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REVIEW: Caught! by JL Merrow

caught

Dear JL Merrow,

There are some books which take time to reveal their joys and others which hook a reader from the start. Each have their own place – sometimes the book that is not immediately catchy turns out to be a comfort read for years to come. This was a book I relaxed into from the beginning.  Told from the first person perspective of elementary school teacher Robert Emeny, Caught! is a little delight.  Just like the picture on the cover, Robert is a somewhat quirky man but he is never a caricature.  He is precise and ordered and kind of shy.  He prefers bow ties but has a few of the regular sort of ties for emergencies.  Apart from when he’s running or sleeping, he’s always wearing a tie.  He’s the type of guy who knows he has precisely twenty-six minutes of his lunch break remaining and that he takes thirteen minutes in the shower.  While it could come across as annoying, in Robert it was endearing. I think that was because at a bone-deep level he is a genuinely kind and honourable man.

Robert has recently moved to Shamwell after leaving his previous teaching role (at a prestigious high school teaching A-Level Maths) in sudden circumstances which are not fully revealed until late in the book.  He has taken a job at St. Saviour’s Elementary School  where he earns significantly less money. It is, in many ways, a step down for him.  Fortunately, some years after the death of his father (which left he and his mother penniless), his mother remarried well and Robert now has some financial support from his family.  This support enables him to rent Old Hatter’s Cottage in the middle of the village.

Robert is sometimes slow to pick up on cues and tends to second guess himself, so his romance with Sean Grant, a local pest exterminator, has a shaky start.  Sean’s twin nephews Wills and Harry (yes, really) are in Robert’s class (where Robert is called “Mr. Enemy” by almost everyone).  As Sean’s sister Debs (a single mother)  is recovering from recent chemotherapy treatment, Sean often does the school run and attends other school functions.  Sean is openly bisexual (yay for more bisexual representation!) and Robert is initially convinced Sean’s interest lies in the direction of Rose Wyman, a fellow teacher at St. Saviour’s and Robert’s friend.

Robert does have some anxiety over dating a bisexual man – he wonders if Sean will get a craving for ladyparts and leave but they talk about it and Sean is able to put Robert’s mind at rest on that score.  The explanation is simple but not simplistic and makes sense without being trite. I felt it was an understandable concern – Robert is only attracted to men so he is a bit at a loss to understand bisexual attraction but once he and Sean discuss it, the matter rests and falls into the category of “not a big deal”. I appreciated it was there but that not much was made of it.

At the same time he left his previous teaching post, Robert’s relationship with fellow teacher, Crispin, ended too.  After his heartbreak over that breakup and the circumstances surrounding it, he is shy of getting involved again.   Sean is a bit touchy about the social differences he perceives between he and Robert but Robert isn’t at all a snob.

Even though the story is told only from Robert’s perspective, I felt I got to know Sean reasonably well, as there was plenty of dialogue in the book.  I enjoyed their interactions and the way they celebrated their differences as well as the things they had in common (of which there were surprisingly many). They have a good sexual chemistry and there are some sexy scenes but it’s not terribly explicit, which I thought suited the book perfectly.

The kettle boiled noisily and we broke apart, both of us breathing rather quickly. “Um. Coffee?” I said, my voice shaky.

“Uh, yeah. Wow.”

“Wow?”

“Definitely wow. Talk about your hidden depths.”

I gave him a sidelong look. “Not that hidden, surely?”

“Depends. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like the way you dress— it’s different and fun and all that—but yeah , it’s not exactly in-your-face sexy, is it?” He gave my rear a gentle squeeze. “Course, when I saw you in your running gear, with your hair all messed up and that… I mean, most of the time you’re so put together, you know? It was like… Shit , this is a bad analogy, ’cos I liked you before, anyway, but it was like that really corny moment in films when the girl in the lab coat takes off her glasses and shakes out her hair, and suddenly she’s gorgeous.”

I frowned. “I don’t wear glasses. And my hair’s too short to shake out. Plus, and I really feel I should emphasise this point to avoid any possible misunderstandings, I’m not a girl.”

Sean laughed. “I told you it was a shit analogy.” He brought one hand up to stroke my face, and I fought the urge to nuzzle into it as his other hand slid farther around my waist. “But you are gorgeous.”

I enjoyed Robert’s interactions with the students and in particular, young Charlie. I loved how Charlie grew through the course of the book. The scene with Charlie’s dad was a favourite but I will leave it for readers to find out why.

Rose was somewhat of a caricature, even though I liked her quite a bit.  She is loud and forthright but as it happens, that is just what Robert needs – without her interference perhaps he and Sean would never have been. She did have some story of her own and wasn’t merely there to be the enabler for Robert’s romantic adventures but I think some will regard her as too over the top and stereotypical.

I loved some of the word pictures you drew and some of them made me laugh out loud.

Fordy’s always rather exuberant brows had now entirely met in the middle, like a couple of very small, coy ferrets exchanging a kiss.

There were a few times in the story that I felt Robert’s dialogue didn’t fit my image of his character – mostly this was when he was being a bit sexually provocative but this may well have been a failing of my imagination rather than anything else.

Generally, I prefer when characters talk to each other and I’m not a fan of misunderstandings.  That said, Robert has very good reasons for not sharing his secrets with Sean immediately and I didn’t think their falling out over it was drawn out.

Robert, somewhat unexpectedly for him, finds a home and a community in Shamwell and he and Sean make a lovely couple.  I had so much fun reading this book.  I give Caught! a B+ and my recommendation. I’m definitely looking forward to more Shamwell Tales.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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Kaetrin started reading romance as a teen and then took a long break, detouring into fantasy and thrillers. She returned to romance in 2008 and has been blogging since 2010. She reads contemporary, historical, a little paranormal, urban fantasy and romantic suspense, as well as erotic romance and more recently, new adult. She loves angsty books, funny books, long books and short books. The only thing mandatory is the HEA. Favourite authors include Mary Balogh, Susanna Kearsley, Joanna Bourne, Tammara Webber, Kristen Ashley, Shannon Stacey, Sarah Mayberry, JD Robb/Nora Roberts, KA Mitchell, Marie Sexton, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, just to name a few. You can find her on Twitter: @kaetrin67.

15 Comments

  1. cleo
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 08:30:47

    Ooh, this sounds good. I’ve taken a break from JL Merrow recently – I didn’t care for the last couple I read by her. But this sounds like my sort of book.

  2. Julia
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 11:58:11

    Yay, looking forward to this one!

  3. Darlynne
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 12:55:35

    What fun! I will definitely look at this. I thought I’d read some of this author’s work, but that turned out to be Jez Morrow. New-to-me is always welcome.

  4. L A
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 14:00:33

    I loved the first book I read by Merrow so much that the ones I’ve read since have all been varying levels of disappointing to me. I hate when that happens. Still, I keep trying, when the plot’s right – and this one really caught my eye when it went up on goodreads. Hitting the right amount of hopeful when opening a book can be so difficult. Reading, why so complicated sometimes?

    It does sound really promising. Fingers crossed!

  5. hapax
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 14:05:12

    Oh, sweet and shy are just what I need right now, after this terrible, terrible month. I’ll even put up with a little communication failure to get it. :-)

  6. cleo
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 14:13:09

    @L A: I had a similar experience – what was your first Merrow? The first two I read were Muscling Through and Pricks and Pragmatism and those remain my two favorite Merrows – nothing else has worked as well for me. But I keep trying her, because, I don’t know, I keep thinking the next one will be great.

  7. JPeK
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 19:01:21

    @cleo: Ditto! I really loved those two books and consistently bought others by the author until it really hit me that I wasn’t enjoying them nearly as much.

