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REVIEW: And Call Me in the Morning by Willa Okati

Dear Ms. Okati:

Call Me in the Morning by Willa OtakiI usually like your voice and Gay For You is a (very) guilty pleasure of mine (and yes, I get more and more and more guilty about it and will probably stop reading it soon because I can’t handle the guilt). So I was excited to see this book at Loose Id.

Zane and Eli are both in their early-to-mid forties, both doctors at the same hospital, and very very very good friends. Such good friends everyone thinks they’re a couple, an assumption that pisses them off, not because OMG! Teh Ghey NOOOOO!, but…just because they’re not. But it exasperates Eli so much one day that he gets pissed enough to agree to Zane’s “experiment” of a kiss:

“For proof, you big dumb ox. We try it. It’s terrible. A sloppy mess. Then we can present them with the evidence and that ought to do the trick.”

Riiiight. So, they kiss, it’s explosive and they quickly fall into a relationship….and that’s pretty much it, really. I mean, there’s conflict, but none of the usual Gay For You conflict. They *enjoy* getting to figure out the new physical side of their relationship, rather than angsting about it, which is a novel relief. They angst about Eli’s aversion to letting everyone know his private life, but you present that not as worry about the closet, but rather just Eli being Eli. I kind of figured he’d feel that way about anyone. And there’s conflict there, but just…not much.

There is, however, one scene which almost made me close the book, in which Zane, who has been chasing Eli the whole damn book, suddenly starts trying to push him away, for his own good. And you try to justify it as part of his character, but it’s SOO strange and SOO out of character for who he had been up until then that it made me pretty mad.

Then there’s a “You almost died which makes me not care about anything anymore except loving you!” plot twist which you could see a mile off, but even that’s not enough for Zane to trust Eli, even though he was the one chasing Eli the whole time, and I just wanted to yell at him “Snap out of it!” So the conflict seemed to come from the “Need another 10K words” barrel rather than anything truly internal to the characters. On the one hand, their relationship was just that…a relationship that had to deal with the stuff that life throws everyone, but on the other, it seemed contrived and drawn out.

But I couldn’t figure out Zane at all, really. The story is told entirely from Eli’s third person deep perspective, which means Zane is really a cipher. We’re not quite sure why he’s suddenly chasing Eli or where his feelings came from, although there’s never really any doubt as to what his feelings ARE. He explains where it all came from at one point, but it’s like it was checking of a “motivation” ticky box, rather than fundamentally rising from his character.

On the guilt front over the erasure of real gay men in m/m literature, this book did a couple of things right: there was a gay couple in the book and they were not stereotypical (as far as I could tell, but then, I’m not a gay man), and while Zane and Eli never really identified as gay (problematic in its own right), they never repudiated the title when it was bestowed on them by others and they did talk about coming out. I don’t know if it’s better or worse that they didn’t have much angst about loving and being attracted to another man when they’d been apparently straight up until then, but the conflict arose from Eli’s emotional reticence and privacy fetish and Zane’s need to be open about their relationship, which is a problem that’s not specific to being gay, as I’ve said, so I think that’s a net gain. So, for a Gay For You book, it was about as good as it got, if you can ever say Gay For You is a good thing.

But the thing that REALLY made me crazy in this book wasn’t the plot, emotional arc, or politics of it, it was the actual writing. I’ve got two types of authors that I really love. First, those authors who use dialogue to carry everything, with sparing detail. I just flow through those books, not even realizing I’m turning pages. Suzanne Brockmann and K.A. Mitchell are the masters at this. I read one sentence of dialogue or deep point of view and know exactly who is speaking and everything’s so naturally done that I fly through the book. The other type is authors who write with rich, stunning prose and I savor every single word, so I read slowly and suck the marrow out of it. Alex Beecroft and Ann Somerville fit here. Georgette Heyer manages somehow to do both and very few authors can do that. You tried here, you really did, but OMG, it didn’t work. Because there’s bumps and blips and bits left out and I would be reading along, skating over the words and suddenly I hit a curb and go flying. Again and again and again. For example:

He sent Zane on his way with a spring in his step the likes of which Eli hadn't seen before, not even the first time they'd met, but which he wasn't without these days.

Say what? ::shakes head:: Or:

Sometimes anger was a destructive force, only good for doing wrong.

Sometimes, though, if you could harness that head of steam? You could pull out a last minute home-run.

0_o Talk about mixing your metaphors! So, instead of getting caught up in the story and just going with it, I spent most of my time going back over a sentence going “Huh?!” Which is not really conducive to a good read, in my mind.

I enjoyed the idea of the story and I like Eli’s character, but there was too much “Huh?” in plot, motivation, characterization, and especially in the writing, for me to recommend it.

