Rating: 4.5 stars
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Pete Morgan is a junior in college and life has thrown him a curveball. His dad recently left his mom for a younger woman, and Pete has a lot of anger inside. He has a lot going on at school; he’s an Echols scholar and a member of the University Singers. He has decided to make a film as part of his academic program, and he’s surrounded by a group of fun, loyal friends. Pete’s love life, however, is not as promising.
When Pete meets Aidan at a party, he’s taken with him. Aidan is gorgeous and popular and an incredible lover, but he’s also emotionally unavailable, which he makes clear to Pete from the get-go. Discouraged by Aidan, Pete begins a relationship with Jed, who’s not really his type, but helps keep him company and keeps him sexually satisfied with their frequent “video game” dates. Pete knows he’s leading Jed on, but Aidan isn’t offering him anything more than sporadic attention, and Jed keeps him from feeling lonely.
As part of his academic program, Pete decides to make a film. He doesn’t have much experience, though, and so his friend Matthew agrees to help him. Matthew quickly becomes Pete’s best friend. He’s funny and easy-going and would give Pete the shirt off his back. When Pete starts having feelings for him that go beyond friendship, Matthew makes it clear that he’s celibate, and that their relationship won’t be going anywhere. Pete wants Matthew in his life in whatever form, but their time together becomes increasingly frustrating as Pete sees Matthew for the amazing man that he is.
Serpentine Walls is one of those novels that is a journey. If you’re looking for instant gratification — an easy romance — this is the wrong book for you. This is also why I liked it so much. It kept me reading because I didn’t really know where it was going. There was a large cast of characters and the path to true love was a bumpy one. It didn’t always go in the direction that I would’ve liked, but it got where I wanted eventually, and I thought it was a rather interesting trip to get to that point.
The characters are the star of this book. Pete is surrounded by a wonderful group of friends, who are supportive and lovely and everything you’d want from a university experience. From his adorable roommate to his long-time, loyal best friend, to his crazy cousin, Bud, they were all multi-dimensional and intriguing and made me wish they were my friends as well. The plot isn’t that revolutionary, but the characters make it exciting to read and easy to get involved in.
The biggest problem I had with this novel was the reason the two main characters are kept apart for so long — the celibacy decision. I have no problem with people who decide to remain celibate, as long as their in a convincing reason, like waiting until marriage or religious ideals, etc. Remaining celibate for three years because you were in a relationship that went sour seems highly unlikely. Especially when you have strong feelings for someone and that is the only thing keeping you apart. As this was the framework of the entire novel, it was the one repeated problem I saw throughout.
Overall, though, I’d recommend this novel by new to me author CJ Elliott. It was well-written and a lot of fun to read, and I love a book that leaves me guessing until the end.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.