Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Paul Hannon moved to Tucker Springs, Colorado to be with his girlfriend Stacey who has now left him for another man. He failed at veterinary school and now works as a receptionist at a vet practice. He barely makes enough to cover the rent on the house he got stuck with when Stacey left. As Paul looks at his life, he realizes nothing is quite as he imagined for himself and he is not really sure what he can do to get it back on track. He thinks that if he can just win his girlfriend back, maybe everything will fall into place.
With that in mind, Paul heads to Tucker Pawn looking for a gift for Stacey. There he meets the shop owner Emanuel Rozal. El finds himself attracted to the adorable redhead right away, but he is not a relationship guy, and certainly has no intention of getting involved with a straight guy (even one that seems fairly obviously gay to El). But even though El is holding back, and Paul is totally oblivious to his interest, the two men end up becoming good friends, spending lots of time together around town.
Eventually after some rum and cokes lower inhibitions, Paul reveals that he has had some experience with a guy in high school and El finally works up the nerve to admit to Paul how he feels about him. At first Paul is stunned – he has no sense of his own worth and is totally unaware of anyone’s interest in him. But it doesn’t take long before his feelings of attraction are enough for him to act as well and the two get together. But as much as Paul likes El, he is still emotionally struggling with the idea of being gay (or bi, he isn’t sure) and what that means for the future he imagined for himself. And El is wary of getting hurt when Paul eventually decides either his curiosity has been sated or he is not willing to be out with a man. Though the two men have come to care greatly for each other, they must each be brave enough to reach for what they want and not let their fears ruin their chance at happiness together.
Second Hand is the second book in the Tucker Springs series, a multi-author series focused on the residents of the Colorado town. It follows Where Nerves End by L.A. Witt, a story which introduces El very briefly, although the books stand alone perfectly well. I really enjoyed this one and loved both El and Paul. In many ways the book really focuses on Paul’s story as he is the one who is reevaluating his life and figuring out what he really wants out of it. I found Paul totally adorable in his bit of befuddled confusion, never quite realizing that others think much more of him than he does of himself. Paul starts off the book with the realization that his vision for how his life would go is now totally off track. For a long time he thinks that all he really wants is to get that future back. He is sure that if only Stacey would come back to him, everything would work out. So at first he doesn’t see El right in front of his face and clearly wanting him. When things finally click for Paul, he finds himself torn. On one hand he totally wants El, finds him attractive and wants to be with him sexually. But on the other hand, he is terrified of what this all means, of how his life will change, and he has trouble with the reality that he is finally giving up on what he thought he always wanted. I think some may find Paul a little wishy-washy but I totally got his anxieties here. It isn’t so much the idea of accepting his interest in men, but accepting that the image he had of himself and his life will be gone. I can see why that is a hard step to take and why it wasn’t something he could do easily.
I think El is an incredibly likable character all around. From the outside he may look a bit hardened and jaded, but in reality he is quite caring and sensitive. He has grown up in Tucker Springs and knows all about its history, has lots of friends, and has his roots here in town. Despite being more settled into his life, he is afraid of getting hurt, worried that one day Paul will get tired or scared and El’s heart will be broken. But even with these fears, he is patient with Paul, first waiting for him to even figure out El is interested, and then letting him take some time to really come to terms with the relationship. But I can also get El when he loses patience with Paul, worried his hesitation is a sign that he doesn’t really want their relationship and that he will break El’s heart.
One of the themes running through the book is the idea of second chances and second choices. We see it with Paul who feels like he is always second best, never the one anyone really wants and never quite living up to his goals or expectations for himself. It is also a theme that runs through El’s life, as he works in a pawn shop, taking things people no longer want and giving them a new life with someone else. And more deeply, with his relationship with his mother, a hoarder who can’t bear to give up a single possession, whose need for things is taking over her life as she equates getting rid of something as an emotional loss. I think the authors tie all these pieces together well into the story, keeping the theme going without being too heavy handed.
The one part of the story that didn’t totally work for me is the neighborhood “best yard” contest Paul enters to try to earn some money. To me it seemed like if he was desperate for money, he should save the proceeds from all the things he pawns, rather than spending them on plants and yard supplies for a contest he may not even win. Paul seemed to give this such importance and this subplot gets a lot of time in the story and I am not sure it added a whole lot (especially given the way the story ends).
Overall I really liked this one though. Really likable guys that I found very relatable and real. Sweet and romantic with some nice heat as well. Adorable dog that steals the show quite a few times. And a nice message about letting go of your physical and emotional baggage and focusing on what is really important in life. Excellent book, highly recommended.
Cover: I really liked this cover. Cute guys who look just like Paul and El and even little MoJo the dog!
P.S. Marie will be hereFriday to talk to us more about her trip to Italy with Flat Copley! Stop by to check it out and enter to win a gift card as well.