“They just barely knew each other, and Levi couldn’t justify gambling a career opportunity like this for the minuscule chance that Carter was even attracted to him, never mind interested in dating.”
In a word: Read the thing. This one is a slow burn and doesn’t have much of a plot beyond the romance, so if you aren’t into that you probably won’t be into this. For me personally, I can get into it if I can get attached to the characters. Levi and Carter and their situation were very easy to get invested in. They’re both celebrities and knew of, and were attracted to, each other before they met. The two of them are very much interested in being together, but they are forced to put the brakes on that because of the situation they’re in. That doesn’t, however, stop them from becoming very good friends. One thing I really enjoyed reading about was how Levi and Carter became friends and how they fell in love with each other as people. But even though the two of them are determined to stay friends, they both know that they’re standing right at the edge of something vast, and it could take only one small move to tip them over. Like I said, this book isn’t really big on plot, it’s mostly character driven, but it has good characters and a lot of emotion (also UST like whoa). And cats, it also has cats.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains homophobia, and mentions of attempted suicide.
The Series: So this is the first entry into the Bluewater Bay series. Bluewater Bay is a series of novels, written by a few different authors, centered on the residents of the small logging town of Bluewater Bay in Washington. I first got into this series through the 14th entry (All the Wrong Places) and I liked it so much that I decided to check out the other books. I started with the first one. As far as I can tell, the books can be read in any order, they share characters and settings, not storylines. One thing that was mentioned in both the books I read was the production of the TV show Wolf’s Landing, which is a big thing happening in the small town. This book is the first in the series but Wolf’s Landing is already an established thing, so this isn’t an origin story or anything (I’m not entirely sure if there actually is one). Really, it seems as if we’re just dropped into an already established universe (a bit like how fanfiction works). Actually one thing I did notice is the mention of Red Hot Bluewater, the town’s only sex shop that I remember from All the Wrong Places (where Zafir Hamady works, though he doesn’t seem to be a part of the series yet).
The Couple: Levi Pritchard is a 38-year-old retired actor living as a near-recluse in Bluewater Bay. He left Hollywood behind a few years back to escape the homophobic politics and the action-hero image he was trapped in. He’s bisexual, but by this point he’s pretty much given up on coming out and instead intends to live out his life in peace in his house in the woods with his two cats, Link and Zelda. He doesn’t plan to return to professional acting, but then a dream opportunity opens up for him to join the cast of Wolf’s Landing, an opportunity he can’t find himself refusing. This officially brings him into the orbit of Carter Samuels, the out and proud twenty-something heartthrob lead of Wolf’s Landing. Carter has had a crush on Levi since his teenage years, and it was Levi that initially inspired him to get into acting. There’s definitely an attraction between the two men, but because of industry bullshit and family issues they can’t act on it. They find themselves bonding over indie films, though, and come to the decision that being friends would be better than not seeing each other at all. And thus begins the slow burn. The two of them essentially start dating without calling it dating. Levi has Carter over at his place just about every night so they can watch movies in his home theatre, a routine they both easily fall into and look forward to. They spend hours talking, watching movies, hanging out with the cats, and having dinner together and we basically watch them fall in love with each other while they try to deny their feelings at every turn. Levi’s intolerant parents and the Wolf’s Landing studio ensure that Levi feels that he has to stay in the closet, and Carter refuses to date him (or anyone else) in secret, so they try so hard to convince themselves that they’re fine with staying friends even though they both know that what they feel for each other goes far beyond friendship. It’s a constant struggle to keep themselves in check and, of course, it eventually becomes too much and they both give in. It’s torture for them to be so close and not be able to express their real feelings in any way, and it doesn’t help that they’re going to be forced to work in close contact with each other on a regular basis. It becomes clear to both of them that a platonic relationship between them is pretty much impossible and they’ll have to make some difficult choices if they want any hope of being happy with themselves and each other.
The Obstacles: Levi and Carter are already attracted to each other when they meet but there are a few reasons as to why they can’t just act on their feelings and just start dating each other. All of the issues standing in the way of their romance come from Levi; Carter is ready and willing to kick things off. Levi has been in the closet pretty much his entire life, and at the beginning of Starstruck he doesn’t see that changing. His parents are recovering alcoholics (and all-around terrible people on top of that) and the last 10 or so years has seen the Pritchard family in therapy trying to become closer as a family unit and try to fix past mistakes. Levi’s parents are very much homophobic and absolutely would disown Levi if he were to come out. He figures that his parents are unlikely to change and he doesn’t want to rock the boat and throw away all the reconciliation efforts by finally admitting to them that he’s gay. And if that weren’t enough, his dream acting job on Wolf’s Landing comes with strings attached: the studio doesn’t want the show to be known as an ‘LGBT show’ and they won’t keep Levi on if he destroys his public image of a completely heterosexual manly-man action hero (out and proud Carter plays the lead, and the executive producer is an out lesbian, and that’s apparently all the LGBT the studio can handle in one production). All these restrictions probably wouldn’t bother Levi as much (he’d been playing the Hollywood game for years, he knows how it goes) if it weren’t for his feelings for Carter (and Carter’s feelings for him). He soon finds himself with a choice to make: keep his true identity hidden and keep his toxic parents and his dream job but lose Carter, or keep Carter and potentially lose his family and his career revival. The Pritchard parents and the studio execs are horrible people for creating this scenario, but it’s Levi who is going to have to gather up his courage and make the decision whether or not to take control of his own life choices and to not let his (valid) fears control the way he lives his life.
The Side Characters: While I was reading this book it kinda gave me the feeling of being dropped inside an already established story. It didn’t really read like the beginning of a new series and nowhere did I feel that more than in the way the side characters appeared. We meet Finn Larson in the very first chapter and we aren’t told much about him other than he’s a rich, Hollywood exec and that he’s an entitled prick and Levi (and most everyone else) can’t stand him. The two of them clearly have a history of some sort, but we don’t really hear about it. Same with one of the Wolf’s Landing directors and executive producer Anna Maxwell, who also shows up in the first chapter. Anna and Levi definitely have a history and we only hear pieces of it as told to Carter. Anna is a lesbian and her dedication to her work on Wolf’s Landing is causing her relationship with her girlfriend to suffer. She and Levi are pretty close friends and she’s one of the people who fought so hard to get the studio to hire Levi. One of the other people to fight for Levi is Hunter Easton, the author of the book series Wolf’s Landing is based on. Hunter is never really introduced; I don’t think he actually shows up in the story proper. The cast of Wolf’s Landing, and Carter in particular, seem to be pretty friendly with him, judging by their phone and text conversations, but I don’t think Levi has much contact with him. It’s definitely Hunter’s character that gives off the feeling of a pre-established universe because other characters talk to him and about him and we’re given no explanations about how they’re all this close. Same with Carter’s stunt double and friend, Ginsberg. We don’t get to know anything about him but he and Carter’s interactions suggest that they’re pretty close friends. Levi’s asshole parents even show up for a bit when they come to stay with Levi for about a week. They actually seem like they could be nice people, but then they ruin it by being ignorant and hateful. The scene where Levi finally comes out to them is pretty heartbreaking, but I think we can all admit that Levi is probably much better off without them in his life. There’s even a small scene with an ex-boyfriend of Levi’s, named Dylan, which was a scene I wasn’t expecting but ended up being probably one of my favourite scenes. Mostly because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a scene like it before (which is a shame, really). The two side characters we see most often are Levi’s two cats, Link and Zelda. The cats are adorable and they’re one of my favourite parts of the book. I’m pretty sure they’re Levi’s best friends and it’s a good thing that they get along so well with Carter. They are excellent judges of character (they both hate Levi’s parents, smart cats).
The Sex: Most of the book deals with Levi and Carter trying to fight their feelings for each other. None of that involves any sex, just a lot of UST. There is no sex happening until about the last quarter of the book. There is one scene earlier on where Carter jerks off in his car on the side of the road on his way home from Levi’s house one night (so much UST), as you do. I actually thought for a bit that that scene was gonna come back to haunt Carter later, because I imagine very few good things happen to well-known celebrities who decide to rub one out in public. It never comes up again though. Aside from that, there are two sex scenes with Levi and Carter. The first one happens when Carter just can’t take it anymore and kisses Levi (in private) onset. They both decide to throw caution to the wind and get together after work on Levi’s boat. At this point we’re all going FINALLY, but then the afterglow is completely ruined by Levi and Carter arguing about Levi still not willing to date Carter publicly. They both decide to go their separate ways after that, even though it hurts them both to do it. Eventually, after some soul-searching, Levi decides that he wants nothing more than to be with Carter, and damn the consequences. The next sex scene comes after that, again, on Levi’s boat. Both scenes are pretty straightforward no-frills anal sex (ON A BOAT) and by the time they happen everyone’s more than ready for it.
The Writing: Thoroughly enjoyed the writing in this one; it was a good read. I got invested in the characters pretty quickly and really enjoyed reading about them going on about their lives even though there wasn’t really much of a plot beyond the romance. It was also very emotional at times, with some scenes hitting harder than others. The setting itself was a bit confusing because I felt like I was just dropped into this story half-way through, with characters and their relationships with each other showing up and not being introduced properly. But also that served to make me more curious about them and wondering if they’ll be showing up in future installments (well played, guys).
[Starstruck was published November 3, 2014, by Riptide Publishing, it is available both in print and as an ebook]