Grammar and punctuation can influence so much. Especially for an English teacher like Rory. So when he sees a banner advertising a local “gay book club,” it seems too good to be true. He is, after all, the only gay man in Buckland-in-the-vale. Yet when he arrives for the inaugural meeting, Rory suddenly realizes the “gay book club” is actually a “gay-book club.” All the attendees are octogenarians eager to discuss the same-sex romances that unfold with delicious passion through the imagery of the written word. And all other members are decidedly female…until Adam storms in like a thundercloud over the moors.
Adam likewise fell victim to the grammatical mistake and arrived thinking he’d finally find someone to knock boots with in his tiny hometown. Instead, he only finds a bevy of biddies and the most foppish—if cute—man he’s ever laid eyes on. As much as he’d like to offer a few choice words of ridicule to the group and broodily storm off, his fiercely obstinate nature forces him to stick around.
The ladies of the book club, on the other hand, could not be more pleased that two single, gay men graced their club. Together, they plot and plan ways to keep both Rory and Adam coming to the book club with an eye towards actually engineering a real-life gay romance all their own. Little to they know there is some latent attraction already at work between Rory and Adam. Despite their rocky start, both men find themselves inexplicably drawn to the other.
Mere attraction, however, is hardly enough to convince Adam to break his rule of one-night stands or for Rory to give up on his dream of finding true love. Even as they find some common ground and maybe a path towards something mutually satisfying during a short road trip, old habits come swooping back in to keep both Adam and Rory firmly within the bounds of their natures.
The ladies of the Buckland-in-the-vale and Sandstone Tor gay book club certainly have their work cut out for them. But together, they are bound and determined to see Adam and Rory happily together, just like in the books they love to read.
So, John Wiltshire. On the one hand, I am wholly enamored of his A Royal Affair series. On the recommendation of a blog commenter, I gave his More Heat Than the Sun series a try—it was less awe inspiring for me. Batting 1 for 1, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Buckland-in-the-vale…unfortunately, I didn’t get utterly absorbed by the characters like I did with A Royal Affair. Overall, I didn’t really feel a sense of connection to the characters. Adam I just plum didn’t like. Rory fared much better, but there are at least a couple places where, despite his fierce commitment to getting a romantically committed partner, he is willing to renege (thankfully, there are circumstances that allow me to feel it is still somewhat in line with him as a character…but still, the whole premise of “Rory” is that he’s out for true love, eh). More irritating, but taking up somewhat less space on-page, was the depiction of the octogenarians. I read the dedication in this book and it made me want to run right out and volunteer at a retirement village or something so I could have my own circle of extra generational friends. But the actual descriptions for these ladies in the book (presumably modeled after real-life people familiar with the author) left a taste of…well, misogyny in my mouth.
So I want to say that, while the characters were a bit lack luster, the story was very good. Except it, too, didn’t quite keep me on tinter hooks the way Royal Affair and More Heat Than the Sun (all it’s issues aside) most certainly did. The lengthy set-up just to get the action rolling was something of a drain, too. While I don’t need Lights! Camera! SEX! from the first page, I wasn’t a huge fan of the plodding way the author frames the whole misplaced hyphen mishap. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how powerfully confusing “gay book club” versus “gay-book club” is…at least to me as an American English speaker. (Full disclosure: I happened to teach English for several years and currently, regularly translate and proofread technical documents and presentations where grammar matters. I concur, the state of the average person’s command of basic elements of style is atrocious, but hyphenated adjectives? Really?)
For me, the most enjoyable parts of the story were scenes revolving around the clashes between Adam and Rory. Although I thought their dynamic had a lot less spark than the main pairing in A Royal Affair and far less blind devotion as shown in book one of More Heat Than the Sun, there was enough there to keep me interested—it helped that I was okay with resigning myself to Adam being and pretty much staying prickly (not to spoil the ending, but there was a bit at the tail end where you’d think Adam would just give into the feels, but alas, he rules his emotions with an iron fist). Nevertheless, Wiltshire does a passable job including just enough drama to keep the MCs together on-page and exploring all the shades of angst. Angst over being gay in such a small town, angst over nearly grasping a near-impossible dream, angst over whether or not to stick to your morals (i.e. “lower” yourself to a one-night-stand or “raise” yourself to an actual romance).
On the whole, this is a perfectly adequate book. If you’re looking for a get-together that’s almost enemies to lovers, features a quaint English town, and works hard to make an opposites-attract line work, I think you’d enjoy this story. It works well as a total stand-alone (so if you’re ambivalent over it, you don’t have to angst yourself over whether or not any sequels will be better or worse).