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REVIEW: Once a Marine by Cat Grant

Dear Ms. Grant.

This book is one of Riptide Publishing’s initial releases as it opens its doors for business. I had high hopes for it: contemporary m/m about a member of our Armed Forces kicked out under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and his hero, a writer of m/m romance. Unfortunately, this is one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. Not actively infuriating — I never yelled at the book, I never rolled my eyes — but just unutterably boring, with cardboard characters, speedbump conflicts, ordinary sex, and no tension whatsoever.

Once_A_MarineCole is a former Marine major kicked out under DADT. He has (relatively mild?) PTSD and the first semester of law school is very very hard (cue tiny violins.) Marc is a waiter at a local diner who writes m/m romance on the side. He’s hoping eventually to be able to earn enough from his writing to make it a full-time job, so he’s very committed to it. Cole has breakfast at the diner, Marc’s hot for Cole because he has a fetish for military men,  Cole leaves his cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone in the diner, Marc takes it back to him, Cole invites him in, Marc gives Cole a blowjob, Cole throws Marc out.

And really, the emotional depth of the actions are just about reflected in that summary.

Okay, so Cole gets mad at himself for being an asshole, goes back to the diner to apologize, Marc agrees to go out with him again, and they both agree to take things slowly. But then Cole gets spooked when they touch in public, so Marc gets mad at the closet case. But then Cole realizes he’s being an asshole and it’s all solved! And then they quickly get together to the point that they’re almost living together. Then they ARE living together. Then Cole’s asshole father calls to say his mother fell down, can he come visit, so Cole goes home to North Carolina, and is shocked at what he finds, because his mother has early-onset Alzheimers that no one told him about. So he stays and casually asks Marc to join him. Marc refuses, Cole breaks up with him. Marc changes his mind, goes out to NC to be with Cole, who tells him maybe not. Cole still wants them to be together, but he can’t ask Marc to give up his life. He sends Marc home, eventually goes back himself, and…oh who cares?

Honestly, every barrier is treated like a speedbump. Cole has PTSD! Marc whines him into going to see a psychologist, so that’s all taken care of. ::dusts hands:: Cole’s parents are falling apart and Cole has to be with them, even though his father hates that he’s gay and refuses to get help for his wife. Cole asks Marc to move to NC because he has no idea how long he’ll be there, Marc says no, Cole breaks up with him, Marc changes his mind, Cole changes his mind. Each one of these steps is maybe a conversation. That’s it. Seriously! For example: Marc chucks it all, goes to NC, meets Cole’s father, who throws him out, which Marc just accepts. Marc tells Cole his dad will just have to get used to him:

“Marc, you don’t get it,” Cole said slowly. “He’s an old-school Marine with a very set way of looking at the world. Everything’s either black or white to him. Right or wrong. If he won’t even accept his own son, what makes you think he’ll accept you?” [Oh, okay, so rolling over and letting him live with his own hate is the way to go? Check!]

Marc stared at him, swallowing another sip of wine. He couldn’t have looked more stunned if Cole had hauled off and slapped him. [Yeah, no shit.]

“Look, as much as I appreciate your offer, I think moving here would be a big mistake.” Scratch that — now Marc couldn’t have looked more stunned. [Uh, yeah, me too. What the hell happened to getting so mad he wouldn’t come out that you broke up with him. Over the phone?!] Cole scooped up his hand, cradling it between both of his. “Sooner or later you’ll start resenting me for making you leave your friends and your job and your mom behind. [You couldn’t have thought of this BEFORE asking him to move? And then breaking up with him because he said no for all of these perfectly valid reasons you’re now quoting back to him as if you thought of them first?] I love you, Marc, and I want you to be happy. But believe me, you’ll be miserable here. I don’t even want to be here. I’d give my left nut to get on a plane back to California with you tomorrow.” [So…why’d you ask in the first place? Why no apology for asking?]

“Why don’t we leave your left nut where it is, okay?” [Oh, har har. Humor!] There was that crooked smile he loved so much, and Marc’s comforting arms wrapped around him, pulling him back down beside him. “I like knowing where I can find it. And all your other parts, too.”

He carded his fingers through Marc’s dark curls [wow, I got REALLY tired of this image — find another way to say “ran his fingers through his hair” please], inhaling the faint piney scent of his shampoo. “Go home and take care of Thomas. I’ll be back to see you when I can.”

“Still think it’ll be a few months?”

“Honestly, I have no idea. But I’ve got a feeling we should get ready for the long haul.”

“All right.” Marc sighed.

They lay there in silence for a while.

