Reread: 3/17/16 - 4/4/16
Originally read: April 2012
After the recent discussion over GFY, I decided I needed to reread this one, which has been on my to-do list for awhile now but this definitely gave me the push. Not just because I couldn't believe I gave it four stars considering all the issues I remembered having with it, but also because I was fuzzy on the details.
Overall, it was pretty much what I remembered. So I'm going to break this down between what I liked and what I didn't like, and the GFY. Spoilers beyond this point.
What I didn't like:
-The ridiculous and disjointed murder mystery plot that takes place on the sidelines and belongs nowhere in this story. That whole ending with the fire in the lab to help Ryan find closure could've been conceived any number of ways without that. Kaje writes some great mysteries in her Life Lessons series, but this one just wasn't working on any level.
-The bitchy ex-wife. Yes, bitchy ex-wives exist. So do bitchy ex-husbands. But John's nothing but patient and understanding with her. Mm-hmm. Sorry, it felt contrived, like the only way we could root for John and Ryan to end up with Mark was if Cynthia and her new husband were The Worst Ever. Cynthia isn't rounded out at all. Why does she treat John the way she does? Just because she's been brainwashed by Brandon? That doesn't jive with me. I feel like there's a part of this story we're not hearing. Probably because we only ever get John's side. Speaking of...
-John's a martyr. How is this man, who works as a gardener at a small university, able to pay $2000 PER MONTH child support? And a mortgage? And his regular bills? And food? There's a brief explanation that he used to make more money, but he clearly isn't rolling in the dough now. Get thee to a family court and adjust that court order to a more reasonable amount. He's worried about his kids getting the things they need. Brandon's rich. I think they're covered. John insisting that he had to pay all that child support felt more like an ego stroke than anything else. And now that he has Mark, that child support should be cut in half, but that's not even discussed. Also, Cynthia may have custody, but most court orders cover taking the children out of the state without the other parent's permission. Did John ever bother trying to fight it, maybe get 50/50, especially since she's been denying him visitation? But of course St. John is fine with this. He just wishes he could see his kids more often. I wanted to smack him constantly in the early parts of the book until he started finding his backbone.
-On the issue of money, where is Ryan getting all this money for rent? Disability checks? Student loans? Sorry, but I constantly have money figures running in the back of my head when all I'm doing is grocery shopping, okay. But Ryan lays down $500 for a handmade cane like it's nothing. Yeah, sure.
What I did like:
-Kaje hits the emotional power core with all her stories and this one is no exception. The GFY aside, I really felt for these two guys. They come together first as friends, then as roommates and finally as lovers. They listen to each other and they're reasonable about life's little setbacks. They're mature and while there's some drama, it's not because these guys are drama kings who overreact to things like you'd see in stories written by less-skilled authors. The day-to-day stuff is handled really well, and I liked seeing how both Ryan and John, who were hurting in their personal lives for different reasons when they met, are able to help each other out and support each other.
-The kids are realistic. There's some bickering and some brattiness, and Mark has a minor meltdown when he finds out about his dad and Ryan. He's got that teen angst thing going on, but he handles the shock pretty well, all things considered.
-There's not a lot of sex, and what is there is pretty standard. But it doesn't go on for pages and mainly serves the purpose of showing these two guys growing closer together as a couple.
I can maybe see making a case for John being bi from the get-go, but just never finding a guy he thought worth the bother. He's only ever been with Cynthia prior to Ryan. So I was more lenient on his apparent "change" this time around than I was the first time I read this, despite the fact that he does at one point say he's straight. But I can see him saying that because Ryan was clearly freaking out over the kiss and wanting to put Ryan at ease, however poorly formed that strategy was in the moment. It is stated later than he cares more about what's inside a person than outside, so that needs to be considered too. He doesn't do any soul-searching about finding Ryan attractive. He just does and that's it. So, John's bi.
Ryan though... he was a playboy, going from one ditzy girl to another, and he was a jock firefighter. He should've been struggling with this more than he was. I also hated that his reasons for not being with women after the accident was that the last girl he was with called his injuries gross. So therefore, all women must be equally shallow and immature, right? Yeah, I don't think so. And Ryan's reasoning that John's a guy and can't fake an orgasm - yeah, still not loving that one either because in the end it's still a slam against women. His whole part of it was not handled very well at all and had GFY written all over it (especially because it was said quite a few times it was only John), so I still pretty much gritted my teeth during that part. Then he's lecturing Mark about homophobia when he's never for one second in his life had to experience it himself and is still acting straight to the world. Nope. He doesn't get to be an expert on that when he's never had to deal with it.
So in the end, I had to knock a star off of this one. Any other author, it probably wouldn't have even gotten three stars, but what can I tell you? Kaje can write.
This is a double-GFY. Now, I have a hard enough time buying the probability of a single-GFY, much less both guys suddenly deciding to go gay, and with not that much soul searching either, which stretched believability. Still, I really dug the characters and their friendship, and I could see how that could turn into something more under the right circumstances. The kid factor was also handled deftly, though I often scratched my head over how this guy could afford to live when paying such an outrageous child support stipend. Dude really needs to go back to court and get that amended. The mystery felt out there, like it belonged in another book. At times I felt like I was reading some weird 7th Heaven/Fringe AU crossover. It just didn't mesh, imo. The ending could've easily been kept the same to give the characters' arcs symmetry and closure without the weird mystery plot.