Title: It’s Not Shakespeare
Author: Amy Lane
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Dan Skinner
Genre: Contemporary m/m romance, interracial
Length: Novella (178 pdf pages)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A sweet and humorous opposites-attract lovestory between a New England-born college professor and a car mechanic of Mexican descent, with an adorable little dog and a tough-as-nails goth girl who almost stole the show from the main characters.
The Blurb: College professor James Richards is in a rut and feeling his age. He moved to northern California to escape heartbreak and humiliation, but so far the only good thing to happen to him has been his Boston terrier, Marlowe.
Then James’s toughest student sets him up with her best friend. Rafael Ochoa is worlds apart from James—chronologically, culturally, and philosophically—but he’s also beautiful, kind, and a shot of adrenaline to James’s not-quite-middle-aged heart. Together, the two of them forge a bridge between James’s East Coast sensibilities and Rafael’s West Coast casualness, but can their meeting of the hearts survive James’s lack of faith in happy-ever-after?
The Review: After a desastrous (in more than one way) breakup with his young lover, James Richards left his academic career behind and moved from Maine to California where he now teaches literature at a community college. He is many things not quite: not really old, but past his prime, not exactly poor, but not rich either, not really in the closet, but not out either, not antisocial, but also not overly outgoing. His best companion currently is his dog Marlowe. One day his star student Sophie, whose goth attire hides a golden heart and a romantic soul, decides that James needs a breath of fresh air in his life and sets him up with her best childhood friend, car mechanic Rafael Ochoa. And that’s when James’s life stops being ordinary.
For quite a while James can’t believe that there can ever be anything between him and Rafi. They are polar opposites, or so it seems – too different to ever find common ground, and on top of this, James thinks that Rafi is far out of his league in age and looks. But after a while, they find that they have more in common than first appearances suggested. As they get to know each other, they find a balance between separating and uniting things between them – and in the end, they might just be exactly what the other needs.
This was a light and entertaining read, low on angst and with little conflict despite the opposites-attract setup. Although the plot touches on some rather serious matters like racial difference, finding trust again after a betrayal or harmonizing different views on life, it didn’t dig too deep. The story flows smoothly, with enough witty dialogue and humor to keep it interesting – and this wouldn’t be an Amy Lane book without some seriously hot and emotional sex scenes.
I found both James and Rafi well depicted within their respective molds; particularly Rafi’s family and his interaction with them gave his character depth and individuality. He was so torn between the loving ties he had with his family and his identity as a gay man. I found the way Rafi’s family dealt with his homosexuality very interesting – this don’t ask don’t tell philosophy Rafi had to deal with – and also, I was impressed with James for taking this matter in strides, making it a non-issue in the process.
This might sound as if the interracial aspect was a big deal for Rafi and James, but it wasn’t. It was only a fact, but not a defining factor, just like their age difference (James is 43, Rafi 29) or their different levels of education. As I said, the conflicts were there, but didn’t become overwhelming, keeping the book refreshingly angst-free.
Rafi grew on me fast with his likeable mix of macho attitude and carefully hidden vulnerability. James, on the other hand, I found somewhat annoying for a while with his constant doubts what a man like Rafi could possibly want with an old nerd like him – to a point where I couldn’t help asking myself the same question. In the end, though, James’s relaxed, liberal easygoingness eventually helped to ground Rafi, while Rafi’s boldness helped bring James out of his self-inflicted shell. They fit, after all, and that was good enough for me.
Actually, I found some of the secondary cast better portrayed than the main characters. Particularly Sophie, and even Marlowe, almost stole the show away from the main couple. And Rafi’s grandmother truely made an impression on me, now that’s a character.
This was a nice feelgood read. It’s entertaining and enjoyable, and it just fits the bill if you feel like curling up with a book on a rainy afternoon. Recommended.