. Jazz fills nightclubs and people are hurrying to buy up booze before Prohibition finally goes into effect. The city that never sleeps has something for everyone. You just have to know where to look.

But for Sutton Albright, New York is a last resort. He could go home to the family empire in Topeka but after what he was expelled from college for doing, the shame would embarrass his family. So he pawns most of what he owns and gratefully takes a job in a diner. It’s here, while delivering meals across the street to an eclectic mix of people, that he finally finds a home.

I love the way you slowly shade in the characters over the course of the story much like an artist adding depth to the outlines of a drawing instead of info dumping on us. It takes a little while to fully understand the people and the places, the relationships and the history but the end result is worth the wait. The trip there is something to be savored.

Information is delicately revealed about gay life in New York but never with a heavy hand. There’s a little about the anonymity of the baths, quick encounters that don’t last, rendezvous that aren’t kept, the lack of commitment. How men will marry to hide their sexual inclinations and blend into society and the danger of being found out. The hedonistic parties where anything, including public sex, goes. The beginning of the flapper age and jazz – which is a revelation to Sutton.

I love Theo the hopeless romantic who thinks “there’s someone for everyone. Even us.”

“We all live two lives, ” Miles said. “Well, most of us.” His smile at Theo was fully affectionate. “After your dad’s chased you off with a shotgun, pretense is pointless thereafter.” Theo grinned toothily.

But it’s Theo who figures out how to permanently deal with the man who preyed on Sutton – and all with only a little violence – which I feel they were entirely within the bounds of reason to exact on the man.

Gert ain’t no dumb blond no matter how she talks. Despite her sympathy and generous deeds to further Ox and Esther’s romance, she’s still very much Gert first with an eye to what will help her. I thought her ultimate game plan very much a product of the times and something that fit her personality like a glove.

It was a time of great social change and upheaval – jazz, flappers, increasing independence for women, radio, the coming of prohibition. I like the use of the Albright siblings to show this to us, the readers. Instead of just reciting these things as a backdrop, you make them come alive as Sutton and later his sister, Mary, experience them. The scene of the Albright children fondly remembering childhood events was nice and shows that their older brother isn’t entirely a stuffed shirt.

Both Sutton and Jack have had previous relationships – both are secretly hoping for something longer lasting, something more emotionally satisfying, yet neither dares to really think that he might have found something long lasting. Sutton’s former lover, David is sort of a cardboardish antagonist. I guess he’s used to show how Sutton has matured in his handling of relationships, as well as being a test of how much Sutton wants to stay with Jack.

Does Jack believe that he’ll go to hell for his sexual proclivities? His pronouncement to Sutton about when he wandered through NYC after getting home and finding his parents dead makes me think so.

There’s a lovely period feel even though, as I said, book isn’t loaded down with exhaustive descriptions of people, places and things. You don’t go overboard on period words – a few “swells” here and there – but the speech conveys the time more by lack of general swearing and modern terms than any thing else. I loved the touches such as the brief mention of what would have been a recent play – Pygmalion. The horrible toll of the flu pandemic is shown merely by the mention of the deaths of Jack’s parents and his reaction to one of the few Health Department posters detailing what had turned out to be useless ways to avoid the contagion.

The after effects of war on the characters is also shown with a light touch. The hypervigilence at night, the times when Jack gets overtaken by the need to hide, the instances when he’s afraid to discover if he’s at home dreaming of the war or in France dreaming he’s home, the memories Sutton has repressed until one night he remembers. We get glimpses of what Sutton, Jack and Mary’s fiance John Campbell endured. Since these men have barely begun to examine the issues themselves, it’s understandable that they’re not going to go into full fledged psychoanalytical mode – but when mention is made of that, it is believable since Freud’s lectures would have been known by then.

I like that the characters don’t stay static. It’s obvious that changes are ahead for them all. Ox and Es look to be getting married soon, Harry and Opal might have something going, Gert, Chase and Ned are all headed for Hollywood – even if it is mainly a way for the men to get away from the law.

The details of early radio broadcasting are fascinating. How loose and “by-the-seat-of-the-pants” the whole thing was. Music – either live or via victrola, weather reports, ads, singing, whatever. How amazing it was to these people to be able to hear all this in their homes and not only local stations but even those several states distance away.

While I loved the friends who gather in the emporium, after a while, they all just seemed too happy family, too accepting of everyone’s little foibles and flaws. Gert discovers that her flirting with Jack is pointless since he’s gay? No worries, she won’t expose his secret to Chase or Ned who could use it to destroy Jack. Harry finds out Jack has blown what little money he has? Not a problem since Harry is such a lovable stand-in parent who’ll hand over his last penny and offer his apartment as a place for Jack and Sutton to live if the emporium is lost. Sutton has sunk to poverty after being tossed out of school because he can’t face his family finding out about his sexual orientation yet when the family finally does appear – they either accept him without any signs of disgust or seem to agree to tolerate him. Which sort of negates the whole drama and set up of most of the book.

And I’m not sure of reason for Woodrow. There’s enough color and quaint charm to the story without a live crocodile thrown into the mix.

Yet despite the often cocooned feeling of acceptance within the emporium of the characters’ homosexuality, you do make sure we remember there’s always the lurking danger of them being caught out. We see it from the very beginning when Sutton is wrongly arrested on charges of degeneracy. This is followed by the robbery after he’s lured out by a man preying on homosexuals, who counts on his victims remaining silent to cover their own actions. And the number of nightclubs they’re thrown out of when the men attempt to dance together. It might appear to be an okay gay world but it really isn’t.

Jack goes all noble in the end which didn’t feel quite right. He’s spent the entire book basically getting his way – through smiles and charm – then suddenly changes. I guess this is supposed to show how deeply Sutton has affected him. But for me, the emo scene with Harry before the ending dragged a little too much as does the reconciliation. I was kind of expecting something along the lines of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins.

The pace of the book is leisurely but doesn’t drag. Sex is there but often just hinted at. Readers looking for hot erotica will need to head elsewhere. I think this is an m/m book that even people who don’t think they’d like m/m would enjoy. Sure, there are a few issues that keep it from being an A for me but not many. I hope this new version will reach a larger number of people because it certainly deserves to. B+

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from Amazon or Adobe Epub from AllRomance ebooks (also Kindle).