JL Merrow, Samhain Publishing

Muscling Through – The Start Of My JL Merrow-thon

It takes an extraordinary intelligence to contemplate the obvious. – Alfred North Whitehead

Pardon me while I channel my inner Buddy the Elf: I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it! Yes, I’m in love with Alan Fletcher, quite possibly one of the most guileless characters ever to live in my fictional world, and very probably one of the most shamelessly uncomplicated and loveable men I’ve ever read.

Muscling Through is told in Al’s voice, and I can tell you the precise moment I fell in love with him:

I don’t know what they did with all the crusts from the sandwiches. Maybe they put them out for the birds after everyone had gone home. It’d be a shame to waste them.

See, this is Alan Fletcher in a single thought. He is utterly transparent in the simple kindnesses and entirely simple in the way he thinks and feels. The true beauty of Alan, though, is that if you judged him by his looks alone, he would be the sort of man you might instinctively fear, which is what Lawrence Morton did when he first stumbled upon Al taking a whizz in a dark alley one night. Larry was ready to offer up his wallet and any other valuables to Al, for the sake of self-preservation. All Al wanted to do was to make sure Larry made it home safely, which he did, and then he hid the kitchen knives. Don’t worry, that’ll make sense when you read the book. And it’s hysterical.

There were quite a few giggle-out-loud moments through the book, due entirely to the fact that Al is so obtuse in a charming and uncomplicated way. It’d be easy to dismiss him if it weren’t for the contrast of his looks and his gentle, artistic spirit—well, gentle as long as he’s not busy being drunk and disorderly. But that will also make sense when you read the book and understand the huge contrast between Al and Larry, and the conclusions that are jumped to. Appearances can be deceiving, yes?

I realize it’s early days yet, but this book could very easily make it on to my Top Reads of 2013 list; that’s how much I adored it. It’s filled with heart and humor and colorful characters drawn with a rainbow palette of quirks and mannerisms that even when I wasn’t particularly fond of them—ahem, Larry’s parents—I couldn’t help but love the way they’d come to life.

Oh, and P.S., be sure to read the “About the Author” blurb, and then when you get to the part about punting and champagne, don’t even try and tell me you didn’t smile just a little bit when you thought of Larry. :-)

You can buy Muscling Through here:

JL Merrow, Samhain Publishing

Pricks and Pragmatism by J.L. Merrow

Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love. – Gabriel García Márquez

Luke Corbin has a very practical attitude toward sex: If it gets him a roof over his head, food in his belly, and a free place to study as he works to get his English degree, then bartering his booty is fair enough trade to get what he wants. It’s okay if he eventually gets pinballed from roomie to roomie as long as he has a warm, dry place to land in the end. And if the man’s good looking, well, all the better.

When Luke’s latest sugardaddy gives him his walking papers, because Sebastian’s met The One, Luke takes it all in stride as part of the give-and-take business. It’s all part of the exchange of goods and services for him. But it doesn’t take long before he discovers that his usual trade routes are no longer viable options for the only thing he has to offer—himself—and he ends up depending upon the kindness of a complete stranger, who apparently isn’t at all interested in buying what Luke’s selling.

Russell Winchester is a chemical engineer, nothing special to look at, nerdy in all the usual ways, and not at all as well off as the men Luke usually ends up living with. And Russell certainly doesn’t have the one thing all those other men had—an ulterior motive. Not to mention he possesses an uncommon patience and kindness, and it doesn’t take long before Luke finds himself questioning pretty much everything he’s ever been sure of, trying to shoot himself in the arse at every opportunity, and wanting—wanting something he’d never wanted before, with the very man who at once was undesirable but now seems painfully unattainable.

I confess that I haven’t read a lot of J.L. Merrow’s work yet, but I can say that what I have read has kept me coming back for more. I’ll also confess that I bought this one for the title but liked it because the author’s characters are abundantly charming, and there’s a current of humor in that charm that I can’t help but love. Pricks and Pragmatism is one of those stories that, oh… Even though I didn’t always love the decisions Luke made, selling himself short at nearly every opportunity, I loved him, and I loved Russell for unwittingly helping Luke to see that he could be more, and that he could face the past, and that he could be The One for Russell, and that, most importantly for Luke, maybe, sex and love can be mutually inclusive events.

There was a slow buildup to this relationship, one that began as friendship and then eventually crossed the line into want and hope. It was sweet and believable, and I ended up wishing there’d been more at the end.

Buy Pricks and Pragmatism here: