Charlie Stone has problems. He’s just found his boyfriend and his new BFF in bed together, and only because he failed to show up for his fortnightly back, crack and sack wax. Furious, he storms out of the house and speeds away from the gates of his luxury life into the unknown.
When he finds himself stranded on the side of the road in a remote village, his future looking bleak, his dreams wasted on a fairy tale that turned out to be a nightmare, he’s not expecting the handsome but shaggy-looking bookshop owner, Nathan Marshall, to come to his rescue. A Divine intervention if Charlie ever saw one. But the village is foreign land to glamour puss Charlie, who’s more at home shopping for the latest trends and getting his hair coiffed than trekking through muddy hills in jeans and wellies. And Nathan’s never even seen the inside of a beauty salon, let alone considered having that tumbleweed on his chest waxed.
Hope seems lost until Charlie discovers that an amateur dramatics group are looking for budding stars to fill in two of their starring roles. Could the village offer more than babbling streams, scenic moorland and the smell of horse manure? Could it offer a chance to claim back the dreams he thought he’d lost? And, more importantly, could an unlikely romance be brewing on the horizon? Even when the dark pasts of this unlikely pairing come back to haunt them?
A darkly comic look at love, death, dysfunctional family and emotional trauma. Gay romance. Gay romantic comedy.
Book – His Boy
Author – Dean Cole
Star rating - ★★★★★
Cover – Cute!
POV – 1st person, present tense, one character
Would I read it again – Yes!
Genre – LGBT, Contemporary, Romance, Comedy
Content Warning – domestic abuse, suicidal thoughts, cheating, mental health, stalking
Yes, this is a romantic comedy, but it's also so much more than that. It's a journey of self discovery, of self reflection, and, as Nathan puts it, an awakening.
I'm still feeling pretty speechless, having just finished it, with a tension headache from wanting to cry but not being able to, so forgive me if I prattle on and don't make any sense.
I loved the main character of Charlie. He's flamboyant, femme, over-dramatic and adorable. Vulnerable at the core, he's someone who has been seeking validation his entire life but has never found it outside of a credit card before. He constantly underestimates himself, undervalues himself, and got sucked into the belief that material things could make him happy.
The story starts with Charlie escaping just after finding his boyfriend and best friend in bed together. He runs out, without his wallet, steals his boyfriend's temperamental car, in his bunny slippers, and a phone with a dead battery. Then gets stranded in the rain when he tries to avoid killing a bunny that surprises him on the road in the middle of nowhere. All this happens in the first few pages, but already we learn so much about who Charlie is, what his personality is like. That is so difficult to do with a 1st person narrative, and it's one of the reasons that I've never been a big fan of them. Sometimes it can take chapters before a character is organically named, described, or explored personality wise, in a 1st person narrative. Dean Cole avoids all of this, because the entire narrative is 1st person present tense, which means we're basically inside Charlie's mind the entire time, so he thinks through his choices, contemplates mistakes and opportunities, all as we follow his journey.
Then in walks Nathan, the saviour. A bookshop owner – yay, for the small town business man! – and someone with a heart big enough to take Charlie in on a thundering, raining night, but who isn't all that and then some. He's lifted off his feet by the evil cheating boyfriend, Richard, at one point, doesn't fight back, isn't in perfect condition, and that's awesome! Nathan is real, in a way that Richard is superficially everything that a man of forty-nine should be in a romance novel. Only, instead of Richard being the one who gets the guy in the end, it's Nathan. Breaking stereotypes and book tropes all in one.
Right from the start, I loved how Charlie was written, that he had that snarky, bitchy sense of human that I love so much, but can be quite over-the-top in the wrong set-up. He didn't have a great childhood, with a homophobic father, an absent/disinterested mother, but he fought hard to get away from all of that, even if it did take him down the wrong road. In a way, Nathan had a similar upbringing, except that he lost his parents to an accident, they died when he was young and he was raised by his grandfather. They both grew up alone, isolated from other kids their age, without parents who were there to help them grow. And I love that they discuss their pasts openly, when it feels natural. And they had great chemistry together, especially before anything bedroom-related happened. Which, when it did, was entirely off page and only known from Charlie telling his bestie Sasha about it.
I loved that there was a lot of soul searching going on in Charlie, right from page one. He knew that he'd been complicit in certain behaviours, that he'd allowed certain things to happen right in front of his eyes, and that things needed to change. And, despite the temper tantrums, the feisty moments, the times when his mood swings and depression got the best of him, Charlie tried his hardest to make it work. To find a way to change his fate, his luck, and his life, to something that was positive.
There's also a really diverse character set. I mean, it isn't often that I find someone even close to resembling me in a book, but there was Penny – a woman in a wheelchair, who had a positive outlook on life, and wasn't woe-is-me, but who wanted to get on with living her life to the full. Sasha and the girls were a riot of hard working, bubbly, exciteable girls who had Charlie's back no matter what. Hyacinth exists in just about every small town there is – a woman who had a dream, but gave that up for marriage/babies or some other demand that made it impossible to have both, who could never get over that loss, who thought themselves a failure and took it out on everyone else. And Richard, the self obsessed businessman with more money than sense, a temper that drifts into the controlling and violent, and a manipulative nature that is unrivaled. There are disabled characters, old biddies looking for a shot at stardom in community theatre, smart bookstore owners with a dream they're afraid to pursue, the flamboyant gay hag with no dress sense and no class, and the ordinary, every day people who make up a little village like my home, and the one in this book, who balance out the craziness of those who shine a little too brightly.
It addressed serious issues – like parental abandonment/loss, domestic abuse, financial independence, and anxiety/panic attacks – while still being the right kind of funny, the right kind of sweet and romantic. It wasn't overly cute or bubbly. The chemistry between Charlie and Nathan stood up to scrutiny and longevity, despite it being a case of somewhat insta-attraction. I won't say insta-love, because it wasn't, but everything did happen in a pretty short timeline, about a week or two. Yet it still managed to feel organisc, natural, and totally believable.
Honestly, I felt Charlie's pain. I didn't have a lonely childhood, bad parents, a dream I can't pursue, or anything that he had. I wasn't poor, I don't have to depend on others for money or the luxuries in life, and I don't have all that bottled up emotion he has. But I felt it. Since about 40% of the way into the book I was constantly on the verge of tears because I could feel how messed up and emotional and desperate this poor kid was, and how much he just needed to be loved. I ended the book with a tension headache, because every time I had the chance to cry, there was something funny or sweet or distracting to take my mind off it and I never got that release. But I don't care. I have that same feeling after finishing this book that I've had with the worst ugly-cry book I've ever read. And that is...essentially...satisfaction. Because, it was everything I wanted it to be.
Overall, this was a plot based romantic comedy that hits the feels with a sledgehammer.
“I blow Richard a kiss then give him the finger. His face drops like he's just seen a ghost. Well, he has. The ghost of the old Charlie Stone. Something has shifted inside me. Something that tells me I'm never going to be the same again.”
“I'm a survivor. I mean, look at me. I've survived what were basically white water rapids on the way up here, I've eaten nothing but things that grow out of the ground and I've evaded an army of blood-thirsty witches. I'm practically Tarzan.”