Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: When Love Takes Over and Chasing the Sun by Jacob Z. Flores

Reviewed by Elbie
When Love Takes Over (Provincetown #1) by Jacob Z. Flores
Dreamspinner Press
Novel: 270pgs
4 Pants Off

Zach Kelly’s life is a shambles. His boyfriend of three years dumped him, and his writing career is going nowhere. On a whim, he heads to Provincetown, Massachusetts, to nurse his broken heart and figure out his next step. He’s expecting to find rest and relaxation on the sandy beaches of Cape Cod. Instead, Zach meets a hunky porn star during a chance encounter at a leather shop he mistakes as a place to buy a belt that is definitely not for whipping.

Van Pierce is smitten when shy and inexperienced Zach crashes through a shelf of fetish gear. Though Van’s got an insatiable appetite for men on and off the set, his porn persona, Hart Throb, hides a broken heart. He’s struggling to find the reality the porno set doesn’t offer, and Zach is fighting to find the fantasy that will set his writing on fire. The odd goofball and the suave beefcake may either find love amid Provincetown’s colorful pageantry where summer never seems to end—or more heartbreak than either can imagine.

Zach's long-term relationship implodes causing him to run from his home in Texas to Provincetown, Massachusetts. His goal is escape. He exceeds his goal by meeting a physically perfect dream of man, Van, who turns out to be a porn star. Zach sets out to free himself from the insecurities he carries from a childhood with a demanding father and a relationship with a man that criticized Zach to make himself feel superior.

Zach is an appealing character, speaking to the part in all of us that stores the negative and unkind things we have been told until they whisper to us, sabotaging our happiness. He's a decent man, a deeply sexual man. People don't notice it through his frumpy exterior. He sure doesn't believe it. Zach lands in Provincetown, which might as well be Bizarro World for him. People find him interesting and sexy. They want to be his friend, not to use him as a focus of derision, but because they see something worthwhile in him. It's so different from where he was in his life, he throws himself into the P-Town experience with enthusiasm.

Van is also dealing with hurt from a past relationship, one in which he was valued only for his appearance. His response is to hire himself out into the world of porn and take ownership of the pretty-boy, sex-toy stereotype.

I had a much harder time relating to Van than I did to Zach. Van’s decision to make porn seemed more dysfunctional to me than it was portrayed and I wanted to tell him to find his self-worth first, then make porn. Far be it from me to stop a beautiful man from taking it on film, but Van made my caretaking instincts twinge.

They meet and fall in love with all of the best qualities in each other. Of course, everything cannot go smoothly, THAT would be a boring story, and both men's anxieties threaten to destroy their fragile, new relationship.

This book was so much fun. Reading it felt like going on vacation. Love comes quickly when the main characters meet and the conflict is slight and easily resolved, but it’s what I wanted. No one wants to cry poolside into their margarita. It was great to read about muscled bottoms and ginger bears finding love and having phenomenal sex.

Even though it’s not a ménage book, there is a third main character in this book, and that’s Provincetown. The author creates that world on the page. It’s a very grown-up playground where gay men can proudly show off who they love and ask for what they want. They can also fuck with enthusiasm, free from guilt and restrictive social mores. It’s not a world free of judgment, though, as appearance is of utmost importance. The sex in the book is written with a fun, filthy intensity that it makes the sex seems like an honest interaction among all of the posing and preening.

Honesty also shines through in the supporting characters who inhabit Provincetown. They are colorful, but not quirky to the point of seeming unreal. They truly seem like the type of people who would choose to live in a summer town under invasion from laughing, drinking, screwing hordes. I look forward to seeing the cast of P-Town characters in future books in the series. They give the world weight and depth amidst the partying.

As soon as I finished When Love Takes Over, I jumped right into Chasing the Sun, book two in the Provincetown series.

4 Pants Off

Chasing the Sun (Provincetown #2)
Dreamspinner Press
Novella: 118pgs
3.5 Pants Off

As a physician and prominent citizen of Victoria, Texas, Dr. Gil Kelly took a hard fall when his vengeful wife revealed his infidelity with other men. Closing ranks around her, the town’s elite ostracized him, and his relationship with his children was nearly destroyed.

