Book review: Teddy Spenser Isn’t Looking for Love

Teddy Spenser Isn’t Looking for Love: An LGBTQ Romcom by Kim Fielding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another romance novel bought on sale. I think what got me here is simply the title. I like the title.

As you might expect from that title, the story is cute and fluffy, with the tone kept light and the drama minimal–it’s more of a romantic comedy than drama, and plays to that well.

Although I haven’t exactly read a ton of romance novels, this one did stand out from the others I have in a few ways (spoilers ahead): one is how the romance comes together fairly quickly and then just keeps sailing along, with the couple firmly in lust/love and only external factors presenting a threat. All of the thorny stuff is before their (unintended) courtship begins. I think it works, but it does undercut any potential tension. Then again, it’s clear this is a “happily ever after” book, so I can’t complain that it delivered what it said on the tin.

The bulk of the story concerns two men working at a company looking to design, market and sell a smart vase. One is the titular Teddy Spenser, a snappy dresser and designer who vows to remain single after a bad romance, the other is Romeo Blue (yes, the name is mocked in the story itself), the programmer making the software work.

When the famous if eccentric designer Joyce Alexander offers to help fund the project, the two men–who at this point have negative and preconceived notions of each other–are forced to fly together to Seattle from Chicago to perform three seemingly arbitrary tasks to prove their company worthy of the funding. Hijinks ensure as Teddy and Romeo fumble through a mountain hike, making a dinner and more. At the end they are given an ultimatum and fear the worst. but vow to stay together no matter what.

The interplay of Teddy and Romeo is cute and they both seem so darn nice–you want to reach into the pages to pinch their cheeks. Watching them bask in their newfound romance is like sitting in front of a cozy fire on a cold winter’s night.

And it all works out in the end (spoilers). This is a very light read, but its so breezy and well-intentioned, with the occasional clever turn of phrase, that it’s hard to fault it for being somewhat slight.

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Book review: Medium, Sweet, Extra Shot of Geek

Medium, Sweet, Extra Shot of Geek by R. Cooper

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is an odd romance story, and not because of the characters.

Tavio Reyes is a young ex-military man, working as a barista. He is quiet, somewhat intimidating to others, and not entirely sure how to live his civilian life. The counter behind which he makes drinks is his domain, and he works with care and precision.

Tommy O’Shaughnessy is a talkative nerd who also happens to have the sculpted body of a gym bunny for reasons that are never explained. He comes in to the coffee shop to get his favorite drinks and flirt with Tavio.

This goes on for a year and nothing much happens.

Things seem like they might be inching forward when Tommy abruptly introduces his nine-year-old daughter. Tommy invites Tavio to his daughter’s baseball game (so much for a hot date). Tavio reluctantly agrees to go. Tavio does everything reluctantly.

Well, almost everything.

After the game they go to the parking lot and smooch. It’s implied that more happens later.

And that’s it.

While Tavio feels authentic, we never see much below the surface, just a few brief exchanges with his conservative but tolerant mother. Tommy feels more like a caricature, and acts in ways that aren’t just being loud or flamboyant, but a bit baffling, and there is never any insight presented as to why he acts this way. The whole story feels like a mass of detail was left untouched, so we are left with sketches of characters taking the first steps toward romance, after which the story is over.

The writing is fine, and the repetition of certain elements or dialog creates a rhythm that helps build a bit of tension, but it never really goes anywhere with it.

The sudden introduction of the daughter ends up being superfluous–it doesn’t materially add anything to the story, since Tommy having a child is never really dealt with in any detail. She ends up feeling like she was brought in to complicate things, but the complication part was forgotten.

On the plus side, it is impossible to be offended by anything in the story. It is sweet, but like a rich coffee creation, it’s all empty calories.

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Book review: Astounding!


Astounding! by Kim Fielding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another short, breezy read. The elevator pitch might be “Road trip with my secret alien lover.”

Astounding! tells the story of Carter Evans, the editor of a high quality but money-losing speculative fiction magazine called Astounding! As he prepares the final issue, he drowns his sorrow in booze and meaningless sex with strangers. As opposed to meaningful sex with strangers, I suppose. While more than a little drunk, he writes a personal rejection letter to John Harper, a guy who sends terrible stories to the magazine every month, pleading that they be published. Carter doesn’t intend to send the letter, as it’s quite nasty, but being drunk and all that, off it goes.

