Buy Link: Moving in Rhythm
Author: Dev Bentham
Publisher: Carina Press
Length: Novel

Rating; 4.5

Mark Apolostolos suffers from a severe social anxiety disorder. He lives a pretty solitary life, working as an online math professor and spending his free time working out and enjoying the company of his dog Belle.  His social life consists only of anonymous bar hookups, those being the only encounters he can handle with men without stumbling with panic and verbal paralysis.  But even that is wearing on him and Mark is tired of the sick feeling he gets from the meaningless couplings. At this point he is about ready to resign himself to the life of a hermit.

Things change when Mark gets a call from his brother Pete who is about to be deployed to Afghanistan.  Pete asks Mark to stay with his very pregnant wife Lisa and help her through the time without him. Mark is terrified to leave the little cocoon he has built, but determined to be there for his brother and sister-in-law.  He moves in with Lisa, helping her around the house and keeping her company during Pete’s absence.  When Mark agrees to join Lisa at an exercise class at the gym, he is blown away when he meets sexy Zumba instructor Seth Miller.  But Mark can barely handle being in the same room as Seth without panicking, let alone start developing a relationship.  Things are further complicated by the fact that Mark is not out (not even to himself, as his friend Claire points out).  He has never imagined himself having a relationship with anyone so he didn’t think it was worth the stress of coming out.  And making matters worse, Seth initially assumes Mark is Pete (they look very similar) and assumes Pete is cheating on Lisa when Marks works up the nerve to kiss him.

Mark is incredibly strong and determined and doesn’t give up though.  A series of baby steps gets him interacting with Seth, and things begin to develop between them sexually and emotionally.  Yet for every two steps forward there is a step back, as Mark continues to be plagued by his anxiety disorder.  He can’t even begin to imagine what the gorgeous, kind, dancer can possibly want with his damaged self.  The guys move toward a relationship together, but it will take a lot of strength and patience on both their parts to make things work between them.

Oh, this was such a sweet and lovely story.  Mark is such a sympathetic character and Bentham does a great job helping us understand his anxieties and how they control even the smallest aspects of his life.  From entering a crowded room, to having a conversation with a cute guy, to even participating in Lisa’s birthing class, Mark is often one step away from totally losing it.  Yet he is strong and determined and works hard for what he wants.  Especially when he moves in with Lisa and his life takes a turn.  Suddenly he has friends and a growing relationship with Seth, and despite the struggles he doesn’t give up.  Mark felt very real to me and I think Bentham really does a great job developing his character.

I also really loved Seth, of course.  Hunky and sensitive and caring, he is the perfect guy for Mark (although maybe a smidge too perfect).  We see how Seth interacts with his dog Freddie, a rescue who has major socialization issues of his own (there is a lot of doggy goodness in this book).  In some ways I found this part a bit too on the nose – Seth has a dog with social issues that he has rescued, now he has a boyfriend with social issues that he is helping — but I also feel like seeing Seth deal with Freddie gives Mark (and us) the reassurance that this guy can handle what Mark has to dish out.  We know even before Mark does that Seth is not going to bail on him for being too much trouble, and that this is a guy who understands and will be there for him.

The book has some nice side characters as well (again maybe a smidge too perfect).  Lisa is sweet and sympathetic as a woman about to give birth while her husband is thousands of miles away in a war zone.  We can really feel for her as she deals with the daily fear of something happening to Pete on the other side of the world.  I also really liked Claire, a friend of both Seth and Lisa’s.  Claire’s partner is also serving overseas, and even with the repeal of DADT, her partner still remains closeted.  Claire provides a lot of support for Mark, encouraging him to come to terms with his own sexuality and to have the confidence to come out to his family.

One spot that did bother me was early on when Seth still thinks Mark is his brother Pete.  After Mark kisses Seth, Seth tells him, “I don’t do bisexuals, okay? It’t too painful.”  Granted, at this point he thinks Mark is a guy cheating on his wife, so he is understandably wary about getting involved with him.  But to me this read a lot like an implication that bisexuals are not reliable or capable of being faithful which I think is an unfair stereotype we see too often in romance novels.

Overall I really enjoyed Moving in Rhythm.  Really likeable characters dealing with tough issues and a story with a lot of sweetness.  Definitely recommended.

P.S.  You can win all six of this week’s Carina Press m/m releases, including Moving in Rhythm! Just leave a comment on Larry Benjamin’s interview and giveaway post!