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REVIEW: Shades of Gray by Brooke McKinley

Dear Ms. McKinley.

Shades of Gray by Brooke McKinleyYour book was another one recommended to me by Denise Rossetti. Because I loved the first one she recommended so much, I thought I’d try this one too. And boy, I’m glad I did.

This book has a very similar storyline to Zero at the Bone: two men navigate protective custody because one has witnessed something that could put away a very bad man for a very long time. As they spend time together, they fall in love. Despite the surface similarities, however, the stories are very different. In Shades of Gray, Danny Butler is a drug runner, working for a drug kingpin. He’s finally been caught by the cops on a weapons charge and Miller Sutton, FBI agent, manipulates Danny into witnessing against his boss. While in protective custody with Miller acting as Danny’s babysitter, they fall in love.

Unlike Zero at the Bone, this book isn’t a suspense book. There’s a couple of twists at the end that are brilliantly done, but almost all of the page space is given over to the relationship between the two men. The plot is there, it’s important, it’s beautifully written and pretty-much hole-less, as far as I can tell, but it’s secondary to the relationship. But the problem with this review is that I really can’t talk about that relationship without giving away unacceptable amounts of the plot. That said, however, you don’t hold back on how much these two men each have to compromise their own deeply held beliefs in order to save each other and be together. Miller has to overcome 30 years of denial over being gay and has to either lose or overcome (depending on how you look at it) his FBI “everything is black or white” mindset:

As a novice, Miller had assumed criminals were different in all ways from the average law-abiding citizen. But over time he had come to realize that drug dealers, murderers, and gang leaders all had people they loved, people they would do almost anything to protect, the same way the successful business man or suburban mom next door looked after their own. Involvement in the criminal world didn't necessarily erase those basic emotions of loyalty and love. It sometimes made Miller uneasy, the knowledge that in fundamental ways men like Danny were more similar to him than they were different. For Miller,
life worked better when the lines didn't blur.

Danny has to cut himself some slack, and see the good in himself. These are equally hard things for these men to do.

I also love how the narrative itself is all about the “shades of gray” that Miller has to embrace. Danny is terrified of his boss, but loves him, fears him, but is always looking for his approval, recognizes that he’s a Bad Man but doesn’t want to testify against him because of his deeply-felt loyalty to him. The justice system Miller believes in fails him at the end, as he himself does, too, and he has to figure out how to live with himself after that.

Not only are these characters perfectly consistent in their characterization throughout the novel, their changes are also consistent. That is, the narrative consistency of their characters is upheld even through the character growth and maturation they undergo, something that can be extremely difficult to pull off. And as this book was mostly about the characters figuring out how to be better people, both together and apart, in order to deserve each other, this consistency of characterization was vital to the quality of the book.

I think I’m failing miserably to say how damn GOOD this book was. I love romances that are primarily character driven and this one is so — I’m sorry, but I have to swear — abso-fucking-lutely perfect. These men have been through hell before their story starts, they go through hell during the book, they put *each other* through hell emotionally, and find themselves irrevocably different at the end of the book, wiser, all illusions shattered, all emotional disguises stripped, unable to be other than perfectly honest with themselves and with each other. I also like a lot of angst in my romance and you deliver perfectly. I like some grovel to my ending as well, and the Affair to Remember quality to the ending is perfect for drawn-out grovel from both characters.

Your writing never once tripped me up. The sex scenes are perfect. I liked the flashbacks, although occasionally they were slightly repetitious. I really can’t find anything wrong with this book at all. Angsty, romantic, hot, brilliant, and just plain GOOD. Thank you.

Grade: A

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

P.S. You really need a webpage. Like, really. How can an author today not have any sort of webpage at all?

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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.


  1. Kaetrin
    Mar 16, 2010 @ 19:02:19

    You’re on a roll Sarah! I adored No Souvenirs, I’ve just started Zero at the Bone and have already done much highlighting and I’m only about 50 pages in (oh, can I just say that yay! ZatB is nearly 400 pages long! again I say yay!). You’re recommendations are usually winners for me so I’ll toddle off and pick this one up too!

  2. orannia
    Mar 16, 2010 @ 20:09:54

    I love romances that are primarily character driven…

    Me too :) I’m currently reading a romance that has no character development and I’m all but beating my head against the wall trying to work out what makes these people tick! What makes them act the way they do.

    And as this book was mostly about the characters figuring out how to be better people, both together and apart, in order to deserve each other…

    *SIGH* Sounds right up my alley. It’s on my TBR list (along with Zero at the Bone), both with lots of stars (for important :)

    Thank you Sarah!

  3. Christine M.
    Mar 17, 2010 @ 12:14:54

    This also has been added to the list of books to buy ASAP! =)

  4. Zola Henry
    Mar 17, 2010 @ 12:16:50

    Oooh, I’ll have to read this one and Zero at the Bone sometime soon.

    @Kaetrin 400 pages you say? How wonderful. One of my biggest peeves about e-books is how short they can be and still be categorized as “novels.”

  5. Alla
    Mar 17, 2010 @ 17:55:45

    Yeah, really loved this one and Zero to the bone too, on my top ten list of favorites.

  6. Nastassia D.
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 19:15:45

    This book sounds wonderful , definitely on my TBR list .
    @Zola Henry That is one of my pet peeves too.It totally annoys me.

  7. Mikou
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 12:06:34

    I bought this book after reading this review and I’m so glad I did. It was even better than I expected and I immediately was searching for other books by this author. If I don’t find anything, I may email her!

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  10. Kaetrin
    Aug 22, 2010 @ 02:01:29

    @ Sarah. I finally read this book and finished it today. I loved it so much I put up my own review but I totally agree with your A grade. Thank you so much for the recommendation Sarah!!

  11. Joan/SarahF
    Aug 22, 2010 @ 09:41:04

    @Kaetrin: Yay! Glad you liked it. I still flip back to it every now and then. :)

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