“If he’d had any doubt about his feelings for Charles, this had put them to rest. Whatever the outcome, he was in love with Charles Macquarrie.”
In a word: Maybe read the thing. Overall I just couldn’t make myself like this one. I know the Dreamspun Desires series is supposed to be, like, gay Harlequin romance and that I’m not supposed to take anything about it too seriously, but this one was a bit much. Not in that the happenings were unbelievable, just in the way that everything happened too neatly and conveniently for my tastes. Though, having said that, I wouldn’t have had such an issue with that if the writing were good, but I have problems with the writing as well. The point of view switches constantly and without warning (it’s third person, but still), the dialogue just grates for the most part, there is a lot of ‘tell, no show’ and summarizing, and the chemistry between the two romantic leads isn’t really there (to me, anyway). Charles and Jon are both, in turns, charming and aggravating; the kids are decent, but a bit too well-behaved; and the side characters were mostly hit and miss. The situations the characters find themselves in were a bit over the top, but I was expecting that, the way things played out bothered me, though. Also, the real ‘exciting’ parts of the plot happen about halfway through the book, but up until then it’s boring day-to-day stuff in a land of rich people with two men, who we’re supposed to believe find each other irresistible, with no real chemistry. Or interactions. When the plot actually picks up it’s actually pretty entertaining, and it’s a quick read. If you enjoy soap opera type shenanigans you’ll most likely enjoy this. I can’t speak for the romance part there, I didn’t find there was much to it.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains kidnapping, mentions of parental death, alcohol abuse, mentions of alcoholism, mentions of depression, and orphaned children.
The Series: Finding Families is part of Dreamspinner Press’ Dreamspun Desires line, which is a series of unrelated books written by multiple authors. I’ve seen it described as ‘gay Harlequin romance’ which is fairly accurate as far as I can tell. Rich suitors, plucky heroes, scheming villains, and more drama than you can shake a stick at.
The Couple: Jonathan ‘Jon’ Lamb is a 20-year-old orphan who has never really left the children’s home where he grew up. He still lives there, among the nuns and the children, and works in the gardens and kitchen. I describe him as a cross between Martha Stewart and Mary Poppins. He’s ridiculously kind, pretty naïve, and really good with children. He’s hired to be the nanny to millionaire Charles Macquarrie’s three young orphaned cousins. Charles’ parents died in a plane accident years ago and he inherited their fortune and clothing company. His aunt and uncle recently (though it’s not really clear on how recently) died in a boating accident, leaving him the guardian of his three cousins. Charles does not like children and he’s always had a nanny for them, preferring to spend as little time as possible with them. Charles also comes off as a bit of a playboy, always with beautiful women; although he is gay and in the closet so the playboy thing seems to be mostly a front. He’s every bit Jon’s opposite, which doesn’t stop either man from being immediately attracted to the other. I never really got invested in their relationship. For the first half of the book Jon and Charles have very little interaction. The few times they do see each other, and it’s usually in passing, it’s made obvious that they definitely want to fuck each other. They don’t really express a desire to be together (that I caught on to), just that they want to bone. And that’s fine, but that doesn’t give me the impression of a romance just waiting to happen. Or maybe it all just went over my head, I dunno. Anyway, when the plot starts picking up about halfway through the book Jon and Charles are suddenly forced to spend more time together while they’re on the run. And even then Charles spends most of his time away from Jon and the kids and getting drunk. The most that Charles really knows about Jon is that he’s scarily good with his nanny duties (kid-wrangling, cooking, housework) and that he’s ridiculously naïve. The most that Jon really knows about Charles is that he’s a closeted gay workaholic who drinks too much. They don’t really get to know each other well at all, or if they do it all happened off-screen and the book never went into great detail about it (there are a few “Then a few weeks went by” moments so it’s possible, though I doubt it). So it makes no sense to me that all this drama happens and then they both suddenly have an epiphany (at pretty much the same time) that they’re madly in love with each other. There’s never even a period where they even consider themselves friends. They just seem to go from very friendly employer/employee who find the other sexually appealing to instantly want-to-be-together-forever in love. I’m not buying it.
The Kids: Charles Macquarrie has recently (we don’t know how recent, although the summary implies that it’s something that just happened) become guardian to his three young orphaned cousins following the death of their parents in a boating accident. Madeleine, a twelve-year-old gymnast; Holland, a nine-year-old genius; and Juliana, five years old and adorable. I actually enjoyed reading most of the parts that featured the kids. All three of them are good kids. Although I found it pretty unrealistic that these three children, who have apparently scared off 12 previous nannies before Jon, immediately became the perfect wards. Madeleine and Holland are the ones who do the most, which makes sense since they’re the older ones and are actually able to do more things. Their dialogue is also pretty good: sounding somewhat adult-like since they’re both overly intelligent, but also a bit silly because they are still both children. I had some peeves with Juliana’s actions and dialogue because the way she’s written makes her seem like a younger child. But she doesn’t do much anyway so I guess it doesn’t really matter.
The Side Characters: There are a few side characters in this book and the most annoying thing about them is that the story will sometimes slip into their point of view without warning and it gets a bit confusing. There are three major side characters and the rest that show up are all minor even though they get full names and POV switches and sometimes even extra background information. Sister Grace is one of the nuns at the children’s home where Jon grew up and they seem pretty close (as they probably would be since she practically raised him from infancy), although once Jon has moved in with Charles and the children we never see Sister Grace again. It’s mentioned that Jon sometimes sends her emails, but that’s it. She doesn’t even show up in the epilogue. The other minor side characters are all from the small town near the safe house/cabin Charles and Jon escape to with the children to hide out, mostly from law enforcement. Honestly all of these characters, aside from Jon’s defense attorney, could’ve just been nameless townspeople for all the impact they had on the story. Albert Anthony is one of the first major side characters. He’s Charles’ personal assistant and he’s the one who suggested that Charles hire Jon to be the children’s nanny. I never warmed up to Albert. He’s a genius and he seems like he’s fairly good friends with Charles, but he’s also homophobic and a bit cold and I couldn’t make myself like him. Another major side character is Bunny Langford (I’ve forgotten his first name, it’s only mentioned once or twice). Bunny and Charles have been friends since they were young and they were probably fuckbuddies at some point. Bunny’s pretty fun, and he and Charles’ banter is pretty entertaining. He was probably one of my favourite characters overall. The third major side character turns out to be the villain of the book.
The Villain: So this section is going to be especially spoilery because the identity of the villain in this story is a complete mystery until he’s mentioned by name. This aspect of the plot was the most interesting and exciting to read because things finally start to pick up. Jon and Charles are hiding out with the children and Charles is out meeting someone when the local police suddenly storm the cabin and arrest Jon for kidnapping, child molestation, and embezzlement. It’s all a frame job and it could all be explained by Charles, only he seems to have disappeared. This is all the work of one man, and at this point we don’t know who this man is. It could be Albert, who was the one who convinced Charles to hide away with Jon and the kids in the first place, and who was supposed to contact Charles within a week of their departure and then seems to drop off the face of the Earth. Or maybe it’s Bunny, betraying Charles’ trust and making the scene where he drives away from the courthouse with the children especially tense. As it turns out, it’s neither of those two, but someone completely unexpected that I certainly didn’t see coming. Chrétien Giroux is first introduced as Charles’ private boyfriend, who is upset because Charles, who is in the closet, wants to keep their relationship a secret. After a disastrous afternoon out with Jon and the children, Chrétien breaks up with Charles and it looks like he’s out of the story. It turns out we haven’t seen the last of Chrétien as he pops up again later, tormenting Charles as part of a revenge plot concerning the death of his father. I honestly did not see this coming at all because we get literally no hints to it; none that I noticed anyway. We know early on that Chrétien is an arsehole and a generally unlikable character, but nowhere is it even hinted that he’d mastermind a plot to destroy Charles’ life. So props for that mystery, at least he makes the story exciting.
The Sex: None. There is no sex happening on-screen in this book. I was actually surprised by this because I thought that was the point to Harlequin type romances. They’re supposed to be sexy, or at least have sex in them. The characters are definitely having sex; we’re just not seeing it. In the end I don’t really have a problem with this; I never got invested in the romance between the two leads and I turned out to not really be a fan of the writing.
The Writing: I didn’t like the writing in this one. The point of view jumped around too much, I couldn’t really get into a lot of the characters, I didn’t believe in the romance, aside from some bantering the dialogue was bad, and everything up until the police show up to arrest Jon is pretty dry and boring to read. I just couldn’t get into this one. Maybe if it were longer and things were more fleshed out, less telling and more showing, and if we actually got to see Charles and Jon growing closer it would’ve been better. Another thing that annoyed me was the way that Jon’s arrest and trial were handled. I wasn’t expecting it to be overly realistic or undramatic, but what really went on was a bit of a mess and probably more suited to a sitcom or something. Also there were a lot of overly long descriptions of Jon cooking; which were pretty boring and took me out of the story. Also, also, there’s a short epilogue that takes place about a year after the end of the main story. It is bad and basically a long monologue from Jon summarizing the past year to Bunny and his new boyfriend, who they apparently haven’t even spoken to since the whole trial happened.
[Finding Family was published June 1, 2016, by Dreamspinner Press, it is available both in print and as an ebook]