Unscripted Love is the first book in the Road to Blissville series, but is a spin-off of the Curl Up & Dye series, which I have not read. I honestly think I might have liked this story better had I read those books first. But, I can’t really say as the issues that most troubled me about this one were structural problems I’d expect to see in any earlier work, too.
Two years ago, Dr. Kyle Vaughn moved back to Blissville, Ohio to take charge of his grandfather’s veterinary practice. Kyle is a gentle and careful man whose long-term boyfriend, Gabe, moved from Miami with him, but they drifted and Gabe is now engaged to Josh, who owns the Curl Up & Dye salon. Josh’s best friend is Chaz Hamilton. I think Chaz is a younger, black man, but it’s really hard to tell from this book—aside from the photo on the cover. Chaz is a self-published gay mystery/romance author and works at the Curl Up & Dye as a receptionist and office person.
Chaz was friendly with Kyle’s younger sister back in childhood. In his mid-thirties, Kyle is roughly eight years older than Chaz. Both men are all grown up now, and dead sexy to one another, but don’t think of themselves as a “catch” per se. Kyle struggles with his self image because he was a mercilessly teased fat kid, and losing Gabe only solidifies his belief that he’s not interesting or attractive enough to keep a man. He’s had one connection in the past year, with an online gamer named “Drew” who flat out refused to meet him in person. Kyle doesn’t know that “Drew” was really Chaz using an alias. Chaz is too embarrassed to tell Kyle about his subterfuge—it started innocently as Chaz doing research for a character in his novel—especially once it escalated into chat-sex. Chaz is afraid that Kyle will be angry with him and might like fictional Drew better. No matter how many times Kyle reaches out in real life, Chaz holds this secret and uses it to keep emotional and physical distance from Kyle. Which, in turn, makes Kyle feel more unlovable.
Not that they don’t get it on. They do, but it’s all messed up because Chaz’s remorse over “Drew” is palpable and confusing to Kyle. And, Chaz is a super fraidy-cat about everything—until he finally can’t stand himself any longer and finally confesses to Kyle. It’s not so easy for them to build trust afterwards, but they manage.
For me, this book was lackluster because of the voice and point-of-view. It’s told in third-person past, and the execution gave me the impression of a memoir or a summary. So many times this stylistic choice shattered the immediacy of the moment or broke the tension of a long-anticipated scene. Because of that, I didn’t connect with either Chaz or Kyle, or their building love story. Also, I felt as if the author didn’t spend a lot of time building either Kyle or Chaz as characters; I assume this is because they’d been part of the Curl Up & Dye books. However, they felt flat to me.
There were other challenges that didn’t sit well with me, as a reader. Chaz, I think, is supposed to be a black man, but I didn’t feel anything culturally relevant in the character. That was a disappointment. Even his name was bland. Chaz’s constant havering about the “Drew” issue was irritating and tiresome. He made promises to Kyle that he continually broke and that was aggravating. I honestly don’t know why Kyle accepted Chaz’s apology—ten months too late at a minimum—except that Kyle was just the bestest, nicest guy ever. And, he kinda felt that way. Still, disliking one of the main characters for 75% of the book is hard for me to overlook. Even when I didn’t flat out dislike him, I didn’t love him at all. His sassiness was far outweighed by his shiftiness, and even when all his dreams came true, I wasn’t in a place to cheer for him. I almost felt bad that Kyle was saddling himself with such an immature partner.
I think I might have liked this story better had I read and loved the Curl Up & Dye books, but on its own, this one was a miss for me. There’s a little bit of sexytimes, and those were kind of good. Don’t expect a lot of “upbeat” moments until the end.