Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cartography for Beginners by Jenna Jones

Cartography for Beginners by Jenna Jones
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: GLBT, Erotic Contemporary, M/M
Length: 394 pages (105,700 words)

At the age of fifty-one, Leo Bellamy from Chiaroscuro and Something Beautiful has to do what he never expected: start over. Leo has been mourning the end of his long-time relationship for over a year. It takes the death of a close friend to convince Leo that he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life being bitter. It's time to move on and find a love that will last. Leo accepts his friend Stuart Huntsman's invitation to visit him in London, where Leo's friends hope he will find a holiday romance that will kick start that "moving on" business.

Meantime, Stuart has been tentatively rebuilding his relationship with his estranged children. For twenty years Stuart thought his children were better off with him, and it's a shock to learn they don't feel the same way. Stuart doesn't think he's good for anyone -- and certainly not for Leo, even if he and Leo call each other daily and Stuart is always a welcome guest in Leo's home.

There's no road map to true love and it's easy to get lost along the way. But with patience and understanding, Stuart and Leo may find their way to each other.


Jenna Jones has written a big, sprawling story, filled with many characters lovingly remembered from two other sizeable books (Chiaroscuro and Something Beautiful). If you are coming fresh to Cartography for Beginners, a map may feel like a good idea. Stick with it, who loves whom, who loved whom back when, and who can’t stand whom now does come clear eventually.

Leo Bellamy, who has been part of a committed couple (apparently he was a lot more committed than Adam was) for almost his entire adult life, is still grieving the relationship, yearning for Adam to come back. Everyone around him urges him to cut loose a little, kiss someone for giggles, something he’s really not ready to do. His few attempts fizzle out, because his heart isn’t in it, or because his heart is somewhere else and he hasn’t found it again. In his early fifties, Leo is convinced he’s beyond being found desirable by someone new. His buddy Stuart, whom he speaks to morning and evening, is willing to be a friend with benefits for a while, but has his own doubts about ever being able to sustain a relationship. Stuart’s track record is dismal, true, but he’s reached the point of sending the beautiful boys home untouched because they can’t make decent conversation afterward.

If the story focused more completely on this couple, who wind their way through loss, grief, growth, and finding family and love once the bloom of youth is gone, it would be a complete and fine story, but that isn’t all that’s going on. Leo’s son Dune is finding his way again after a disaster one book ago, and is in love with the irrepressible Micah. Ben and Jamie have their own established couple troubles to work through, and “the Moms” (Frances and Ocean) are moving across the country, although Frances always has time to help Leo through his troubles. Approximately half the characters have slept with the other half at some point, which gives an unusual vibe to the story, but there don’t seem to be a lot of hard feelings, except toward Adam, the decamped lover, and toward Stuart, which seemed overblown in some cases.

While Stuart and Leo were charming, especially in the way they helped and supported each other through some life traumas without being willing to admit to themselves or each other that they’d really found a love that could last, the secondary characters were a more mixed bag, ranging from Dune with his complicated feelings to the slyly bitter Joelle and the horrendous Emily. Where their stories appeared in a complete arc, they were more understandable, otherwise, the bits and pieces took a while to sort out. Ben in particular was very hard to like—whatever points he earned for the purity of his motives get taken away for the execution, and the only sympathetic female of Leo and Stuart’s generation was also gay. Adam in particular was a mystery—he was characterized as the sort of person that doesn’t stick a twenty-eight year relationship, raise a child and coach his soccer team (which he did), but more like the guy you dump once you realize what a sleazeball he is, about a month after you meet him.

I enjoyed the novel, but found it cluttered by too many secondary characters all trying to get their stories told, without having the background to care about them. Someone who has read the first two books will know where these people have been and why they matter, but I found them to be a distraction from Leo and Stuart and their immediate issues, which goodness knows, they had plenty. Being older lovers, they have more experiences and time to collect some really spectacular baggage, and I enjoyed watching them work out a relationship. But Cartography for Beginners may not be the place to start with these characters if you like being clear on all the character arcs. 3.5 marbles

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