I picked up this book when it was offered for free by the author a little while back. I liked the blurb, and the trope used here (man hires escort and they fall in love) is one I enjoy. Plus, having the story set at a GRL-like convention - heck, yeah, that clinched it.
In his foreword, the author explains that the characters within aren't necessarily real people, but are an amalgam of certain types of characters that have attended these conferences in the past.
As have I, and I can certainly say that the author evoked quite a few giggles and quite a few cringes in me while I was reading this book, because many of the characters are just spot-on showcasing behaviors I have seen myself.
It often seems that the events and behaviors woven into the plot of the book are tongue-in-cheek reminders of things that might have happened in slightly similar fashion, and have scandalously blown up in this genre on Facebook and Twitter. There are subtle read-between-the-lines moments that had me wonder just from whom the author drew inspiration for certain characters.
The plot is rather straight-forward - popular author DJ Torrent (Darren), in his mid-forties, hires a male escort (Travis) to accompany him to the GRR (Gay Romance Retreat) conference being held in St. Louis, MO. It's Darren's first time attending a conference, and since his husband Dan left him, he's become a bit of a recluse, but feels that after the success of his latest novel, he owes it to his readers to make an appearance. Knowing he won't be able to do so on his own, he hires Travis to pose as his husband at the conference.
Travis is in his mid-twenties and a high-end escort. Initially he's taken aback when Darren doesn't want sex and instead offers him an all-expenses-paid trip to a book conference, by pretending to be his husband. Travis has known heartbreak in his past, and has basically come to the conclusion that he'll never find real love, and certainly not in his current profession. He's an interesting and complex character, and there's much more to him than meets the eye(-candy). He realizes that his escorting days will eventually come to an end, but also doesn't think himself worthy to become anything more than what he is. He's still charming, smart, and kind, and his personality comes across very well.
The book covers five days of the conference, from arrival on Wednesday to departure after the Sunday morning breakfast, and quite a nice epilogue. There's drama, of course, what with someone basically assaulting Travis during the Cock Walk (yeah, this is a real thing, people), and then publishing a nasty blog post, exposing the truth about Darren and Travis, which thankfully backfires spectacularly on the blogger, but there's also a lot of love, not only between Travis and Darren, but also from certain conference attendees, who are supportive and kind. There's a line in which Travis describes the people at the conference as his "tribe" - and that's exactly what it feels like. I've attended three so far, and it is truly like a massive family reunion, with love of the genre being what we all have in common. You get to hang with like-minded people for four days, gush over books and authors, dance and drink, have a ton of fun, and create strong friendships that often carry over into real life.
It's fascinating, really, to read this book having attended these conferences and seen, to some extent, the individual behaviors described within. It made me think, too, actually, and remind me that the authors who attend GRL are real people, with real emotions, and while I too have fangirled over certain authors, I try to be mindful of the fact that they are real people with real emotions and real lives outside of writing the books we so enjoy, and thus I try to keep not my distance but be respectful of their personal space. Hugs are great when offered, but not expected.
I did have some niggles, specifically with the proofreading efforts. I can't say whether the author employed someone to proof-read this book, and while there weren't many spelling or punctuation issues, there were many times when Travis became Darren and Darren became Travis. While their voices are distinct, the narrative often mixed up their names, something a good proof-reader or proof-editor should have caught. Each time it happened, I was pulled out of the story, trying to decipher what name should go where.
My other niggle is the characterization of Zach, someone from Travis' past, someone who owes money to Travis, who decides to blackmail him to keep quiet about the ruse, but then blabs anyway. I couldn't understand his motives, to be honest, and it didn't make sense for him to talk to Micah, the aforementioned blogger/assaulter, and expose Travis' secret. What was the point, unless this plot point was needed to make sure that Micah got the scoop he was after?
The book takes a rather unflinching look at what might go on at the conference, and I thought that publishing this might raise some eyebrows with some people. The romance is mostly believable, though there are instances where their actions are a little inconsistent. Darren keeping a massive secret from Travis felt realistic in light of the length of their acquaintance, but Jan knowing about it wasn't explained.
Despite these inconsistencies, I rather enjoyed reading this book. If you've never attended a GRL conference, don't believe everything you read within, as a lot of is is exaggerated, and if you have attended in the past - well, then, you might have a similar reaction as I did.