Friday, July 22, 2016

The Boy Next Door by Kate McMurray

Life is full of surprises and, with luck, second chances.

After his father’s death, Lowell leaves the big city to help his sick mother in the conservative small town where he grew up. He’s shocked to find himself living next to none other than his childhood friend Jase. Lowell always had a crush on Jase, and the man has only gotten more attractive with age. Unfortunately Jase is straight, now divorced, and raising his six-year-old daughter. It’s nice to reconnect, but Lowell doesn’t see a chance for anything beyond friendship.

Until a night out together changes everything.

Jase can’t fight his growing feelings for Lowell, and he doesn’t want to give up the happy future they could have. But his ex-wife issues an ultimatum: he must keep his homosexuality secret or she’ll revoke his custody of their daughter, Layla. Now Jase faces an impossible choice: Lowell and the love he’s always wanted, or his daughter.

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Katie McMurray is a new-to-me author, and I found the writing style enjoyable to read, but found a few scenes redundant in nature, slowing the pacing down to a crawl at a few parts.

Lowell buys a new home in his hometown to be near his ailing mother, only to discover he inadvertently moved in next door to his childhood friend. Lowell and Jase’s friendship had fallen apart in junior high, with Jase moving toward being jock and Lowell coming out and turning into the town’s pariah.

Fast-forward many years, Lowell feels safe to come home now that his abusive, alcoholic father has passed, only to find his old friend a divorcee with a six-year-old little girl.

For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, but there were a few things that were off-putting. Lowell was a good narrator, with a strong characterization that never floundered. However, I felt Jase to be a weak character, as his personality wavered as the story flowed, so I never truly felt I knew him, even when I was inside his head. Most of the things he said or did were irrational, sounding more like a flighty woman who blamed all of their issues on everyone, while giving themselves permission to dwell in their problems – when the only issue Jase has is himself. The only thing in the way of Jase’s happiness is Jase. No actual issues to be had, aside from boundaries with his ex-wife. Jase whined about his life but did nothing to change it, actually enabling the problems to continue and fester by apologizing for who he is.

Any and all conflict in the story was due to Jase not dealing with his ex-wife, whom I felt was written one way while Jase’s narration showed conflicting arguments on her as a person. Responsible. Irresponsible. Good mother. Bad mother. Good friend and wife. Bad friend and wife. Human nature dictates that you can’t be both at the same time. So I felt the author needed to find a middle ground by making sure the characterization wasn’t conflicting – contradictory. Mentally disturbed, when prior she was shown to not have any such mental illnesses. Pre-divorce, Jase’s narrative states his wife was a good wife and mother, attentive and loving. She divorced him, yet is written to be the spurned wife? Now she is a deadbeat, flighty, homophobic, rash actions, which Jase blames Lowell instead, who doesn’t stick up for himself by telling Jase he’s acting irrational.

The major conflict, I didn’t enjoy because of the contradiction and the fact that I felt there was never any true closure. The ex-wife went ‘away’, but the problems were never dealt with, as the problem wasn’t the ex-wife but how Jase kowtowed to her – actually agreed with her, blaming Lowell instead of himself, or his ex, or no one because no one was to blame. Why does anyone have to be blamed for the ‘core’ issue? He never apologized, and Lowell didn’t stand up for himself. Yes, Jase was scared, but that doesn’t give a person license to say what was said – you’re at your basest when angry or drunk, those words were meant, and Lowell shouldn’t be with someone so disillusioned and irrational if they truly believed them. By book’s end, I wanted Jase to own who he was, and he didn’t. It just ended.

”If you hadn’t moved here…

How about take ownership in your own choices? Whether Lowell moved back to their hometown or not, the situation was still the same – the actions belong to the person committing them, and I didn’t like how that was portrayed, influencing readers to not take responsibility for their own actions or to stand up for themselves. An abused boy grew up to be treated disrespectfully by his partner, as the author wrote it. Jase was no better than his ex-wife. Actually, the ex-wife took responsibility for her actions, while Jase never did.

For such a short novel, there were many redundant scenes, with many being between the sheets action. A few I felt took away from the emotional impact that was being written on the pages, lessening it. I skimmed all these scenes after the halfway mark, completely skipping one that occurred within a paragraph after an important fight. It was the wrong time, not only unnecessary, it brought nothing to the story except to lessen the emotional impact. It was in that scene, instead of sex, when the issues I outlined above should have been addressed, when the guys were having a ‘moment.’

Issues aside, I do recommend this title to MM romance fans, (I must apologize, because I read a book like an editor, not a reader – wish that wasn’t the case). I’d be willing to give the author another try to see if it was the plot of this book (Jase the character) or the writing style that isn’t my cup of tea. Sometimes a plot or character and the reader just don’t mix – hit or miss – but that doesn’t mean the author isn’t a good writer or the book worthy of being read.

Lowell loves living in the city but has to move back to his home town to care for his mom after his father's death. The town is very small and conservative, not extremely gay friendly. The house he buys just happens to be next to his childhood friend and crush.

Jase married his college sweetheart because he thought that's what was required of him as a man. After having a daughter and trying to make the marriage work, he couldn't fake it anymore. He refused to think of himself as gay, but he's known he has an attraction to men. His ex-wife grants him custody of his daughter with the stipulation that he will keep his attraction and any relationship away from his daughter.

Jase is happy to see Lowell again. They were once the closest of friends until they grew apart as teenagers. Lowell is out and has been for years. Jase has always kept his one night stands away from his town and his house, until he can't control his attraction to Lowell. Can he make the only relationship that's every felt right work? Or will his ex-wife use his attraction to Lowell to keep his daughter away from him?

Ms. McMurray is a new to me author. I enjoyed The Boy Next Door, it was an enjoyable quick read. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Kate McMurray is an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She has served as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of The Boy Next Door by Kate McMurray to read and review.

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