Author ~ Luna Harlow
Published ~ 14th September 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Fresh off a moderately successful Asian tour, The Rhinoceros Conspiracy are gearing up for what may be the most poorly planned American tour ever.
Anxiety, jealousy – guitarist Zeppelin O'Connor has been trying to bury his feelings for years. But when charming, flighty lead singer Joe expresses interest, Zepp makes a choice that goes against all his instincts.
Forces within the band threaten their four-year friendship and they've both got pasts to deal with. As they try to keep the band from falling apart and deal with the fears between them, will an outside threat get in the way of their happy ending?
Ms. Harlow is a new author to me. Probably a new author to everyone who buys gay fiction from Amazon's Kindle Store because, apparently, she only has a single book listed in the gay genre.
I can't encourage Ms. Harlow enough to PLEASE write more. I loved this book. I must admit I'm a fan of gay rock-n-roll novels. Several years ago, I got hooked on "Daron's Guitar Chronicles" by Cecilia Tan. Since then, I snap up every rock band romance I can get my hands on. Very few of them are in the same class as "Daron", but "The Rhinoceros Conspiracy Live" comes awfully close, which is pretty darned impressive for a first-time-gay, first-time-rock-n-roll author.
I loved this book, almost entirely due to the author's writing. Ms. Harlow is an Aussie, currently living in Melbourne, a world away from American rock. Apparently not so far away as I might have thought. She handled her locations beautifully, by setting the book on a world tour by Rhinoceros Conspiracy, an indie rock band just starting to break into the big time. Each chapter starts in a different locale, including Europe, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan and several American states. The band is cosmopolitan too, with two members from England, two from the U. S., so the occasional accents, local food and an ongoing battle of U. S. Football vs. Football (Soccer, in the U. S.) make a lot of sense.
There is sex, but it's not what makes this book stand out. In fact, there is no explicit sex, just thoughts, discussions, and reactions. Come to think of it, there really is no "sex", per se, just love-making, which makes an infinitely better story, because it's all about the hearts and souls of the characters, not the sweaty doings between the sheets.
And "heart and soul" is what this book is all about. There are four members of the band, each beautifully developed and artfully rendered. Three of the main leads are long-time friends who got together and formed the band when they were just teenagers. Wes is the daddy, a recovering alcoholic madly in love with his girlfriend (which drives everyone else to distraction). He Skypes her love and kisses every night, without fail. Uri is the drummer. He's surprisingly taciturn, a loner who keeps to himself, but a powerhouse with his drumsticks in hand.
Joe is the lead singer. A child of great privilege and wealth, he is not only self-confident, he's just more than a little bit crazy. His reputation as a slut is not manufactured. He has spent most of the last four years in bed with a succession of models, movie stars and singers. He's beautiful, sexy, incredibly charismatic onstage, and the darling of the tabloids.
That leaves Zepp (short for Zeppelin - his parents were obviously cruel!), the newest member of the band (four years) and about to turn 22. Zepp suffers from anxiety disorder. It's not disabling (or only when things go really, really bad), and he's a fine guitarist. He undergoes the most amazing metamorphosis whenever he steps onstage, changing in an instant from an insecure, sensitive, somewhat OCD, young man, into a powerful, lyrical guitarist completely at home on the stage. Somehow the stage sets him free.
Joe is ostensibly straight, Zepp is absolutely (but quietly) gay. Everyone in the band knows he's gay, management knows he's gay, the crew knows he's gay, only Joe doesn't know he's gay. Unfortunately, Zepp tends to get big crushes on unavailable (often straight) guys and Joe is no exception. A good portion of the book is the two of them finally falling into bed together (it turns out Joe is more bi than straight). It starts out with a little cuddling and ends up with passionate lovemaking and tender spooning through the night.
Zepp knows better. Joe doesn't do relationships, never lasts with anyone longer than a month or two. He's also an irrepressible flirt. Zepp knows this cannot end well, but is willing to give it some time just to get what he can out of it, knowing he's going to be a mess when it ends - sooner, rather than later. What he doesn't count on is Joe's conviction that Zepp is the only one in the whole world who knows him for who he is, and loves him despite his craziness and flaws, or maybe because of them.
This part of the story is more than 100 pages, a lot of pages to fall in love, so it should be pretty boring. It should, but it isn't. Ms. Harlow is simply brilliant at witty dialogue, smart and crazy badinage, absurd discussions that put a smile on Joe's face - and on the reader's. There wasn't an off moment, a boring paragraph, a single step out-of-character in the whole book. Think George Bernard Shaw writing a rock-n-roll story. Ms. Harlow has such a deft hand with her characters, that each one literally leaps off the page, and you can't help but look forward to whatever they get up to next.
The boys have their share of ups-and-downs, all four of them. Joe and Zepp decide to be "just friends" and "band-mates", but that was never going to work, not when each one of them aches when they're together but not touching, and break when they're apart. Add in a dangerous stalker (you'll love how Zepp talks their kidnapper out of the kidnapping) and, of course, a positively beautiful Happily-Ever-After.
"The Rhinoceros Conspiracy Live" is one of my newest favorite books, and Ms. Harlow one of my newest favorite authors. I just flat-out adored this book. I rooted for the boys, I wept for them, I laughed at their wit and craziness, I want to hear more from them (sequel, please!). If you love larger-than-life, but totally authentic characters, beautiful, lucid, smart writing, then this is the book for you! It was a surprise by an author I wasn't familiar with, but it made my day. Sometimes you just get lucky.
Don't miss "The Rhinoceros Conspiracy Live"!