Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Cost of Secrets by Cassandra Gold

Title: The Cost of Secrets
Author: Cassandra Gold
Cover Artist: Kalen O’Donnell
Publisher: Loose Id
Genre: Contemporary
Length: 121 pages (PDF)/Word count: 35,457

Police officer Dan Fallon knows the streets, but he's a rookie at romance, and still very much in the closet. He thinks sexy fitness instructor Isaac is way out of his league, until a dangerous situation breaks the ice between them.

Isaac Weiss has spent years trying to get his life back together after a series of terrible mistakes. The last thing he should be doing is trying to have a relationship with a cop, especially with his past. Too bad he's unable to resist sweet, shy Dan.

It's not long though, before the secrets both men are keeping rise to the surface and threaten to destroy the fragile connection they've forged with one another. Can Dan and Isaac find acceptance or will the cost of secrets be too high?


The blurb sure looked good. Given that the stated theme is secrets, one expects that total honesty will be hard to achieve, but the problems in this story go far beyond difficulties in communication. Between the treatment of some serious life issues and stylistic clunkers, I would have DNF’d this story at the 20% mark had I not been reading for review. 

I was very disappointed, because the major issues in each character’s life would make establishing a healthy relationship challenging, and they deserve thoughtful treatment. Here, unfortunately, they are used only as defenses against communication, and growth in overcoming them isn’t really happening. Body image is an important topic, as is unwilling participation in exploitive situations and drug addiction, but they deserve better handling than they received here.

Officer Dan Fallon is the confident, adept policeman, but Dan the man carries around the memories of a difficult adolescence as a 450 pound band geek, and takes off his social skills with his uniform. Personal trainer, kick-boxing instructor, nursing student Isaac is the sexy twink who’s making his life into something better. At twenty three, he’s still trying to recover from the horrors he went through as a teenager, and what he went through would definitely leave marks. He’s determined to keep everything about his past to himself, believing he’s too sullied for a wonderful guy like Dan, who of course hasn’t a clue about his appeal. 

All of this could be worked up into a touching and healing story, but that’s not what we have here. Various plot points occurring in the present day are either handled clumsily or ignored, and the past traumas come to light as bricks of prose thrown at the plot whenever handy. This cheapens very real problems of sexual abuse and exploitation, drug abuse, morbid obesity, and suicide, and does a disservice to those who have suffered. There isn’t a lot of thoughtful examination or of character growth and change, more melodrama than drama. 

Dan comes across as having personality transplants every few pages. It’s disconcerting, unpleasant, and overdone, and when his off-duty persona bleeds into his professional life toward the end, it’s consistent but irritating. He’s shed 240 lbs and still finds himself too soft in the middle for his own liking, but feeds on chocolate milk and sticky rolls even in situations where it’s not clearly for comfort. His unwillingness to be seen naked at least rings true, and renders it somewhat likely that he’s twenty eight and never been kissed. He’s certainly sweet, a word that appears 17 times and yes I counted, but he’s not very interesting. That’s sad, because he could be.

Isaac has had way too much sex and no love, and can’t believe he’s more than a sex object. He spends much of the story either melting, angsting, or weeping, and at no time is it clear how he obtained the skills he makes his living with. One would expect a certain amount of street smarts from Isaac, given his history, but he stops to worry about Dan’s bloody nose before they’ve completely subdued the armed robber. Once the robber is carted off to the station, the incident is never mentioned again—it’s only a device to get the men alone together.

Again, the point of the book is secrets vs communication, but this devolves into one Big Misunderstanding after another, which is not improved by style. Walls of exposition go on for pages, telling us what the characters are doing and thinking, but not illustrating it with an incident or even breaking it up with dialog. The POV is very shallow and distant, not really allowing the readers to feel along with the MCs and exacerbating the feeling of glib treatment of the major traumas. Between the adverbs, the feelings named outright rather than being illustrated, and caroming from cliché to cliché, the story offers no stylistic balm to make up for the characterizations and clunky plot. 

I would like to say that the sex was completely hot, but alas, that consolation is not there either. We are in Isaac’s POV when they first have sex and this event is more a cause for terror for Isaac than a source of joy—he’s the bottom without discussion, apparently because he’s built more slightly and/or has his horrid exploitive past. He doesn’t even stop to savor the orgasm before he’s running away from the big handsome cop he doesn’t deserve. Of course he has no idea of the significance of the event for Dan, just one more thing they don’t discuss. The fallacy of only anal sex is real sex is alive here, and lube is optional. The final sex scene where they are saying some really cheesy things together, and aware of the cheesiness and able to laugh about it, is the warmest moment of the story.

The premise, two damaged men healing from their pasts and learning to find their own worth and accept love, is ambitious but poorly executed, and I cannot recommend this book. 1 marble

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