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REVIEW:  Sweet by Erin McCarthy

REVIEW: Sweet by Erin McCarthy

Dear Ms. McCarthy,

I read your debut new adult novel, True, earlier this year. While I liked it overall, I thought there were some major flaws and the ending failed to work for me. That said, it wasn’t enough to deter me from the sequel, Sweet. My interest was only further piqued when a friend told me I might like it because it had a similar set-up to All of You, a new adult novel I read last month and enjoyed.

Sweet by Erin McCarthySweet focuses Jessica and Riley, her a friend of the heroine and him the older brother of the hero from True. Jessica is the only daughter of a well-off, religious family. To put it into perspective, she’s double-majoring in religious studies and interior design, both of which were picked out by her parents. Why? So she can be pretty church arm-candy. Yes, it’s about as dire as it sounds.

But her time at college has given her freedom from her parents’ judgments and controlling attitudes. She can’t stand it anymore and rather than go home for the summer, she chooses to stay at school. Unfortunately, Jessica needs a place to stay and her only option is with Riley Mann.

While I wasn’t sure what to think about Jessica initially, I found myself liking her — almost against my will – by the end. Privileged rich girls are a tough sell for me, and I cringed at the observations Jessica made about the poor and lower class. But as I read the novel, I warmed up to her. Jessica was raised to be arm candy and in many ways, is treated like that’s all she’ll ever be, but she’s actually pretty sharp. Where she falls down on is life experience and I liked that she acknowledges this.

What I especially liked about Jessica was that she never let her lack of experience stop her from doing something. She attacks life at times, and while this occasionally lands her into trouble, I’m fond that character trait. I also appreciated her willingness to work, like when she decided to decorate the Mann house in preparation for the social worker visit. She may be rich but she’s not lazy.

For his part, Riley is a decent hero. After the events of True, the Mann boys had to change their plan. Now Riley has to get custody of the youngest Mann brother, Easton, and that’s an uphill battle. Their house is being foreclosed on. They live in a bad part of town. Riley doesn’t want them to take Easton away but a part of him is hopeless when faced with the realities of their situation. It takes Jessica staying at his house to show him that all things are still possible.

I thought Jessica and Riley had a great dynamic. Riley shocks Jessica out of her privileged bubble, which I think makes her a far better and interesting person, and Jessica gives Riley hope. I normally am not a fan of hate-to-love romances but I thought Sweet showing that the “hate” stemmed from being too much alike underneath all the superficial differences.

I also liked that Jessica owned her sexuality and refused to be ashamed of it. Readers who’ve read True know that Jessica slept with Tyler before he got together with Rory and since Tyler is Riley’s brother, this can’t stay a secret forever. This is a novel where the slut-shaming is actively challenged and denounced by both the narrative and the heroine. That said, I think the narrative was trying to reframe Riley’s perspective as ridiculous jealousy but it never quite pulled it off. To me, he was still slut-shaming, just trying to hide it behind a pretty veneer. Other readers might feel differently though.

I also thought the inevitable confrontation between Jessica and her parents was a letdown. Given the build-up and the fact she lied to them about her whereabouts, I expected more conflict. Instead it was over in a chapter. I guess I wanted more of an explosion. It was a set-up geared towards lots of drama and I was a little disappointed that didn’t happen. Which probably says a lot about me. I did like the fact that the more forgiving parent was her father, the minister. I’m keeping this vague to avoid spoilers but I thought Jessica’s father reacted in the way I’d want a religious figure to. (“Hate the sin, not the sinner.”)

Much like with True, I thought the first half of Sweet was stronger than the second half. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the last half of the book. It’s that the tension and pacing floundered. Everything just seems to end abruptly. Since this is the second time this has happened, I think it’s just a characteristic of your writing style that simply doesn’t work for me.

For me, Jessica was the star of the book, which makes sense since she’s the source of the title. (Sweet is her last name.) I enjoyed her journey greatly, probably more so than the romance with Riley. But despite the parts I liked, the second half left me thinking, “That’s it?” and because of that, Sweet gets a C+ from me.

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Waiting for Ty by Samantha Ann King

REVIEW: Waiting for Ty by Samantha Ann King

Dear Samantha Ann King:

I knew this book was a companion novel going in, and it did a solid job of standing alone – at least when it came to referencing the previous story. A friends-to-lovers premise and a Texan setting made this story sound like it could be something different for me; both contributed to some unique parts of the story, yet I found myself getting tired of some of the things you were trying to do. Stories about men finding their sexualities are relevant, but I honestly am too worn out by coming out plots to care about reading it again in an m/m novel, even if it’s done pretty well. That was my biggest problem with Waiting for Ty.

Waiting for TyA political reporter known for his talents in the field, Tyler Coil has one secret that he’s kept under wraps for the last few years: he’s in love with his best friend, Landon. Landon works as a cancer researcher in Texas, and he frequently entertains Ty in his bachelor-pad style apartment with a few rounds of beer. They watch sports together and Ty talks; Landon listens and adds in his two cents every now and again. Landon and Ty feel comfortable with each other. Ty just thinks that it would be impossible for Landon to love him as a lover, not just as a friend.

One night changes everything when Landon, who harbors his own secret affections, and Ty take a leap of faith and kiss. Kissing leads to sex, sex leads to the morning after, and the morning after leads to the two best friends admitting that their feelings run deep for each other. Ty and Landon are irrevocably in love with one another. Acknowledging that should be the end of it, shouldn’t it?

Both men harbor worries about what it could mean to come out. They technically identify as bisexual, but their attraction to one another is just far stronger than their physical attraction to women in general. Ty fears that being bisexual could lead to less reporting jobs with Texas being as conservative as it is; Ty’s family also presents an issue, the general group a little too traditional and closed-minded to accept something like being bisexual. Landon has his professional worries, too, but he’s just as concerned about Ty and the distance created by Ty’s concerns. Their relationship may not be able to stand so much worry, especially when the men are faced with the chances to take jobs that would separate them for a long period of time. Their love might not be strong enough to withstand the pressure of revealing who they really are to the rest of the world.

From the get-go, I felt like the story was disjointed. The characters have sex very early on, presumably because both harbor feelings for each other and have major man horny-ness upon realizing that those feelings are reciprocated. I felt like this happened a little too early considering that said men were dealing with a four-year friendship and were both paralyzed to so much as hint at their affections, yet immediately dove in physically after the ice was broken. I could see where you were coming from with the building of the sexual tension prior to the novella’s opening, so that was something I could at least logically understand even if I felt it was overly impulsive. The downside? The entire book read this way – like the characters were ready to be together, proved it to the reader, and then backtracked the relationship later on.

A lot of this is because of the way the coming out plotlines are handled. Ty’s family is very ‘traditional’ and prejudiced, but I think you did that well and showed just how painful it is to be from a family like that. I could see members of my family doing that, or families that live in my area, and the characterization rang true on a human level because of that. It made Ty’s worries about coming out more believable because his family was indeed a major problem that would stick with his character even after he fell in love with Landon. If that had been the main point of the coming out story and another conflict was more of the focus, I think the novella would have been much better, but that sadly wasn’t the case.

Ty and Landon both frequently cite professional worries for coming out. Maybe this is just a Texas thing, maybe LGBTQ people have an extremely hard time with professionalism there compared to some other states, but neither of these men hold jobs that, to me, felt jeopardized by their sexualities. Landon does scientific research; Ty is a reporter. They constantly say that it would be a major problem, yet it feels like a recycled excuse in order to add in extra conflict to the story. There are many successful LGBTQ reporters and scientists – and print reporters usually don’t have as much personal exposure with their pieces because of the veil of the printed word. As worrisome as it is to be LGBTQ in a professional setting, always facing the potential of a homophobic higher-up or coworker, it’s not something that would kill either of those careers, especially with established professionals, and I don’t think the author made the reasoning behind the worry clear enough to be as deep of a conflict as it was.

I think the characters themselves had good chemistry. The sex was hot, if occasionally awkward in the vocabulary used, and their dialogue worked well for me. Landon’s sisters were amusing, meddlesome types that accepted him quickly, and one of Landon’s neighbors also won me over with her protectiveness. That kind of trope is always cute to me, and each of the girls had a different personality. Your characters are endearing and make the story pop when it would otherwise feel like a boring re-tread of countless other contemporary m/m romances. Your characters clearly belonged together. I believed the HEA whole-heartedly, and I think the fact that these two had such history made that easy to stomach despite the short length of the story. The occasional bits of humor also helped to keep the tone from being too serious with all of the angst.

While Waiting for Ty had good writing and a fair shot at being a great novella, the romance just lacked conflict that felt organic to the relationship at hand. Landon and Ty needed more than worry about their sexuality in a professional setting for me to sympathize with them, if only because they never seemed to think about it or the reality of how relevant them being bisexual would be to a job that has nothing to do with the practitioner’s sexuality. It’s just something that’s been done before and done with more motivation behind all of the coming out angst. My final grade is a C-.

All my best,

John

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