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m/m romance

REVIEW:  And Call Me in the Evening by Willa Okati

REVIEW: And Call Me in the Evening by Willa Okati


Dear Willa Okati,

When I first saw the sequel was out, I was pretty excited because I had very fond memories of the first book in the series, And Call Me in the Morning.  For various reasons I explained in my recent review, the first book didn’t work quite so well for me on re-read as it did back in 2010.  I’m always a bit nervous when a book I’ve enjoyed gets a sequel – can it live up to the prior experience? Unfortunately in this case, it provided more of the same rather than anything new and overall, it was a disappointment.

Five years have passed since the events of And Call Me in the Morning and Eli and Zane have been splitting their time working  for Medicins Sans Frontieres, in places such as Brazil, and the rest of the year in Chicago – Eli at the Immaculate Grace Hospital and Zane lecturing at Chicago University.  The problem for me, repeatedly through the book, was it felt more like it had been maybe one year since the first book, not five.  Five years into a relationship I would have expected most of the problems Zane and Eli experience to have already come up and been dealt with.

Both Zane and Eli became ill when working in Brazil, the result of drinking bad water, and were air-lifted out and repatriated to Chicago.  Zane has mostly recovered and is back at work, Eli is still a little shaky on his feet and it seems Immaculate Grace are unlikely to find work for him when he’s ready.  In this pairing, it is Eli who is the the more “stick in the mud” character and Zane who is looking for new challenges and vistas.  Eli has had enough of going overseas to practice – he wants to stay home.   But he also wants to be with Zane and he decides he will continue to follow Zane wherever he will go because that’s what’s most important to him. Rather than, you know, have a conversation about it. [insert eye roll here]

Richie and Taye are having some issues too – I found these pretty vague and ultimately unsatisfying.   Holly and Diana make a return appearance and they are much the same but in a good way.

Out of the blue, Marybeth (Eli’s ex-wife) starts texting him and wants to meet up. Eli keeps ignoring the texts and eventually Zane sees them and conflict ensues.  I didn’t really understand this. I didn’t get why it was a secret, why he didn’t just call the woman and find out what was what.  The texts themselves, coming apparently from nowhere, seemed oddly familiar and kind of sexual and there was no set up in this or the previous book for this to be so.

Just like old times, isn’t it? Looking forward to seeing you again, Eli. XXOO Marybeth.

Zane, when he sees the texts, is understandably jealous.  Which, when he reads the whole series of them must surely have been something he had second thoughts about because there was absolutely no response at all from Eli to any of them.  I felt like the authorial hand was visible here – the texts were deliberately provocative but even after the book ended, I didn’t know why – apart from, worded that way, they would push Zane’s buttons and cause a conflict.

More information comes to light about Zane’s attraction to Eli – it’s now been re-framed such that he wanted a sexual relationship with Eli all along. Was that an attempt at re-writing history? Or was it true?  It didn’t quite jibe with the earlier book in my opinion and given that I read them back to back, I felt like I would have picked up on any clues which were there.

Marybeth, when she bobs up in the story, seems to have thought that Eli and Zane were already in love when she left and the inference is that that is what her leaving was about but she is nevertheless surprised when she finds out they are together. I didn’t quite know what to do with those bits of information.  They didn’t sit well together.

Marybeth was again not demonised, which I appreciated but I couldn’t quite get a handle on who she was.

They hadn’t parted on the warmest of terms, but Eli wouldn’t have called Marybeth an enemy. More like a frustrated friend who couldn’t figure out any more than he could how things had gone so awry between them. He still didn’t know for sure when they’d started to sour. Maybe it’d been coming from day one. Cops made bad husbands, or at least Eli the Cop had. Eli the Student made no better a showing for himself.

This time, instead of Zane being at death’s door due to his strawberry allergy, it is Eli who has the health crisis.

And, after five years, Eli decides he might want a go at bottoming and spends an inordinate amount of time stressing about how to ask Zane about it and what it might be like.  If this was a few months, maybe even a year, after the first book, I could have got with the programme a bit more easily but as it was, I was dismayed by this aspect of the story.  First; because why does it have to be a thing?  Why do both partners in m/m romance so often have to take a turn at everything?  Why is this the “big sexual ta-da” *jazz hands* of the book?    Where in book one the guys don’t switch between bottom and top, it’s very often saved for book two in some kind of weird order of magnitude.  It is literally referred to in this book as “this last step” as if the relationship is invalid until Zane’s dick has been inside Eli’s arse.  That seems to me to be a very odd definition of a relationship. So, that little rant is more about how many books I’ve read where this has happened, this book being only one of them.  But second; they’ve been together for FIVE years.  This has never come up before? Ever?  Zane has never requested it?  When later, the text specifically states that Zane has had his fingers in Eli’s arse before, it made it even more difficult for me to believe the subject has never come up between them.  But there was no indication in the book that it ever had.