He impulsively decides to apologize in person by driving from Seattle to Portland, where he finds John living in a small duplex. John looks like Tab Hunter, and all his furniture and belongings have a similarly vintage style. After the apology is accepted, John invites Carter to spend the night–on the couch–because the drive back to Seattle is long and it’s late. Carter agrees because he finds John super-hot. When they accidentally bump into each other in the narrow hallway as each prepares for bed the inevitable happens, then happens a few more times after that.

The story kicks into high gear when Carter’s friend, Freddie, an author of a Game of Thrones-style bestselling series, convinces Carter to join him and his partner on a RV trip to Yosemite. Carter impulsively gets them to stop in Portland, where they pick up John.

John is very polite and shy and charms everyone and is an alien in disguise. He wanted his stories published to serve as a beacon to his people-electrical beings without bodies–that he was ready to return home after a kind of fact-finding mission.

John and Carter (get it?) fall head over tentacles in love (kidding, there are no tentacles, though they get a mention), and this is complicated by John’s inevitable return home when that last issue of Astounding! hits the newsstands and his alien cohorts arrive to fetch him.

From here there are shenanigans, most of them occurring on the trip in the RV. The heart of the story feels almost like the travelogue of a good friend, recounting activities and meals, doing touristy things, braving the great outdoors where cellphones lose reception, all minus the boring slides (or posts to social media) you are forced to endure.

The arc of the story is predictable, but it’s presented so pleasantly and with such warmth that it feels like snuggling up with whatever favorite thing it is that comforts you. Most of the conflict is of the “breaking hearts” variety, Carter grows as a person, John grows as an alien-inside-a-fake-person and it’s all just kind of sweet.

I did find the ending a bit odd. Without going into spoilers, Carter recalls how he and Freddie define a “pancake part” in a story. It’s a scene that comes after the climax and denouement, being both unnecessary and making the story too long. And the final scene of Astounding! feels exactly like that. Still, it doesn’t detract much from what precedes it.

As expected in a story like this, the science is not exactly rigorous, bending to the needs of the plot, but there is a simple joy in watching a couple fall in love and remain smitten, affected only by external forces that seek to separate them. This is essentially light, romantic fluff with a science fiction twist, so if you’re up for that (with the requisite sex scenes, presented in semi-explicit detail), Astounding! may charm.

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Book review: BFF

BFFBFF by K.C. Wells
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Note: For some reason I missed reviewing this book, so here is my review, six months late.)

I bought this the way I’ve bought most books the past year–it was cheap and I found the description interesting enough to give it a chance.

BFF is a story about two guys who become best friends at an early age, then pal around and hang out together as they edge ever-closer to adulthood. Neither is especially unhappy and their friendship is so adorable it’s enough to make you think there might be more there–which is the hook of the story. David (the narrator who tells the story) comes to realize he might have romantic feelings for Matt, and grows afraid of confessing them, fearing it could destroy their friendship.

It’s a romance novel, so you can probably guess what happens.

And although it’s a fixture of romance novels, the sex scenes near the end felt weirdly out of place, given how utterly sweet and cute the story is up to that point. I ain’t no prude, but in terms of tone, I think the story would have been more consistent if the sex had not been so explicitly depicted.

The bigger issue is the framing device used. The story is told as a long series of flashbacks, with it already established in the present that David and Matt are a happy couple. I mean, not that there is any doubt that would be the outcome, but it would be nice to at least pretend there might be a different ending. As it is, the story is robbed of any tension or suspense. The flashbacks also usually end with David offering this odd, blog-style commentary on what he’s just written about. It pulled me out of the story every time. I’m not sure what the intent was.

If you are expecting a story about how two seemingly straight friends evolve their relationship into a romantic one, you will be disappointed, as there is only a small bit of this near the end, as the flashbacks get closer to the present. If you like the idea of seeing a pair of best friends go through the travails of growing up together, then having their bond eventually turn into love, this might be your thing.

Overall, I found BFF to be a light read hampered by tonally weird sex scenes and framed in a way that makes it read more like a diary than a narrative. Thumbs sideways.

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