Title: Muscling Through
Author: J.L. Merrow
Cover Artist: Angela Waters
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Romantic Comedy
Length: Novella/70 PDF pages
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A delightful story set in Britain with two wonderful protagonists who will tug at your heart strings (if you have a heart)
The bigger they come, the harder they fall… in love.
Cambridge art professor Larry Morton takes one, alcohol-glazed look at the huge, tattooed man looming in a dark alley, and assumes he’s done for. Moments later he finds himself disarmed—literally and figuratively. And, the next morning, he can’t rest until he offers an apology to the man who turned out to be more gentle than giant.
Larry’s intrigued to find there’s more to Al Fletcher than meets the eye; he possesses a natural artistic talent that shines through untutored technique. Unfortunately, no one else seems to see the sensitive soul beneath Al’s imposing, scarred, undeniably sexy exterior. Least of all Larry’s class-conscious family, who would like nothing better than to split up this mismatched pair.
Is it physical? Oh, yes, it’s deliciously physical, and so much more—which makes Larry’s next task so daunting. Not just convincing his colleagues, friends and family that their relationship is more than skin deep. It’s convincing Al.
Occasionally I read a book that I didn’t have high expectations for and it blows me away because the characters are so wonderfully portrayed and the story is not only simple but so complex on another level that I can’t wait to immerse myself again in the characters and the world. That’s what happened to me with Muscling Through.
Larry and Al are opposites – physically, socially, educationally and in every way possible, but they were made for each other and their romance played out wonderfully on the page. J.L Merrow has such a keen sense of comedy and writes such incredible dialogue that the characters were a joy as I got to know them. The humour in Muscling Through is not slapstick – far from it – this is understated Brit play upon words, masterfully delivered by Al, and the story made me appreciate all over again what good writing is all about.
The guys met under strange circumstances, and as is usually the case when one is drunk, mistakes occur and situations can be misread so drastically that a simple misunderstanding could have blown up, but it never escalated to that level here. The romance was well paced, imaginative, incredibly funny, hot, and so heartfelt and sensitive in the way that Larry and Al dealt with their own insecurities I marvelled at the author’s skill in writing such well crafted characters. Both men were imperfect and real and Al’s “voice” as he talked about Larry drew unforgettable pictures of the man he loved. It wasn’t what he said but what was unsaid that made me love Larry.
Al and Larry met in an alleyway one evening and Larry misread Al’s intentions. Al stopped to have a pee, or as he called it a “wazz,” because he had had a few beers, and Larry showed up before he was finished relieving himself. Al’s comment made Larry in his drunken state think that Al intended to rob him and he quickly handed over his wallet. His money or his life? No contest. But Al was determined to see Larry safely home so that he didn’t end up as someone’s prey, which of course set the stage for another huge misunderstanding on top of the first one. By the time the evening was over this was a comedy of errors which another author might have capitalized on for weeks, if not months, but luckily J.L. Merrow is the type of writer who doesn’t believe in extending misunderstandings needlessly between her protagonists in order to increase the word count, so that situation was resolved quickly. This set the tone for the rest of the book and I can’t express how much I adored it.
Told from Al’s 1st person POV, his “voice” was quite distinctive and you will absolutely love his witticisms as he described the people in Larry’s life and their reactions to the romance. There is no subtlety in Al who is what some people would call “simple”, he says things the way he sees them, but even though he was not the brightest bulb he was more intelligent than most people. He said whatever came into his head with no filter but Larry adored his man and didn’t care that Al probably had no more than a 4th grade education while he was an Art History professor at Cambridge, a most unlikely match – the important thing was that they connected. Al had one talent – he was an artist. But would that be sufficient to sustain a relationship over the long term and how would Larry’s parents and colleagues view such a match? Was the attraction only sexual as everyone thought, or was there an emotional connection? Here’s an example of their conversation:
“God, you’re a work of art all by yourself,” Larry said. “I mean, even without the tattoos you’d be amazing, but with them—where did you get them? I’ve never seen designs like these. They’re reminiscent of Australian aboriginal art, but there’s a subtle difference—it’s intriguing.”
I liked that he liked them. “There’s this bloke on Orwell Street. I told him what I wanted, and he done them for me.”
“You designed them?”
“Nah, I just drew a picture on some paper and told him what colours I wanted and stuff. It was him what done the tattoos.”
Larry smiled. “That means you designed them.”
Muscling Through is well paced and the clever dialogue is one of elements which elevates this book from many others I’ve read recently; it was so honest I could imagine Al talking to me in his local dialect.
The book has an incredible sense of place which was facilitated by the British slang used throughout that maintained its authenticity. All of the characters were three dimensional and each one had his or her views of Al, positive and negative, which gave the book more than a touch of real world dynamics. As for the sex, although there was lots of it, it was just right for this couple.
If you love British stories, and even if you don’t, this is a romance that you will truly enjoy and savour and I will re-read this novella whenever I need a lift. Muscling Through is a wonderful read – don’t miss it!
Muscling Through will be released by Samhain Publishing on July 19 but don’t hate me for reviewing it early because you can pre-order.