REVIEW: Blank Spaces (Toronto Connections novel #1) by Cass Lennox
A Toronto Connections novel
Absence is as crucial as presence.
The decision to stop dating has made Vaughn Hargrave’s life infinitely simpler: he has friends, an excellent wardrobe, and a job in the industry he loves. That’s all he really needs, especially since sex isn’t his forte anyway and no one else seems interested in a purely romantic connection. But when a piece is stolen from his art gallery and insurance investigator Jonah Sondern shows up, Vaughn finds himself struggling with that decision.
Jonah wants his men like his coffee: hot, intense, and daily. But Vaughn seems to be the one gay guy in Toronto who doesn’t do hookups, which is all Jonah can offer. No way can Jonah give Vaughn what he really wants, not when Jonah barely understands what love is.
When another painting goes missing, tension ramps up both on and off the clock. Vaughn and Jonah find themselves grappling not just with stolen art, but with their own differences. Because a guy who wants nothing but romance and a guy who wants nothing but sex will never work — right? Not unless they find a way to fill in the spaces between them.
Dear Cass Lennox,
Your book was recommended at the Amazon m/m discussion board, and among other things my book buddy mentioned that it had a great portrayal of asexual character. I decided that since I still have not seen many of these types of portrayals, I had to try the book. Overall it was an enjoyable reading experience even if I had a couple of issues with the characterization.
I really liked how the book started. A painting has been stolen in the gallery where Vaughn works as an assistant, and very quickly we learn that this is the third time it has happened over several months; obviously the owners of the gallery are angry and annoyed. The gallery makes a third theft claim with their insurance company, and the insurance company rightfully finds this suspicious, so it sends a couple of investigators to investigate. Jonah is one of those investigators. After visiting the gallery, it is clear to Jonah and his boss that their investigation is not going to be resolved in a short period of time, especially since the police are continuing to investigate as well.
“Vaughn stood in front of the wall, the sinking feeling in his stomach rapidly turning into plunging freefall. Around him, the silence of the gallery made ample space for him to take in a deep breath. And another one. Just to make sure he was awake and seeing this right. Because a very obvious blank space sat on the wall in front of him instead of a showcase work of art. A delicate arrangement of threads sewn from a canvas onto clear plastic piping to resemble a dark, fragmented wormhole reaching towards the viewer, to be precise. It was visually arresting in a kind of nightmarish way, and it was also one of the main pieces of this exhibit. Despite all his deep breathing, it remained missing.”
The gallery owners, Angelique and Cressida, obviously want their claim approved as fast as possible but there is nothing they can do. Another employee of the gallery is Vaughn’s manager, who was just annoying as a character.
This continuous investigation gives Jonah and Vaughn an excuse to run into each other and then to see each other outside the gallery, and eventually they realize that they want to continue being friends (and then more than friends).
About the mystery plot – it was not mysterious at all to me. We have a limited cast of characters, and the moment the first clue was given it was clear to me who was the thief. And I am pretty sure it will be clear to every reader. However, I suspect (although I could be wrong) that the author was not trying to write a sophisticated mystery plot (the book is not even classified as a mystery on Amazon). Instead I think that the author wanted to use a mystery background as a vehicle for a romance story, and I would argue he/she did that exceptionally well. I said that the mystery was not mysterious and I stand by it, but the author managed to keep the setting from becoming boring, and sometimes it was very entertaining to read what the characters were going through in connection to the investigation.
What I liked the most is that the investigation shows the readers how much Vaughn loves and cares about his job, and that he was pretty good at it, and the same was true for Jonah. So mysterious or not, I enjoyed the use of the mystery setting in this story.
The romance was far from smooth sailing for our main characters. Vaughn is asexual – and not in a sense of wanting to have sex only when he has an emotional connection. He has had sex a few times, but he did not like it. At some point he says that his body is totally fine with it, but his mind is not on board. It was upsetting to him that after sex he was not able to get into the happy, satisfied headspace his partners were able to find. Eventually Vaughn decided it was not for him and since he was so weird, he should stop trying to have sexual or romantic relationships in the first place. Jonah likes sex very very much, especially he likes quick hook ups in the bar – two, three people, number did not really matter.
I thought the story did a pretty good job achieving something that seemed impossible initially – I believed that these two may have a chance to make their relationship work. I liked that Vaughn was not judged for who he was and that Jonah did not pressure him into having sex (after he figured out that Vaughn not wanting sex has nothing to do with him). I also liked that Jonah was not judged for loving sex by the narrative.
