14 January 2015

This Charming Man by Ajax Bell

It’s 1991 and Steven Frazier has danced away half a decade in the Seattle club scene with his beautiful-but-poisonous best friend, Adrian.

Two glittering princes against the world, too high above life to care about what they might be missing. But everything changes when a chance meeting with older—not to mention handsome—businessman John Pieters, reveals a cosmopolitan world and possible futures Steven’s never considered.

Flashy club clothes won’t impress John, this charming man who knows so much about many things. Motivated by fantasies inspired by his crush on John, can Steven finally fight Adrian’s sick hold?

As he steps out into the larger world, supported by new friends, Steven must prove to John—and to himself—that he’s not a hedonistic rhinestone club kid, but a true diamond in the rough.
For the first two-thirds of This Charming Man, I was certain it would be a five star read for me, but then the forward momentum of the drama ground to a halt and I wanted to throw my kindle against the wall. Fortunately, the very end (waaaay too close to the end) things were so wobbly-kneed amazing that I can still say I’m (mostly) satisfied with this book.

This story is set in the Seattle of the early nineties and focuses on one twenty five year old college student, Steven, who’s still caught up in the club kid world – encouraged by his flamboyant toxic fuck buddy, Adrian. To further complicate matters, Adrian also happens to be his roommate and best friend of six years. When Steven spies a devastatingly handsome older man at one of the club hangouts one night, Steven begins fantasizing endlessly about him. A chance meeting at a coffee shop only further fuels this attraction.

His mysterious crush, John, just happens to have hired his other close friend, Lisa. A bit too convenient, but I ran with it. Since the entire book is told only through Steven’s POV, a lot of info about John is parceled out in agonizingly slow bits. But overall, the feeling is that John is this suave, sophisticated, successful man. Both he and Steven speak French. They appreciate classic films and theatre. Steven is rather geeky smart and John appears to appreciate his intelligence. There’s such a great chemistry between these two, with teasing and double entendre. But therein was my biggest problem with this book.

Every time I thought something would happen between these two, finally happen, things would just sort of drift off. His friend Adrian, high and we can only assume, jealous - embarrasses the hell out of Steven by saying some horrible things to John about Steven. That ends the relationship between Adrian and Steven, and seemingly does with John as well. This is where things really took a left turn for me.

As beautifully written and at times laugh-out-loud funny as this book was, the whole (long) section of Steven’s devastation of losing John and Adrian and trying to pull himself up by his boot straps went on way too long for me. It was incredibly frustrating as a reader. It was great that Steven learned from his mistakes and soldiered on to make a better life for himself (in his mind then becoming better for John – which - I wanted, but yet – shouldn’t he have been doing it just for himself?) Steven told every single person he met from that moment on (and there were a lot of them) what had happened with him and Adrian, and conversely, with John. I also need to mention here the constant casual hook-ups that Steven had. They were a realistic addition to this story and it would’ve been laughable not to include them – these were young hot gay men hooking up at clubs – gonna happen. But for those readers who are uncomfortable with that - be warned. I wouldn’t have had a problem with it except for the fact that Steven had several sexual encounters in the book, but only two were with John at the very end.

Throughout the story, both before and after the ‘Adrian’ incident, there would be these incredibly detailed scenes of a non-date get together between Steven and John, with long conversations about their histories, likes, dislikes, computer science and God knows what else - I swear I thought I was going on these dates with them in real time. Again – great characters, great chemistry, but for me personally, it all took forever. On the plus side, when they do get together, it’s explosive and emotional and knee-weakening. Everything’s explained – the reasons for the waiting (took a year before – yes, a year – before they confessed all and even kissed for the first time), the reasons for the misunderstandings, etc.

The sex and emotion between these two was off the charts hot and incredible – which makes me so much more frustrated! I could’ve used half the book like this – not the last ten percent. We’re left with an HFN and if this book doesn’t have a sequel, I’ll have a meltdown. There was too much talk of making us all wait for ninety percent of the book and a year to find out the issues that John had about getting with Steven - only to never find out if the issues are worked out so that they get an HEA. Nope. Not good enough. Just sayin’.

This is difficult to rate for me because so much of it was so brilliantly written. There was hunor, genuine emotion and realism. I felt like I was there, the characters were clearly and well-drawn, there were great side characters (perhaps a few too many which slowed the pace in some sections) and I was rooting for Steven and John to get together. But I had to root too hard, it all went on too frustratingly long. Once I got what I wanted, it ended too soon. So unfortunately, as much as I thought this was going to be a 5 lizard claw read, I can only give it 4. Hopefully, we’ll see what happens to Steven and John next. Can I at least get an ‘I love you’ after all that angst?
A Seattle native now living in the southern American hinterlands, Ajax Bell likes pretty boys, beautiful women, and good jokes. She believes the best things in life are loud music and bourbon. No matter what the task she always has right pair of shoes. She's never been a sea captain but a background in library sciences and a lifetime of pencil pushing has left her with a rich fantasy life and a compulsive need to write it down. She hopes to one day own a genetically altered hippopotamus the size of a small dog.


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