Willow Bend & Easy, by Ally Blue

>> Monday, April 02, 2007

Another 2-for-1 today: I'm going to be reviewing two gay romances by Ally Blue. First up, Willow Bend. I can't remember exactly why I bought it. I think it might have been a rec from a poster at Keishon's blog, someone who'd loved Stephanie Vaughan's books, so I thought our tastes might be similar.

book coverFor Paul Gordon, the little town of Willow Bend, South Carolina is the perfect place to start over. A place where he can move on after his lover's death, alone and anonymous.

Cory Saunders is just trying to survive. Between working two jobs and caring for his ailing mother, it's all he can do to keep his head above water.

When Paul and Cory meet, their mutual attraction is undeniable. When the intense physical attraction starts to blossom into something deeper, neither wants to admit to what's happening. Cory doesn't have time for a relationship, and Paul isn't sure he's ready for one. But sometimes, what you thought you couldn't have turns out to be exactly what you need.
I was very impressed with this one. It's a quiet, low-key, somewhat sad and very heartwarming story about two very decent characters. A B.

After his long-term lover dies in an accident, painter Paul Gordon feels the need to get away and start from scratch somewhere else, somewhere he won't have to live with the constant memories. He decides to move right across the country from Seattle and settles in the small town of Willow Bend in South Carolina.

One of the first people he meets there is the handsome waiter at the good restaurant in town, Cory Saunders. Cory makes him feel a spark of attraction, something he'd been unsure he'd ever feel again. As for Cory, he returns Paul's attraction, but his life isn't easy. He's got his hands full with his mother, who's in a coma and requires around-the-clock care, as well as with earning enough money to be able to pay for that care and her treatment.

And that's what this book is about, really. There's nothing exotic or over-the-top happening, just the heartbreak and hope of regular life. And the two characters' issues are just as normal: Paul is still getting over the sorrow of losing the man he'd thought he'd be with forever, while Cory is dealing with the situation with his mom. But the fact that these issues were so commonplace didn't make them any less powerful, because the feelings involved rang true. With Cory, for instance, I was struck by the way he was so conflicted about how he feels about it all. My heart broke for him because he was so disturbed by how at times he feels he'd actually prefer it if she died, not just to end her suffering, but because he's just soooo tired. A very human feeling, that, especially because it's so obvious that he adores his mother and he'd sacrifice his life for her.

The romance was lovely. I liked the tenderness of Cory and Paul's relationship, and again, I loved how normal the conflict between them was, and how true it rang, at the same time. The main issue among them is money, that Cory lacks it and has to practically break his back to make ends meet and yet, won't accept Paul's offers for help, even though Paul intends them as something very far from the charity Cory fears they might be.

When they solve their problems, this is a relationship that I really felt would last forever, both because of how maturely they dealt with their issues and because these two together are much more than just hot sex. And speaking of the love scenes, they were both hot and sweet, but I did feel they were a little too numerous. After a while, some of them weren't really adding much to the story. In fact, having so many of them didn't fit the tone of this sweet, sad story. I wonder if this has something to do with gay romance having the Erotica labeled tacked on it, whether the story is about sex or not?

Another minor problem was that Blue seems fond of dropping pronouns, especially at the beginning of the story. This wasn't as heavy as in other stories I've read, but there were quite a few "Want you"s and "Need you"s, and I kept rewriting the dialogue in my mind.

All in all, a lovely story. Even the setting was heartwarming. Willow Bend is almost fairy tale-like in how everyone is so open-minded and tolerant, and how people care about each other. Other than one bigot (who actually doesn't do any more than glare a bit), everyone's good and kind and caring, and that's just what this book is like.

After Willow Bend, I bought a few more of Blue's backlist, and the next one I picked up was Easy.

book coverDan Corazon is a man with a secret. A secret he's kept for most of his life, hidden away from the world. Over the years, all the little deceptions designed to hide his homosexuality have become the basis of his life. So he keeps his secret, in spite of the loneliness it causes, because it's easier to hide behind comfortable lies than to risk everything he cares about by coming out.

Stevie Sanger is a man trapped by circumstance. Homeless, penniless, and with no one to turn to, he supports himself the only way he can: by selling his body on the street. He uses the smile that's earned him the nickname 'Sunshine' to hide the pain of his nightmarish life even from himself. Because denying his unhappiness is easier than facing it head on.

Dan and Stevie want each other from the moment they meet, when Dan finds Stevie bruised and bloodied by a sadistic john and offers to help him turn his life around. That attraction quickly blossoms into something deeper, something that could become permanent. But first, they'll have to overcome all the obstacles in their way. Dan's fear of his own nature, Stevie's belief that he's not good enough for Dan. The unresolved pieces of Stevie's past. Building the relationship they both want may be a challenge too big for either of them. But nothing worth having is ever easy.
Now, this one was a bit of a disappointment. On the surface, it seems to be much more exciting than WB, but at certain points, it ended up boring me. Plus, the feelings involved didn't ring as true. A C.

Construction worker Dan Corazon is in town buying some supplies when he sees something suspicious in the house across the street. When he goes to investigate, he finds a young man there, tied up and all beat up. He rushes him to hospital, where the police tell him there's nothing they can do about it. The young man, Stevie Sanger, is a well-known prostitute, and prostitutes in his state are a common sight in the hospital. They always claim whatever happened was consensual, being too afraid of their pimps and of being sent to jail for soliciting. Stevie is no different.

But rather than washing his hands of him, Dan offers Stevie a way out, and takes him home, where he offers him a place to stay and to recover. Stevie accepts, and he seems to be happy to turn his life around. There's a palpable attraction between the two of them, but neither feels comfortable going for it. Dan has never publicly acknowledged his homosexuality, and though he's tempted to do so with Stevie, he doesn't want him to accept him out of gratitude. Plus, after Stevie's obviously horrible recent experiences with sex, he wants to give him some time to recover. Stevie, however, interprets Dan's reluctance to purse him as disgust for his past, and refuses to "inflict himself on Dan", as he sees it.

Both will have to move outside their comfort zones if they want to build a relationship, and in addition to that, there's always the shadow of Stevie's past hanging over them.

This could have been really good, and I liked certain things, but for some reason, the character of Stevie never rang completely true. It was a mixture of it being too easy for him to get out of his former life and it being too hard for him to accept that Dan had no problem with his past. The story just didn't resonate with me.

Plus, there was the whole thing with Jesse, which I just hated. See, when Dan and Stevie are still dancing around each other, Dan's friend Carlos and his wife invite them to dinner and set up each of them with a date. Dan is still in denial, so his blind date is a very nice woman, but Stevie is completely comfortable with his sexuality and asks for a male date, which Carlos and his wife provide. And in spite of whatever's going on with Dan, Stevie starts dating this guy and going out with him regularly. It's obvious to everyone that they're not in love, but these two are still having regular sex, and Dan is perfectly aware of this.

That just... well, it skeeved me out. The whole situation was the opposite of romantic to me. I understand Stevie needing to have a warm sexual relationship for a change, after his years as a prostitute, but I absolutely hated it anyway. Plus, then the guy turns into a total over-the-top villain, even though everyone who knew him swore up and down that he was a good guy, who didn't particularly care about Stevie and really wouldn't mind if Stevie were to break up with him and start going out with Dan.

In spite of this, I'll be reading more of Blue's books. The next one I want to try is Oleander House. Anyone have any feedback about it? Like, do we get a HEA for that romance? I don't know what it was about a certain review of it that had me doubting.


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