Heat Factor: Planning ahead never felt so good
Character Chemistry: Y’all. On the narrator side it’s a slow bi awakening this-new-friend-is-a-lifeline to oh-damn-I’m-actually-in-love-with-him while on the other end it’s CLEARLY an unrequited crush. I did a little happy dance.
Plot: Luke’s teen son won’t talk to him, his estranged wife is tragically dead, and his emotional state is terrible. Luckily he meets Landon, his son’s best friend’s dad, who encourages him to join the football booster club to repair his relationship with his son. Unluckily, he’s just realized he’s actually in love with his new best friend.
Overall: What is all this wetness on my face?
I think (?) I saw this book promoted on Twitter when it was released – by whom? If only I knew! Thanks, anonymous tweeter! – and I immediately texted the group chat:
I mean really, two single dads in their forties? Sign me up.
If you are already a Tal Bauer reader, this is much gentler than his other books. There are no pulse-pounding near-death action shots. In fact, nothing particularly terrible happens at all – all the trauma already happened before the first page (not that it’s not significant – there’s drug use, death by overdose, death of a parent, an abusive marriage, emotional neglect of a child – lots of stuff here). Bauer’s signature keep-romance-angst-in-the-first-half is present, however, which probably carries over from his romantic suspense (We just really can’t be worrying about the relationship working at the same time as we’re worrying about life and death, okay? Commitment comes in the middle.), and in this case it reduces tension in the latter portion of the book. Of course, reducing tension for Tal Bauer is like going from this
And there’s enough going on that we don’t completely lose the tension, which is a common pitfall of a gentle romance. Between Luke’s taciturn son, the drama of high school football, Landon’s possibly pining ex-wife, and coming out not only to his acquaintance but also to his son – including telling his son that the object of his affections is the father of his best friend – Luke has plenty to work through before he can have his HEA. If there’s one thing Bauer is really good at, it’s creating tension. But he’s actually good at more than one thing, so this book is a delight to read.
The story begins with a really dark mood. Luke is basically asking himself if anyone – but especially his son – would even notice if he disappeared and is generally wallowing in misery. His first interaction with Landon is mostly Luke trying not to cry and wondering why on earth perfect Landon would spend any energy on him at all. Emmet, Luke’s son, doesn’t immediately open up to Luke after he joins the boosters, but Landon’s encouragement and friendship help Luke gain some balance and confidence in his life again, repairing more than just one relationship. As Luke’s life becomes more than work and wishing for scraps of his son’s attention, the mood of the book shifts into something bright and optimistic, even as Luke continues to struggle to connect with Emmet.
I want to focus on how this book explores the emotional and interpersonal consequences of open communication vs. bottling things up. The dysfunction of Luke’s family from before his son was even born is pretty intense, with continuing fallout throughout the book, while Landon’s family is at once an encouraging example and also a reminder of how much Luke and Emmet are struggling. It’s both interesting and emotional (hence the tears on my part). Landon’s relationship with the Mormon church and being declared an apostate is also pretty interesting. Buuuuut, I gotta say, what’s sticking with me is how clearly Landon has an unrequited crush on Luke as their friendship develops (ahh!) and the billowing kaleidoscope of butterflies I had when Luke realizes he’s actually in love with Landon (AHHH!). The relationship beats in this book are excellent.
So, if 40yo single dads finding love and happiness as they coach their high school children to new adult success sounds remotely interesting to you, I think you should pick up this book.
Buy Now: Amazon
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