Author ~ Nic Starr
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 17th June 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Schoolteacher Charlie Matthews returns to his hometown, looking to regain a sense of community, reconnect with friends, and settle down. It looks like his dreams have come true when paramedic Josh Campbell attends an accident at the school. It’s love at first sight, and a romance begins.
But Josh’s reluctance to come out to the brother who raised him, puts pressure on their fledgling relationship. While Charlie understands Josh’s concerns, he can’t help growing impatient. After all, Charlie came out years ago.
It’s not until Charlie confronts his own parents and realizes he hasn’t come to terms with their rejection that he fully understands what Josh has to lose. But Josh is Charlie’s hero, and Josh will do anything to prove to Charlie that to be part of a family, he doesn’t need his parents.
I was looking for some light reading. In fact, I was desperate for it. I’d just finished two gay romance novels, one of which was awful, and the other, near-suicidally depressing. This light romance by Australian author, Ms. Nic Starr, was exactly what I’d hoped to find.
It is a love story with some tension, but not driven by overwhelming angst. It’s a story of two young professionals, Charlie, an elementary school teacher who left town to go to college (and to get away from the small-town atmosphere) but came back; and Josh, who never left, an incredibly beautiful and sensitive young man who is a dedicated EMS technician working for the fire department.
The book starts, as these types of books are wont to do, with a “meet cute”. One of Charlie’s students, a young second-grade girl, has fallen and broken her leg. While he rounds up the other kids (like herding cats) to keep them out of the way and prevent panic, his eyes meet the most beautiful, caring, eyes he’s ever seen in his life and, well, the story is about to begin. Yes, love-at-first-sight. Don’t be cynical, it can happen – not often, but sometimes.
The problem however, is if that happens, where do you go from there? These two gorgeous, well-built, lithe, muscular, well-endowed and gorgeous men start out in love – there’s just no real estate left for a falling-in-love saga, for them to overcome the daunting obstacles to their once-in-a-lifetime love, for the reader to wonder if they will ever be together? The answer is clear from page one – absolutely they will.
So what is there left to write about? Well, sex, of course, tons of endless sex, all throughout the book. And the author has added just enough angst to make their relationship plausible, even though you know it’s not going to fail, no matter what.
For Charlie, Ms. Starr supplies a couple of despicable parents who have refused to speak to their own son ever since they found out he was gay. On the few occasions he runs across them in town, they stand up and walk out of the room, food court, or grocery store with a stiff back, lips pursed in disapproval and their air of self-righteous superiority intact. Stupid people, awful parents.
For Josh, Ms. Starr provides his own baseless fears. He’s out and proud at work, and almost every place else in town, but not at home, where he lives with his older brother, Andrew (also gorgeous, hugely muscled and generously endowed, one assumes), who raised him after their father died, and who he’s terrified will find out that he’s gay. Not that he’s ever indicated that he was homophobic, except for one single time, many years ago, when Andrew’s best friend tells him he’s gay and dating someone. Andrew goes ballistic and never speaks to Tanner again. Josh, of course, becomes terrified that he’ll lose his only remaining family member, as Charlie did his parents.
Of course, that’s all in Josh’s mind. You can tell because Ms. Starr has telegraphed the fact, early on, that Andrew’s is the next installment in this series about gay men. That doesn’t make it impossible that Andrew’s a homophobe, just very, very unlikely.
I need to say, right up front, that Ms. Starr is an excellent writer, adept at exactly the kind of angst-light I look for, from time to time, to sort of clear my palate between more melodramatic reads. Her writing is fluid, descriptions sparse but still evocative, and every character has a distinct and unique voice.
But I had some issues with Charlie’s Hero, mostly its length. I looked up Ms. Starr’s currently published Kindle books on Amazon, and all of them are short form – short stories and novellas, except for Charlie’s Hero. This was either her first, or one of her first, full-length novels.
The problem is, it isn’t. At most, it’s a novella. As a novella, Charlie’s Hero would have been near-perfect, just enough character development to get involved with Charlie and Josh, colorful secondary characters who pop-up for brief appearances, and the main characters living out a relatively uncomplicated story that has its roadblocks, But only minor ones.
But it’s a novel only because it’s been padded with endless, repetitive and boring sex scenes, plus a 30-page “preview” of Andrew’s story (the next installment).
There’s nothing wrong with having sex or writing about it. But when it does nothing to drive the plot or flesh out the characters, it’s just filler. The first two or three sex scenes? Yep, they did exactly that. After that it was just more of the same. I ended up doing something I almost never do – skimming through the sex scenes to get to some actual plot or characterization.
I wish I could give this book five stars because I liked both the writing and the characters so much. If it had been either cut down to size or expanded up to size, instead of padded, I would have given it one of my highest recommendations.
Still, if you’re looking for something light and reasonably uncomplicated, something without any tears, but that delivers a few warm smiles, by all means read Charlie’s Hero. And perhaps, as Ms. Starr gets a little more comfortable with the larger format of her new series, subsequent installments will grow to fit its real estate with more sophistication and depth.