So, it’s time for another book review! I haven’t been getting as much reading done as I’d like because the beach is a sultry mistress in the summer, and my laptop is not sand and water resistant, so I don’t mix the two. (I need to get a kindle in the worst way.) Today I have One Step Further for you by Felice Stevens. It’s a short read, topping out at 202 pages. I read this one out of order, there’s a book before it in the series and I was miffed when I realized I’d somehow managed to pick up the second one first, but it didn’t actually ruin any of the story for me.
Let’s start with the blurb:
Alex Stern has it all; good looks, charm, a job he loves and everyone calls him a friend. He lives life to the fullest at a breakneck pace, in the city that never sleeps. But Alex is also a master pretender; not even his best friend sees the pain that Alex hides so well. Alex himself isn’t sure who he is or what he’s searching for, he only knows that he hasn’t found it yet.
As a veterinarian, Rafe Hazelton loves each animal that crosses his path; they don’t care if he stutters a bit or that he prefers men. Their love is unconditional, but his life is still empty; they can only give him so much. New friendships convince him it’s time to break the wall of loneliness he’s hidden behind since childhood and discover what he’s been missing.
Alex and Rafe forge a friendship that turns physical, and they both swear that the relationship will last only as long as the fun does. But when old heartaches come to light and secrets hidden for years are revealed, Alex and Rafe discover if they accept what’s in their hearts and take it one step further, the greatest reward is waiting for them in the end.
The story itself was cute. I liked all of the parts of the ideas behind the story. They were like finding glittering gold at the bottom of a swift stream. Perfect, but likely to get swept away when you’re not paying attention. I like a good “save ‘em from themselves” story, and throw in an adorable, stuttering vet who needs some good lovin’ and I’m probably going to buy the book every time. Rafe’s character was so sad I wanted to hug him and feed him candies and Alex’s commitment to being “that fun guy everyone wants to have around” was a solid build for a great “ripping down the walls” love story.
While the story itself was somewhat sickeningly adorable, kind of like eating an entire bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough, I found it wasn’t well executed. It was heavy handed and the characters never really had any huge trials and tribulations. I know that might sound idiotic since there are a lot of tragic things that happen-we revisit the death of Alex’s brother, Alex’s mother goes to the hospital with a mild heart attack, Rafe has a death in his family, a dog almost dies after eating a bunch of ridiculously expensive truffles (the dog lives and is fine, so really, in my book, it’s the truffles that’s the tragedy there), but none of these tragedies really seem to shake the foundations of the characters much, save for Alex’s brother which is a central element to his entire character motivations. Even that…it seems just a little too easy for these men to overcome. Maybe that’s because I didn’t quite buy the quick and easy way the main characters fell together? I don’t know. It’s obvious that from the inception the author wanted to tell a sweet, sweet love story and she did, but it almost seems like some of the real story got sacrificed to get to that ending. The story is forced.
While the storyline was a tad predictable at parts the main distraction from this book was the lack of what I’m going to call polish. There were no glaring errors in the manuscript or anything of that nature. In fact, I would say it even veers too far the other direction into stilted dialogue (I can’t remember the last time I’ve said “nor” in conversation, but maybe that’s just me.) Nothing about the dialogue or much of the internal dialogue read as natural. A lot of it was overly wordy and schmoopy. This author was definitely writing the ooey gooey romantic fantasy, which is fine, but it kicked me out of the story harder than a horse hoof to the head. I figured out halfway through the book part of what was driving me batty about the book was simply the tense it was written in, third person limited, past tense, which is something you see far more often in fantasy novels than m/m romances. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s never been my favorite perspective.
Some of the turns of phrases were so over the top cheesy I couldn’t handle it. I don’t want to get into it in a very specific way because I don’t want it to seem like mockery, because that’s not at all what I’m going for, but certain things just made me groan and again threw me out of the story. I think the worst one was this:
“But those were promises made alone without Alex’s skilled hands playing over his body like a concert pianist played his instrument. Alex was an incredibly skilled and gifted musician of love.”
Sorry I didn’t quote the page number. I’m not going back through everything to find it either, but if you buy the book you can find it easily enough on your own. I groaned and rolled all around on the floor before sitting back up to read the damned book because I wanted to see where the story was going. This is something like what happened to me when I was reading book Three in the Twilight series, only I wasn’t about to toss my laptop in the trash and then stomp back three hours later to dig it out so I could finish the thing.
Another big dialogue related no, no in this book is that the internal dialogue of one character often predicts the external dialogue of another, which is just bad. I mean, real people don’t think exactly the same things as their lovers, most of the time, and it’s just…once again, unnatural is the best word I can use for this book. The secondary characters (and sometimes MC’s) are always sensing things and doing perfect things. Like, when Alex and Rafe need a moment their best friends who are over for breakfast just decide to vanish. In real life people, especially best friends, are nosy, misanthropic, motherfuckers and they would love nothing more than to make you squirm in particularly evil, self conscious ways. Or is that just me and my friends?
In the first love scene the love making was a bit stilted, which is the worse scene to have something like that happen because we, the audience, have been waiting for the main characters to get down. There were movements missing that made me wonder how the men got from doing one thing to another, kind of like a clipped movie jumps around. The love making seems to get better as the book moves on, but it’s always very short. These guys don’t last very long or spend much time exploring each other’s bodies. Also, they shower a lot, which good, yes, but…I don’t need to know about it every time. I’ll just assume they’re clean unless otherwise specified.
The very last thing that bothered me about this book is the main characters decide to ditch the condoms just because they say “I love you.” Alex, one of the main characters, is an admitted player. He’s a nurse. He knows better than that. He hasn’t been tested since he started sleeping with Rafe. I’m generally fine when characters in a book decide to ditch the condoms because *fantasy* but here it doesn’t seem quite kosher and I’m not sure why it bothered me so much other than Rafe, without consulting Alex, just decides not to suit up. Then he has some really awesome bare sex with Alex, and as I’m reading I’m chanting, “That’s not safe, that’s so stupid. You know that’s stupid. What are you doing? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” It kind of ruined what should have been an extremely moving scene for me because I couldn’t disengage my brain at all.
I just didn’t like this story the way I wanted to, and I wanted to. I probably wouldn’t buy it again. I found myself wanting to put it down for other reads and then had force myself to finish it because I wanted to see where the story was going. I’m not sure if this is a case of the writing style just not being my favorite or what, but it was distinctly lacking for me. I’d still recommend it if you’re in need of a super sweet story that will definitely not send you onto any sort of mind bending angst ridden roller coaster. This would maybe fall under “comfort reads” in your to be read pile.
All that being said, I went and found the story that precursed this one because I wanted to see how Alex’s best friend got together with his boyfriend. I’m already kicking myself because I’m worried it will be more of the same, forcing myself to slog through some stuff that should have been edited out just to see how the ideas play out, but I’m a sucker for a story and I do want to know.
Check out my book Threefold Love!