After spending his life focused on living for others, he has no idea how to live for himself. He wants to find love but now settles for anonymous sex that only further clouds his world with shame and guilt. Gil believes finding true love is an unobtainable dream, what his father used to call “chasing the sun.”

Then he runs into Tom Martinez, his son’s childhood best friend, who returned to town a grown man and offers everything Gil needs. But Gil hesitates to fall into Tom’s arms, because after his high-profile divorce, the potential scandal of loving a younger man could separate him from his children permanently.

Chasing the Sun is a novella, the second story in the new Provincetown series, and it tells the story of Gil, the father of Zach from When Love Takes Over. Gil is mentioned several times in the first book, but we see him from Zach’s perspective. Zach never felt his father was proud of him and never came out to his father for fear of disappointing him further. So, Zach was surprised when Gil was embarrassingly outted. This breaks up the family and caused Zach to completely disengage from their relationship.

We find out in Chasing the Sun that Gil has been stunted since the dissolution of his marriage. He has distanced himself from his children. He makes excuses for his failure to find a meaningful relationship. He has cut himself off from friends while still living in the home in Texas where he lived as a husband and father. He has essentially imprisoned himself in guilt and it serves no purpose. Most importantly, he is not making anyone else’s life easier by continuing to punish himself.

Into this mess of a life returns Tom, Zach’s best friend from his school years. Tom comes back to his hometown to take over the family business. He has grown into a self-assured, handsome man. Gil’s physical reaction to Tom is immediate, but he suppresses it with memories of Tom as a child and teen. Tom feels an attraction, too, and he is ready to act on it. We don’t learn much about Tom as a person, he seems without flaw and unreal. He serves as more of a catalyst to the main story. That is because the conflict is this book is not the typical one between our two main characters. Their relationship forms fairly smoothly and is a strong one. The conflict comes from Gil’s internal battle to forgive himself, to repair the broken relationships in his life, and to stop living the life of a pariah.

I was torn on my feelings about Gil. My immediate reaction was one of anger. As a woman, I empathized with his ex-wife even though we don’t meet her until later in the book. I imagined I would be so hurt and humiliated in her situation. Not only did she find out her husband was gay, but that he had been cheating on her. As the story continued, I came to understand Gil more. I could tell that he never wanted to disappoint his family. He felt like a prisoner and a liar married to his wife. He couldn’t continue to live that way. I wish he had ended the marriage first instead of cheating. It stood in the way of making Gil a sympathetic character. It did make him a real character. I thought his struggle to find his way out of the woods felt genuine as well as the reactions of his friends and family. The story felt very personal and it was good enough and the characters were rich enough to fill a longer book. The conclusion felt a bit too rushed and tidy. Also, I missed Provincetown!

I give When Love Takes Over a solid four pants off, it is a book I would read again. I give Chasing the Sun 3.5 pants off and consider it a book I am glad I read.

It should be noted that When Love Takes Over and Chasing the Sun are self-contained books and do not need to be read together. I do think Zach’s reaction to his father in Chasing the Sun is more easily understood if you have already read his story and understand where he is in his life. And, if you are like me, when you find a world you like, you want to read everything in it. I look forward to more books in the Provincetown series and plan on reading them all.

Since I read these books consecutively and I have read other works by Jacob Flores, I have to make one general statement: this author knows how to write sex. His books are full of emotional turmoil and subtle relationship dynamics which make my estrogen rise. But when he turns on the heat, testosterone rules. His sex scenes go beyond getting down and dirty, they are cathartic in their depiction of raw pleasure and release. Damn. I want to cheer the orgasms! I often find myself reading sex from other authors and it’s all about welling emotions and almost spiritual connectedness. Sometimes connectedness can come from the shared pleasure of a thorough, raucous pounding. If you love someone, making them feel hot and wanted is a great way to show it. That’s what you get in a Flores book. And it’s a good thing.

3.5 Pants Off

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