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NOVELLA REVIEW: Pricks and Pragmatism by J.L. Merrow

Dear. Ms. Merrow.

I like your work. I love the English flavor of your work. I love your characters who are all definitely distinct characters. I love your rent boys. So this novella from Samhain looked right up my alley. And it was. I recommended it for October, so here’s my review…rather later than intended.

Luke is not precisely a prostitute, but he works off his rent with his ass, living with “boyfriends” in what everyone knows are purely mercenary relationships. But his current sugardaddy kicks him out three weeks before his final exams at university. And this is England, so (I think), his Finals mean comprehensive finals over all his years there (or something similar?). Anyway, really big exams and he needs stability to study. And he just lost his place to stay. Mutual friends fix him up with Russell, a geeky engineer:

I clocked Russell the minute I walked in the door of the café. He was sitting on his own at a table in the corner playing with his mug, short stubby fingers moving nervously over the china. I was almost worried to say hello in case I made him spill his drink. Tom had been right. Russell really wasn't my usual type. He was- Well, he was a bit of a geek. Actually, he was a lot of a geek. Round face and too-long mousy brown hair, although at least he'd washed it. An actual beard to match; and we're not talking a neatly trimmed goatee, either. He wore a shapeless sweater over a shirt his mum must have bought him, and glasses from Nerds'R'Us. No spots, thank God. He looked around thirty, although from what Tom had said he ought to be a lot nearer my age. Still, it wouldn't be the first time Tom had given the truth the odd nip and tuck.

Three weeks to Finals, I reminded myself. And beggars can't be choosers. So I plastered on my best cheeky smile, pulled out the chair opposite him with a scrape and sat down. He looked up, startled, and just managed not to drench me in coffee. "Hi, I'm Luke. You're Russell?"

"Er, yes," he said, like he wasn't really sure. "Nice to meet you." He didn't say anything else, just stared into his coffee cup as if helpful suggestions were going to spell themselves out on the foam on top. His fingers linked around the sides of the mug like he was giving it a cuddle. I wondered who'd taken away his security blanket. Maybe it was in the wash.

Russell takes Luke in but makes it clear that he doesn’t want sex. Luke’s not quite sure how to make that work and gets more and more upset about it the more and more he and Russell get to know each other. This was delightful to see, because Luke has no idea what’s going one and why he feels this way. I love knowing what’s wrong with a character long before they do. Things eventually, of course, and rather literally (yes, a very bad dirty joke) come to a head and everything works out, of course.

What I love about this story is that it’s not a make-over story. Luke doesn’t come into Russell’s life and make him less of a geek. Rather, Luke falls for Russell exactly as he is. I also like that Luke’s actually a bit of a prick, but he owns it and works with it. They’re real people, which is what I really enjoy seeing in romance. They don’t immediately fall on or for each other. Their attraction is not immediate and unstoppable. Love grows slowly and organically and without the characters’ knowledge.

Because it’s a first person story, there’s not much of Russell. I mean, I understood him as I was reading him from Luke’s perspective, and he’s much less complicated than Luke, so it’s possible to read him pretty easily, but still, I could have wished for a little more of him. But that’s my personal problem with first person, rather than necessarily a failing of the story itself.

I know you only write short. I wish you’d try longer, because I love your voice. A lot.

Grade: B+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

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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. Camryn Rhys
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 12:26:11

    I am buying this book immediately. I’m not a huge fan of first person, but the combo of your review and that excerpt… I need to know what happens. I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this journey.

    Thanks for reviewing this book!

  2. rigmarole
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 12:30:56

    I read this last week and adored pretty much every little thing about it. I keep rereading parts of it, so clearly I need to just go back and read it properly from start to finish again. And I too am longing to read something longer from Merrow.

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  4. MarnieColette
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 13:44:52

    This sound rather good. I am heading over to kindle (using your link) to buy it. I haven’t read this author before. Here is to trying new things when in a reading funk.

  5. Linda
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 13:51:32

    She’s got a full-length novel called Camwolf coming out with Samhain Publishing next June. :-)

  6. jayhjay
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 14:48:31

    I have been interested in this book since I read an except at the end of another story. My biggest hesitation is that it is so short. I am not a big fan of novellas but I usually avoid anything less than 80 pages or so. But it sounds like this one is worth it.

  7. Joan/SarahF
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 14:51:30

    @jayhjay: My copy is ePub, so I don’t know how long it actually is, but it’s very cute. Totally worth it.

  8. orannia
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 15:42:22

    I’m not really a fan of novellas, but…I do like the premise and I loved the excerpt…and if I read it I know whether or not I like the author’s writing style (thinking ahead about the full-length novel :)

    Thank you Joan/Sarah F!

  9. Ursula
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 17:30:27

    Just got a copy downloaded to my kindle. I really liked the fresh voice, and descriptive terms, so I went to Samhain to read more. That hooked me. (I normally only read a crit partner’s stuff in this genre.)

  10. ShellBell
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 17:50:28

    I’ve only read one other JL Merrow novella, which was Snared. I much preferred Prick & Pragmatism, and it was definitely way too short a story!

  11. cs
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 18:14:43

    @jayhjay: The story itself is only 52 pages in PDF format, and the book is overall 80 pages, the rest being added promotion from Samhain.

  12. cs
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 18:16:21

    @ShellBell: I totally agree about “Snared” I didn’t really get into that story, and P&P is such a gem of a story. I hope the author writes more contemporary M/M books :)

  13. ShellBell
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 18:33:54

    Does anyone know who the model for ‘Luke’ is on the cover of P&P? He looks very much like the guy on the cover of LB Gregg’s latest novella Dudleytown.

  14. ShellBell
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 18:35:47

    I thought Snared was very disjointed, whereas P&P flowed beautifully.

  15. Nasanta
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 19:25:32

    I don’t really like to purchase shorts, but I decided on buying this halfway through the review. I just need to get home. Lol. Thank you for another book to add to my slowly growing m/m collection. I just finished the first Adrien English book and enjoyed it.

  16. Jennifer
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 11:22:29

    Best book title ever. I am cracking up laughing. THAT’S AWESOME.

  17. Mandi
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 06:40:35

    I really liked this book too…the tone and the way she writes is so cute! Wish the ending would not have been quite so abrupt..but definitely will be reading this author again.

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