I kept coming back to – wait, it’s been five years?  Really? Because it feels like a lot less than that.  Ultimately, it reduced my confidence in their solidity rather than enhanced it. They appear to have learned nothing as a couple and be worse at communicating rather than better. But I’m constantly told how well they know each other.  In the first book, I put their disconnects down to the change in their relationship status throwing things off a bit.  But (and I cannot stress this enough) it’s been Five. Years. Five. Surely by now they’d have this covered (or they’d have split up)?

And there’s this:

“How are your knees, old man? Strong enough to hold you up?”

Eli blinked. Zane wasn’t suggesting—

But he was. Gentle but firm, Zane crowded Eli to the back wall of the shower. Eli spared a moment to be grateful this wasn’t a combination tub with a rim to slip and trip on. “Should I be asking about your knees?”

“They’re in tip-top condition.”

“I thought you might say that. Zane…” Eli caught him before he started his descent, checking for truth in the man’s eyes. “You don’t have to.”

Zane took Eli’s hand from its place beneath his chin and pressed his lips to the knuckles. “I know I don’t have to,” he said. “I want to. And I think you want me to as well.”

This seems to suggest that Eli getting a blowjob from Zane is a really rare event.  Um, what?

The denouement, when it came was kind of sketchy and vaguely unsatisfying.  Once again, I didn’t quite understand what they were fighting about and then Zane’s behaviour was kind of disappointing but also not sufficiently explained.

The story didn’t feel like anything new.  It felt like a rehash. After five years together, Eli still has difficulty showing Zane affection in public.  He hadn’t told Marybeth he was with Zane and he hadn’t changed his “person to contact in case of emergency” – in FIVE years.

I wanted to see this couple face a new problem, conquer a new hurdle, but basically it was just the same as the previous book and ultimately, it disappointed.  It was readable and when I was actually reading it, for the most part, it seemed harmless enough. But when I came to really think about it, just about the only things which stood out to me were negative.   I didn’t hate it but I did find it frustrating.  Grade: C-/D+



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REVIEW:  And Call Me in the Morning by Willa Okati

REVIEW: And Call Me in the Morning by Willa Okati


Dear Willa Okati,

I requested the sequel to this book, And Call Me in the Evening, for review (which will be posted soon) but when I started it, I remembered too little about the first book so decided to read this one again.   And Call Me in the Morning was among the first m/m romance books I read, recommended by a friend after a discussion about the Gay for You trope.  I guess revisiting it is kind of timely after the recent m/m roundtable where this trope was one of the subjects of discussion.  When I first started reading m/m was basically clueless and had no idea Gay for You was regarded as problematic.  As I understand it, it does sometimes happen in real life, so I think it’s not so much that the trope itself is ‘bad’ but more, that it is so prevalent in the genre and can give an unwary reader a false idea of gay experience.   Nevertheless, I don’t read a lot of Gay for You these days because there is something about it, at least in volume, which has a subtle suggestion that Gay for You = a more “socially acceptable” way to be gay.  By that, I mean, it could be twisted to mean, he’s not really gay because apart from that one guy, he’s totally straight and that’s not so bad right? That’s not what I think by the way but I think the trope in such numbers does some erasing of people who are not gay for anyone but are gay just because they are gay.

No matter how I twist my brain however, this book is definitely Gay for You, there’s just no denying it. So my conscience pricked as I was reading.  It probably explains, at least in part, why it wasn’t quite as successful for me the second time around.

Eli and Zane are both doctors at a Chicago hospital.  Eli is a working class guy, a former policeman who was injured in the line of duty and then decided to switch career tracks and become a doctor. He’s 43 and a year out of residency.  He’s a “hospitalist” which Google tells me is a kind of in-hospital GP.  Eli has found his vocation in medicine. Zane comes from a wealthy family of doctors and was always destined for medicine.  He doesn’t love it like Eli does but that seems to be mainly because he cares more about the patients than the politics and the money and he’s a bit jaded by the latter. He prefers to work in the free clinic (which is where Eli and Zane met when Eli came for a second opinion about his work injury) but funding is low and it looks like the clinic will be closed.

Eli was married but his wife left him after being too long alone as a policeman’s wife and then a medical student’s wife.  Ever since Eli and Zane met, there was a connection between them and they became very close friends.  Now, years after that first meeting, they are kind of joined at the hip.  They hang out together all the time and are casually affectionate – so much so that their other good friends in the hospital, Diana (a cardiologist) and Holly (a psychologist) tease them constantly about whether or not they are gay.  Holly and Diana ask Eli where his “wife” is and they don’t mean Marybeth, the ex; they mean Zane.  That it’s a gendered comment isn’t really addressed in the book.  Zane is a guy – shouldn’t he be a “husband” in this scenario?  I think what they meant is that Eli and Zane, to all appearances, get on like a (happily) married couple. That’s how I read it the first time but I admit the “wife” tripped me up a little on re-read.

