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REVIEW: Cherry Pie by Samantha Kane

Dear Ms. Kane,

I’ve been seeking out contemporary romance in the m/m genre and when I read the synopsis for your book it fit the bill. This is a romance about two men who are not exactly ordinary, but who want the same things out of life that most of us do, and who aren’t sure they’re ever going to be able to achieve them. Given the backstories of the two protagonists, this could have been a much more angst-filled book than it was. I would categorize it as a relatively upbeat, almost sweet romance (except that as an m/m it will never be categorized as sweet even if there were no sex scenes, and there are, so never mind).

The book is set in the (fictional) small town of Mercury, North Carolina, which is within driving distance of the Atlantic Ocean. John Ford, who is in his mid-thirties, has moved to Mercury from Los Angeles after a long-term relationship ends traumatically. He doesn’t have to work for a living, and he spends much of his time restoring an old house he’s recently purchased. When we meet him, his most in-depth conversations appear to be with his coffee machine. Connor Meecham is a native of Mercury who has been away for nearly a decade. He returns at the age of twenty-five and plants himself across the street from his old house, the “Meecham Mansion,” which John now owns. John is initially skeptical of this excessively thin, excessively quiet man, but he eventually invites him in and the story and their growing romance take off from there.

Connor was a star high-school quarterback and went off to Georgia Tech on a football scholarship, but a college injury ended both his NFL dreams and his scholarship and sent him into a downward spiral. He returns to Meecham with nothing to his name and the desire to start over. John gives him room and board in exchanging for help rehabbing the house and garden. As Connor reconnects with old friends (and enemies), John is slowly incorporated into Mercury’s community. The titular cherry pie represents the bonds that link Mercury’s residents as well as Connor’s aspirations for a new life:

“What do you think, Evan? Is heaven cherry pie?” John asked with a smile in his voice.

“I think heaven is eating cherry pie if you want it to be.” There was a pause. “What about you, Conn?”

He blew out a breath. “I don?t believe in heaven.”

“What?” Cheryl sounded scandalized.

“Why?” That was John, and he just sounded curious.

Conn turned on the step and leaned his back against the post so he was facing them all. “Because heaven is right now. I want to eat my cherry pie right now. I want to live the way I want right now. If I wait, well, what for?” He shook his head. “No, I’m not waiting on a heaven I can’t see or feel or touch.” He gestured to the house and the street. “I’m just gonna make this heaven.”

This book reminds me of a small-town category romance. The romantic relationship is front and center, and it is embedded in Mercury’s southern small-town context. Connor runs into old friends, including his best friend from high school and the town matriarch, Miss Priscilla Jones. With the exception of the sheriff, no one in town seems to have any trouble with Connor and John’s sexual orientation or relationship. Even the church they attend immediately accepts them as a couple. I found this a bit hard to believe, but the book seems to fit into a subgenre within m/m that corresponds to sweet romances in mainstream category romance. There are a number of sex scenes, but they don’t dominate the narrative, and the conflict between the protagonists arises from issues within the relationship rather than contextual or other social factors.

Here, conflict stems from two sources: Connor’s fear that John is simply replicating his previous relationship and not thinking about Connor as an individual, and the intrusion of Kristine, the sister of John’s former lover. But these issues are resolved fairly easily, and there is little to impede the story’s steady progress toward an HEA. Connor’s past might have created difficulties, but again, no one really seems to mind except for the obviously villainous sheriff, and he is routed by Miss Priscilla (in this southern small town, one of its most powerful families in the pre-Civil Rights era was apparently African-American). By the end of the book John has become fully incorporated into Mercury and is using his wealth to provide local jobs, Connor has regained his sense of self and his optimism in the future, and their HEA is assured.

I enjoyed reading the book, but it felt rather slight. One of the reasons I read m/m is because the external and internal conflicts can combine to create a rich, multi-layered journey to the couple’s HEA. Here, the absence of much of either made it pleasant but unmemorable, and the unquestioning acceptance of homosexuality by Mercury’s varied residents required a very strong suspension of disbelief. The writing is assured and the characters are quite well realized. I can recommend this to readers who enjoy these types of stories, but for those who prefer more drama and conflict, it will probably not be as satisfactory. Grade: C+

~ Sunita

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Book review, romance book review, romance novel review, reviews about romance books, Jane Litte, Dear Author

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

10 Comments

  1. John
    Jul 16, 2011 @ 12:51:17

    Hm. I think I would be able to suspend disbelief. I know that it might be hard with a small town, but I live in a town of 8,000 and I honestly didn’t get much flack about things. People are rarely vocal outright to you unless they’re dicks. It’s what they say behind your back, which you can ignore because they’re bigots. :)

    I like that m/m can be realistic, but I appreciate stories like this that say, “Let’s forget for a few moments that people are ridiculous.” Breaking romance standards is well and good, but at times it’s nice to have that escapism. I loved the YA book Boy Meets Boy for the same reasons.

    I enjoyed the review. ^_^ I like m/m of both types, but this type is one I’d like to read more of.

