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REVIEW: My Summer of Wes by Missy Welch

Dear Ms. Welsh.

I can’t figure out my feelings towards this book. I enjoyed it. A lot. The sex was hot. The heroes are great. It was just what I needed today when I was feeling overwhelmed with work (new semester starting up), because it was a very undemanding book. But there’s no conflict. None. At all. It’s a story of two guys meeting, falling in love, having sex, falling in love some more, and…being happy. So while it was a fun, enjoyable read, it was lacking a component that, in my opinion, makes a romance novel a romance novel, so I’m not sure I can recommend it.

My Summer of WesMal (short for Malcolm) Short is 18 and has just graduated high school. He spent all of high school being badly bullied for being perceived as gay. He’s never had a date, never been kissed, never really figured out WHO he’s actually attracted to. His parents completely ignore him and he’s lonely. A new family moves in across the street and he meets Wes (short for Wesley). Wes is completely comfortable with who he is, completely open about being gay. The first time Mal sees him, Wes stands down the bullies Mal has been dealing with for four years.

Wes’s passion is restoring cars. He’s 24 and has a great business flipping cars like people flip houses. But he moved back in with his very accepting, loving parents because he couldn’t handle the homophobic neighborhood his old apartment was in. Wes just adopts Mal as a friend, taking him to help with his latest car and generally being the friend Mal has never had.

Until Mal figures out he actually IS gay. Whereupon he completely accepts it and starts having sex with Wes. They have a lot of sex, say they love each other, have a lot more sex, and…that’s it, really. Oh, Mal deals with his bullies, doesn’t deal with his parents, deals with being flirted with by girls. But there really is NO conflict, either external or internal. There’s nothing at ALL to stop these guys from being together. The only potential conflict is Mal figuring out he’s gay and that’s almost completely ignored. He asks himself “am I or aren’t I” a few times, but figure out he is and just runs with it, no angst involved.

But, like I said, it’s…sweet. And you have a gift for writing sex. Really hot sex. But the lack of conflict left me wondering why I was bothering to read…except for the hot sex, of course.

Also, Wes seems just too utterly perfect. The story is told in first person from Mal’s point of view. But Wes seems to fall in love immediately, provide Mal with everything he never knew he needed, including a loving family, do everything right, and also manage to be just a bit vulnerable about whether Mal really loves him. Which is great, but less perfection maybe would have given the book some conflict.

Finally, Mal’s parents change — without explanation — from almost criminally negligent class-conscious assholes to fundamentalist homophobic assholes halfway through the book. Not that you see any of this — it’s just Mal’s internal reporting. But it seemed a bit off and more like bad editing than anything planned out.

But there’s one scene (besides the hot sex — have I mentioned that?) that I loved. Wes asks Mal what his passion is:

I didn’t laugh with him, because I was trying to think of something I did that made me forget the world around me and that I was in it. I sighed, a little pained to realize that most everything I’d done in the past four years had been to escape reality. Reading took me away. Video games. The Internet. But I just used them to waste the hours between those I spent sleeping.

"Jesus," I mumbled, tucking my arms around my chest and squeezing my eyes shut. I’d wasted so much time, so much of my life, trying to escape being me because those assholes had made me hate myself before I’d even figured out who I really was.

I loved how insightful that was. Which is a symptom of your potential, in my opinion. Mal was a great character and Wes was perfect and perfectly adorable. The writing was solid. The sex was hot. Now try for some conflict and you’ll be an amazing writer.

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.

13 Comments

  1. Sunita
    Aug 17, 2010 @ 12:52:39

    Very helpful review, Sarah. I went and read the excerpt and have mixed feelings. There were some off things (e.g., a red sofa makes you non-traditional? Been to Ethan Allen lately?). And the age difference makes me slightly uncomfortable. There can be a big gap between 18 and 24, especially if the 18 year old is wet behind the ears and the 24 year old is mature for his age, which is the sense I got from the little bit I read. Unless it’s a coming of age story and Wes is a good choice for Mal to learn from.

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  2. Joan/SarahF
    Aug 17, 2010 @ 14:05:33

    @Sunita: The age gap isn’t really dealt with at all, FWIW. Mentioned once and that’s it. It reads like, excuse the phrase, a straight-up romance, not coming of age, with HFN that’s really more like HEA. So, that’s kinda odd, too.

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  3. Missy Welsh
    Aug 17, 2010 @ 15:05:27

    So this was my very first visit here and I find you’re reviewing MY book! First, I’m flattered that you even took the time to read it. Second, I don’t know the proper etiquette for commenting on a review–or if I even ought to–but here goes: I agree with you. The original story was about 6K words longer, but when your beta reader and your editor says “trim it down from here to here,” there has to be something for it, and I agreed with them. What did I remove? All the angst of “am I gay or not?” that Mal went through. I looked at him as being open to considering the possibility and ran with that. But, yeah, you’re right, and conflict was one of the things my editor worked with me on. I’m still working on it with new projects, so I hope the next one will earn a higher mark. Thank you again for reviewing my book!

