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REVIEW: Almost like being in love by Steve Kluger

9780060595838

A high school jock and nerd fall in love senior year, only to part after an amazing summer of discovery to attend their respective colleges. They keep in touch at first, but then slowly drift apart.
Flash forward twenty years.

Travis and Craig both have great lives, careers, and loves. But something is missing …. Travis is the first to figure it out. He’s still in love with Craig, and come what may, he’s going after the boy who captured his heart, even if it means forsaking his job, making a fool of himself, and entering the great unknown. Told in narrative, letters, checklists, and more, this is the must-read novel for anyone who’s wondered what ever happened to that first great love.

Review:

Dear Steve Kluger,

I first read this book three or four years ago and ever since it has remained on my top ten lists of favorite m/m/gay romances. Not all books manage to stay on my favorites list because new and better ones come along, but your book is still there.

The blurb states it but I want to say it again – the story is not told in a regular narrative style. I am not sure if it can be called an epistolary novel, because it does not only consist of letters. It has clips from imaginary newspaper articles, diary entries, memos that characters would write to their employees and letters to friends. This is how the story is told, and if such a style does not work for you, you will not like this book. Otherwise I highly recommend buying this one the moment you finish reading this review.

The first chapter introduces us to your seemingly standard characters from YA gay romance – jock and nerd. Despite the way story is written, I thought the book managed to convey both guys’ thoughts extremely well and from the very beginning I was intrigued by both of them. They become friends who want to know more about each other and learn more and more about each other, until they realize that they are in love with each other. They get to their first kiss as Craig describes it to us:

“I kissed him, I fucking kissed him. First our noses touched and then I kissed him.
I shouldn’t have smoked the joint. I knew that was a mistake! But what else can you do when you’re playing catch and it starts to pour? If there hadn’t been one of those metal arch things with the benches underneath, it never would have happened – we’d have jogged back to school, wet and unkissed. This was a conspiracy!”

We learn that the guys had an amazing summer together after they graduated high school but eventually drifted apart because they went to different colleges.
However, instead of continuing the story chronologically, the second chapter flashes forward twenty years to 1998 and we are now introduced to Travis as a college professor. I hope this can give you a little glimpse of Travis as a history college professor.

“ BOOK PROPOSAL.
“Alexander Hamilton and the Designated Hitter”.
Issue: Once we’d won our independence from the Crown, how were we going to set up the House?
Objective: proving that the baseball and the United States Constitution were founded on the same set of rules, as outlined in the Federal papers by Alexander Hamilton”

The whole book proposal is a bit more detailed, so if you end up reading a book, you will get to read it in the longer form, but I think the topic alone gives a good glimpse at Travis’ personality.

After that chapter we meet Craig, who in the year 1998 is an attorney in a small private practice and who seems to have a passion for changing the world around him. Craig also seems to credit Travis for instilling in him the desire to change the world. Craig is also with Clayton, who I fell for probably faster than I fell for both Craig and Travis. Clayton is just such a nice guy, someone who suffered an abusive childhood and is scared now that people whom he loves will leave him. As an aside, I have read so many m/m romances where the heroes had abusive childhoods and I am yet to see many stories where the writer spends so few words describing it and invoking the sympathy for Clayton right away as opposed to writing many pages full of angsty storytelling.

“But nobody needed to be loved more than my boyfriend did. When the father he’d idolized had found out his kid liked men, he’d thrown him out of the house bodily. (“You make me sick,” he’d said, slamming the door on his only son.). Clayton never sufficiently recovered, especially after old man died. Instead, he inherited a legacy that became his trademark: If it looks like they’re going to dump you, beat them to it. It saves a lot of wear and tear on the heart. So I never allowed our skirmishes to get in the way for too long”

As much as the style allows, the chapters switch between Craig and Travis (and those characters who they communicate with, like Craig’s boyfriend Clayton, Travis’ friend Gordon, and so on).

We learn that Travis cannot find a boyfriend who will satisfy his “Boyfriend checklist” (a hilarious one, but it is really hard to quote stuff from this book because so much of it is not in a regular format and this checklist alone takes three pages in the book). He eventually realizes that he never forgot Craig and starts a crazy adventure of trying to find Craig and see if the love they shared can be rekindled twenty years later.