    ReplyReply

  2. ShellBell
    Jul 16, 2011 @ 18:57:32

    I’d only read one other Samantha Kane story ( the first in her Brothers in Arms series), which I didn’t enjoy so I almost didn’t bother buying Cherry Pie. I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed Cherry Pie. I liked the story and the characters and didn’t miss the angst or drama one bit.

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  3. Sunita
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 01:15:25

    I agree that high angst can get tiring after a while, and I also enjoy books that emphasize that same-sex relationships do not always result in opposition and animosity. The difficulty I had was that just about everyone except the villainous sheriff was actively encouraging the romance; that just went too far for me. But I know that sweeter romances are becoming more commonplace in m/m fiction, and I think this is a good example in the genre. I can definitely see other readers having less trouble with disbelief suspension and just enjoying the ride.

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  4. riga
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 11:15:12

    I really enjoyed an earlier story by Samantha Kane, Islands, so I’m definitely jumping on this one.

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  5. cs
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 07:53:49

    I like reading books where being gay isn’t always an issue for the characters. I especially love books where it isn’t always a religion bashing or my parents are evil bashing. Mostly, sometimes I feel like there isn’t enough variety and being gay isn’t always a big firework for some people. So yes, I agree that whilst I’m a realistic and angst lover (reader) — I do have my guilty pleasures and simple reads as well. However, with this book I just found it to be very bland and it didn’t do much for me. Contemporary is my favourite genre, and I personally have enjoyed much better stories with the same kind of premise.

    @Sunita if you’re looking for a contemporary with internal conflict I recommend Tere Michaels series Faith and Fidelity and it’s sequel Duty and Devotion over at Loose Id.

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  6. Sunita
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 11:23:37

    @cs: Yes, I think you said it better than I! When I say conflict I don’t necessarily mean intense open conflict or high angst, but more the kinds of issues that propel any novel forward. This one had some of those but their resolutions didn’t feel organic to the storyline or the development of the characters. I’m trying to figure out a way to talk about this issue more clearly; it’s clearly a bigger deal for me than for many readers.

    I read Michaels’ trilogy and consider it one of my guilty pleasures. It’s quite well written and compulsively readable, but it has a similar suspension of disbelief aspect, especially in the first and third books. If you haven’t read Teddy Pig’s rant about it, you should. You might not agree with everything he says, but he makes some good points and it’s hilarious.

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  7. cs
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 17:45:20

    @Sunita: I agree with you. For me even if it’s a simple read I’d like there to be some sort of issue. It doesn’t have to be related to anything overly huge. For example one of my guilty pleasure reads is Willa Okati’s “Karma Chameleon” it’s a cute tale and mostly reads like a comedy (to me anyway) — but the character has an issue with commitment. It’s an issue for the character and the couple, and it keeps the story moving and relevant.

    I’m glad you liked it as well. G4Y stories are a big trope in M/M fiction. Many read kind of ridiculous and I totally agree with you needing to suspend belief for this trope. However, I felt the writing and the story to be very natural. It just worked for me. I can understand why someone would roll their eyes. But I actually feel that the author did a good job without making it all seem…trite you know? I guess it’s an ultimate fantasy. You know the gay man getting his straight man crush. But I guess I found the emotions and the turmoil to be written well.

    I know Resistance by L.M. Turner was reviewed which is also a great book about a commitment scared hero. I also love Sloan Parker’s “Breathe” — many may not like it. But that’s a top ten all time favourite of mine. But yes conflict in some sense has to be prevalent for me also. It doesn’t matter. I mean Drew Zachary’s “Fire” series is the ultimate ‘all sex story’ but even that had an element of issue. The older man vs. younger man issue. It’s mainly a PWP at times and an ultimate guilty pleasure. A new author I came across Elle Parker her books are simple too — but she’s got really interesting main characters. The series is very entertaining.

    I guess my overall point is, that whilst some of us will go for those hard long upsetting heart-wrenching books. We also have our kick-back no stress books. We however would like there to be an element of suspense or drama to keep the heroes and relationship moving along. When there is no issue within the relationship then that just frustrates me. Emotions are real no matter what the setting or world. I just need something to keep it all interesting no matter how small.

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  8. Sunita
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 12:05:15

    @cs: We all have books that are guilty pleasures so I never apologize for reading and liking them, but I am more than willing to admit their faults.

    Thanks for remind me of Elle Kennedy Parker! I have the first in her mystery series in my TBR. I really liked her voice in the excerpt.

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  9. Alymid
    Jul 21, 2011 @ 07:13:19

    I was really in the mood for something light and sweet, and I often find some of the drama in romances and especially in m/m to be over the top and there more postpone the resolution, than as an organic part of the story. So I went ahead and grabbed this one and am really glad I did.

    I really liked the nice easy growth of their relationship, and how each one’s personal issues locked in to provide conflict that worked for me. I agree about the happy town and sheriff. OTOH I liked a lot of the secondary characters/towns folk.

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  10. Quick post: Other people’s musings on m/m | VacuousMinx
    Oct 06, 2011 @ 09:27:20

    [...] a post on small-town contexts in m/m and whether they function as aspirational settings. I’ve expressed my discomfort in other places about depicting small-town USA as a happy place for LGBT people. Of course there are bound to be [...]

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