“My stomach felt tight with confusion. I couldn’t seem to find any peace, torn one minute between missing Thomas and feeling guilty about it the next.”
In a word: Maybe read the thing. So I didn’t like this book as much as I was expecting to, but it was still an okay read. The majority of the first half of the story deals with our narrator and lead, Ollie, dealing with the death of Sam, his fiancé, who he’s been together with since they were 16. That part punched me right in the feels. Ollie’s grief is heartbreaking; he’s mourning the loss of his best friend and first and only love. I quite liked this part. We don’t actually get to know Sam firsthand before his death, but we learn about him through Ollie and we know that the two men were so happy together and it’s awful that Ollie is now forced to be without him. Things started to get a little ‘meh’ for me around the time Ollie’s friends convinced him to start dating again. Then there was a lot of drama with Ollie’s friends about cheating and pining and commitment issues that I didn’t really care about. The part about Thomas, Ollie’s friend who is in love with him (and who Ollie starts falling for in return), discovering that he has a child that needs looking after happened very late in the book and him moving in with Ollie and the two of them finally getting together felt a bit rushed to me, especially with everything else going on at the same time. The pacing was a bit of an issue for me; very little was happening, then a lot of different things were happening and a lot of it was happening off-screen with very little explanation. The baby sub-plot is played up a lot in the summary and the book’s design, but it doesn’t even come up until more than half-way through. All in all, I enjoyed a lot of the story, but most of it wasn’t really my thing.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains murder, death of a loved one, grieving, mentions of infidelity, mentions of postpartum depression, and mentions of miscarriage.
The Couple: The couple we end up with isn’t the same couple we started out with, but the main romance that starts in this book is between our narrator, Ollie (I can’t remember getting a last name for him, I don’t think it ever comes up), and his best friend Thomas de Ridder. Ollie has been with the same man, Sam, since he was 16 years old, so when he loses him to a freak act of violence he’s understandably severely affected. We don’t know much about Ollie before this, and after his loss he becomes a bit of a recluse, first as he grieves for Sam and the loss of their future and then as he tries to learn to live without his other half. Thomas has been friends with Ollie for about four or five years, and he’s been in love with Ollie for just as long. Ollie never noticed this, too wrapped up in Sam, so Thomas kept his feelings buried deep, hooking up with any girl or guy who caught his eye in the hopes of finding someone else he could spend his life with. Thomas is a really good friend to Ollie despite his feelings, and I say that because there are some times in the story where Thomas seems to get annoyed or upset with some of the things Ollie says or does that remind him (unintentionally on Ollie’s part) that Ollie isn’t his. That’s a part of Thomas’ character that really annoyed me. Ollie doesn’t find out about Thomas’ feelings until quite late in the story, so he has no idea why Thomas is sometimes suddenly short and cold towards him. I guess I can’t really blame either of them for this, but I still rolled my eyes when it happened. It also made me feel pretty bad for Ollie, because he’s going through enough right now as it is. And Ollie notices that this is pretty new behaviour, so it looks as if Thomas is just getting pissy because Sam is finally out of the picture and Ollie still isn’t interested in him. Of course Ollie develops an interest eventually, but it was a bit weird because even after that they were still finding reasons to not be together. Reading about them trying to be together was an exercise in frustration for me and at some point I didn’t want them to get together because they were in love and wanted to be with each other, but just so that they would stop waffling back and forth about it and put me out of my misery. And then there was the usual third act breakup nonsense which I felt could’ve been avoided if they could both just sit down and communicate with each other.
The First Love: At the beginning of the book Ollie is engaged to be married to his childhood sweetheart, Samuel Mathieu. We actually don’t get to know Sam all that well since he gets murdered in the first chapter. There are a few interactions between Sam and Ollie before Sam’s death and it left me with the impression that the two of them were very happy together. I have no doubt that the two of them would’ve had a long and happy life full of love together had Sam lived. They were good together. Sure, that would’ve sucked for Thomas, but that’s life, really. Even after Sam dies, Ollie still reminisces back on their time together and we get to learn more about Sam through him. Sam was a painter and an art director in a museum (I think?) and a bit posh. He didn’t come off as a snob, by any means, but he liked the finer things in life and Ollie’s descriptions bring to mind a classy guy. Sam also seemed a lot more outgoing and social than Ollie and they complimented each other. I was genuinely sad about his passing, especially because of what it did to Ollie. The beginning of the book, where Ollie is mourning Sam and thinking back on their lives together, was the best part of the book, even if it was sad as hell.
