Title Handle With Care
Author Josephine Myles
Publisher Samhain Publishing
Length: 191 pages
The best things in life aren’t free…they’re freely given.
Ben Lethbridge doesn’t have many vices left. After raising his little sister to adulthood, he wasted no time making up for the youth he lost to responsible parenting. Two years of partying it up—and ignoring his diabetes—has left him tethered to a home dialysis regimen.
He can do his job from his flat, fortunately, but most of his favourite things are forbidden. Except for DVD porn…and fantasizing over Ollie, the gorgeous, purple-haired skateboarder who delivers it.
Their banter is the highlight of Ben’s lonely day, but his illness-ravaged body is the cruel reality that prevents him from believing they’ll do anything more than flirt. Not to mention the age gap. Still, Ben figures there’s no harm in sprucing himself up a bit.
Then one day, a package accidentally splits open, revealing Ben’s dirty little secret…and an unexpected connection that leaves him wondering if he’s been reading Ollie wrong all this time. There’s only one way to find out: risk showing Ollie every last scar. And hope “far from perfect” is good enough for a chance at love.
Product Warnings: Contains superhero porn comics and a cute, accident-prone delivery guy with colour-changing hair. Readers may experience coffee cravings, an unexpected liking for bad mullets, and the urge to wrap Ollie up and take him home.
Josephine Myles is an autobuy author for me, and once again she has demonstrated why. Her latest novel, Handle With Care delicately explores a budding relationship between a thirty-three year old kidney patient and the much younger parcel delivery man who brings the his nearly daily fixes of porn.
Ben Lethbridge has paid for his excesses with his health—a diabetic and already at risk for problems, he took a few too many chances. Now he has to schedule his life around the bottles of dialysis solution that slosh around his abdomen, keeping him alive. He’s in the horrible position of waiting for a kidney transplant, knowing that it means a tragedy for someone else.
Ollie shows up with packages every day or two—Ben buys a lot of porn to make up for the sex he doesn’t get any more. Between his chronic condition and his guilt, he’s so not in the market for a relationship that both Ollie and his sister have to bat him over the head to get Ben to realize Ollie’s interested.
Ollie’s a bundle of contradictions, both bold enough to go for what he wants and insecure enough to believe that his role is only to serve. He barely knows what a healthy relationship between equals looks like, and he needs a little guidance to find it, not that Ben’s such an expert. Together they bumble into something that works for them. Both of these men have some big issues, and very-manlike, they don’t talk until the relationship landmines have already gone off, and sometimes not even then. Ben’s health throws more spanners in the works—surgery for a new kidney keeps him from being able to have sex for a long time, which at least allows them to get to know each other.
Both men have some real and serious issues that are revealed only gradually—it’s hard for Ben to know how he’s put his foot in his mouth because he knows so little about Ollie at first. Certain things really offend him, but Ben doesn’t know why, and it doesn’t help that Ollie’s first reaction is to run away rather than fight. Both characters have their prickles, but there is a happy ending for them. The final clearing of the air brings some closure to a number of issues in Ben and Ollie’s past, and you just know they’ll make it.
Ben’s sister Zoe had significant face time—Ben raised her after their parents died, and the relationship between them is extremely important to the story. She’s both urging Ben to take a good long look at Ollie and then distressed by the relationship when he does. Some beautifully drawn doubts and fears there—she grows as much as Ollie and Ben do.
Josephine Myles’ language is British without drowning in slang, so the book has definite flavor of place, and her storytelling unrolls the men’s secrets with nice pacing. The one problem I had was that the conflict relied on Ollie refusing to talk about things as much as that Ben and Ollie simply don’t know each other and can find all the sore spots by accident. It’s not a Big Misunderstanding, but there is a series of Medium Misunderstandings that each could scuttle the relationship. Between Ben being oblivious and Ollie being less than forthcoming, they have a lot of opportunities to vex each other.
Living with a chronic health problem and its effect on finding love has been done, but not often done this well—Ben’s renal failure is deep characterization and not a surface gloss. He can do little, even starting a porn movie, without considering what part of his treatment cycle he’s in. We don’t see Ollie as clearly—so much of Ben’s attention is focused inward while just trying to stay alive, which both makes sense and feels like a gap. Ollie is adorable and definitely needs big squishy hugs. Ben had better provide them or he’ll hear from at least one reader with a big stick!