And that’s it! That’s the sum total of their conversation. REALLY? Marc came all the way across the country because Cole asked on a whim and then broke up with him when Marc said no, and then Cole completely changes his mind, and Marc says “all right” and that’s it! Can we have a little more emotional affect between these two men?

No, apparently not.

This book could have been amazing. Cole could have been deep and fascinating. He’s never had a boyfriend before, doesn’t know how to treat one, doesn’t know how to believe that he himself deserves a relationship. He misses the Marines, hates law school. Except…nothing’s dealt with beyond mentioning it, let alone examining it. Marc actually writes a story that matches their story, as they’re living it, but again, it’s just mentioned. There’s no THERE there, nothing insightful, nothing interesting, nothing beyond, “ooh, a writer and a Marine! Nifty!” Nothing about a writer having insights about what’s happening to him, or meta-commentary about his own story, or…anything.

(And that’s leaving aside the ridiculousness about how Cole’s parents could not have been living in the same house in Raleigh NC his whole life if his father had actually spent 30 years in the Marines, because there are no Marine bases in Raleigh and they would have moved around more than that anyway. But whatever…)

Anyway, it didn’t take long to read this story because plot points was all it was. But I can’t imagine myself ever reading anything else you write if this is the level of your story-telling ability.

Grade: D

Best regards,


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Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.


  1. Aquina
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 11:15:21

    My wallet thanks you. This was the one title in their initial launch I wanted to read but i held off pre-ordering until I read some reviews.

    Riptide bulit up so much hype around their launch. Kind of sad that this story fell so flat.

  2. Darlynne
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 11:20:56

    I just have to say how much I enjoyed the parenthetical remarks in the sections you quoted. That inner dialog made your stated objections to the characters and story very clear, and you made me laugh as well. Thanks!

  3. Sarah Frantz
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 12:34:47

    @Aquina: I’ve read another of their books and it was great, but heavy BDSM. I have to admit, I’ve tried Grant before and never been able to enjoy her voice, so it might just be her. But to use this book as one of their launch books is just a bad idea, IMO.

  4. jayhjay
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 12:58:25

    I enjoyed this more than you did and it seems to have moved along better for me. I guess I really liked both guys enough that the story worked for me. I do agree with you on the move/don’t move thing. I would have liked some better discussion about that. My biggest issue honestly was the POV change. I never got used to it the whole book. But overall I did enjoy it.

  5. Sarah Frantz
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 13:02:37

    @jayhjay: Yes! The POV thing: when things were from Marc’s POV, they were first person. When they were from Cole’s POV they were third (or the other way around?). SO strange.

  6. Frekki
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 13:12:31

    I’ve enjoyed a couple of Grant’s other books and I picked this one up because it sounded interesting, but it fell flat for me too. I’d rate it a bit higher because I did like both characters, but it seemed like all the potential conflicts were just thrown away. It was very frustrating, because they had very real, serious issues to deal with that ended up being just…nothing.

  7. Sunita
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 15:44:52

    @jayhjay: @Sarah Frantz: I was curious about the POV switching too. It seems unusual to have 1st & 3rd, or I guess I just haven’t run across it. Was there at least a rhythm to it, so that you could figure out what the author was trying to do with it?

  8. Merrian
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 19:06:16

    I didn’t buy this because the sample fell flat for me – thanks for reassuring me that I haven’t missed out on anything.

  9. jayhjay
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 19:12:56

    @Sarah Frantz: Yes, this exactly. I had to stop and reorient myself every time we got Cole’s point of view, especially b/c most seemed to be from Marc’s POV. Strange choice I thought.

  10. jayhjay
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 19:17:59

    @Sunita: I am not sure if there is some sort of literary reason to do it this way. If so, it was above my head. Basically Marc is all first person and Cole is third person. Maybe b/c Cole is more removed? But I am grasping here, I am really not sure why. I just found it confusing b/c when Marc’s sections said “he” it meant Cole. But when Cole’s sections said “he” sometimes it was Marc and sometimes it was Cole. So I kept getting lost when it would switch as to which character they meant.

    As I said, I liked this more than Sarah, although I can see her areas of concern.

  11. Joy
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 08:36:29

    Well, I read this one because I thought the sample I read set up some interesting dynamics. I liked the characters and the narrative voice; I do think the conflict was poorly managed which contributed to the failure of a satisfactory plot arc. On the other hand, I’ve had real-life relationship conflicts fizzle like these guys’ conflicts did. I don’t think I wasted my time or money reading it, which is the bottom line for me–for me it was more like a C- than a D. Not good, but not awful either, and I’ve read some awful stuff.

    I’ve read a some other books in 1st/3rd POV so that didn’t bother me so much–Gabaldon does it in some of her Outlander books.

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