Buy link: ePistols at Dawn
Author: Z.A. Maxfield
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Reporter Jae-sun Fields is angry and hurt. Someone has written a book called Windows that satirizes one of the most meaningful books in his life and a book of great importance to many gay men. As a reporter for The Adversary, a magazine known for its outing of gay celebrities, Jae decides to track down the woman (he is sure only a woman would poke fun at this story) and exposure her as a fraud.
Kelly Mackay is a shy, reclusive writer who suffers from OCD, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. Not only did he write Windows, but as a young man going through a traumatic time, he also wrote Doorways, the book upon which it was based. Kelly guards his privacy carefully, hiding behind layers of pseudonyms to prevent anyone from knowing he is the real author of Doorways.
A chance meeting between the two men leads Jae to piece together that Kelly is the author of Windows. At the same time, the men hit it off and start dating, each quickly developing strong feelings for one another. Each man is keeping secrets from the other. Jae is hiding his role in searching for the Windows author and the truth he knows about Kelly, while Kelly is hiding his authorship of these books from Jae. The last thing Jae ever wants to do is hurt Kelly though. With all the hiding and the deception, the question is whether the men can really build a relationship, or whether things will fall apart when the truth inevitably comes out.
This book is a favorite of mine, one that I have read many times. It seems to be one of the less well-known books by Maxfield (maybe the title throws folks off?). I picked it up again for my Goodreads challenge in the category of “geeky/nerdy heroes.” Although I am not sure I’d describe Kelly as nerdy, his reclusiveness, panic attacks, and OCD make it hard for him to function well socially. In fact, he barely ever leaves his house and relies heavily on his best friend Will (“houseboy, factotum, and all-around slut”) to help him function.
I love Jae and Kelly together in this story. Jae is a “red-hot Asian giant” — well over six feet tall with a long braid going down his back, black fedora, and sexy military-style jacket. Although he has an American grandfather, he was raised as part of a large Korean family and is very close with them still. Kelly is a smaller man who dresses like “the human equivalent of the minivan” with his iron-creased chinos and an endless supply of plain button downs. Kelly is almost 40 while Jae is still in his 20’s. So there are lots of differences between the men, but they work so well together. Jae is so tolerant and accepting of Kelly’s many issues and Jae’s support helps Kelly feel more confident and able to tackle more challenges.
One of my favorite things about this book is the interaction between Will and Kelly. They love one another, live together, work together, are best friends, and occasional lovers. They are basically partners in all ways besides sharing a romantic love. Will has suffered through a traumatic past of his own and Kelly provides the love, support, and safety he needs. At the same time, Will cares for Kelly both emotionally and physically. But both men know that as much as they care for each other, they each need someone they can love and spend their lives with in a romantic way and Will encourages Kelly to find real love.
I think this book is unusual in that a secondary character has such a key role in the story. Will’s presence (and importance) in Kelly’s life adds such interesting challenges to Kelly and Jae’s relationship. Will is not just a side kick, but so integral to Kelly’s life and mental health that without him there would be no story. Plus is he is awesome – fiesty, sexy, outrageous, and fiercely protective over Kelly.
I think the biggest hurdle in this story is dealing with Jae’s role in uncovering Kelly’s secrets. He is never malicious and once he knows the truth he goes to great length to protect Kelly’s privacy. But the reality is there are things Jae does hide from Kelly, even though he ultimately comes clean and apologizes. For me I think this is a critical part of what makes the book work, especially as it parallels other issues in the story, such as the magazine’s outing of a major celebrity and his subsequent suicide. So I think that seeing Jae make mistakes and the way the couple moves past it is a really interesting part of the story. But if this is the type of thing that will make you crazy, be warned.
I only have a few small criticisms with the book. First, it can be a bit tricky keeping track of all the different layers of identities and who knows what. Also, I think things move a bit slowly at the start as the groundwork is laid to explain all the moving parts. As I said, this was a reread for me so that may have just been because I already knew what was going to happen as Maxfield sets the stage for the rest of the story.
Overall I really love this story. I really like some of the romance insider winks, like the comments about how many readers and writers of m/m romance are actually women. And Kelly, Jae, and Will are such great characters and so well developed. Jae and Kelly are just so adorable together I couldn’t help but love them. The story just draws me in and I love that everything is not quick and easy and there are real issues that both men must face. This is one of my favorite books by Maxfield and one I definitely recommend.