Rating: 4.25 stars
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Love Lessons Learned is a stand-alone novel that follows the three books in the Learning to Love series by K.C. Wells, and has cameos by Evan and Daniel from the book of the same name, as well as mentions of Josh and Chris, and Michael and Sean from their respective books.
Twenty-four-year old John Wainwright has succeeded in securing a teaching position in a small, Manchester, inner-city school where he is mentored by Head Teacher Brett Sanderson. Eager and enthusiastic, John’s life is looking great except for the fact that he is in the closet and seriously attracted to Brett, whom he believes is straight. With the new position comes the opportunity to leave his parent’s home and John finds a room in a house with three gay men, Stu, Martin, and Alec. During the move, Stu accidentally outs John to his family with surprising results.
Head Teacher at Ardwick Primary School, Brett Sanderson, leads a double life. At work, he is professional, caring, intuitive, and approachable, but on Brett’s weeks off, he flees to Brighton and becomes “Rob,” with a new man in his bed every night. Unfortunately for Brett, he is instantly attracted to John, but since he believes John is straight, he feels he can resist the gorgeous, blue-eyed blond.
John and his housemates click immediately and hatch a plan to help John to seduce Brett, and when John’s brother Evan hits on Brett at a charity event, he confirms that Brett is gay and interested in John. The floodgates finally break and the two men surrender to their passion in Brett’s office. John and Brett are then forced to keep their relationship secret because, the reality is, even without a non-fraternization policy at the school, a relationship between instructor and Head teacher is dangerous. Of course, they also both worry about bigotry from the governing body, staff, and parents. John begins to wonder if a position outside the school would open the way for a relationship with John.
John’s first terms at the school go exceedingly well and as the school is located in a less than desirable district, John experiences things that he never expected, like indifference and the need to be on the lookout for a disgruntled parent who has a restraining order against seeing his son. John gets caught in the middle of the parent’s desire to see his son and the law and the fallout from the altercation is extreme. In the end, allegations of impropriety and preferential treatment are made against John and Brett and the men fall under investigation.
I have to admit that this story captivated me from the beginning and could empathize with both Brett and John. The fact that both Brett and John felt the need to hide their sexuality for fear of losing their jobs, being called a pervert or worse, a pedophile, shows that even in this day and age, the old misguided stereotypes still exist. John portrayed a realistic depiction of what it means to be a teacher and it is also great to see John gradually realize how fortunate he is to have such a supportive family and housemates.
One of my favourite parts of the book was when John and Brett attended a charity event when John’s brother, Evan hits on Brett in order to confirm if Brett is or is not gay – it was laugh out loud funny and was definitely the turning point for John and Brett’s relationship.
In many stories, I feel that sex in public places is stupid and the characters should know better. In this instance, the sex scene in Brett’s office was emotionally charged and both men felt the risk was negligible. I did feel that Brett was out of line when he found out John was a virgin and treated John like he was just a casual fuck. Brett feels like he took advantage of John, and so Brett proceeds to keep John at arm’s length and decides the best course of action is to treat John professionally, which John interprets as indifference and disdain. John is devastated, and Brett knows what a bastard he has been, and no matter what John does to put thoughts of Brett aside, he keeps wondering why Brett no longer likes him after they had sex. Eventually, a kind soul reminds Brett that life is too short to let something good pass him by.
Throughout the book, there were indicators that one of the children at the school was at risk of parental abduction and this particular sub plot was nicely developed throughout the story, until the parent makes a bold move which puts not only his son at risk, but John as well.
Something that didn’t make sense to me was that John’s brother, Evan is gay, and John accepts Evan’s homosexuality, so why is John so afraid of coming to terms with his sexuality? I would have liked to know the motivation or reason John was afraid to come out when his family accepted his brother as gay. I also felt that John became comfortable with is recently recognized sexuality too quickly, his flirting and advances towards Brett, and most of all, John’s auto fellatio performance at their house party didn’t seem consistent for his character at that stage in his development.
I found that John and Brett’s relationship progressed at a smooth pace, and their feelings and emotions are described in sufficient detail, and the secondary characters also demonstrated good depth, personality traits, and behaviours which made differentiating them from one another easy and added extra layers to the story. Wells used timeline jumps when necessary to keep the flow and pace moving ahead and there was only one time that I needed to stop and re-read a sentence in order to understand what was intended. I quickly realized that it was the British/North American terminology that was causing me confusion. Wells’ flawless incorporation of characters from the Learning to Love books also impressed me.
Love Lessons Learned was an enjoyable, easy-to-read look at the lives of two likeable men who struggle with personal insecurities and the fear of being themselves in what they perceive to be a less than tolerant society. The story was, for the most part, plausible and the supporting characters fun and engaging.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.