Title ~ Thirty Things
Author ~ Cate Ashwood
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 3rd April 2015
Genre ~ M/M Contemporary Romance
All their lives, Finn and Nate have been inseparable, sharing everything, and when a childhood accident left Finn broken, Nate stood by his side as all his other friends left. After all their years together, there’s one secret Finn still hasn’t revealed: he has been in love with Nate since they were eight years old. Hiding his feelings for twenty-one years—terrified of what might happen if Nate ever found out—has been difficult, but losing his best friend would be worse than living with a bad case of unrequited love. Unfortunately for Finn, Nate doesn't make it easy.
Nate believes there are some things that just have to be done before your thirtieth birthday. As a gift to Finn, he plans an adventure to check off a list of thirty things to experience before hitting that milestone. Starting in Crawfordsville, Indiana, they tour the country, trying new things and meeting interesting new people. Nate’s having the time of his life, but he can tell Finn is holding something back. As the days count down, navigating the back roads suddenly seems easier than figuring out where their relationship is heading.
One thing’s for certain. There will be no turning back.
Oh lucky me. For those familiar with my reviews, you must be thinking: he’s losing his mind, all those five-star reviews, one after another. But no, I’ve just gotten lucky. The last few books I’ve read were special, each unique in its own way, and that’s extraordinary in a genre that often relies on formula instead of imagination.
At first glance, “Thirty Things” might strike you as just another formula book – the gay road trip. I’ve read more than a few of those. But, as always, first glances can be deceiving. This is a lovely journey, lovingly and beautifully written, a great experience for the characters, an even more rewarding one for the lucky reader.
Nate and Finn are roommates, best friends, and companions since they were both eight years old. Finn is gay and out, Nate appears to be relentlessly straight (if his regular conquests are any indication). Finn, however, is still a virgin. He has a problem, a major impediment to a rich and fulfilling sex life – he’s been in love with Nate since he was thirteen years old, and no other man stacks up to him.
Finn has been extraordinarily careful in hiding his attraction and passion for Nate. He’s just about to turn 30, and he’s become so used to living an unrequited love that he can’t even consider other possibilities. He’s also deathly afraid that Nate will find out, because it might destroy the incredibly close friendship the two have shared for most of their lives. His other great fear is Nate falling in love with one of the girls he beds. A serious relationship would not only make Finn a fifth wheel, but Nate would, inevitably, move out and move along. Finn isn’t sure he could bear that.
For the last two weeks, Nate has been secretive, which is totally out of character. The two men always share everything. Finally, Finn demands to know what’s going on, and Nate relents. He’s been putting together Finn’s birthday gift – a road trip across the country with a list of 30 things to do before turning thirty. He’s accumulated a bucket list of all the things he knows that Finn always wanted to do, but never found the time or the confidence to tackle. Oh yes, Finn has a bit of a disability. When they were kids, Finn fell out of a tree in Nate’s yard and got run over by a car as he dropped out of the sky right in front of a hapless driver who couldn’t avoid him. The accident crushed his pelvis and part of his legs. He’s undergone years of therapy, but he still walks with a limp and has trouble remaining standing when he’s fatigued or he’s overexerted himself. Nate is always there to catch him, encouraging his independence, but watching his back to make sure he’s OK. That’s one of the reasons that Finn works from the small house he shares with Nate. He loves his work as a book editor, and can do it from anywhere. No need to commute to an office or wend his way through a cubicle farm.
As luck would have it, Nate is a published author. He too works from home. They are a matched pair except, of course, in the romance department.
The birthday road trip is scheduled to last a month, and at each stop, Nate gives Finn an envelope containing the “dare” for the day. Some of them are just lovely events, like horseback riding, sleeping in a tree house (at a lovely resort built 25 feet above the ground), watching a meteor shower, attending his first rock concert or taking his first trip to Disneyland.
Others are real challenges to help Finn face down his fears, such as bungee-jumping over a thousand-foot gorge in Colorado or touring the Portland coast in a glass-bottomed helicopter. Finn accepts all the challenges because of his absolute trust in Nate, and gets to experience so many things that he might never have had the courage or ambition to try, were he to try them alone.
That constitutes the bulk of the book. It is truly a travelogue, with lush descriptions of some of the most beautiful and quirkiest places in America, plus glimpses of the evolving relationship between the two men.
About a third of the way through the trip, the inevitable happens: Nate cuddles up with Finn in bed, and later plants the most passionate but tender kiss on him. It rocks Finn’s world. He’s sure he’s dreaming, but doesn’t want to wake up. This is all he ever wanted his whole life, and the reality is infinitely better than his dreams
Of course, into even the loveliest lives, a little angst must fall, and the cause of it is Finn’s confusion. It sure feels like Nate loves him. But just a couple of weeks ago, Nate was straight. Is this just a “vacation fling”, or a “pity thing”, or just some elaborate “experiment”? He is haunted by the possibility that the day this road trip ends, Nate goes back to dating girls and Finn will have to find a way to live with a shattered heart.
Fortunately for us, he’s wrong. He should have trusted Nate. It’s one of those old “communication” issues wherein both men had passionate feelings for each other, but neither would mention it in fear of killing their perfect friendship.
I won’t give it away, but trust me, there is a happily-ever-after to be had in “Thirty Things”, and you’ll probably guess it before Nate gets to the last envelope at the last stop.
That doesn’t matter. Like the road trip, the pleasure of “Thirty Things” is in the journey, not the goal. And with a writer as adept as Cate Ashwood, getting there isn’t half the fun, it’s most of it. Her brilliant descriptions evoke vivid and memorable settings. Her dialogue is both credible and charming. The men are both so endearing - without a hint of malice or self-absorption - that you’ll love them both from the very first page. You’ll root for these authentic, sincere, talented men. You’ll share their love. You’ll cheer for them at every stop along the way. And, don’t worry; this road trip is not exactly chaste. As it turns out, Ms. Ashwood is also really good at writing hot (but tasteful and romantic) sex. To be honest, there’s nothing I could find in “Thirty Things” that she didn’t do well.
If you want to read a sincere, beautifully-written and beautiful book, this is the one to read. Ms. Ashwood is an amazingly gifted writer. Kudos.
Meet Cate Ashwood
Cate Ashwood wrote her very first story in a hot pink binder when she was in the second grade and found her passion for writing. Her first successful foray into romance writing came five years later when she wrote her best friend, who was experiencing a case of unrequited love, her own happily ever after.
Cate’s life has taken a number of different and adventurous roads. She now lives a stone’s throw from the ocean, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband, son, and two cats. Her life is filled with family and friends, travel, and, of course, books.