The set up is basically that these two guys are just clueless and need Diana and Holly to give them a push in the right direction. In the end, Zane proposes an “experiment”.  He will kiss Eli and if, as they expect, it is gross, they will be able to tell Holly and Diana they’re wrong and the teasing will stop.  They’re both unprepared for what it means when it is anything but gross.

The story is told from Eli’s third person POV and he is extremely taken aback by the arousal he experiences from Zane’s caresses.  It opens a door to him seeing Zane in a new way and noticing him as a desirable being as opposed to being in the “best friend” slot to which Eli had previously assigned him.  It becomes clear that Zane had been thinking about a romantic attachment for some time but my impression was that both are nevertheless surprised at how much they desire each other and how right a sexual and romantic relationship feels. (Zane’s character is a little murky because we are never in his head – he’d been thinking about being with Eli sexually for a while but he says he’s surprised by how good it is when it actually happens – I took him at his word – I guess others might not.)

Eli is not a fan of public displays of affection by anyone to anyone. He didn’t even like holding hands with Marybeth in public back when they were married. Zane is much more openly affectionate and this represents a challenge to Eli.

I said earlier that the men were “casually affectionate” and this was part of why people assumed they were a couple.  But that kind of affection isn’t the same as a public display in the sense of holding hands or kissing and Eli sees those things as quite different. The kind of affection he’s comfortable with in public is more that buddy-jostling some guys do, with the faux-punch, etc.  And, they have little by way of personal space barriers between them, which sets them apart also.  So I didn’t think this aspect of Eli’s character was inconsistent.

The men try sex in all most of the various ways as the book progresses – some of it is kind of funny as they navigate the differences from previous experience which was, for both, entirely heterosexual.  Here I can definitely see the analogy to the “virgin trope” and the reader gets a twofer because this is uncharted territory for both men.   In some ways I think that aspect sets this book apart (whether in a good way or a bad way is perhaps open to debate) because most Gay for You I’ve read has one gay partner and one straight-until-then partner.

Eli and Zane are such good friends and so close, that even before the sex, they could virtually complete each other’s sentences.  They know each other so well that, once they commit to the romantic aspect of their relationship, there is very little conflict between them.  Zane isn’t close to his family and Eli doesn’t have any and all their friends are from the hospital.  Of course, everyone at the hospital thinks they’re gay already so coming out isn’t the same kind of experience as in other books. Even so, Eli does have occasion in the book, more than once, to specifically and categorically state that he and Zane are together as a couple and this challenges Eli so it’s not like coming out is without challenge for him. On the other hand, apparently, Zane has no such difficulty.

Much of the conflict in the story is apparently about career issues – the free clinic is closing and Zane needs to do something else; there is a potential opportunity elsewhere for Eli and, despite the fact that these guys are very close and talk about everything, they actually don’t in this instance. I think this sudden lack of communication is because they are finding their footing as a romantic/sexual couple rather than buddies and that leads to some mis-steps.  Still, when the proverbial hits the fan, it is kind of a whiplash moment. Things are great and then, literally, within ten minutes, things have turned to custard.  They are fighting about career issues but at its heart, it turns out to be not about that.  I didn’t make the leap between the two so I felt a bit left behind there.

I have mixed feelings about the book. I liked it well enough (perhaps in spite of myself) and there was angst toward the end (hint: Zane is allergic to strawberries) which worked for me even if the final argument confused me because I felt it hadn’t been set up sufficiently. But it stretched my credulity a little too much to think that Eli, having been such close friends with Zane for years, having been constantly teased about being a couple by other close friends and he never ever thinks about it at all? Never? And then, after one kiss, he’s all “okay then, let’s go”?  So I think there is a fairly large element of wish fulfilment in the story. I feel it was written with the female gaze in mind.

On the other hand, there are good things – the ex-wife isn’t demonised and the other females in the story are strong, positive and have lives of their own outside of the main couple.  The story features an older pairing which I liked and I liked how Eli and Zane talked about sex and how they navigated those uncharted waters.

I didn’t like it as much the second time around but it was still very readable and I breezed through it in a very short time.  And maybe it is shallow of me but I love that cover.

With my sensibilities having changed in the four years since I read the story however, I think it was a book which was better in memory.

All that, mixed up together to come up with a grade?  I think it probably comes out at about a C+.



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