The House: This book actually has quite a few subplots, and one of the major ones revolves around the house Ollie and Sam shared together. It’s an old house that has been in Sam’s family for decades and it was left to Sam by his grandmother. Ollie never says exactly how long he and Sam have been living in the house, but it’s clear that they’ve been there for quite a while. Sam and Ollie have made a home for themselves in that house and Ollie doesn’t want to lose it now that he’s lost Sam. Sam left the house to Ollie in his will so Ollie plans to keep living there. It’s a place of comfort for him while he mourns Sam and it eventually helps him to move on with his loss. It also becomes a point of contention between Ollie and Sam’s parents (Martine and Simon). Sam’s parents had never like the fact that Sam’s grandmother left him the house. It was an issue while Sam was still alive and Sam was the one dealing with it. Now that Sam is gone, his parents are making another move on the house and it’s now Ollie who has to fight for it. I know that Martine and Simon have lost a son, and they are heavily grieving for him, but it’s really shitty of them to try to essentially steal Ollie’s home from him while he’s still vulnerable. And they aren’t doing it for sentimental reasons; they’re doing it so they can sell it. Ollie was always close with Sam’s parents (they’ve known each other since Ollie was 10), but the way they act about the house drives them apart and it makes me hate them. Sam’s parents need the money, that’s why they’re so hell bent on getting ownership of the house. But the timing of it all, and the way they go about it, just makes them come off as hateful and greedy. They just become an extra source of stress in Ollie’s life.
The Side Characters: There is quite a cast of side characters that pop in and out along Ollie and Thomas’ journey of love (and frustration). Most prominent are their friends Cleo and Imran. Cleo has been friends with Ollie since before Sam and they’re both pretty close. Imran came later and he and Cleo have been together for years. Their relationship is heavily dramatic and it gets quite a bit of focus. They were both also close friends of Sam and so they’re also grieving, and at the same time their relationship seems to be falling apart. They fight, Cleo sleeps with Thomas (because why not?) and that just makes things worse, and then it comes out that Imran wants out of the relationship. I wasn’t all that invested in their romance so those aspects weren’t interesting reading for me. Though I suppose it was fairly interesting the way the whole group just kinda imploded without Sam. Sam’s parents and Ollie’s mother are other characters that show up. Sam’s parents mostly show up to try and get Ollie to sell the house. Ollie’s mother is there once or twice while Ollie is still grieving heavily over Sam, and after that she doesn’t really show up again until Thomas needs a babysitter for his son. Speaking of, I was expecting Thomas’ son Milo to be a bigger character than he was, but he’s mostly just a subplot. He’s just a baby and he’s mostly just there to be cute and provide a reason to move Thomas farther into Ollie’s orbit. Milo’s mother is Liesbeth, a girl Thomas was seeing on and off for a few months after Sam’s death. We don’t really get to know her much, she doesn’t actually have any actual scenes until after Milo has been with Thomas and Ollie for a while and the two men go visit her in the clinic where she’s being treated for postpartum depression. She seems alright. There’s also a man named Peter, who is someone Ollie met online when he tried to get back into dating. I quite liked Peter, he would’ve been great for Ollie, but it was too soon after Sam so he didn’t really have much of a chance.
The Sex: None of the sex scenes are overly explicit. They’re good scenes. There’s only one scene between Sam and Ollie, and I think it happens in flashback. There’s one het scene between Thomas and a girl he picked up while the whole group of them were on vacation (we only know about this one because Ollie accidentally walks in on them). There’s a scene between Peter and Ollie, which wasn’t told in great detail and ended in tears because Ollie just wasn’t ready. The rest of the scenes are between Thomas and Ollie, and the best part of those are all the interruptions because those were pretty funny. Milo turns out to be quite the cockblock. Thomas and Ollie are pretty good together sexually when they finally get their act together and find the time to actually be together. All the sex is pretty vanilla.
The Writing: No complaints about the grammar or word choices, but I ended up not really liking the tone (or the atmosphere). Also I found the pacing a bit odd, the first half of the story focuses mostly on Ollie grieving and learning to live without Sam, and then when he’s somewhat managed that a whole host of other stuff starts happening all at once. The first half was my favourite. Also I was led to believe that Milo’s plot would’ve been more prominent in the story, but it isn’t. Cleo and Imran’s relationship and their issues also got a lot of focus crammed into too short sections. A problem with that could’ve been that the story is told through Ollie’s first-person narration, so anything he doesn’t know we don’t know. Also Thomas and Ollie’s relationship frustrated me more than anything else, and I don’t think I ever really warmed up to Thomas’ character. If the whole book had been more like the first half I would’ve liked it a lot more; the second half I just found too cluttered.
[Patchwork Paradise was published March 28, 2016, by Riptide Publishing, it is available both in print and as an ebook]