    I had debated trying this one, but Kaetrin’s review has convinced me to give it a shot. Thanks!

  8. Kaetrin
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 19:24:56

    @everyone I always like Merrow’s style but I can have a varying opinion on the content. I think, because this book focuses only on the relationship – there is no mystery component – that there is enough time and space in the book for a satisfying romance. The last couple of Merrows I read were the Plumber’s Mate books and while I liked them, I felt they lacked a little in the romantic development department and I didn’t feel I got to know the other hero very well. It might be something to do with the word count that was taken up by the mystery plot I suppose.

    Anyway, I hope you all enjoy it. Come back and let me know what you thought?

  9. L A
    Aug 19, 2014 @ 13:01:14

    @cleo: Yep, it was Pricks and Pragmatism! Still one of my all-time favorite m/m romances.

  10. cleo
    Aug 19, 2014 @ 16:44:36

    I’m reading Caught now, and I’m enjoying it a lot. To the point that I caught myself grinning at strangers on the train, because I was enjoying my book so much. I’m not sure if it ranks as high as PaP yet, but I’m enjoying it much more than the last few I tried.

    Thanks again for the review Kaetrin.

  11. Kaetrin
    Aug 19, 2014 @ 19:35:16

    @cleo: Yay! :D

  12. cleo
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 19:42:17

    I finished this yesterday and I’m still trying to decide what I think about it – the more I think about it, the more reservations I have. I definitely enjoyed reading it – I got impatient with the characters and their misunderstandings, which kept me from loving it, but it was a lot of fun. I especially loved the flirting and courtship. I wanted to see more of their relationship as it developed – I wanted to see them actually fall in love, and I don’t feel like I did.

    I really had a hard time with the reason why Robert left his old job, and especially with how he didn’t stand up for himself – I guess his being such a doormat kind of fit his character and makes some sense in a 20 something, but as a 40 something reader, I just wanted to shake him and tell him had to clear his name. (And the more I thought about the hows and whys of Robert ending up teaching primary school, the less likely the whole thing seemed. What the hell was his old headmaster thinking?).

  13. Kaetrin
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 21:56:49

    @cleo: I had a sympathy for Robert’s position. He apparently had absolutely no support at the school and Crispy Kreme was NO help to him at all. It was a really shitty thing to have happened. I think he felt powerless against an institution which was exerting a great deal of unethical power over him and given the nature of the issue, Robert felt that it’s mere existence marred his reputation. Something I understood. You’re right though – he was treated very unfairly. If he had’ve had Sean around at the time I expect he’d have reacted differently but with Crispy Chicken acting like he was persona non grata he felt there was no alternative.

  14. cleo
    Aug 21, 2014 @ 17:00:23

    @Kaetrin: I agree that his actions before the book started made sense and fit his character – I sympathized with him too. I guess I wanted him to grow more assertive during the course of the book. When Oliver came to him, I really wanted him to call out Oliver for not going to the headmaster with the truth after everything went down, and I wanted him to ask/force Oliver to go to the headmaster and clear Robert – not because he wanted to teach there again, but because he really shouldn’t let that suspicion linger. Again, this is one of those things that I think may be realistically portrayed but still bothered me – I can see that a 20 something might realistically ignore it, but as a 44 year old reader, I think it’d be foolish and possibly fatal to his career to not challenge it.

    And honestly, if the headmaster really thought that there was a chance that Robert was guilty, then he was unethical to allow Robert to resign and get a job teaching 7 year olds. Again, it may be completely realistic – people unfortunately still turn a blind eye to that sort of thing, but it just bugged me the more I thought about it.

    This is one of those books that I like less the more I think about it. I think I need to stop thinking about it before I work myself up into hulk smash rage.

  15. Kaetrin
    Aug 21, 2014 @ 19:31:50

    @cleo: There will be more Shamwell Tales. Maybe something will happen in that regard in the future?

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