The Shunned

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Title and Link:  The Shunned
Author:  Jay Hughes
Publisher:  Ravenous Romance
Genre: Contemporary M/M romance
Length: 172  Pages
Rating:  1 star out of 5

A guest review by Erastes

THE BLURB

James Semerad is a young gay man who grew up Amish in the secluded Amish community of Lofstad in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  He’s trying to build a new life in the modern world after fleeing the repressive Amish world of his youth, which rejected him. Just as James is growing accustomed to living a modern-day life in the big city of Philadelphia, though, he meets Fred Billingsley, an old-money Main Line lawyer who is also a flamboyantly gay man.  Fred picks James up after going through his checkout line at Whole Foods, and they go out on James’ first date ever with another man.  But what starts out as a fun date turns into a wild shootout—–Fred is a lawyer to the Philadelphia mob, and he has unwittingly dragged James into the middle of a mob war.  Their only safe haven is to go into witness protection in the secluded Amish community of Lofstad, the repressive, devout place where James grew up.

THE REVIEW

This is called “the gay Witness” and as you can see by the blurb, the plot is very similar.

We are told many many times over the first few pages about how inexperienced, how innocent, how naive James is–despite having lived in an Amish Half-way house (don’t those places help to educate?) so it’s no surprise to anyone when he gets into a car with a stranger more than twice his age–telling no-one where he’s going. Surely they have axes in Amish world.

The time line is a bit baffling – it’s not said how old Fred is, other than he’s a “hottie” but considering he has two degrees (cookery and law) has worked for five years in a NY restaurant, would need an undergrad degree for Harvard, and would need many years experience before becoming a criminal lawyer for the mob – he must be  at least 40 if not more. James’ age seems to waver all over the place, too. Sometimes it’s two years since he left his Amish community, sometimes three.

This repetition is a theme throughout the book, which became a little wearing – the author either had to repeat things many times, in case we hadn’t got the point the first time or fifth time. For instance, by page thirty, we still need to be reminded that:

James was a shy, closeted gay man who didn’t really know what it was like to be gay.

Despite being told this many many times on page one.

There’s some really peculiar continuity in the book. First they set off to drive from Philadelphia to Lancaster County, which we are told is three hours – it isn’t, it’s just over one.  Then after one hour, they are forced to stop because the Mafia is following them, and the FBI transfer them into a buggy for the last stretch.  I had two queries at this point: If it was going to take another 2 hours by car then how long was it going to take to get there by buggy, as it must be over 100 miles going on the “it takes 2 hours” theory – and if they had to stop suddenly because of the Mafia tail – how on earth did the buggy manage to get from Lancaster County to their rendezvous almost immediately?

Then we are told that it’s pitch black. They can see nothing at all -however, when this turbo buggy does arrive, we get this:

…tied the reins to a hook on the side of the immaculate,  old-fashioned vehicle, its coat of black paint as clean and shiny as a mirror. He wore the trademark black felt hat, gray homespun shirt, and blue overalls of a Lancaster County Amish man. His white beard covered only his chin; his mustache was clean-shaven off in homage to Amish tradition, which considered mustaches a symbol of godless military officers. According to another Amish tradition, his homespun shirt was kept closed with invisible hooks and eyes (buttons were a sign of vanity) and his suspenders were very plain, the same drab gray of his shirt, so much so that they were almost invisible. He looked much older than James remembered; his beard was snow white, his back stooped, his skin like old leather…

Not bad for pitch dark. I’m impressed that James can see invisible hooks and eyes in the conditions. From inside the armoured car. With the tinted windows. and as you can see, more repetition.

I found it very difficult to like Fred; We are never told what he looks like, which doesn’t help – and not only does he pick up James and whisk him off to a remote location with the obvious seduction in mind, but he then proceeds to get him drunk, watches him pass out, then when they are secreted away in the panic room, seduces him, (as machine guns rattle outside) despite the fact that he’s too drunk to resist.  Then, when they are forced to go to the Amish community in the Witness Protection he behaves like a sulky teenager, despite the fact it’s actually his fault.

I couldn’t warm to James either–like Angel in Angel’s Evolution–I found myself sympathising with anyone who wanted to beat the shit out of James because he never stopped alternating between unbelievable naivete (in spite of spending 3 years away from the Amish) and almost constant whining.

