Hi guys! We have another new reviewer starting today! Please help me welcome Camille! You can learn more about her at her bio at the end of the review. Welcome Camille!
From the moment Jasper “Jazz” Hendricks’ family moves into the same small Maine town where Nicholas “Nicky” Blumfeld lives, they are inseparable. Nicky and Jazz grew up spending all their waking hours with each other, going on adventures and making their own special fort on an island that’s part of the Blumfeld parcel of land. It is only fitting that, as teenagers, they discover their feelings are deeper than best-friendship–they are falling in love. Falling in love, however, is rarely as difficult as staying together. For Nicky and Jazz, the odds seem insurmountable.
Nicky’s drug-addicted mother gave him life and, seemingly, a lifetime of attachment issues. As a result, teenaged Nicky finds it hard to accept the love of his adopted parents and is unable to deal with drama in his relationship with Jazz. For his part, Jazz feels deeply conflicted. Everything he has with Nicky feels incredibly “right,” but the comfort he’s always felt when at church deepens into a true calling. The situation comes to a head the summer Nicky and Jazz are seventeen years old when a series of circumstances that aren’t entirely clear to either teen leads to Nicky, wounded and feeling betrayed, splitting for the west coast to pursuit a career in music and Jazz turning to seminary school, devoting his life to the service of God.
Seventeen years later, their paths cross and the main story picks up.
Nicky–now known to the world as Nico Blue, guitarist for the rock band Vespertine–returns to his Maine roots to kick the drug addictions that have wreaked havoc on his life. Going home is a gamble, however. Part of him wants nothing more than to disappear into the comfort of his childhood home and a chance to make amends to his adopted parents for their unending support despite his issues. Another part of him, however, is worried how to react when he inevitably runs into Jazz, who is now Father Hendricks and priest for the local Catholic congregation. Nicky hasn’t been home more than a couple days before he suddenly finds himself not just in Father Hendricks’ church, but his very confessional booth. Nicky’s confession is full of anger and self-loathing. Strangely enough, that confession rips the lids of years of bottled emotions on both sides and cracks open the door of communication between the two.
Jazz–now a Catholic priest and head of an LGBTQ-centric group foster home–truly wants to help Nicky heal, even though his choice of pursuing his religious calling means he was not and is not able to be the lover Nicky wants. Jazz, however, is determined to assist. After Nicky’s tense confessional, Jazz resolves to be the strength his friend needs to overcome his demons. The ex-lovers manage to establish a tentative friendship as they work together on getting Nicky better and helping the kids cared for at Jazz’s foster home.
As the two men rediscover who they are, they privately discover that spark of connection is still very much existent. For Nicky, however, this means accepting that he can have, at most, a friendship with Jazz. On the other hand, Jazz has to reevaluate the choices he made seventeen years ago and figure out what he really wants.
This is a great book for anyone who likes a lengthy build-up to a foregone conclusion. What separates this from most others with this will-they-or-won’t-they scenario is twofold: Nicky’s baggage as a bona fide rock’n’roll superstar and Jazz’s priestly vows, including one of celibacy. Despite the gut feeling that these two will get back together, the question remains as to whether or not they can actually stay together. One of the best things about the resolution is that it’s not instigated by the source I kept expecting, but comes flying out of left field.
Blake and Vaughn do an excellent job of crafting the dynamic between our two heroes. The tension is thick enough to cut with a knife. Armed only with the knowledge that Jazz apparently overthrew Nicky for the devout life of a priest, the slow-release of the details about their teenage years allows us to stew and wonder what really happened when they were seventeen without having to stop everything and flashback. I think Nicky’s backstory with the drug-addicted mother played in well to his reaction and the circumstances around Jazz choosing seminary were well executed. The authors’ choice to set the story in the same town in which our heroes grew up plays out nicely as well, making it easier for the characters to reminisce and build the backstory of their teenage love story as they try to come to terms with their adult relationship seventeen years later. The island Nicky’s parents own also serves as a great, memory-filled backdrop to much emotional action of both the oh-la-la variety and the zomg-say-it-ain’t-so variety.
One thing that is either a brilliant play on the authors’ part or just pure melodrama for the sake of melodrama was this: Nicky knows he cannot hope to be Jazz’s lover again. In fact, he is absolutely resigned to that fact. I loved that we got to see him battling with his attraction; I loved that it wasn’t even rekindled attraction, it’s that Nicky never stopped loving Jazz. That point ends up being somewhat significant in the plot–it could have been the very crux of the their love story thread, but as it is, Nicky’s undying love is just a bittersweet note. Regardless, I kept feeling bad for Jazz when Nicky, fully knowing knowing his feelings would have to be of the unrequited variety, persists in indulging every opportunity for sexual innuendo with Jazz. That, to me, seemed like a Dick Move.
Nevertheless, the love story is well played, especially if you like the classic will-they-or-won’t-they tropes. The threads about Nicky’s addiction and Jazz’s priesthood are set up and well explored. These facets of their lives serve to ground them more in reality and lift them from simply being melodramatic roles. They aren’t simply men secretly hot for one another, they had weighty things to consider outside of themselves. Nicky’s stardom, on the other hand, I could have taken or left. For all the money and famous-people problems he presumably has, neither are featured in the book in any meaningful capacity. Unless there’s a sequel planned that would feature the kinds of struggles a public figure would face trying to lead a domestic life with an average Joe type, I didn’t see much reason for making Nicky the superstar he was supposed to be.
I am disappointed about the treatment of Jazz’s LGBTQ youth center. That thread has such potential, yet is mostly relegated to the background. So much time and attention is given to explaining how a Catholic priest was able to afford and get away with having this kind of foster house, but it doesn’t drive any drama in the plot. It pops up, but feels like it’s been thrown in to pad a 400-odd page book. The kids at the center have names and a backstory, but their interactions serve mostly as a way to highlight the Nicky/Jazz love story or prove how what good intentions our heroes have.
Camille has a job as a Japanese interpreter/translator that is as rewarding as it is stressful. That said, her job does make her feel like something of a badass. Plus, who wouldn’t like knowing their college education is actually helping to pay the bills? Apart from work, she will occasionally draw (Gundam fan art and line art), often cook (anything with lime and coconut milk is a go), frequently hit the gym (so she has an excuse to hit the vending machine without guilt), and compulsively read M/M books (because once she realized that was A Thing, she got irrevocably hooked).