Author: Tara Lain
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 254 Pages
At a Glance: What a wonderful start to a new contemporary series from a favorite author!
Reviewed By: Sadonna
Blurb: How can you be twenty-five and not know you’re gay? Billy Ballew runs from that question. A high school dropout, barely able to read until he taught himself, Billy’s life is driven by his need to help support his parents as a construction worker, put his sisters through college, coach his Little League team, and not think about being a three-time loser in the engagement department. Being terrified of taking tests keeps Billy from getting the contractor’s license he so desires, and fear of his mother’s judgement blinds Billy to what could make him truly happy.
Then, in preparation for his sister’s big wedding, Billy meets Shaz—Chase Phillips—a rising star, celebrity stylist who defines the word gay. To Shaz, Billy embodies everything he’s ever wanted—stalwart, honest, brave—but even if Billy turns out to be gay, he could never endure the censure he’d get for being with a queen like Shaz. How can two men with so little in common find a way to be together? Can the Stylist of the Year end up with the Knight of Ocean Avenue?
Review: Oh, how I enjoyed this book! This might be my new favorite Tara Lain book. :)
The wonderful opening scene has our hero, Billy, in a coffee shop waiting for his girlfriend. He’s nervous about the meeting, but he’s trying to distract himself when a beautiful and captivating man walks into the shop. He can hardly take his eyes off of him. Probably not an auspicious start for a conversation with his girlfriend. ;)
Billy is in construction. He left high school early to work to help support his family after his father suffered a heart attack. He’s worked multiple jobs to pay his parents’ mortgage, pay for his sister’s school, basically everything except take care of himself. He does have his own apartment, which he’s proud of. He managed to teach himself to read but never even got his GED because of test anxiety. He still feels like he’s not smart enough to be more. He’s just a simple, blue-collar guy surrounded by people smarter and classier than he’ll ever be. But he really does like his job, and he loves his family and coaching his Little League baseball team.
His sister Rhonda is getting married, and boy is she marrying up. Her fiancé Mitch’s family is paying for pretty much everything, and part of the deal is that she has a stylist planning the big day. Rhonda wants Billy to have the full treatment for her wedding – clothes, hair, etc. His other sister, Theresa, who is like a second mother to him, thinks it’ll be great, and she totally supports him in whatever will make him happy.
Then we meet Billy’s mother – who is a royal pain in the behind. She’s very disappointed that Billy isn’t married and producing grandchildren for her yet. I literally wanted to slap her multiple times. I mean, seriously? The guy is working two jobs to pay HER mortgage. (By the way, we never hear why SHE isn’t working to help pay for anything, and it’s not like she still has kids at home either – except that she’s “traditional” – can you tell this is a hot button issue for me??) How he even has the time or the inclination to date, let alone take on more responsibility for more people? He’s got a family he’s providing for! But, enough about the irritating mother.
Billy agrees to meet with the stylists, and lo and behold – it’s the beautiful redhead from the coffee shop. Billy recognizes him at one, and he’s a bit overwhelmed to be surrounded by Shaz (real name Chase Phillips) and his crew at the salon. While he finds Shaz intriguing, the whole styling thing has him a bit stunned. And he really needs to get his head together, as it were.
Billy has made a really nice life for himself. He has two cats, an apartment he’s making into a home, a job he likes and is good at, his Little League team he loves coaching, a family he cares deeply for and gives everything to, so why isn’t he happy? What’s missing in his life? He’s truly afraid to find out, especially since he thinks he might know the answer, and if he’s right, it would mean big trouble with his mother.
Sissy, Mitch’s cousin, is a member of the wedding party too, and she likes Billy. She really likes that he’s not a gold digger and just after her money, and that really he seems to want nothing from her at all. They agree to “couple it up” for the wedding to keep everyone happy, and to maybe be friends and have a good time during all the pre-wedding festivities. Sissy is actually a nice girl and while she may give off a ditzy vibe, she’s actually got a good head on her shoulders. Billy likes her and they look out for each other.
As preparations go forward for the wedding, Billy and Shaz spend more time together. They get to be friends – helping each other out with various interests that they have in common. Shaz is afraid he’s developing a bit of a crush on a straight guy, and Billy is afraid he’s not good enough to be Shaz’s friend, and what if he wants it to be more?
Things get crazier as the wedding gets closer, and Billy and Shaz’s relationship gets really, really complicated. Billy is really trying to figure things out and he’s still convinced that he’ll never be good enough for Shaz. Talk about the path not being smooth! But eventually Billy has had enough. He figures some stuff out and finally does some things for himself that he isn’t sure he’ll survive, but he’s sure he won’t survive if he doesn’t do them.
The resolution to this story is so very rewarding. I really enjoyed every single second of this book. All the secondary characters are really well written – even that PITA mother. I loved the rest of Billy’s family and Shaz’s “family” as well. This story is really about being true to yourself and finding what makes you happy then just going for it, even if you don’t think it maybe fits all your visions of what your life would be like. What a great lesson! I wish I had learned that lesson a lot sooner in life. :)
This may be my new favorite story from this author, and I have loved quite a few of her books. I’m so looking forward to the other books in this series that are planned. There is a lot of material to be mined here, and I think this is the author to do it. Well done!
You can buy Knight of Ocean Avenue here: