Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

Daren Boothe spends his nights working as an erotic dancer, his alter ego the sexy, androgynous Pepper Jack. He has also just taken on another job, playing clarinet in a folksy polka band.  There a young man catches his eye, dancing with his grandmother around the bandstand.  Something about the man attracts Dare’s attention, but he doesn’t recognize him until they speak after the show. And it turns out the men have met before, years ago at the office of their mutual therapist.

As they men begin to talk, they realize that they each suffered abuse at the hands of a predator in their teens. Although many years have passed, both Dare and Jonah still bear incredible emotional scars.  The circumstances were different, but the pain and suffering and mental torment is something they both share.  Slowly the men begin to open up to one another, sharing their feelings and experiences in ways that they find they only can with someone else who truly understands.  Although both young men are fairly functional on the surface, they both bear deep scars.  Jonah was so young when his abuse started, his sexuality has been essentially blotted out until being with Dare reawakens feelings in him.  He lost family members who didn’t believe his story, got lost in alcoholism, and is only recently pulling himself back together.  Dare was a bit older when his abuse started, and he has been able to take a bit more command of his sexuality to the point of being able to perform as Pepper Jack. But he has his own demons still haunting him, and the titular xylophone, an object that played a part in his abuse, still has the power to crush him.

But slowly and carefully, Dare and Jonah begin to mend.  Sharing their experiences and finding someone who truly understands allows each man to open in up new ways.  Little by little they begin to heal each other, and as that happens, it opens up room for other feelings of love and caring and desire that neither man really thought he could find.  But together, happiness may be within their reach.

K.Z. Snow has the ability to write such emotionally powerful books, and this one was no exception.  These men are dealing with horrific acts in their past and are still healing when they meet.  Opening up to one another is terrifying and cathartic and healing all at the same time.  Their wounds are raw and facing them, even with someone else who really understands, isn’t easy.  But there is great power in sharing your feelings with someone who really gets it, and both men find solace in opening up to one another. And little by little they find more, love and happiness and comfort that they never expected. It is so sweet and lovely and very moving to see Dare and Jonah find healing with each other, and slowly realize that they can have even more.

The tone of this story is very quiet and powerful.  Most of the book focuses on the present day as the men discuss the emotional impact of their abuse and try to deal with it and move on.  So it is not as raw and painful as a story of this type could have been.  We do also get some flashbacks onto the abuse itself.  These sections are kept pretty general, enough to give us an broad understanding of what happened and to show the emotional side of things, with very little detail on the actual abuse.  However, people who are particularly sensitive to this issue may still find this all too intense.  But for me I felt Snow creates a nice balance, enough of the past for us to understand the emotional wounds these men face, but with most of the focus on the present and how they are healing and moving forward.

It is really a lovely romantic story. Dare and Jonah are so sweet together and so excited to not only find someone who understands them, but also to realize that they might just be able to have more, that love could be in their reach, and that there could be a future with happiness and not just pain.  I was left with a feeling of hope and optimism and the belief that things were really going to work for these guys.  Rather than being depressing, I found the story uplifting and hopeful and really well done.

Cover review: I love this cover by Anne Cain. Haunting and beautiful and really captures the story.