Out! (The Shamwell Tales) JL Merrow
Genre: romance, LGBTQIA
JL Merrow is prolific author, and yet despite that somehow this is my first read of one of her novels. That means I’d missed Shamwell one and two but that wasn’t an issue, each book is standalone and really simply connected by the village of Shamwell. I loved this and really want to read books one and two how, catch up on what I’ve missed.
There’s some terrific characters here and they delivered a story that made me smile, made me nod when things crop up in small town life that I’ve encountered, made me sad when things went wrong….For me a book needs people and plots I feel are real, I need to be able to relate to them, to feel I’m there living the story with them, getting upset of smiling when they do.
Mark, the main man so to speak, is one of those poor men who know they are gay and yet because of home and peer pressure pushed it away and tried to be what everyone expects, a happy, conventional, married-to-a-woman man. That doesn’t work – you are who you are, and of course his marriage hit cracks very quickly. His daughter though – a teen now – the lovely, snarky, smart mouthed Fen, is a gem. 14 going on 24 – as all teens seem to be, she makes for some great moments in the book, and felt so real. She was a major figure in what I loved about this story. Reminded me of myself, my own kids and now my granddaughter who’s 14. Mark and Fen haven’t lived together long, she’d been in trouble so much at school that her mum wanted Mark to take her, change of school and area, fresh start. Its a kind of tenuous beginning but soon Fen’s happily embroiled in village life, and trying to secretly organise her dad’s love life! Mark thinks she doesn’t know he’s gay, he’s really only just admitted it to himself, and hasn’t had much practical experience. His new life is very much geared to keeping his feelings a secret, something his ex is concerned about too. Sad, really sad, but given he’s almost 40 its easy to understand, times now and times back a couple of decades are very different from back then.
Then there’s David, his assistant from his former job, who is a very Out, Loud and Proud gay, and he and Fen hit it off straight away. Despite his almost brash outward appearance he’s very sharp and caring inside, and he lifts parts of the story wonderfully. I love Gregory the teddy bear, and the way he ( David not Gregory!) calls Fen “moppet”. Then there’s Patrick, the guy who really sets Mark’s heart beating…they have a slow start – there’s the age gap, its hard for Patrick to understand why Mark is so guarded about admitting what he is, and so adamant Fen mustn’t know. He’s much younger at 25, and times really have changed since Mark was younger, and Patrick doesn’t really see Mark’s pressures. There are some funny moments when things happen, and it seems as if the world is conspiring against them, but finally they come together…and of course it’s not long after that final working through stumbling blocks to a relationship when it all goes wrong.
There’s some great other characters here, the wonderful boozy Barry and the rest of the Spartans – I love their initiation ritual! Patrick’s mum, always on the lookout for a new man, Lex…who provides a great side to discrimination issues and shows up the bigotry that can occur in small town life. Its a story I really enjoyed, made me snigger so much, and yet under the humour there’s some sharp observations of rural life, and a tender romance.
Stars: Five, a great read.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers