Martin is lost. He’s lost his position as a professor at a small university through no fault of his own. Already shy, he’s now feeling like a failure, and all of his self respect is gone. Now, Martin’s in Seacroft, a tiny village by the ocean, working in a used bookstore and living with his brother.
Sebastian is an artist living in the apartment above the bookstore. He’s moderately successful with shows in galleries and unique pieces that sell pretty well. He’s a bit of a jokester and a little high strung, and his family, especially his father, is less than desirable.
They didn’t exactly get off on the right foot, but eventually Martin and Seb begin a friendship that slowly begins to move toward more. However, after a disastrous party with Seb’s family, followed by a tragic event, their growing love is threatened. Are they going to be able to overcome all the outside forces that seem to surround them? Or will they fall apart before they even have a chance?
The blurb for Top Shelf grabbed my attention, and Allison Temple is an author I’ve not read, so I jumped on the opportunity to read this book. I very much like the author’s style; it’s smooth with chapters that flow, dialogue that is written like an actual conversation, vivid detail/descriptions that allow me to “see” scenes and settings, and obviously well researched situations (especially art). However, I just didn’t feel very connected to the characters and that got in the way of a good reading experience.
Martin has had a terrible experience at the university. He’s been completely torn down. His brother has rescued him and brought him to Seacroft, but Martin can’t seem to move on. He’s actually ashamed of his situation. I completely understand this. I can absolutely relate, and it made him the only character I made a connection with.
Seb? While I know he’s a good guy, he gives off the vibe of a, well, brat is the word that keeps popping into my head. It starts from the moment I was introduced to him and continued on through the whole book. His glee at seeing how uncomfortable (and downright scared) Martin is feels squirm worthy, and even though the men considered themselves friends, Seb still gives off a temperamental vibe the rest of the way. I can say I like him, but I just can’t make myself love him.
While I’m not terribly thrilled by the characters, with the exception of Cassidy, the teenager who works at the bookstore with Martin (and even she bothered me a bit in the end), the actual story has good bones, and I feel its plot is good. I enjoy a nice slow burn romance and Top Shelf delivers. Martin and Seb don’t actually come together until a good way into the book. The wait was so worth it. Temple has a gift for writing love scenes…super sexy with just enough detail to make it hot without going over the top. I am definitely impressed.
I also want to touch on Seb’s relationship with his family. “Contentious” is an understatement. One particular scene was so uncomfortable, I’m not even sure how to feel. It’s ugly and mean and disturbing. Everyone at the dinner table, except Martin, behaves so badly I stillcringe, but the writing and the dialogue is superb because it makes me feel that discomfort. Kudos to the author for this.
The last portion of the book took me on a roller coaster of emotions. I lost any good feelings I may have had about Seb. I know he’s gone through two terrible things one right after the other, but his behavior was, once again, that of a bratty child who didn’t get a candy bar at the grocery store. He (willingly) hurts Martin, who only wants to help. He’s ignoring texts and phone calls, and instead he’s either brooding or going to clubs with his manager who’s…well…he’s a jerk. All the while, Martin is working hard to make Seb happy, pulling the town together and planning a spectacular demonstration of love from all of them.
The end pulls together rather neatly and as expected. It even leaves room for some redemption and reconciliation (kind of undeserved, but…). There’s proper romance that leaves me smiling. This is the first book in a new series and even though I feel this is a little bit of a miss, I am definitely going to give the next one a go. I do recommend Top Shelf, especially to fans of angsty MCs, slow burn romance, and small towns with quirky residents.