Saturday 7 May 2016

#CBR8 Book 51: "Him" by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Page count: 274 pages
Rating: 4.5 pages

Summary from Goodreads:

They don't play for the same team? Or do they?

Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died. 

Ryan Wesley's biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he'll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.

Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions - can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend...and a big one to learn about himself. 

Warning: contains sexual situations, skinnydipping, shenanigans in an SUV and proof that coming out to your family on social media is a dicey proposition. 

While Wes is now sort of "don't ask, don't tell" out to his hockey teammates and coaches at college, he was only really coming to terms with his sexuality when he was eighteen and crushing hard on his best friend at hockey camp. Absolutely desperate for an excuse to touch him, he made a drunken bet and subsequently freaked out after he and his best friend fooled around one very memorable time. Feeling horribly guilty, Wes cut off all contact with his friend and they haven't spoken for four years. Now their teams are likely to face off in the national championships, and Wes feels he should probably make some sort of gesture of reconciliation.

Raised in a large and loving family in California, Jamie really isn't too bothered about the drunken experimentation at hockey camp, but he's hurt and upset that Wes pretty much burned all the bridges of their friendship and never spoke to him after that one night. He's surprised to discover that Wes has resurrected their old tradition of sending each other gag gifts, and suddenly seems willing to patch up their broken friendship as well. He's even more surprised when Wes shows up at camp to coach for the summer, even though he should be getting ready for his big break in Toronto.

Having seen and spoken to Jamie again, Wes can't get him out of his mind, and wants to spend as much time with him as possible, even if he can never admit his true feelings. He's shocked to realise that Jamie wasn't horribly traumatised by their one drunken night together and even more surprised to realise that he may even be willing to repeat the experience. After Jamie does some soul-searching and concludes that he very much seems to be attracted to either gender, the two friends can barely keep off each other, hooking up every chance they get.

While Wes has been more or less openly out in college, he doesn't want to attract press attention during the first year of his new and promising hockey career. He's planning on staying strictly celibate and a relationship is the last thing he's looking for. Jamie's due in Detroit at the end of the summer, but doesn't even know if he wants a career in hockey. He only ever started playing to stand out from the other men in the family who were all into football and now that he's done with college, he's not sure his head is really in the game, if it doesn't involve coaching. There doesn't seem to be much of a future for the two of them, even though they keep growing closer as the weeks pass by.

I have yet to read anything else by Elle Kennedy, although I've heard good things about her Off-Campus series. I very much enjoyed all of the books in Sarina Bowen's The Ivy Years, though, including her M/M romance The Understatement of the Year. That book involved a lot more angst, though, with Graham's initial denial and reluctance to accept his feelings and sexual identity being both frustrating and a bit exhausting.

What I loved about this book is that there isn't really a lot of wrestling with insecurities. Jamie has grown up in California, perfectly comfortable with homosexuality and doesn't feel violated or traumatised by the drunken night he and Wes spent together at eighteen. By the time Jamie and Wes meet again, Wes has accepted that he's gay and is out to his parents (who chose to mainly ignore his confession) and most of his friends. He tells the head coach at the hockey camp and Jamie shortly after arriving there and is comfortable in himself, but has never had a steady boyfriend, as he still secretly pines for the one man he can't have, Jamie.

After an evening out, seeing Wes flirting with someone else, Jamie gets uncharacteristically jealous and initiates a passionate kiss. Wes assumes he's just drunk and confused, and tries to brush him off, not wanting him to do something he'll regret. Jamie's really rather persistent though, and quite skillfully seduces his infatuated bestie. Despite Wes' fears, Jamie seems to have no regrets come morning. Some alone time with his computer and various kinds of porn makes him conclude he's most likely bi and he's more than happy to keep hooking up with Wes for as long as they're at camp.

As is par the course for any romance, the course of true love never does run entirely smooth. Where would be the fun in that? As ecstatic as Wes is about spending quality hockey time with his best friend by day and passionately hooking up by night, he's pretty sure that once Jamie goes off to Detroit, he'll find himself some nice girl to settle down with, and there's that whole going temporarily back in the closet for himself, so as to not attract undue attention during his first year as a pro.

While the book starts out a bit slow, the story really picks up once the story moves to the hockey camp where Jamie and Wes first met many years ago and Jamie now coaches every summer. Both protagonists are funny and likable in their separate ways and the supporting cast around them felt nicely developed too. The love scenes are pretty much all scorching, from their very first kiss (in the rain, because of course it is). I haven't read a lot of M/M romance, but I have never had a problem in seeing the appeal. One hot dude is good, two hot dudes, being hot for each other - so much better.

I'm now a bit torn about getting the sequel, Us, that came out earlier this year. On the one hand, I'd get more Jamie and Wes and seeing how their life together is panning out (plus probably a lot more hot sex). On the other hand, I'm worried there's going to be a lot more complications introduced before they get their eventual HEA after all, and I'm not sure I want that. As long as I have only read this one, they're perfectly gooey and happy together. I really do need to get round to reading the Off-Campus books now, though.

Judging a book by its cover: Some very ripped abs sadly obscured by the unnecessarily large title (would it have hurt the cover designers to let me have a bit more eight-pack to ogle?). You're clearly meant to objectify the very fit model too, otherwise there is no excuse for the t-shirt he's wearing being half pulled off like that. He doesn't even have a face. See, it's totally ok to leer at this handsome athlete - he's completely anonymous. Just so you know what manner of sportsball is being played in the book, the cover designers have also kindly included a hockey stick as well. Because readers are really seeking out these books because of the sports contents, that's right.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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