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REVIEW: Not Knowing Jack by K.A. Mitchell

Dear Ms. Mitchell.

This was not the book I was expecting. At all. Which doesn’t make it bad, at all. It just…threw me a curve ball pretty early on (not that I have any idea what that metaphor actually means) and just kept them coming. That said, I adored it. I adored Tony. I adored Jack and his angst. It’s almost like you wrote this book for me, because it hits ALL my academic as well as my readerly buttons.

We met Tony Gemetti and Jack Noble in Regularly Scheduled Life, but readers absolutely do NOT need to read that book in order to read this one. Sean and Kyle show up for a few scenes, but they’re by no means integral to the story. Tony and Jack have a…thing. They live together in Jack’s house, they have lots and LOTS of hot sex. But, overall, there’s no commitment between them, no conversations about their relationship, and only sex-produced “Love you”s every now and then. Or at least, this is what Tony realizes when Jack starts acting weird.

First of all, I have to say, the names bugged the CRAP outta me. Look at that cover. Who is Tony? Who is Jack? Tony is dark, Italian, rich, and intense while Jack is blond, tattoed, working class, and irreverent, right? No. TONY is the blond Italian (?!), tattooed, working class, and irreverent. JACK is dark, rich, and intense, and not Italian. I usually have a hard time picturing blond heroes, but I loved this picture so much and adored Tony so much, that he’s firmly fixed in my head. But he’s not a “Tony,” for heaven’s sake. And, for me, Jack is so not the name of the chef of a 5-star restaurant who drives a BMW. Jack is very much a working class name for me and I *know* that’s my own problem. But still, every single scene of this book, and usually during the scene, I had to try to figure out who was who. I’m sure this is a personal problem (maybe a holdover from growing up in working class Italian neighborhood in New Jersey), but it was a huge one for me. ::deep breath::

That aside, Tony and Jack start out the book in a not-relationship but Tony gets more and more weirded out, the less and less Jack seems to be telling him about what’s going on. And what we discover is that Jack does indeed have another life, or at least, he did. In fact, he has kids that he’s not seen in a while. And a Traumatic Event that effected all three of them that sort of explains everything. And suddenly Jack throws Tony out — twice — but then they go and get the kids and are Insta-Family. And have to deal with Traumatic Event and Emo-Teen and their own foundering — or, indeed, floundering — relationship. So, it’s absolutely NOT the book I was expecting. But wow, it’s powerful anyway and so well-written.

This is an abrupt book. Things happen abruptly. Tony and Jack deal with things abruptly, then stop talking about it (or never really start). The narration between events, the slow passage of time, is non-existent. Suddenly it’s a week later, two, a month. There’s exposition, sure, but it’s abrupt. This is not a criticism at all, just something for readers to be aware of. It’s different from your normal voice. But it fits the characters and the plot brilliantly. Life IS changing abruptly for these men. Their emotions are going haywire and they don’t have time to find their center, either individually or as a couple. And neither of them is used to dealing with their emotions in any way that isn’t related to sex.

For example, they’ve just had sex and talked-but-not-really about going raw:

After Jack wiped the come off the sink and mirror and counter, he picked up the condom wrapper. "Did you mean it? About next time?"

"Did you?"

Jack flicked the wrapper into the trash. "I don't know of a reason why we couldn't."

"Me either."

Jack flipped off the lights, and Tony followed him into the bedroom. For them, it was a pretty deep discussion. When Jack turned off the lights in the bedroom and tucked himself in behind Tony, it seemed like the discussion was over.

But — no surprise here — the sex is hot. And, as always, you write sex scenes that are not only smoking, but that mean something, every time. They build up or break down the relationship, they’re different enough not to get boring, and they always have a purpose. (Aside: I know you tweeted about watching the videos, but is it REALLY possible to give a guy a blowjob while fucking his ass? Really? I think I’ll need to see the video myself before I believe you. ::coff coff::)

Niggles and picks: Tony has angsty background that doesn’t get much stage time. And maybe that’s just Tony. He seems pretty matter-of-fact about his life and who he is and WHY he is. But the lack of stage time means that he doesn’t actually have much of an emotional arc. Well, actually, that’s not true: his emotional arc is that he grows up and accepts responsibility, commits to a relationship, and becomes a parent, which is a Real Life emotional arc but not necessarily one we’re used to in RomanceLandia.

Things get a little glossed at the end. Trauma happens again and suddenly things are Fixed between Jack and his Emo-Teen son? I *can* see why it might work that way, but this might be the spot where abrupt is too abrupt.

The ex-wife is a bit much to take. She’s unrelieved by any explanation of why she is the way she is. And the explanation might not necessarily fit Tony and Jack’s story, but having another crazy Barbie Doll ex-wife running around in a romance is a bit too cliche for me.

All this aside, I loved the book. I loved the character construction, as always, and despite being unexpected, the story was VERY well done. There’s two things I especially adored.