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  4. orannia
    Aug 17, 2010 @ 20:34:32

    Thank you Joan/Sarah!

    That excerpt is…well, let’s just say it resonates :) Hmmm. I think I’d like to read this – it sounds like a good book when, as you said, you feel like something undemanding.

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  5. Dana
    Aug 18, 2010 @ 01:36:38

    I read this today, and I enjoyed it. It is true, there is no conflict. I kept waiting for something to happen with Mal’s parents, but alas, it never happened. But still, this was a can’t put down story for me. It was sweet. It was angst free.(which, after spending the weekend falling in love with Amy Lane’s Keeping Promise Rock and Making Promise, angst free was necessary for me)

    I will definitely be checking out more of Missy Welsh’s books, this was just the thing to lighten me up after several quite angsty reads.

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  6. LaurieS
    Aug 18, 2010 @ 11:48:46

    You mean one needs more than hot sex?! I’ll put this one on my wishlist. It sounds like one of those books I like to read when life gets completely overwhelming.

    You know, I’ve read a few LooseID books now and my biggest complaint is that they’re often too short so it’s interesting to hear from the author that she was asked to cut so much.

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  7. Dana
    Aug 18, 2010 @ 18:26:23

    That’s my one problem with M/M romances, and really a lot of erotic romances in general, but especially the M/M ones. Why do they want them to be so short? (and not charge “short” prices?)

    Personally, if a book is under 100 pages, I won’t buy it unless it’s dirt cheap, like under 2 bucks. I just don’t like shorts, I don’t feel they have enough page time to really get into the relationship building.

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  8. Angie
    Aug 19, 2010 @ 08:51:09

    But there's no conflict. None. At all. It's a story of two guys meeting, falling in love, having sex, falling in love some more, and…being happy.

    That’s really unfortunate. :/ I’ve read a few other books like that, and the impression I get is that the writer doesn’t actually know what a story is. If there’s no conflict, then there’s no plot, and if there’s no plot, then it’s not a story. It might be a pile of pages telling about something that happened, but that’s not necessarily a story.

    There are readers who like that sort of thing, though. In fact, I can think of one book off the top of my head that got rave reviews and still has a bazillion enthused fans which is very similar, although there’s a suspense sort of plot, kind of. It’s billed as a romance, which it’s not, but that hasn’t stopped it from being popular. Maybe this writer will have the same good luck.

    Angie

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  9. bibiromantic
    Aug 19, 2010 @ 10:39:53

    I've read a few other books like that, and the impression I get is that the writer doesn't actually know what a story is. If there's no conflict, then there's no plot, and if there's no plot, then it's not a story.

    I disagree. That is, with this caveat: if conflict makes the kind of story you like, then you’re in good company with most of the books currently published, so go you! Enjoy! But I find a perfectly satisfying plot can be made when a series of actions or events are causally linked, build in intensity, and build up to a crisis which is then resolved. An example is the kind of sex-scene-as-story fanfiction writers call PWP. Though the acronym means “Plot? What Plot?” I’d say these stories have perfectly good PLOTS, but don’t usually have CONFLICTS. A conflict is a great way to link the events and produce the crisis and inform the resolution! I have nothing against narrative conflict. But I don’t think it’s the only game in town, either, and I’ve read my share of books with really POOR conflicts, silly misunderstandings or groundless hostilities or just intrusive stuff I didn’t care about at all. And I’ve thought, “Argh, if only every creative-writing advice thing ever didn’t insist on conflict!conflict!conflict!” I’ve loved characters and settings and interactions, which especially in repeated readings are just annoyingly interrupted by The Conflict. So I’d say (though I haven’t read this book), if people are reading and enjoying it, unable to put it down (so there has to be forward impetus, yes?) and finishing it feeling pretty good about the outcome, then yeah, it was a story. With a plot. That wasn’t based on conflict. But was still OK for those readers.

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  10. Angie
    Aug 19, 2010 @ 10:46:59

    @ bibiromantic: Actually, one reason I love the term “fic” is that it lets us talk about fictional narratives which are not stories. An actual story has a plot, period. It’s part of the definition.

    I’ll also point out that about 75% of the time when a fanfic writer apologizes in the header for not having a plot, she actually does, which just strengthens my argument that a lot of writers out there don’t know what a plot is, or how it connects to the definition of story.

    Angie

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  12. Bibi
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 14:15:00

    True! and true, though I dont’ think “conflict” as in “people arguing” or “plenteous angst” is a neccessary part of the definition of plot.

    And ABSOLUTELY true about the “haha no plot!” when there is one because to this person, probably a “plot” is what happens with fistfights and explosions.

    I think we agree more than disagree!

    Bibi

    ReplyReply

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