Grade: C-

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Loose Id.

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.

9 Comments

  1. jmc
    Feb 02, 2010 @ 19:09:41

    You were much more forgiving of the flaws in this book than I was. The writing, the (lack of) characterization, the pacing and conflict, none of it really worked for me.

    I’m thinking perhaps Ms. Okati is just one of those authors who doesn’t suit my tastes, since this is the second book I’ve tried with similar results.

  2. Beau
    Feb 02, 2010 @ 22:40:59

    It’s not my fav, but honestly whether you stop reading your “guilty pleasure” or not, I’m going to stop reading your reviews as I an getting quite tired of being schooled on what the “right” m/m relationship is. Thanks anyway.

  3. Sarah Frantz
    Feb 03, 2010 @ 07:49:59

    @Beau: I’m sorry you feel that way.

    I personally don’t remember saying anything before about the “right” type of “m/m relationship” (although the fact that we’re saying THAT and not saying “gay relationship” is telling).

    I certainly have talked about depictions of BDSM relationships as exploitative and dangerous but I’ve recently been made aware of how m/m romance novels in particular have the potential to be exploitative as well. Some of the most egregious of the exploitative books are the Gay For You romances. So I thought it worth pointing out that this book did a pretty good job with making the Gay For You trope as NON-exploitative as it’s possible to be.

    Sorry you feel I’m being….whatever it is you feel I’m being.

  4. S. W. Vaughn
    Feb 03, 2010 @ 08:34:48

    I had to look up “Gay For You” – heh, now I get it. I’m a little dense this morning. :-)

    Could be an interesting trope. Thanks for the discussion!

  5. mfred
    Feb 03, 2010 @ 09:22:45

    @Sarah — I, on the other hand, really enjoy your reviews of BDSM and m/m books. I think you do a great job at honestly acknowledging controversial issues surrounding these kinds of books while also providing a good book review.

    I actually don’t read BDSM or m/m at all, but always look forward to your reviews.

    So, if you’d like to come over and make sure me and my girlfriend’s gay relationship is one of the “right” ones, that’s ok by me :)

  6. Sarah Frantz
    Feb 03, 2010 @ 10:05:49

    @mfred: Aw, thanks! I do have a f/f BDSM book to review, but it wasn’t that great, so I’ve been putting it off. :)

  7. cs
    Feb 03, 2010 @ 18:12:07

    I’m pretty sure Sarah is talking about what’s “right” for her. I certainly sit there and complain about ridiculous portrayals about human life in the books I read. That doesn’t mean I’m educating anyone on what is supposed to be the “real” thing. Let’s be honest M/M fiction does take the cake half the time anyway, so it’s not much of surprise if someone mentions that from time to time.

    Not going to be a book I’ll be buying. But Okati is like Evangeline Anderson for me. Pure fun and fluff.

  8. Jess
    Feb 03, 2010 @ 18:16:52

    I thought the books was wonderfully romantic, I do know of couples that didn’t discover they preferred the opposite sex till after they were over 40. I didnt find the plot idea far fetched and I enjoyed reading their journey of discovery.

    I thought you did Willa an injustice by bringing such personal issues of guilt into a review that is suppose to be about HER book.

    It was VERY clear from the blurb, what this type of book was going to be like – if you have such a dislike and guilt then why read it and then review it????

    I think it is this guilt that made you ultra picky in your reading of it, if you have a negative mindset BEFORE you start the book, how do you expect to enjoy it fully???

    I think everyone should stop worry about if the author is male or female and put the politics away.

    I say Thankyou Willa! this was in fact one of the most romantic books Ive read in awhile whether that be m/m, m/f, m/m/f, or any of the many genres I read.

    Sometime I just want a simple, romantic read.

  9. mfred
    Feb 05, 2010 @ 10:00:29

    @Jess: Sarah F’s major complaint in this review wasn’t plot, politics, or emotional arc, it was writing. She did not mention the author’s gender at all in the review. Let me point out:

    But the thing that REALLY made me crazy in this book wasn't the plot, emotional arc, or politics of it, it was the actual writing.

    It would have been inappropriate for Sarah not to acknowledge her own personal feelings about the theme of this book. I think that she presented an honest evaluation of her reasoning as well as valid review of the book on its own merit.

    And frankly, for some of us (me), there is no way to divorce “politics” from my actual real life. “Politics” (I know it as homophobia and discrimination) has entered my home, my relationship, my workplace. I also love many different genres of romance novels for a variety of reasons, including the need for simple, escapist fantasy from my real life.

    The fact that Sarah F was willing to forthrightly discuss controversial issues as well as provide a review of this specific book is great. I think perhaps you are bringing your own personal issues to the table and treating this review somewhat unfairly.

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