Albin Academy, Book 1
Heat Factor: Pretty sure my couch is just a pile of ashes now
Character Chemistry: Holy forking shirtballs! Yes!
Plot: Not-put-together man needs to figure himself out, too-put-together man needs to address his emotions.
Overall: Cole McCade can rip my guts out and give me a massive book hangover anytime.
Just Like That tied me up in knots in fabulous ways, and I loved it. But I’m also pretty sure that my Smut Report counterparts would not have enjoyed this book. Because the provided synopsis covers plot essentials, I’ll focus on the aspects of the book that might help provide better insight as to whether or not this book is going to be a good fit.
This is an age gap, office romance between an anxious 25-year-old adrift in the world and a late-forties widower who has frozen out the world. The story is character-driven and focuses on the emotional journeys of these two men. What this means is that the prose is designed to be emotionally evocative. So, if straight-forward, plain-speaking prose is your jam, you might find this too flowery. I will say I’m a pretty plain-speaking sort of person, but I did enjoy the prose because it was able to ensorcel me into feeling invested in these characters and their emotions.
As I read the first chapters, I thought that this would be how I’d like to tell a story. McCade has created these characters in a specific mold (shy, anxious, empathetic young man and hard, icy, emotionless middle-aged man, both with significant room for emotional growth) but has also created a space where these characters are going to throw “normal” out the window and we can imagine what would happen if they exist within the parameters of their emotional baggage but also kind of do whatever they want. And that’s pretty freeing.
I made the mistake of reading some reviews before writing my own, which I typically try to avoid (oh well), and I noticed that the critical reviews tend to focus on a lack of “realism” (about which MTK), and while I do not, at this present, think “realism” is a particularly good word to choose, I do agree that readers who are not willing to be swept along on this ride will likely not enjoy this book. Even I was like, “WUT?” when Summer (25) kissed Fox (twice his age) in response to a challenging question ON THE DAY THEY WERE REINTRODUCED AS COLLEAGUES. AND FOX IS BASICALLY SUMMER’S SUPERVISOR. But that was a choice the author made, so sit or get off the pot (sitting in this metaphor being to continue reading…). If we’re going to embrace the idea that romance explores fantasies and wish fulfillment, and that in fiction we can imagine whatever we want, it honestly shouldn’t matter if it’s “realistic” for these two men to snog each other’s brains out on the desk in their (unlocked) classroom.
Speaking of which, these two play a kissing game for awhile before Fox finally caves and acknowledges that he’s really interested in more than playing games, and that is spicy stuff (as is the sex, all of which is frequent), but it’s also often public. If you would be horribly uncomfortable with the idea of, say, having sex in a car parked in some public-ish place, Summer and Fox’s antics might not work for you. For me, while all the other emotional work was going on, I saw the sexual activity as a means of the protagonists expressing some of those feelings without actually having to outwardly commit to those feelings.
Speaking of those feelings… Summer is totally hot for teacher. He had a crush on Fox when he was a student, but when he returns to school as an adult, he does kiss Fox in that “WUT?” way, but then he learns that Fox is the way he is because his wife died in a really tragic and unexpected way twenty years ago, and he is honestly not coping with the grief well at all. So as the story progresses, we see that, while Summer may have had this crush as a teen, he now sees Fox for himself, and his desire to be with Fox is less about the immature wish to be the special person to crack Fox’s icy shell and more about wanting to be the one who shows up for and accepts the beautiful, imperfect man Fox is.
While, at the beginning of the story, it seems that Summer is the hot mess, he soon finds that he has the support to grow into himself. Meanwhile, Fox appears to be extremely put together at the beginning of the story, but in the end, he is a wreck. Which brings me to:
Me: Well, it took until 60% of the book this time, but once again we’ve arrived at “No, sir, it is not better to have loved and lost because I couldn’t ever possibly go through that again.”
Me: I mean, he is a widower, so it’s not totally stupid… On the other hand, he’s been a widower for 20 years.
Ingrid: May I point out that it sounds like this fellow could benefit greatly from a grief counselor?
Me: The premise is that therapy is hard for him because he’s a psych professor, so he knows when someone is trying to get him to do things. So he has seen a therapist, but he’s very stubborn about it.
Ingrid: Okay, I actually like that dynamic. It’s very relatable and explains a gap.
Me: This author is very attuned to emotions and feelings.
The result of all of this is that McCade creates a space where Summer and Fox have different strengths and weaknesses, so they are able to support each other in different ways. Fox is steady, so he can provide a safe space for Summer to be himself and subsequently gain the confidence to be the person he wants to be. For his part, Summer is scary enough but implacable enough that Fox is able to learn how to let go of all the control that’s been keeping him from having any meaningful relationships for twenty years (it’s so bad he doesn’t even really have friends anymore).
And it. is. glorious.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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