L.B. Gregg. I would say we're somewhere between "friendly" and "friends." She's not on my Christmas card list, and we don't exchange e-mails or text messages - but when I see her at conferences or she comes to SoCal, we hang out. If I were ever taking a vacay in her neck of the woods? I'd call her about getting together for lunch. In short, I like her and, in turn, I think she likes me.
I have nothing against gay romance, it's just something that I thought wasn't necessarily for me. Why? Well, as pretty evident by the hordes of book reviews I've written online since 1999, I'm a very heroine-centric romance reader. Very. And gay romance?
Yeah, no vaginas.
This is obviously not a problem for a lot of readers, but it is one for me. Or so I thought. So what led me to trying a gay romance? Education. I'm a librarian. I buy books for a living. People like to read gay romance and, you know, I hate being completely ignorant on the subject. Since I know L.B. Gregg, I thought it would be fun to read Men of Smithfield: Mark and Tony, the first book in her recently reissued and re-edited series about the small New England town of Smithfield, and the hunky men that live there.
Mark Meehan is having a really bad day. He comes home from work to find his boyfriend having sex, in their bed, with their very hairy and disgusting landlord. This is, as one could imagine, a tad upsetting for Mark. In response he heads to noon Ash Wednesday mass where Jamie is with his mother. Before you can say "man scorned" Mark is grabbing the nearest Bible and beaning Jamie upside the head.
It is not one of Mark's finer moments, airing Jamie's dirty laundry in front of the entire congregation, but it goes from bad to infinitely worse when he realizes that not only did Jamie cheat - he also cleaned out Mark's bank accounts. Naturally with assault and battery, along with theft going on, in steps the local law, Tony Gervase.
Tony is a couple of years older than Mark and is still working through a really bad year, a result of his father's death. Mark has had a thing for Tony since the dawn of time, but after his advances were rebuffed when he was in high school, and Tony was in college, they've settled into friendship. However little does Mark know is that Tony does have feelings for him, always has in fact. It's just the timing has sucked. The timing isn't much better now, but hey - at least Mark is now single.
The best way for me to describe this story is that it's chick lit, without any chicks. Gregg tells her story in first person, which to my horror has always been a perceived no-no in romance circles. I happen to adore first person to the point of wanting to have babies with it, and I love that Mark, while a confident person, is not above playing the man scorned. He reacts strongly to Jamie's betrayal, in both good and bad ways, and naturally needs to clean up the mess in order to get on with his life. These moments of petty revenge make for genuinely funny moments, like when Mark changes the password on Jamie's laptop to uradickhead.
Tony is....lickable I think is the word I'm looking for. He's hot, he's hunky, he's rocking a uniform - it's just my dumb-ass luck he's gay (ladies, isn't that always the way?). I loved that while he's in a confident position of authority in his professional life, he's more unsure of himself personally. What he admires about Mark is how secure he is. How accepting he is. Tony watches his father die and knows that the old man goes to his grave thinking Tony being gay is something he'll eventually "out grow."
The secondary players are also quite wonderful in this story. Despite my reservations on there not being a vagina in this romance, the author does include Mark's very pregnant sister. Her scenes with Mark are really wonderful, and read like an actual brother/sister relationship. I also liked that the town of Smithfield is a welcoming, accepting place. Gregg has created a world where being gay isn't a political rallying point, it's not a "big deal." It simply is who these men are. They have lives. They have families. They have emotional baggage. They also, just happen, to be gay.
In the end I really enjoyed this story. I liked Mark, which is a good thing given the first person narration, and I wanted to throw myself at Tony (Oh yeah, he's gay. Damn.). The sex scenes are spicy, although I'm not entirely sure I'd label them as erotic (unless you subscribe to the school of thought that all gay sex is erotic, which I don't). Gregg wisely avoids huge sweeping declarations of true love, although the shared past and friendship between Mark and Tony certainly puts a positive spin on the Happy For Now ending. This was a quick, enjoyable and fun read. I'm looking forward to return visits to Smithfield....
Final Grade = B
Note: This title was originally released as Gobsmacked by Aspen Mountain Press. Carina Press has picked up the rights to the series and will be reissuing all the previous titles.