Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hard Tail by JL Merrow

Title: Hard Tail
Author: JL Merrow
Cover Artist: Kanaxa
Publisher: Samhain
Genre: Contemporary
Length: 259
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5


Finding love can be a bumpy ride.

His job: downsized out of existence. His marriage: on the rocks. It doesn’t take a lot of arm twisting for Tim Knight to agree to get out of London and take over his injured brother’s mountain bike shop for a while. A few weeks in Southampton is a welcome break from the wreck his life has become, even though he feels like a fish out of water in this brave new world of outdoor sports and unfamiliar technical jargon.

The young man who falls—literally—through the door of the shop brings everything into sharp, unexpected focus. Tim barely accepts he’s even in the closet until his attraction to Matt Berridge pulls him close enough to touch the doorknob.

There’s only one problem with the loveable klutz: his bullying boyfriend. Tim is convinced Steve is the cause of the bruises that Matt blows off as part of his risky sport. But rising to the defense of the man he’s beginning to love means coming to terms with who he is—in public—in a battle not even his black belt prepared him to fight. Until now.

Warning: Contains an out-and-proud klutz, a closeted, karate-loving accountant—and a cat who thinks it’s all about him. Watch for a cameo appearance from the Pricks and Pragmatism lovers. May inspire yearnings for fresh air, exercise, and a fit, tanned bike mechanic of your very own.

*************************

For every door that closes, another door opens. For Tim, the dissolution of his marriage and the evaporation of his job let him step back from the cookie cutter corporate “happiness” that his life has become. Redundant at a job that he was good at but didn’t love, and redundant too in a marriage that was peaceful but not passionate, Tim has a chance to find out what he really wants.

Much to his surprise, it’s Matt, the klutzy bike mechanic at the shop Tim is managing temporarily while the owner, his brother Jay, is laid up with injuries. The longings sneak up when Tim isn’t looking—he never really questioned his orientation, and then denied it, and now, because of the irrefutable evidence, has to examine it.

JL Merrow unrolls Tim’s story with her trademark humor—Tim pokes gentle fun at himself even while he’s pondering a complete remake of his life and his perceptions of himself. Assisted in the chuckle department by a demanding feline he dubs Wolverine, Tim examines some difficult issues without devolving into total angst. When his newfound friends in Eling encourage him to live a little, Tim finds himself falling out of the closet like an improperly stored skeleton. It’s sweet, and if his experiments with Adam aren’t destined to be more than a few nights of groping, they do at least convince Tim that he’s on the right course at last.

Matt has to find a new path, too. Much of what he endures we see only in his demeanor and condition after the fact—he’d rather blame every black eye and bruise on cycling accidents than admit more than that his boyfriend is a trifle controlling. The clues add up to bad things happening. Finally asserting his right to being treated with respect turns Matt into a single man, but one on the run, and it makes sense that he turns to Tim, who has a roof to share and nothing but kind words.

Much of the action is low key, as Tim ponders what to do with himself in all ways, especially regarding Matt, whom he regards as off limits as long as he remains with the terrible lover. Tim feeds the cat, learns the joy of cycling, and sheds a marriage like a snakeskin. His relationship with his family gets some good long looks too, and part of this fell apart for me. Tim has always been the overshadowed child, doing well but getting far less attention or credit than the flamboyant brother, who manages to turn Tim’s big revelation into something that’s all about him. Funny in a way, but the response from the family didn’t make sense, given the entire rest of the dynamic.

Once Matt is no longer off limits, he and Tim can be together, and they get together with a thump as audible as when Matt trips through doorways. The speed is understandable but still a little offputting, since Matt has about 20 milliseconds between good-bye ex, hello forever love. Still, we readers know he’s far better off in Tim’s gentle hands, and forgive most of the warp speed.

And Wolverine? He surely owns both Tim and Matt.
4.25 marbles

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