One: Tony and Jack don’t actually have the same sense of humor. I think this is fascinating because usually we know characters are destined for Twu Wuv because they’re the only ones who understand the other. But Jack just doesn’t GET Tony’s sense of humor. And yet you make it work. It’s Tony’s sense of humor, his ease with himself, that gets through to Jack’s kids. And while Jack might not understand Tony all the time, he craves the man Tony is, his life, and comfort, and passion. And he uses his understanding of his own craving for Tony to get Tony back at the end. And I love that.

Two: oh sweet baby Jesus, this book is all about the construction of masculinity. And that’s my Thing, my academic obsession, the concept around which I’ve basically built my entire career. So, really, I just adore it inside and out. Tony has to figure out how to be a grown-up man and Jack has to figure out what being a good man actually means and he struggles so. This is why I can deal with Tony’s less obvious emotional arc, because I just lapped up Jack’s angst over figuring out that he IS already a good man:

Exactly how long was he going to be able to hang on when this new life had become as much of a fake as the old one? Tony was here because he thought he had to be. No matter how much work Jack put into anything, nothing could stop it from going to shit. Tony's determination to help him through this would last about as long as it took to hear the truth from Brandon and Sarah or worse, see it printed in their faces. Jack was a failure. As a father. As a partner. As a man.

Om nom nom.

Oh, and the ending? Pure schmoopy happiness. Guilt and groveling and full-blown commitment-fever. Thank you!

Grade: B+

Best regards,

-Joan/Sarah F.

Book Link | Samhain Publishing |  Kindle | nook | BooksonBoard

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.

22 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention REVIEW: Not Knowing Jack by K.A. Mitchell | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Dec 07, 2010 @ 16:39:56

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sarah Frantz and Sydney , dearauthor. dearauthor said: NewPost: REVIEW: Not Knowing Jack by K.A. Mitchell http://bit.ly/gwNP0j [...]

  2. Christine M.
    Dec 07, 2010 @ 16:42:20

    A new KA Mitchell?! Awesomesauce!

    Thanks for the review, the book sounds great.

    ReplyReply

  3. jayhjay
    Dec 07, 2010 @ 16:56:05

    Yeah, I have been waiting for this book to come out since I read Regularly Scheduled Life! I love KA Mitchell so I am so excited! Glad you thought it was good.

    ReplyReply

  4. Kaetrin
    Dec 07, 2010 @ 18:33:21

    It’s out??! How did I miss that? Off to buy it immediately. Love love love KA Mitchell. Thx for the heads up Sarah! :)

    ReplyReply

  5. Merrian
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 05:09:59

    This sounds pretty good. I had intended to wish list it but now have it in my TBR files.

    “Tony has to figure out how to be a grown-up man and Jack has to figure out what being a good man actually means and he struggles so. This is why I can deal with Tony's less obvious emotional arc, because I just lapped up Jack's angst over figuring out that he IS already a good man..”

    This from your review is what has sold me on the story and I am so happy to find a book that is about these personal journeys and epiphanies as much as it is about being in love.

    ReplyReply

  6. jmc
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 07:46:06

    I loved this book. Alternately wanted to hug Jack for his insecurities and to shake him for his behavior. The only small issue I had was the abrupt ending, would’ve liked to see better/more interaction w/ the son post-trauma. The ex didn’t bother me because I assumed the mention of the therapist was subtext for mental illness, which translated into ill rather than evil for me. [Which doesn't excuse her behavior, but makes her less of an evil barbie doll to me. YMMV.]

    ReplyReply

  7. LaurieS
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 09:16:31

    This was a fabulously emotional read for me.

    @jmc:

    I agree, I believe there was a mention of mental illness and she broke down when she realized her marriage was a sham and simply couldn’t deal with reality. She was a bit OTT but I know me some real life crazypants women so it wasn’t too far-fetched as to be completely unbelievable for me.

    “(Aside: I know you tweeted about watching the videos, but is it REALLY possible to give a guy a blowjob while fucking his ass? Really? I think I'll need to see the video myself before I believe you. ::coff coff::)”

    There’s a video?! This scene pulled me out of the story a bit and had me thinking he must’ve been scary flexible!

    ReplyReply

  8. jayhjay
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 10:45:50

    Re: the oral/anal combo,

    Am I remembering wrong or is there a similar scene in Diving in Deep? For some reason I seem to remember coming across this in another one of her books…

    ReplyReply

  9. Sunita
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 15:08:18

    Huh. I wrote a comment which apparently got eaten. Let’s try again: I liked Tony but I thought he deserved better than Jack. I couldn’t take the latter’s egocentrism-bordering-on-narcissism alternating with self-loathing. If you think you’re a horrible father/husband/partner, work on fixing it or live with it, but stop with the wallowing. But this is probably an ITYIM issue.

    That said, the writing was great as usual, the children were well portrayed, and once again the author took a potentially exploitative storyline and depicted it with sympathy and depth.
    Also, I enjoyed having Tony be the one who had his act together.

    Definitely one to recommend, even with my caveats.

    ReplyReply

  10. Kaetrin
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 15:44:51

    @ Sunita – what is ITYIM? I googled it but it didn’t come up with anything… just curious :)

    ReplyReply

  11. orannia
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 15:46:34

    Oh, this does sound good. I don’t know why, but I’ve never read any of KA Mitchell’s books…after reading this review I am seriously wondering why not! I love emotionally intense books, so I guess this is a good place to start?

    Thank you Joan/Sarah F.

    ReplyReply

  12. Sunita
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 15:48:46

    Sorry Kaetrin! “It’s not you it’s me,” which of course is INYIM. No wonder you couldn’t find it …

    ReplyReply

  13. jayhjay
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 19:27:26

    @orannia: If you end up liking this one, try her Diving in Deep series. Not as angsty as this sounds, but they were great (especially the second two in the series)

    ReplyReply

  14. Kaetrin
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 22:01:53

    @ Orannia – I’m another one who recommends the Diving in Deep series – No Souvenirs (bk 3) is amazing. I also really loved Regularly Scheduled Life (which is the sort-of prequel – ie, Sean and Kyle’s story) to this one. I have loved all of KA Mitchell’s books so far but I think those 2 are the stand-outs for me to date.

    If you decide to try them, I’d love to know what you think.

    ReplyReply

  15. orannia
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 14:58:10

    @jayhjay & Kaetrin – thank you! Think I might start with this series, and perhaps this book first, since it sounds like I don’t need to read Regularly Scheduled Life first. Will let you know what I think :)

    ReplyReply

  16. jayhjay
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 18:32:33

    One last note – Samhain is advertising 30% off for Dear Author readers (the top right rotating ad). Yeah! So I just picked this up on sale.

    ReplyReply

  17. Ell
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 02:14:39

    Not exactly on topic, but I was just reading about traditional Argentine Tango being two guys, with some links to Youtube dances.

    Smokin’! Reminded me of some of the scenes in Mitchell’s books….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYWFuyznWgg&feature=related

    ReplyReply

  18. Joan/SarahF
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 08:18:20

    @Ell: What amazing videos! Thank you so much. :)

    ReplyReply

  19. December Recommended Reads | Dear Author
    Dec 17, 2010 @ 14:02:00

    [...] Not Knowing Jack by KA Mitchell (review by Sarah F) [...]

  20. etv13
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 03:58:37

    Okay, this is WAY late, but . . . I read this last year, and I just re-read it now, and I like Tony a lot, but I have to say the treatment of Jack’s ex-wife really, really bothers me. She is mentally ill, and yes, it’s understandable that her children are afraid of her and Jack doesn’t want her anywhere near them, but her portrayal is completely without either subtlety or compassion. In the context of the book, she’s just a villian. Her parents are chilly pieces of shit, and she is, quite understandably, really, deeply troubled, and nobody, NOBODY, shows any concern at all for this poor woman. Someone in a review on this site not too long ago referred to the “casual misogny” of a lot of male/male romances, and this is partly that, but this example goes beyond that in its staight-up potrayal of a mentally ill woman as simply a villain.

    ReplyReply

  21. SarahF
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 13:33:42

    @etv13: I think you’re right. I think I excused it in that this would indeed be Jack’s view of his ex-wife, and certainly his childrens’ view of her as well. To me there seemed to be a vague hint that there were incest issues between her and her father, which made the whole thing that much more difficult and layered, and yet, it wasn’t necessary to the growth of Jack and Tony’s relationship so it wasn’t part of the story as a whole.

    But yes, I wish there were more positive portrayals of women in m/m romances. Right there with you.

    ReplyReply

  22. etv13
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 20:40:46

    I would have been reasonably content if somebody, Sean or Kyle even, not necessarily Jack (even though I think that, as someone who was married to her, and who delivered quite a shock to her, he owed her some consideration) had simply acknowledged in passing that hers was a tragic situation. Something the length of this comment would have done it. Or at least it would if the scene where she’s outside the house trying to get in were written a little differently — perhaps if she hadn’t so successfully conned the police into almost handing her son over to her. She’s portrayed so purely as a threat in that scene; I think it would have been a better story if the con had not nearly succeeded. Yes, show the threat from the kid’s point of view, he is understandably frightened, but then ease up and give us some breathing room to reflect that she is a mother who is most likely permanently estranged from her children, for reasons she’s not entirely or even largely in control of or to blame for.

    Z.A. Maxfield does good women in male/male romances, especially in Jacob’s Ladder and The Book of Daniel; they’re usually, but not always, the heroes’ mothers. (Even the crazy ex-wife in The Book of Daniel got a lot more sympathy both from her ex-husband and her creator.) And I like the way in the last Adrien English book, Adrien recognized that there was pain for both Jake and Kate in the breakup of their marriage, and the way Jake talks admiringly about Kate (“she’s a tiger”). I’m not particularly fond of cops, in fiction or in real life, but I kind of wish somebody could give Kate her own story, one that, while not demonizing Jake, recognizes that she’s been hard done by.

    ReplyReply

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