Saturday, January 3, 2015

A fine (gay) romance

The Apple Polisher by Heidi Belleau


Christian wants to be a preschool teacher, and he's enrolled in a prestigious MA program where he has to be a model citizen. But that isn't as easy as it seems when you're gay. With no money, he finds the only place he can afford. When one of his roommates is the gorgeous Max, it looks like he's going to have an even harder (pun intended) time of it. And then there's his Auntie Beverly, whose cancer isn't getting better and her porn video shop is on the verge of bankruptcy.

We all know that the classic "Rom-Com" plot is "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl." When it come to LGBT novels, all one basically has to do is make the two the same gender. In this case, its "boy meets boy… ", and you'll need no further explanation. That said Belleau gives us a story with plenty of hurdles to justify the "boy loses boy" part, and just enough mild surprises to bring about the obvious conclusion, to keep us interested.

Using an interesting ruse that Christian's course requires him to be squeaky clean helps build the conflict. That his upbringing makes him feel he can't be openly gay, and that his scholarship is contingent on him not having a job, also helps in this. In short, Belleau knows how to complicate her character's lives, and not unreasonably so. Of course, it wouldn't be a comedy if there wasn't a happy-ever-after, and on this too, Belleau delivers. Thankfully, she finds the most twisted pathway to resolving these difficulties, even if not everything ends up picture-perfect.

Being a straight female I haven't read much LGBT fiction, and almost none about gay men. It isn't that I've avoided these books; they're just not a genre that interests me. I'm also not generally into books with a great deal of sex scenes. That isn't to say I'm a prude. I can enjoy well described love making as much as the next person, if properly done in a novel. And it is that "if" that makes all the difference. So when I realized that there were going to be a few of these scenes between Max and Christian, I was a touch concerned at how tastefully they would be done. But I shouldn't have been. Although I didn't find these passages to be a turn-on, I also didn't find them to be in the least bit offensive. I can also assure you that they weren't sappily done, and at times were fairly graphic. The bottom line (also, pun intended) is, these scenes actually furthered the plot and didn't feel the least bit gratuitous, which is a huge point in their favor.

Belleau's style here feels mostly off-handed and casual. It is basically down to earth and simple, without anything poetic or fancy. I personally prefer more lyrical prose, but that's a matter of taste. With that, she builds up her characters nicely, making them both likable and accessible. She also makes almost everything in their personalities and actions seem true-to-life, and believable. And although the major characters certainly aren't two dimensional, I would have liked them to have a touch more depth than what we're given here. Again, this could be just my personal preference, or it could be part and parcel of the genre that I'm unfamiliar with.

In all, I found this a fun read that may even appeal to those who aren't into LGBT fiction, and will probably be a hit with those who are fans of the genre. From me, it can only get three out of five stars.

The Apple Polisher by Heidi Belleau published July 29, 2013 by Riptide Publishing is available on Kindle from Amazon, Nook from Barnes and Noble, in paperback from The Book Depository or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for giving me an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley.

(This is a slightly revised version of a review that appears on Dooyoo under my username TheChocolateLady and also appeared on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Contributor Network.)