But please beware since I know that many romance readers dislike it – the solution to Jonah and Vaughn’s differences is an open relationship. Vaughn knows that he will never be able to satisfy Jonah sexually so he honestly does not care if Jonah continues his hook ups, and this works for them.
“I had sex with two guys in that club, Vaughn. I topped a guy the day before that, and gave a blowjob the day before that, and I’m not going to tell you how many handjobs I’ve had in the last two weeks. Do we see a pattern here?” Vaughn swallowed. “I know you like to—” “It’s more than like to. I want it. I need it. Don’t you get it?” He did. Vividly. “My feelings would be less of an issue if you could sleep with me, yes.” “Oh my God, no.” He could imagine Jonah pacing, cell to his ear, his other hand waving emphatically. “It doesn’t matter how much you like me, or how much you’d let me do you, I’d still fuck other people. Because I’d want to and need to.” “I don’t care about that.” Because he’d thought about it, and he really didn’t. A stunned silence came down the line. “What the hell is wrong with you? How can you not care about your boyfriend fucking other people?” Boyfriend. He’d used the word boyfriend. Vaughn’s mouth went dry. “Who you have sex with is your business. I would never tell someone what to do sexually. Sex is fundamental, like wanting kids and having similar life values. People need what they need, and something like that isn’t negotiable.” “Well good for you, but over here in the real world, people give a shit about that kind of stuff. They care who you fuck and how and when and where, and if it’s not with your partner, then you’d better not have one.” Where was this coming from? “Who cares about other people? Jonah, is that what you think?”
I did have a couple of issues with the story. First and foremost, I said that Jonah was not judged for being very sexually active and he was not. There were couple of comments by Vaughn’s friend, but Vaughn never judged him and Jonah’s friends did not judge him, I thought it was a pretty good indication that the narrative did not want us to judge him. However, and this is a big however, while the story did not try completely blame Jonah’s behavior on being abandoned by his parents and being mistreated in foster care, I thought it was made clear that his childhood was one of the big reasons for it. Why? Why can’t a young gay man in his mid- twenties like sex just because he likes sex? I thought what we got as an attempt at a partial explanation was a little strange.
“Jonah kissed him. Warmth. Softness. A hard body against his. Hands cupped his face and neck, holding him there. Oh, Jonah had his full attention now. Vaughn grunted in surprise. But God, it felt good. So, so good. He was ready to continue doing this for the rest of his life, even if that meant never leaving this closet. Hope rolled through him, and he tentatively touched Jonah’s waist. Jonah pressed up harder against him, and the wall behind Vaughn creaked. Jonah broke the kiss but stared into his eyes. “I like you too. I like you so much it freaks me out. I thought there was no way in hell a guy like you could ever seriously want a guy like me.” What on earth was he talking about? Wasn’t it the other way around? “Have you seen yourself?” he asked in disbelief. “No one wanted me.” Jonah’s gaze was steady. “My dad didn’t, my mom didn’t, hundreds of foster parents and adoptive parents didn’t. And that was years, you know? After a while I stopped caring and told myself it was fine and that I didn’t want them either. And sex, all the hookups—I think one reason I do that is because the guys want me, and it feels really good. Like, I can do that, you know? I can be hot and fuck and be fucked and it’s all great. So that was enough for a long time.” His breath was shaky. “But it’s also kind of shallow. You liked me for me, no sex required, and it freaked me out because I know how to do the sex part, but I haven’t had the feelings part much. ”
And another issue I had – as I mentioned before, Vaughn figured it out a while ago (I believe in college) that he did not enjoy sex , but he thought that he was weird and different and something was wrong with him. I get that, it is not like the issue of asexuality is being discussed so widely. But I thought that how Vaughn learned that there is a word for what he was feeling and wanting and not wanting, and that there are other people like him that may not enjoy sex or not enjoy it too much, was a bit clumsily done.
Vaughn goes to a party with Jonah where he hears two women debating asexuality, and a light bulb goes in his head – and then he goes and does online research. Eh, Vaughn is very smart, I did not quite buy that he did not do online research about people not liking/wanting/enjoying sex before he heard this conversation, if only to see if there were more people in the world like him. I am not that good with computer searches and even I know you can do descriptive searches (meaning you can describe what you are looking for, you do not need to put an exact word in the search box to find out what the word means).
Otherwise I enjoyed the book.