Buy Link: Paper Planes
Author: M. Jules Aedin
Publisher: Loose Id
Length: Novel

Rating: 4.5

** Giveaway info at the end of the post! **

I picked this book up after reading a review on another blog.  I wasn’t familiar with the author, but the book combined two of my favorite elements: an interracial couple and a hero with a physical disability.  Ethnic and physical diversity are so often lacking in romance novels that finding both at once, along with a great sounding plot, inspired me to check it out.  And I am really glad that I did!

Stuart Grange lost his partner Brendan Miller in a plane crash. Not only that, but Brendan was killed trying to stop a terrorist attack, similar to Flight 93 on 9/11.  As the surviving partner in a gay relationship, Stuart has become nationally known and is in high demand as a speaker at various public events.

One night after a speaking engagement in Texas, Stuart runs into Dustin McDonough, the pilot from his flight earlier in the day.  The men had a made a brief connection when Stuart was exiting the plane (including Dustin checking out his ass), and when Stuart has time before his flight, the men have dinner together.  Stuart ends up missing his plane and spends the night at Dustin’s house, but nothing physical happens as Stuart is not ready for that step.

The men then go months without contact, although Stuart continues to think about Dustin. After a chance encounter at another rally, Stuart finally works up the nerve to track Dustin down and the men begin a flirtatious relationship over text, IM, and Facebook.  Things develop slowly as the men must work out how to connect in person due to their distance and busy work schedules.  And Stuart is still emotionally working through moving on to someone else after Brendan’s death.

The best way I can describe this book is quiet.  The romance builds slowly and sweetly and there is no major upheaval.  The conflicts the men face — distance apart and moving past the loss of a partner — exist at the beginning of the story and they work through them over the course of the book. There is no third act crisis or crazy plot twists, just sweet (and very hot) romance and two men falling in love.

I really loved this story and adored both characters.  Dustin is strong and confident with loads of enthusiasm.  He is older than Stuart at 48, and had lost a partner of his own many years before to AIDS.  Around the same time, he lost his leg in a car accident and now wears a prosthetic from mid-thigh down.  I thought that the issue of Dustin’s leg was dealt with really well here.  There is a really fine line in terms of how much it should be mentioned and I think Aedin handles it well.  Too much focus and Dustin’s character becomes nothing but “man with prosthetic leg” and too little and it is just window dressing with no substance.  But I think the book strikes just the right balance.  Dustin’s leg is occasionally mentioned casually when he is tired and needs to sit down or remove it, or sometimes when he brushes his leg against Stuart or the book describes the position he is in.  And there are a few more detailed sections when he is taking the prosthetic off or putting it on where it is more of a focus.

One of things I really liked about the book is the way it showed Dustin and Stuart at two different spots on the healing spectrum.  Dustin has faced his challenges and overcome them by the time he meets Stuart and is able to really understand and support Stuart as he navigates his first relationship since Brendan’s death.  Stuart is in his early 30’s and his loss is more fresh (although if I did the math right Brendan’s death is about 9 months prior to Stuart meeting Dustin and around a year and a half before they first get together physically).  He is struggling with being in the spotlight after Brendan’s death and still feeling his way along.  What was most interesting to me is the way Dustin’s leg really serves to show how Dustin has already dealt with his grief and loss and come out other side, while Stuart is still working through it. It highlights those stages of recovery in a really interesting way.

I only had two small criticisms.  First, early in the story Stuart faces hostility from some members of the gay community angry that he is being held up as a representative or role model when he and Brendan were never activists or outspoken for gay rights before his death. There is some vandalism of a presentation and some heckling and other issues.  Although Stuart eventually decides he no longer wants to do public speaking and to instead move forward with other things (which means that these criticisms stop), I still feel like this issue was brought up and then never really went anywhere or was fully resolved.  Second, the pacing could have been picked up a bit through the middle.  I was never bored (in fact I found their cyber flirting adorable) but I think things could have been tightened up a bit. (Oh, and there was one early imaginary sex scene.  Didn’t bother me too much actually.)

Overall though I really loved this book.  I loved the way the two men showed the progression of getting over loss and trauma and how Dustin was able to help and support Stuart throughout the story.  And I think Aedin did a great job of handling a difficult topic without the characters descending into crazy angst.  They were mature and dealt with their issues and talked to one another and at the same time were totally loveable and sexy and super hot together.  Definitely a recommended read.

[Quick note: There is a sequel called Lovegames scheduled for January 17 featuring the rock star and actor Stuart meets at a rally in DC. I am really excited for this one as they were interesting side characters.  Their book focuses on the established couple taking on a third.]

I am also super excited to tell you guys that Aedin has donated a copy of Paper Planes to one lucky commenter! This book is so good so be sure to leave a comment to enter.  The contest will close at 11:59 EST on Tuesday November 29.  

Fine print:
  • By entering the contest, you’re confirming that you are at least 18 years old.
  • Winners will be selected by random number.
  • If you win, you must respond to my email within 48 hours or another winner will be chosen. Please make sure that your spam filter allows email from Joyfully Jay and leave your email address if it is not in your profile.
Be sure to leave a comment to enter! 
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