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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. ]

 

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Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

26 Comments

  1. LG
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 06:46:58

    You’re not alone – I didn’t anticipate the mystery stuff either and felt like I got the wind kicked out of me when Reid’s part in it was first revealed. I knew there had to be an explanation, but my first reaction was pretty similar to Jonah’s.

    I keep meaning to read more of Tamara Allen’s works. After I finished this, I bought everything she had out, but I haven’t read any of the others yet. Once I start on them, each book I finish is one less on my TBR, and that seems kind of sad. I loved this book a lot, even with that abrupt shift in the story.

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  2. Sean Kennedy
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 07:10:44

    Everything Ms. Allen touches turns to gold. Wocka wocka wocka! Seriously, though.

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  3. DS
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 07:20:33

    This sounds familiar. Is it possible that it showed up as a First Page article? I haven’t read a lot of m/m but I couldn’t pass of the combination of price and an A review.

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  4. Patricia Eimer
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 08:28:21

    This sounds really good. I don’t read a lot of m/m but I might have to pick this one up.

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  5. susan
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 10:14:47

    First a disclosure: I won a copy of the book from a contest on Ms. Allen’s web site. I had read If It Ain’t Love online, so when this book arrived I opened it for a peek. I basically couldn’t put it down. The whole story worked well for me. I particularly like her sense of place. I used to work in the NYC neighborhood where the book is set, and I could picture the narrow streets in that part of lower Manhattan.

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  6. Sunita
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 10:59:53

    @DS: I know Ms. Allen has submitted to the First Page, but I don’t know if this was the book. It could well be, though!

    @Sean Kennedy: I was going to give you a hard time for that one, but I used “gold standard.”

    This is a terrific introduction for people who are interested in reading gay romance but aren’t sure about reading explicit sex.

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  7. Sirius
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 11:14:09

    Yeah, I put this on my list of 2011 best reads as well. Awesome review, but you already know how very much I love everything this writer does. I really really sympathized with Jonah, I mean, of course he needed to realize that work is not everything, but regardless of that fact I felt that injustice had been committed against him and he had every right to react as he did and be upset, etc. However it is funny that I know several readers who also related to Jonah and wanted to slap Reid hard. I am not sure if I did. I mean, I thought he was mean and cruel to Jonah at times, and went above and beyond of what he needed to do, to say something else would be a spoiler, but I thought that he went over the board in his communications with Jonah so to speak, because he was attracted to him, and was not quite sure how to react to him and wanted to tease Jonah out of his shell, etc. However, even though I really love them both, I have to agree that if Reid felt initially reluctant, he could have toned down his talk and more than once, it kind of goes in contradiction with his reluctance if that makes sense. Did you feel the same way Sunita? And New York? She portrays the settings so well.

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  8. Cecilia Grant
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 12:01:16

    @DS:

    Yes, The Only Gold was a First Page entry a few years back. Allen later posted another m/m-NY-historical First Page and I asked her if she’d also been responsible for The Only Gold, which I remembered vividly. A few emails later we wound up swapping books, and oh my god I loved this book so much I promptly bought another copy, just because it felt wrong to get that much enjoyment out of a book without compensating the author.

    And I, too, am working my way through her list but keeping one in reserve (Whistling in the Dark) until I know for sure there’s another with a firm publication date.

    Sunita hit on pretty much everything I found outstanding about this book, though I might heap some extra praise on the dialogue, especially the snappy exchanges between Jonah and Reid during the earlier, more adversarial part of their relationship. And regarding Allen’s writing in general, I love her turns of phrase and her way with research, but I think what makes the biggest impression on me is the obvious, abundant compassion she has for her characters, particularly characters like Jonah, who in another author’s hands might have been merely a laughable, myopic prig.

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  9. Sirius
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 14:28:17

    OMG, I did not realize that she put it on Amazon for 99 cents. I thought the price was $3.99. Squee, this is an excited fan speaking, so ignore me :), off to send the book to some people whom I did not introduce to this writer yet lol.

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  10. Sunita
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 14:33:29

    @Sirius: I thought maybe Reid was trying to ward him off, that he was attracted to Jonah but given how the story unfolds, a relationship would have been risky. But as he got to know him better, his initial attraction grew stronger.

    $.99? That’s craziness. Go buy it, people! I’d pay a lot more for her work (and I did, for Whistling in the Dark).

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  11. Sirius
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 14:40:34

    @Sunita: Ooooo I like your idea better than mine actually.

    Yes, I paid and would pay much more, so worth it, biased as I am. Downtime is out for $0.99 as well looks like.

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  12. Amy Kathryn
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 16:18:30

    I don’t like westerns or civil war books so that limits my American historicals. I bought this and Downtime…thanks for the review. I haven’t read this author yet and it appears from the other commenters that I have a treat in store.

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  13. Estara
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 16:23:57

    Here to add another voice to the Tamara Allen is great chorus ^^ – I read the original DSP edition. Have to say that TA picked great believable portraits for Jonah and Reid in her cover (even as I prefer the drawn artwork of the DSP edition ^^).

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  14. Jayne
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 17:17:34

    @Amy Kathryn: She’s awesome. Everything of hers I’ve read is fabulous.

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  15. Ann Somerville
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 17:28:59

    @Sean Kennedy:
    “Everything Ms. Allen touches turns to gold. Wocka wocka wocka! Seriously, though.”

    From your lips to Wodin’s ears. The Only Gold is *gorgeous*.

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  16. etv13
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 17:57:03

    Several people have hit on one of the things that really impressed me, the way she created a guy who was sort of a stick, and made him sympathetic and even likeable nonetheless.

    And then the really solid sense she gives of the operations of the bank, which are in many ways unlike the workings of a modern-day (from what I understand as the wife and daughter of former bank employees). This is a fine example of historical research being worked into the story in an integral way, and very, very impressive.

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  17. Sunita
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 18:31:25

    @etv13: I loved the bank scenes. I had bank accounts in India for years (and an accountant who had been with our family for decades), and you can imagine what those banks looked like (if you can’t, think piles of paper and green eyeshades). The depiction reminded me of going to those banks, except it was India, so everything took much longer and required going to more windows.

    What was so impressive to me was the way the information and context was woven into the story. It wasn’t “here’s how much I learned, let me tell it to you.” Instead, it was important because it was so important to Jonah. It was his life; we couldn’t understand his commitment without being in the setting. And yes, he was a total stick, but I respected him almost from the beginning and then grew very fond of him as the story unfolded. I actually worried for him with Reid.

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  18. Maili
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 19:00:27

    Great review. I don’t know what else to say except Allen is pretty much an autobuy author, so yay.

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  19. Susan
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 19:22:59

    I confess that I’d never heard of Ms. Allen, but I just went to Amazon and bought this book, plus a couple of others. As noted, this one and another are currently only 99 cents, and another one is free. My favorite word! :-)

    Great review–can’t wait to read.

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  20. Janine
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 21:33:04

    Sold!

    But not thanks to that cover.

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  21. Kaetrin
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 22:54:04

    Sold! Off to ARe now. :)

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  22. KKJ
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 00:15:22

    I’m moving this up on my TBR – If It Ain’t Love is on my DIK list, and one of the few books I actually push on people.

    I’d love to hear more from the author about her experiences with the DA First Page, getting published with DSP, requesting her rights back, and self-publishing. That whole process is fascinating, especially when she’s been on both sides of the fence.

    Also: @Sean Kennedy: Tigers and Devilshas a permanent spot on my DIK list too. I can never decide who I would cast in the movie version….

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  23. orannia
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 18:17:35

    I have some money leftover from birthday ARE vouchers (how I have no idea :) and I’ve been wondering what to get. This. Tonight. I even have it on a post-it note so I won’t forget :) Thank you Sunita – great review!

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  24. Susan
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 21:47:25

    I downloaded this book immediately after reading your review and stayed up late to read it.

    Actually, the beginning was so painful for me to read that I almost set it aside for awhile. My heart ached for Jonah not getting the promotion he so dearly wanted, and not understanding how he could have been passed over. He was so rigid and correct on the outside, and such a seething mass of anguish on the inside.

    Aside from the Jonah/Reid relationship, which was realistically and touchingly portrayed, the period details about the bank, the clothing, the language/manner of speech, city life, etc. were absolutely stunning. The same attention was given to a large, diverse “supporting cast.” So many authors would be content to throw in a few references to high, stiff collars, funny hats, horses in the street, and the like as a passing way to set the scene, but Ms. Allen took the time and effort to really bring it to life. I was genuinely sad to finish the book.

    Thanks so much for your review, and for introducing me to a new favorite author.

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  25. Sunita
    Apr 13, 2012 @ 08:21:17

    @Susan: Oh, thanks so much for coming back and telling us, and I’m so glad the book worked for you.

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  26. Christine
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:11:29

    Thank you so much for this review! I bought the book right after reading your review and I really enjoyed it. Again, thanks!

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