What better way could there be to discover a new-to-me author than finding a free short story from her? That’s what happened for me with Kaje Harper’s Like the Taste of Summer, the short and very sweet story of Sean Brennan, a college student, and Jack Korbel, a grease monkey and lifelong resident of a small Iowa college town.
The relationship between the college kids and the townies is antagonistic at best, and it’s a random act of vengeance against Sean and his friends one night that bring Jack and Sean together after the townies vandalize Sean’s and his friends’ cars. Jack’s friends scarper and leave him defenseless against the college boys’ anger, but Sean acts quickly and gives Jack a safe place to hide until he can get Jack away safely.
This isn’t the catalyst for an instant friendship, though. The boys see each other here and there over the following weeks but don’t speak because of that invisible line drawn between them. It isn’t until Jack has the opportunity to return a kindness for a hurting Sean that the boys discover that line is well worth crossing.
This was a wonderful coming-of-age and coming out story for Sean, the boy who’d always thought he was straight, but meets and falls for the boy who has pretty much always known he was gay, though he hides it for his own safety in the small town where intolerance is the norm.
These boys don’t have an easy time of it in the “fish bowl” they live in, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. It’s the hatred and prejudice aimed directly at them that nearly tears them apart. But love endures, love thrives, and for these two characters, happily ever after did come true.
My Diamond in the Rough is Meredith Shayne’s Eyes Wide Shut, book one in the Flying Doctors series, the story of Adam Taylor, a doctor who lives in a small outback town in Australia and works in the clinic at the Mount Keith mine where his ex-boyfriend Chris Barker works.
The men are “exes” because Chris is very deeply in the closet, and his job isn’t exactly conducive to a gay friendly atmosphere. Chris’s greatest fear is that anyone might suspect he and Adam were ever more than friends, but after a two month separation and Adam’s return to the clinic, it doesn’t take long for Chris to pay a visit that ends with the two men having sex, then Chris quickly leaving after.
Chris says he can’t be with Adam, nor does it seem he can force himself to stay away. It’s a situation that causes no small amount of friction between the two men, an insurmountable obstacle that will keep them apart in spite of their feelings for each other. That is, until Adam makes an emergency run to a collapsed mine and Chris is faced with the realization that life is not guaranteed and death could put a very permanent end to any hope he and Adam have to be together. It’s a wake up call to Chris to grab hold of love and never to let it go.
What makes this one a Diamond in the Rough for me? Well, because it struck me as a story that was filled with untapped potential. The premise was wonderful, the characters engaging, and the suspense and danger was very real but not plumbed enough, in my humble opinion. I felt there was much more to expose in both the mine cave in and Chris’s emotions and actions during and after the accident. In short, things felt a bit rushed to get to the end, when I’d have preferred a bit more depth and breadth to the plot. What’s there, however, is like getting the part of the cupcake left on the paper, which is kind of yummy, but what you really wanted was the frosting.