“What was he thinking to put so much pain, so much fear on his face? And something else. Something that looked suspiciously like longing.”
In a word: Read the thing. I have so much love for this book and the characters in it. The writing is beautiful, the emotions are real, and the characters are interesting and easy to get attached to. It takes place in Canada and one of the characters is First Nations Cree, and that’s an important detail about his character and background and it’s done well. It’s a slow burn romance with mutual pining with adorable child characters and domesticity and laughs and cries and it’s awesome. Go read it. I don’t have all the words to adequately describe how good this book is. Just go read it.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains death of a minor character, grieving, mentioned domestic violence, mentioned child abuse/neglect/abandonment, mentioned child sexual abuse.
The Premise: Marguerite Leblanc is killed in a freak car accident, leaving her two children orphans. The only living relative able to take them in is Marguerite’s older brother Archer Noble, who has no interest in settling down and raising a family. Enter Ryan Erikkson, a teacher at the elementary school and one of Marguerite’s friends. Ryan is more than willing to take care of the children, and he offers to help Archer out when Archer first comes into town. Archer’s first instinct is to hand the children over to Ryan permanently and then get back to his life on the road, but Ryan convinces him to give the kids a chance because it was Marguerite’s last wish that Archer raise the children. The two men come up with a plan: Ryan will stay with Archer and the kids for the summer until Archer has time to really think about what he wants to do, and then they’ll regroup in September to see if Archer has changed his mind. Also, everyone and their grandmother has read enough fanfic to know EXACTLY where this is going.
The Couple: Controversial writer, blogger, and TV personality Archer Noble started off his life on an Indian reservation in Northern Winnipeg as Archie Noblesse, a scrawny, gay, First Nations Cree boy living with his abusive grandfather, battered grandmother, child rapist uncle, and beloved little sister. His childhood was not a happy one and he left the reservation at 16, never to return, his one goal being to make enough money to ensure that his little sister would be able to escape and make her way into the world. Archie the child was scared, angry, and desperate to get away, Archer the man isn’t so different, no matter how hard he tries to be. He’s built himself a reputation as a rude, outspoken, blunt man who is currently best known for his stance that same-sex marriage isn’t something that gay men should aspire to. He’s very big on promiscuity and free love. He’s kind of an arsehole, but he’s also very charming when he wants to be. He also carries a lot of pain inside him and has a hard time letting people in. The person he’s really closest to is his sister, and he doesn’t even see her all that much anymore. Then we have Ryan Erikkson, who is more or less Archer’s complete opposite. Ryan’s lived a fairly easy life so far, especially when compared to Archer, and all he really wants out of life is a husband and children, a family. He’s very nurturing and organized and on top of things. He believes wholeheartedly in monogamy and just can’t understand Archer’s feelings on the subject. Ryan’s also still smarting a bit from almost having his dream come true and then having his fiancé walk out on him, forcing him to halt his wedding planning and adoption proceedings. He’s very much attached to the children, but he may be holding on for his own ends as much as theirs, it’s what makes it so easy for Archer to convince him to stay at first.
The Romance: Two words: slow burn. So slow, but the payoff is so worth it. Ryan and Archer are two men from two completely different worlds and are only linked by Marguerite, Archer’s younger sister and Ryan’s friend. When Marguerite passes away suddenly her two children are left in Archer’s care. Archer has no idea what to do with two children, and has absolutely no desire to become a family man, so he mostly takes advantage of Ryan’s willingness to help and the two end up living in Marguerite’s house to take care of the children. When the two of them meet for the first time, they very much don’t like each other. Ryan, who dreams of marriage and children and family, can’t really stand Archer, who believes that monogamy is a myth and that gay people shouldn’t bother with marriage and children because it’s not in their nature. Archer doesn’t think much of Ryan at first either, mostly seeing him as a glorified nanny and someone who he can dump the kids on and continue on on his merry way. Of course, the more the two of them interact and get to know about each other, the more they realize that the other isn’t so bad (and also kinda sexy). They are two very different men and meet at a very difficult time in life, mourning the death of a loved one (and in Ryan’s case, mourning the loss of the family he nearly had), so they both have a lot of baggage to go through. There is some physical attraction pretty early on, but deeper feelings don’t really happen until they both get to know each other better, and then the feelings happen naturally as they spend more time together. Of course, both men are pretty stubborn and are in a precarious situation, so even when they do realize that they are head-over-heels for the other they don’t act on it. SO MUCH MUTUAL PINING HERE FOLKS.
The Kids: There are two kids in this story, Archer’s niece and nephew, 5-year-old Emma and 8-year-old Dillon. They’re the reason why our two romantic leads have been thrown together and, as much as this is a romance story, it’s also a story about a group of people becoming a family. A lot of the conflict comes from the fact that Archer now has these two children to raise, and he starts out really not wanting to, so those children show up in the story quite a bit. They don’t show up every now and again and exist mostly in the background. No, these are two main characters with personalities and arcs. Emma is cheerful and bubbly, typical little girl. Dillon is quiet and sensitive, older and better able to understand what’s going on around him. Both of the children are adorable, and any scene with them is pretty enjoyable to read. Their characters are written very well and they read like normal children (they aren’t magically wise beyond their years, not precocious, not so precious you wanna puke, just normal children). Also they ship Archer and Ryan so hard, it’s awesome.
The Heritage: Archer is First Nations Cree and grew up on a reservation in Canada (the main story happens in Toronto). His childhood was not a happy one. His mother was a teen mother who ended up becoming a drug-addicted prostitute and disappeared when Archer was very young. Archer and his little sister were put in foster care and then placed with their grandparents, which wasn’t an upgrade considering that their grandfather was an abusive alcoholic and their uncle was a child molester who preyed on Archer. Staying on the reservation might’ve been a death sentence for Archer and he escaped as soon as he could, sending money back to ensure that Marguerite would also be able to make it out. Archer decided early on that the only way for him to make it in the world would be to distance himself from his Cree heritage. He can’t change his skin colour or physical features, but he participates in tradition as little as he can. He doesn’t speak the language, follow the spirituality, talk about the legends, or spend time with other First Nations people. One of the parts of his character development is coming to terms with his past and culture and that being First Nations doesn’t have to be a bad thing and it doesn’t mean that he has to conform to the negative stereotypes. The book also brings up Canada’s problem with missing and murdered indigenous women, and that it’s possible that Archer’s mother didn’t leave them by choice.
The Side Characters: This book doesn’t have an overly large cast, aside from Archer, Ryan and the kids there are only a handful of other people of note that show up. The first is Archer’s sister Marguerite, who is dead when the story starts, but she lives on in Archer’s memories and in her final wish that Archer take custody of her children. She was Archer’s reason for living for so long that he’s now at loose ends now that she’s gone. Then there’s Ryan’s best friend and roommate Jill, who seems to mostly exist to be a sounding board for Ryan’s feelings on Archer. Jill absolutely hates Archer at first, but she really only has Ryan’s best interests at heart. Alyssa Sky is a woman from, what I understand is, a community center for First Nations people. She was first contacted by Marguerite to find out what happened to her and Archer’s mother, and she pops in a few times to help Archer get him and the kids more in touch with their Cree roots. Lastly there’s Kenny, Ryan’s ex. This is the man who Ryan was planning to marry and start a family with, only for Kenny to leave him right in the middle of wedding planning and adoption proceedings. He’s been gone for about eight months before swanning back into Ryan’s life asking for a second chance. Ryan, feeling conflicted over his feelings for Archer, gives him one, so he shows up a few times (much to Archer and the kids’ displeasure).
The Sex: Yes. Good. There are a few sex scenes in the book. There’s one or two between Archer and random hookups, those are fine. AND THEN THERE’RE ARCHER AND RYAN’S SCENES. There’s a lot of sexual tension between them anyway, which makes for a good read, and then they have two major sex scenes. They are very emotional scenes and make you go FINALLY! when they happen. They spend a lot of the book dancing around each other and it’s a beautiful thing when they finally come together. I’ll admit the first one with the pool is a bit extravagant and kinda weird, but that’s just a personal thing, nothing to do with the writing (just wasn’t my thing). The second one is sexy, but also sad as hell because these two are idiots and dedicated to pining for each other.
The Writing: The writing here is solid. Grammar and word choice is awesome, no typos anywhere. The characters are consistent and well-written and the main ones aren’t just one-note stereotypes, you will like them and be annoyed by them. The emotional parts are well-done, and you will have feels when you read this. The romance feels genuine and not forced, and all the pining and no communication will both frustrate you and make you sad. The point of view switches each chapter (written in third person limited) so we get both sides of the story here. And so much pining.
[Until September was published February 8, 2016 by Riptide Publishing, and is available both in print and as an ebook]