In the Middle of Somewhere, by Roan Parrish

>> Tuesday, October 31, 2017

TITLE: In the Middle of Somewhere
AUTHOR: Roan Parrish

PAGES: 350
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Starts a series

Daniel Mulligan is tough, snarky, and tattooed, hiding his self-consciousness behind sarcasm. Daniel has never fit in—not at home in Philadelphia with his auto mechanic father and brothers, and not at school where his Ivy League classmates looked down on him. Now, Daniel’s relieved to have a job at a small college in Holiday, Northern Michigan, but he’s a city boy through and through, and it’s clear that this small town is one more place he won’t fit in.

Rex Vale clings to routine to keep loneliness at bay: honing his muscular body, perfecting his recipes, and making custom furniture. Rex has lived in Holiday for years, but his shyness and imposing size have kept him from connecting with people.

When the two men meet, their chemistry is explosive, but Rex fears Daniel will be another in a long line of people to leave him, and Daniel has learned that letting anyone in can be a fatal weakness. Just as they begin to break down the walls keeping them apart, Daniel is called home to Philadelphia, where he discovers a secret that changes the way he understands everything.
When Daniel is invited to interview for a job as an English professor at a tiny college in the just-as-tiny town of Holiday, in Michigan, he's got mixed feelings. Realistically, it's probably the best opportunity he'll get to start a career, and in a few years, he might be able to use the job as a springboard for better things. But he finds the idea of living in such a small town a bit worrying. Daniel is a city boy, and wonders how well and edgy, profusely tattoed gay guy will fit in.

But on the very day of his interview, he meets someone who likes him just fine. Rex Vale lives in a homely little cabin in the woods, just outside town. Their first meeting reveals a fair bit of chemistry, and once Daniel has moved to Holiday, they begin to deepen the relationship.

This is a book where there isn't a lot of external conflict. The focus is fully on the relationship, and it's not even one where the protagonists have got massive, over-the-top issues to overcome before they can be happy in the relationship. It's also a fairly long book (it says 350 pages in the listing on amazon, but it felt longer). And yet it was the rare romance these days that kept me fully engaged and rapt. I really enjoyed it.

The book is narrated by Daniel, and he was a character I adored. Daniel grew up in a family made up of macho men who were just baffled by him. They were baffled by his sexuality, but just as much as by his insistence on studying, going to college (the first in the family), and even worse: becoming an academic. The rest of the brothers work in the father's garage, and that's good enough for them. It wasn't some sort of nightmarish upbringing, as it's clear the father, at least, did care for him, even if he didn't know what to do with him. Still, it was tough (and painfully rough and tumble, it sounds like).

I really loved in Daniel his determination to go after what he wanted. It wasn't easy to get his PhD with basically no support, and he's exhausted. I was touched by the pleasure he took in the simplest things. Being able to work in peace and quiet in an office, when he had to get used to working in public spaces during university (coffee shops being the best option he'd had before, way better than reading in a loud music venue while working as a barman). Actually making some ok money and seeing a future where (once credit card debts are paid off and he doesn't have to pray that his ipod lasts just a few more months) he'll be able to actually afford some nice things. A significant thread in Daniel's story is about starting to build a life as a grown-up, basically, and this is something I really like (and surprisingly, don't really see much of in the New Adult genre).

Rex, since we see him only through Daniel's eyes, we get to know a bit less well, although well enough that I totally got why Daniel falls for him. Rex is quite shy and gentle, in spite of being built like the proverbial brick shithouse. He's had his own challenges growing up, and these have left him with a bit of a fear of being left. Getting involved with Daniel is a risk. This is, after all, the man who has actually said that the only reason to take this job at the college is to be able to later get a job somewhere more prestigious -away from Holiday. Meanwhile, Daniel has to deal with his own issues before he can open up in a relationship.

Daniel and Rex date and get to know each other like normal people, while dealing with friends and family. I've no idea how Parrish managed to make it so fascinating, but it might have been that these characters felt real and that the character development was believable and gradual. I think it might also have helped that the cast of secondary characters was really well done. I particularly loved Ginger, Daniel's only and really excellent friend. Their relationship was hilarious, full of teasing and caring. I want to know more about all these characters, even Daniel's arsehole brother Colin.

The only thing I didn't love was the frequency, length and graphic nature of the love scenes. Part of it might be just me, since I've gone off detailed sex scenes and they tend to bore me these days. Still, I really do think the level of graphicness didn't go well with the the vibe of the book otherwise, and after the first couple of scenes the sex wasn't really adding anything to the character development, so they felt unnecessary.

Small issue, though, and on the whole, I loved this. Parrish has a couple more books in this series, and there's also another starring Ginger in a separate series. I have already bought them all.



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