“Okay, maybe he doesn’t need a psychopathic history professor showing up from the Twilight Zone, and maybe he won’t even like me anymore. But he still has my heart – and if he is not using it, I want it back. Otherwise I’m going to go on loving him for the rest of my life. And there’s not a damned thing either of us can do about it.
Somehow I never got around telling him that.”

Travis eventually finds Craig, I do not think I will spoil anything by telling you this, but the little complication is that Craig, while not being able to forget Travis altogether is also genuinely in love with Clayton, who as I said before is a kind, generous soul. I will not tell you what happens, but there is a happy ending for everybody. I can tell you that amongst many other things that I think Steve Kluger did so well, this book completely spoiled me for the resolution of the love triangle. I hate love triangles in most stories, especially if everybody is good people, because I do not want to see anybody broken hearted. I sigh happily every time I reread the ending of this book.

I also think that this story mixed humor and serious things really well – as the reader learns about the lives Craig and Travis lived apart for twenty years we of course hear about the AIDS epidemic for example. How could we not hear about it, since it affected them and their friends so much? But I never felt that the writer used a heavier touch describing it than the rest of the book and for me it worked perfectly.

I have to admit, I think everything worked perfectly for me in this book. The characters I can never forget and want to imagine that they are living their lives helping people around them. The writing style, the humor, I liked it all.

Grade : A

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Sirius

Sirius started reading books when she was four and reading and discussing books is still her favorite hobby. One of her very favorite gay romances is Tamara Allen’s Whistling in the Dark. In fact, she loves every book written by Tamara Allen. Amongst her other favorite romance writers are Ginn Hale, Nicole Kimberling, Josephine Myles, Taylor V. Donovan and many others. Sirius’ other favorite genres are scifi, mystery and Russian classics. Sirius also loves travelling, watching movies and long slow walks.

15 Comments

  1. Darlynne
    Jul 02, 2014 @ 12:42:25

    This sounds great, Sirius. (Sort of) epistolary novels have always appealed to me. Now to wait for a sale.

  2. hapax
    Jul 02, 2014 @ 13:17:47

    Hah! I snagged this off the Friends’ book sale cart a few years ago, and it has lived on my nightstand ever since. This review might give me the kick to move it to the top of the pile.

  3. Janine
    Jul 02, 2014 @ 13:19:39

    Sounds fabulous. Like Darlynne, I love epistolary novels. This sounds a little bit like one of my favorite books of all time, Possession by A.S. Byatt, except that it’s m/m and doesn’t have a 19th century setting.

  4. Sunita
    Jul 02, 2014 @ 13:28:08

    Great review, Sirius!

    I held off reading this for ages because I couldn’t believe it was as good as everyone said and I didn’t want to be disappointed (I think this was after a run of m/m romance disappointments of that type). I finally started reading and couldn’t put it down. It’s a great book and I don’t think there’s anything else quite like it in the genre.

  5. SusanS
    Jul 02, 2014 @ 13:40:53

    I adore this book. My Goodreads review:

    Just about the happiest book I have ever encountered, plus I am a sucker for any kind of epistolary novel. The guys are all fabulous, the girls are all swell, and even when characters break up they remain BFFs. Maybe a little of a fantasy that there is little to no mention of any homophobia (seriously, two gay teenagers in a 1990s boarding school and nobody bats an eyelash?). Lots of LOL lines and sweet romance of both the homosexual and heterosexual variety. I could have lived without the wisecracking 12 year old boy, but that’s a minor complaint. Recommended for anyone who wants the literary equivalent of a lighthearted 1950s musical.

  6. Sirius
    Jul 02, 2014 @ 13:46:03

    @SusanS: I adore this book too, obviously :).

    Sunita, I definitely agree that there is nothing quite like this book in the genre.

    Hapax, you already have it, so you have to read it soon :).

    Darlynne, never say never of course, but I am not too optimistic about huge sale for this one. When I bought it for Kindle (already had paperback), I think it was 9.99 and it was year or year and a half ago.

