French teacher Declan Lonely is the fulcrum between his two friends Rhys and Felix. Although Declan has been secretly in love with Rhys for years, he has never had the courage to act on his feelings. When he finally screws up the courage to reveal what’s in his heart, the timing turns out to be all wrong, leaving both Declan and Rhys hurt and confused. The situation is nearly left untenable as Rhys is scheduled to leave on an extended trip out of the country, but they manage to patch things up just before Rhys goes. Their peace is tentative indeed, however, when a budding friendship between Rhys and Felix comes to light–all the more so because Declan knew nothing of his two friends getting any closer, nor does he know how he feels about it.
Added to the mix is the drama in Declan’s personal life. His older brother, Valens, has been released from jail and needs a place to stay. Given the troubled history the brothers share, Declan is determined to help his brother in an effort to finally start repaying Valens for literally saving Declan’s life. Then there is the trouble brewing at Declan’s work, where one student’s vengeful parent is determined to paint Declan as an out-and-out deviant who’s set his sights on the very children he teaches.
I was excited about this book after reading the description. Based on the author/publisher blurb, I expected a take on the classic love triangle. I fully expected a round of romance roulette between Declan, Rhys, and Felix and one of them–probably Declan–would wind up out on his ass. Not normally what I look for in a romance, but then I thought it’d be fun to try something a little outside the norm. I wasn’t dead wrong on the “outside the norm” front, but it wasn’t because anyone ended up out on their ass.
It didn’t take long for Declan and Rhys to cross the line from friends to lovers, if reservedly. The excitement here is watching them explore the tantalizing question of what to do when you and your boyfriend both get The Feels for one other man. Once that set up became apparent, I was all a titter waiting for emotional fireworks, slammed doors, and hurt feelings all around. As much time and attention as the author devotes to the relationship aspect of the story, it came across a whole lot more understated than all that. Part of it was the subtlety with which Declan, Rhys, and Felix handle and reveal their emotions to one another. The snippets of tension Bossa builds into the story kept building my hope for a fantastic resolution with all the feels. Unfortunately, I felt any potential Shock and Awe moments get drowned out by all the Plot! and that our guys wind up together as a function of supreme ennui instead of fighting to prove they really do belong together.
There is about zero sex on page, so don’t count on that to save the clunky relationship development. The book’s “exploration” of what menage is disappointed me, too. It’s all set up like these three men are gearing up for an intimate relationship between all of them. I can even get that, to start with, maybe they just want to try things in different pairings. What I couldn’t figure out is why two of them just go off and have hot sex (off page) without so much as a by-your-leave to the other guy. That poor guy just woke up because he had to pee; little did he know his two boyfriends were enjoying full-blown sex while he was unconscious. Later, a different pair goes on a date just the two of them. The guy who was left out started to feel jealous, which I thought meant we’d explore the realistic mechanics of polyamory. Instead, however, it was pretty much handled by one of the two that went on the date telling the jealous guy to not be jealous. Given that the book raises these issues, I was keen to see how they’d be resolved…but I thought the book failed to explain/explore any of these points after they’d been raised.
The book isn’t exclusively concerned with the emotional lives of three twenty-somethings, either. Along with highlighting the interpersonal relationships that develop between Declan, Rhys, and Felix, Owner of a Lonely Heart is busy busy busy with a smorgasbord of other threads. Chief themes in the book include: menage, bigotry, recovering criminals, abuse, and feelings of neglect.
I got the clear impression that Bossa uses these threads as a way to define each of the three principle characters. On one hand, I can understand how all these various issues can add to the story’s “realness” because who doesn’t have at least a little baggage? On the other hand, with each MC starring in his own personal shitshow, I got the impression their relationships were being built around these issues rather than showcasing how any of them help the others work through them. Take Declan, for example. He is affected by bigotry at work. Likewise, Rhys suffers from feelings of neglect. Despite the struggles the author establishes in a clear, if somewhat clinical, fashion, I simply didn’t get the sense that Rhys and Felix actively support Declan or that Declan and Felix actively support Rhys as each man confronts his issues.
Overall, I wasn’t too impressed with the prose. Structurally, I think Bossa does a respectable job peppering the story with details pertaining to each theme in a timely manner. I didn’t notice any grossly overt info dumps, nor does something pop up just once in the first chapter then fade into obscurity before being called on as a sort of Deus ex Machina rescue at the end. That said, the tone of the narration rubbed me a bit wrong. Although our characters are late-twenties to early thirties, they didn’t sound like their age to me. Specifically, some of the dialogue came across as sounding immature and the friendship between Declan and Rhys (best friends for 15-plus years) sounded at times like they were actually frenemies instead. I would have liked more clarification on the character’s basic stats, as well. Declan, for instance, is bisexual. That tidbit, however, isn’t made clear upon his introduction, or the random ex-girlfriend waiting on them in a restaurant. It only comes into play late in the book when Declan wonders whether his “inability” to be exclusively attracted to me men means he might be a good romantic fit for a strictly gay man.
The book was okay, if you want to try something a bit non-traditional without having to totally leaving what I suppose is the M/M equivalent of vanilla. Despite all the issues and themes the book attempts to explore, the sheer number of themes that need to be addressed made me feel like very little gets fully explored–not horrible for lesser threads, but even the biggest plot points came out the weaker for it, in my opinion.