I have to say that I found it rather a laboured read. Not really bad, exactly, but it was more a collection of “now they do this and now they do that” rather than allowing the reader to get close to the characters, into their heads and create an empathy for them. There’s too much description which seems for description’s sake such as describing every aspect of meals and (for example) a Wedgwood service outlined in 24 carat gold–I found myself wondering how on earth James knew this.  And there’s much that simply doesn’t make any sense, such as the congregation saying a prayer “in English, out of respect for our outside guests.” when both “outside guests” are (as far as the community knows) AMISH!  There’s also far too much info-dumping in the style of Dan Brown’s “I’ve done this reading on Wikipedia and I’m jolly well going to share it with you!”

I had enough problems with the issues above, but then the second half of the book becomes totally risible.  The mob find them almost immediately–so much for Witness Protection–the “Family” and the “Feds” invade the village at the same time and there’s a ludicrous shoot out where the mob fire a billion or so bullets into a barn at James and Fred–who are entirely unarmed–and then when the Mob run out of bullets, they clear off! Which of course is exactly what would happen.  And of course, despite being shot in the arm James and Fred have sex during the shoot-out. Because that’s also what would happen. The ending? Well, if you’ve seen Witness, you’ll know how the danger is resolved. I’m all for re-tellings, but please, make them original-ish.

Also, and this has been discussed on this site, I’m always entirely put off when the anus is constantly referred to as a “rose” or a “rosette”.  Anyone who describes it thusly has never actually looked at one, as far as I’m concerned.

But when it comes down to it, I think what didn’t work for me the most is that the demonising of the Amish. The only “decent” Amish portrayed are either gay, gay-friendly, or not-Amish and just pretending to be.

Yes, the Amish live a life that I wouldn’t want to live, but no-one is forced to live it and from what I’ve always read and researched about the Amish they are peaceful–and family and community is all.  The description of the The Shunning in this book doesn’t match with any research I could find on line, but I could be entirely wrong.  I found that the families don’t eat at the same table as the Shunned one, but in this book, James is half starved (only giving food by charity) – has to live in a pigsty, this seemed odd, as the Shunning is supposed to encourage the “wrongdoer” back into the flock (or to make them leave) and as James had (on the surface, at least) returned as the prodigal son, it made absolutely no sense to Shun him again – as the original Shunning had worked.

The research I’ve read over the last week seems to indicate that yes, a family member wouldn’t eat with the family, but they wouldn’t feed him scraps, or make him sleep with the animals (or make him plow the land without horses) but he would eat on a small separate table alone.  You don’t need to do more, in a small community, than ignore someone for the impact to be felt, after all. They will either recant, or leave. I’ve lived in tiny Catholic communities in Ireland, and I’ve seen this done…

James’ father is the Elder of the village, and yet he’s portrayed as a nasty, brutal, malicious man

“His father might be senior deacon of the village, but that didn’t mean he was well acquainted with the Christian notion of forgiveness”

Which struck me as quite peculiar, as from what I’ve read, forgiveness is the basic tenet of the faith, and I found it hard that any man who was that unreasonable would be kept on as Elder for long.

In Amish eyes, the Church is responsible to God to hold members accountable to their baptismal vows. Member who violate Church regulations receive ample opportunities to repent. If transgressors accept their errors and accept discipline, they are pardoned and restored to fellowship

I feel uncomfortable that this story vilifies the Amish so. James even goes so far–in another bout of whining–as to say that the Amish hymns are a “form of mind control” which had my chin landing on the desk.  If it had been written by an Amish–or ex-Amish member, I could understand it, but it’s not. However, my research consisted of what I could glean while reading this book – so if anyone has information that backs up the book, I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

“Jay Hughes” is  Jamaica Layne writing under a male persona, and although Ms Layne makes this clear on her Facebook page, she doesn’t do so either on her own website or the one she has set up for Mr Hughes.  I think–in the light of the scrutiny and criticism many female writers with male or neutral pennames have gone through in the last few years–that it would be better for Jay Hughes’ career if “he” came clean. I have to say, that I also find it amusing that Ravenous Romance is trademarking the word “M/M.”