  7. Willaful
    Jul 02, 2014 @ 18:34:21

    Add me to the chorus of “love this book.” So funny and sweet.

  8. Kaetrin
    Jul 02, 2014 @ 20:05:06

    Well, I’m going to be the voice of dissent! I liked it – gave it a B-/C+ but the love triangle thing didn’t work for me. I liked all three guys so much that I knew I would be disappointed whatever way it turned out. This is what I said about it in the mini review I did a while back (because it’s easier to copy and paste than come up with new words):

    I knew going in there was a HEA. What I didn’t know however was that there is a love triangle. Craig isn’t single when Travis finds him. Part of what worked so well for me in the book also made the ending more problematic for me. Each of the characters, including Clayton, ended up being people I cared about. I wasn’t actually sure how I wanted the book to end but as it progressed, I knew that I was going to be somewhat disappointed one way or the other. Right at the end, Travis has a (for me) confusing conversation with Craig and then we skip forward 6 years. The skip was a little too much for me. On the one hand, it made the ending easier to be happy with because so much time had passed but on the other, in terms of reading, no time at all had passed and I had to grapple with a whole pile of things all at once which I didn’t feel were adequately fleshed out – particularly considering the joyous detail of the earlier parts of the book.

    I did like it. But not as much as everyone else it seems! LOL

  9. cs
    Jul 03, 2014 @ 13:05:02

    This was a beautiful book.

    I agree with everything you said Sirius :)

  10. L A
    Jul 03, 2014 @ 22:39:47

    This IS my go-to comfort read now. I was really reluctant to give it a whirl for a long time because I could not find explicit spoilers, and I was certain from everything I read in the blurb and reviews that it was going to matter deeply to me how the story ended for Travis specifically. I was totally right about that. I ADORE Travis. Plus, humor is so subjective and I have a hard time finding ha-ha books that actually make me laugh. Long story short, though, everything about Almost Like Being in Love is just perfect in my eyes. If Steve Kluger sat down one day and tried specifically to create a book just for me, it couldn’t be more pleasing than this one. It would not be humanly possible, I’m convinced.

    When I read it, I read it super slowly because I’m spending so much time imagining missing scenes for all the characters, and when I finish, I’ll stay in that world for days. My brain is fully engaged with it from start to finish and long after. That is how invested I get in this book, every time. It’s rare for me to experience that now that I’m older (mid-forties) and jaded, and it honest to God makes me feel young again. So, yep, this is a very special book for me, and I’ll always be grateful it exists and that I persisted when spoilers were not forthcoming and normally I would have just said pass and moved on to the next hmm-well-maybe on my TBR pile.

  11. Margo Bond Collins
    Jul 04, 2014 @ 01:02:52

    I haven’t seen this one before, but it looks great! Headed over to pick it up now. :)

  12. Sirius
    Jul 04, 2014 @ 09:22:25

    Kaetrin dissent is awesome :). LA good to know I am not the only one whom this book affects so much :).

    Anybody who have not read it yet but decided to try – I hope you enjoy ;).

  13. hapax
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 15:09:32

    @Sirius — I want you to know how completely wrecked I am and it is ALL YOUR FAULT.

    This book. THIS BOOK.

    Y’know, the house is a mess and there are loads of laundry and the bathroom is filthy and I need to cook dinner but I can’t until I go to the grocery store but I needed something to read while I had my second cup of coffee and I thought, “hey, that book is still on my nightstand, it’s epistolary so I can stop at any point…”

    And SIX HOURS LATER I have got nothing done and I am only taking a break to let you know how this book has RUINED me for doing anything except smiling goofily while singing show tunes to myself before I get off the computer to READ THE WHOLE THING AGAIN.

    I’ve only read maybe four perfect books in my life. But I think this will make number five.

    And I don’t even particularly like baseball.

  14. Willaful
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 15:51:23

    @hapax: Awww, that made me happy!

  15. Sirius
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 15:59:55

    Your comment warmed my heart hapax, thank you! so pleased you love the book :).

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