Title: Muscling Through
Author: J.L. Merrow
Publisher: Samhain
Length: Novella

Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance

Rating: 4

It took me a while to review this book because I had such a hard time rating it.  There were so many things I loved – unusual heroes, great writing, loving relationship, sweet HEA, and one of my favorite tropes – opposites attract. But while I was reading, the pacing felt a bit slow and I was itching for a bit more of a plot.

But let me back up and start from the beginning.  Al Fletcher works pulling in tourist boats in Cambridge, England. The best way to describe Al is probably mentally simple.  He is definitely not stupid, but he has some clear intellectual challenges. But Al is also sweet, loving, considerate, and devoted, as well as a talented painter.

One night when stopping to pee in an dark alley after a night at the pub, Al meets art professor Larry Morton.  Larry sees the enormous, lumbering Al and assumes the man is out to rob him or worse.  Al, however, thinks poor Larry is drunk and in need of assistance and he insists on taking him home.  All the while, Larry is getting more and more scared and Al is becoming more and more convinced Larry needs help.  In recounting it sounds a little slapstick, but this section really illustrates the way Al sees the world. When Al gets Larry home:

“His hands were shaking, and the key skidded on the lock, so I took it from him and opened the door.

“You didn’t ought to drink so much,” I told him as I went in. I thought I’d better make sure he had a glass of water or something, or he’d be feeling like crap in the morning. He looked funny, like he was going to run away or something, which would have been a bit weird as there I was in his house and him still standing on the doorstep. I grabbed his arm and pulled him in after me, in case he was so drunk he’d forgotten this was where he lived.”

The next morning, after realizing Al was just trying to help him, Larry tracks Al down to apologize. Larry soon learns that there is more to Al than meets the eye. The two men just connect despite their different backgrounds and education.  As I reader I liked that Larry never gets frustrated or embarrassed by Al’s intellect.  He accepts that part of Al fully, even when friends and family question what Larry sees in him.

Merrow’s writing is beautifully done.  The story is told in Al’s voice, so the reader can clearly follow how Al’s sees the world and is interpreting events. But the author also gives us a picture of what is really going on based on Al’s reactions to those around him, making it easy to follow the story despite the simple voice.  I loved watching the men’s relationship develop and seeing how Al blossoms under Larry’s love, as well as how Larry comes to need Al and the pure view of life he offers.

My only problem with the book was that it just felt slow.  There is really no plot to it all. After the initial meeting between the men, it basically follows the ins and outs of their daily life as their relationship builds.  I felt like I kept waiting for something to happen.  Not that I was looking for the “big misunderstanding” (I HATE the big misunderstanding!).  But I felt a bit like things were just meandering along.  I guess I just needed a bit more conflict, or a bit more direction or something.  Then again, this is a novella and the pace is not as big an issue in a shorter book like this.

Despite this, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book.  Beautifully written from a really interesting and unusual perspective.  I loved the characters and their relationship.

Cover Review: A
This is the perfect cover design for this book.  Al is just the right mix of hot and hulking.  I love that they incorporated the setting for the key event with the image of the alley.  And it definitely has a British feel to it.  Only thing holding it back from an A+… where are Al’s tattoos?

Update 9/21/11: I have just been informed that the cover actually does show Al’s tattoos. It’s just that they didn’t show up in my little nook thumbnail.  But they are there and gorgeous!  So my grade is officially now an A+!  Thanks for the heads up!