Editing wise it leaves a lot to be desired, there are typos and formatting errors – and at one point Jacob turns into James for almost an entire page.

To sum up: I really can’t recommend the book. The characters are entirely unsympathetic, the continuity is hopeless, the writing lumpy and repetitive, and the portrayal of a way of life that is as alien to most people as just about anything on earth is badly done.

46 thoughts on “The Shunned

  1. Wave

    Erastes

    >>To sum up: I really can’t recommend the book. The characters are entirely unsympathetic, the continuity is hopeless, the writing lumpy and repetitive, and the portrayal of a way of life that is as alien to most people as just about anything on earth is badly done.<<

    I’m exhausted at the number of errors (too many to repeat) in this book, as well as the lack of continuity, the demonising of the entire Amish community, the poor characterization etc. etc. You deserve a gold star for finishing because even for me this might have been a DNF. How did this book get published? I take that back – just about any book can get published if the writer has the right combination including the required HEA.

    Thank you for agreeing to review The Shunned. I really appreciate you taking time away from finishing your own book to do this.

    Was Ravenous Romance serious about trademarking M/M? LOL. I guess they invented the term. (chuckle)

    1. Erastes Post author

      I have read worse, and if you compare it to Nick Heddle’s work, then prose-to-prose it doesn’t deserve the one star mark – but all the other issues combined, the lack of basic research, the lack of any continuity, the POV hopping, (usually from person to omniscient), the repetition makes me wonder what standards RR have.

      And yes – the book definitely has M/M™ on every page, which is laughable, really. Are they going to send C&D letters to the millions of fanfics out there?

  2. Tam

    Wow, the only story I’ve read with an Amish protagonist was Andrew Grey’s Love … Means No Shame and because Eli left his family to decide what he wanted, there wasn’t much info about the Amish since he didn’t live there, but they weren’t demonized in anyway. He was very protective of his family and making sure that they didn’t suffer because apparently the whole family could be shunned if they found out he was gay. Not sure that’s true or not, but I thought it was handled nicely and Eli was naive but never whiny, ever. I don’t think the Amish are raised to be whiny.

    It really makes me crazy when there are editing errors like that. KZ Snow was saying how thorough Loose Id’s editing is (even to the point of making her crazy) but it seems there are too many publishers who go the opposite way. A name should NEVER be wrong. I can understand if the author is the only editor, you read and read and your eyes see what your brain wants to be there after a while not what is, but surely there are other people who have to read the manuscript before it goes public. One or two small errors, fine, but not huge. I had a “speak out loud” moment last night when I came across a huge error, switching the abilities of two people. I don’t often talk out loud to books but I heard myself say “No, that’s wrong.” My daughter just looked at me.

    It’s a shame it didn’t work because I would enjoy reading a book about a culture I’m unfamiliar with except through what I’ve seen in movies.

    1. Erastes Post author

      I do think that the only way that this could be done right would be by someone who has spent a lot of time interviewing gay amish and living in the area concerned. As it was–it strikes me that it was the reader thought it was a good idea (it is–and a good book needs doing on this and many subjects) but wasn’t prepared to put the work in that it needed other than to read the same research sites I did and watch Witness.

    2. Wave

      Tam
      There’s an M/M romance about the Amish (I think) called Awakening by Terry O’Reilly released by Aspen Mountain Press. However, I don’t believe that the book is currently available, also I don’t think that the reviews were positive.

        1. Kassa

          I was about to post and say it’s not Amish but Erastes and Leslie beat me to it. I read/reviewed The Awakening on my LJ as well and it’s actually not bad. Just skip the afterword.

    3. Erastes Post author

      Also, as Katiebabs says rightly, and something I found when researching yesterday, there are a few gay Amish/Ex-Amish people who are WANTING a decent Amish book – but I’m of the opinion that they’ll have to wait until an actual Amish person writes it – it’s not something I’d try because although I can speculate as to what gay men did in Regency England behind closed doors and there’s no-one to contradict me, I’d really want to get the Amish life RIGHT – and I can’t do that without living it.

      1. katiebabs

        In the hands of a great author, I believe someone can write an emotional and sexy MM Amish romance. There is a need because The Shunned has been selling like crazy since it had been released.

        Why do I feel the need to watch Witness now?

        1. Leslie

          Apparently, m/f Amish romances are very popular but they sound like they are G rated. Two articles that I remember reading and was able to track down:

          http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1891759,00.html

          http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125244227154093575.html

          ~~~

          As for having sex while bullets are flying (wherever that comment is here in the thread…I’ve gotten lost)…our favorite Victor J. Banis was a pioneer in that department. Jackie Holmes, The Man from C.A.M.P. seemed to have sex no matter what was going on around him: bullets, buildings being blown up or burned down, helicopters landing in the yard…LOL

          L

  3. katiebabs

    The repeat of the word “was” on the first page alone really made this a hard read for me as well as Fred being too cartoonish. I stopped 20 pages in.

    Such a shame because the idea of an Amish MM romance has gained alot of interest.

    1. Erastes Post author

      Fred was ludicrous, I’m afraid, and he never gave any indication that he loved James–in fact I was convinced that James was going to get together with RANDOM GAY AMISH SHAG who turned up briefly- but he was never seen again.

        1. Erastes Post author

          It would explain much–although I wouldn’t work with any publisher who didn’t insist on editing my stuff–I know my limits and my limitations, I NEED editing, and everyone does, no matter whether they are JL or JKR.

      1. Salina

        Erastes, I thought so too. There wasn’t any romance to speak of between Fred and James (shooting semen to the ceiling in Panic Room not withstanding – oh, check out ejaculation chart on lily-ilovebooks.blogspot.com!). Then Fred so got into courting the pretend Amish grrrls for no reason. And I dunno what was the purpose of the Random Gay Amish Shag.

        The book was such a bad buy for me.

          1. Erastes Post author

            oh-kay… James should contact the Guinness Book of Records, then – he doesn’t beat the record, but he has potential…

  4. Leslie

    Just reading the sample at All Romance was enough to make my eyeballs hurt. LOL. Thanks for doing the hard work on this one, Erastes. It’s appreciated!

    L

    1. Erastes Post author

      As I said–prose wise, I’ve read worse, and if the continuity and other issues hadn’t been a problem it would have probably got a 2.5-3 stars, but as it is- no. It needed a damned good edit, I wish I’d been let loose on it before it went to press.

  5. Kassa

    Thank you for slogging through this to give a thorough review. I’m not really a fan of the publisher’s use of popular movies and books and remaking them into the “gay version.” They like to do things like the Gay Casablanca or the Gay Witness. I’m lost as to the originality in that. So those books never appeal to me.

    I read the excerpt and didn’t like it at all so I never got past it to the book itself. Thank you for the review though, it’s very clear about what doesn’t work.

  6. Erastes Post author

    I have to agree – I don’t mind a retelling of a familiar theme – we wouldn’t have a billion war films or a billion regency romances if that wasn’t true – but for goodness sake don’t just copy the plot almost entirely and make it gay because all that’s left then is the sex, and when the sex is unintentionally funny, there’s nothing left at all.

  7. KC (Smokinhotbooks)

    I totally agree with EVERYTHING. The first 20 pages nearly had me not finishing the book. Until Fred and James went into witness protection program then it got better. Fred is such an unlikable character that you really don’t want him and James to be together. I much would have rather had James with Samuel, especially because the flow of the story was going in that direction.

    1. Erastes Post author

      I agree that there was too much set up – the repetition in the first 20 pages is very off-putting. I didn’t find the WP part much better, though – sadly!

    1. Tam

      Wow, that first book was horrifying. The vision of her spinning around on the guy is burned into my brain. I need some unicorn chaser.

      I’m trying to think if I’ve ever read anything by the publisher. I may have bought something at Fictionwise or another bookseller. I know not from them. Hmmm. I’ll have to check. I’ve read a few short stories from other publishers that have definitely been porn (barely a nod to a romance by even the loosest definition) and have not done it for me. Might have been them.

      1. Tam

        Ah, Ryan Field is one of their authors. His style does not work for me at all, although it is romance in the more true sense of the word, just a stylistic thing I suppose in this case.

    2. Lilli

      Howling with laughter over here. *rofl*

      Thanks for the thorough review, Erastes, and thanks for those links, Wave. Hilarious. (and sad at the same time)

      1. Erastes Post author

        Thanks Lili – I don’t want to give the impression of ripping chunks off the books – I’ll leave that to other review sites, but it’s really not a good book.

  8. Feliz

    Wow, one star – thank you for reviewing this! It’s always good to know what you better stay clear of.

    1. Erastes Post author

      I agree. And yet it’s entirely non-representational of ANYTHING within the book. If it’s supposed to be Fred and James (who knows?) then they certainly don’t get naked in the open air (in fact – no-one gets naked in the open air.) Fred is over 40, at the very least, and we have (as far as I can remember) not reference to how either of the mens’ appearances. I think Fred has “dark eyes” but that’s it.

      However, I know many books are non-representational of the contents, so that’s not something I could complain about.

  9. junkfoodmonkey

    —I have to say, that I also find it amusing that Ravenous Romance is trademarking the word “M/M.”

    ::giggles hysterically::
    Is their legal department in the charge of a fantasist?

    Oh, dear, this sounds very bad. Your description of the shootout in the barn had me giggling hysterically too. A-Team Firing! Yay! And shagging while under fire and injured… I know they say men don’t think straight when they’re horny, but I don’t think their brains actually cease to function entirely.

    1. Erastes Post author

      James and Fred have sex (which is only oral) on two occasions – and on both occasions they are being fired upon by the mob – this is obviously some new kink (bullet kink?) that I don’t know of!!

  10. Tracey

    I think that it’s the failure to research that angers me the most. There are books out there by people who have been (or who currently are) shunned by the Amish, and these books describe in detail what it is like and what sins result in excommunication from the Church and why. And yes, it is difficult, especially if the shunned person is still living in the tight-knit Amish community.

    But–as you said–it does NOT involve starving the shunned person, forcing him to live in a pigsty and dress in rags. And a two-minute Google search would have told Layne that much.

    This vilification of the Amish makes me uncomfortable. If you are writing about a group to which you yourself do not belong, I think that you have a special responsibility to make the depiction as accurate and plausible as you can. Demonizing a group just to make your hero or heroine look good is just not on. It would have been perfectly possible for Layne to depict the psychological torment of Shunning as it is–one Amish man who was Shunning his son described it as a living hell, so it appears to be torture on both sides–without nose-diving into melodramatic exaggeration like forcing the prodigal James to live in a pigsty.

  11. John

    Wave edited my last review and I’m grateful for it. I can’t imagine a company offering a book for sale without proper editing. That just baffles me.

    Thanks for the review.

  12. Beth C.

    This is a more comprehensive review of this book than the last one I saw. The other review had a rating of DNF. The review admitted that they couldn’t stand to finish the book. Said they quite about the time the guys when back to the Amish. So kudos to you for actually persevering and finishing the book.

  13. Fae Sutherland

    FYI, RR as far as I can find owns none of the trademarks they claim. They have the TM symbol beside all their genre lines but a US trademark search for those terms brings up nothing related to RR.

    The idea of them trying to trademark M/M is ludicrous. But then…it’s RR. Nuff said.

  14. Jennifer

    I am so pleased to see a review on this before I plunked down my hard earned cash. Thanks Erastes. This publishing house put out a lot of these “rewrites” and I have not found any of them except one by EM lynley to be of quality. An Officer and His Gentleman (an Officer and his Gentleman) and Pretty Man (pretty woman) were pretty difficult to get through-I ended up skimming both which I never do, but I do know some people who love them. Personal taste I suppose.

    I do wish someone would write a m/m amish romance because the thought of it was intriguing. I ALMOST bought this one but kept reminding myself it was Ravenous Romance -chuckles- and I haven’t liked any that I have read. Thanks for the confirmation my money was well saved.

  15. hannah

    The post for lurking has made me take notice:

    When Ive caught up on the books Ive bought I come to this website and read/re-read reviews for new books to buy. Honestly I havent gotten below the 3′s yet. There are sooo many books and I track my favorite authors as well as certain publishing companies for new releases.
    Kudos to you for doing this review and doing it well.

    1. Wave

      Hi Hannah
      This review was done by Erastes who is a historical expert. It’s good to see you checking out some of the older reviews, even for a book that the reviewer didn’t recommend. :)

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