Robin isn’t sure the guy who crawled out of the back of an abandoned fridge is sane, but that doesn’t stop him from recognizing how hot the guy is or wondering if he is single. However, with his best friend, Azrah, telling Robin he had to be imagining it, and his job eating away at any kind of happiness Robin clings to, the mystery man’s appeal only grows—until he sees him with a baby and what he is pretty sure must be the guy’s wife. So much for getting to know the guy he can’t seem to get out of his mind.
Archie Levine has not had an easy life, but that’s all in the past. He loves his mum, Lyddie, despite her not always being the best kind of parent. He knows she tried and that’s all that’s important to him, that and his son, Jerrick…and that guy he saw when foraging for parts to add to his steampunk collection–the guy who he hasn’t managed to forget since spotting him that fateful night.
J.L. Merrow has released a new novel, Counter Culture, and once again fans of this author will be able to immerse themselves in the humor and pathos this writer is known for creating. Poor Robin has never really had anyone in his corner—his parents are less than supportive and mostly condemning of just about everything he does, his best friend Azrah is negative and caustic on her best days, and his job has just announced he’s going to have to work a major sale the day after Thanksgiving—a holiday their country doesn’t even celebrate. Probably the only good thing that’s happened to Robin was seeing that guy dismantling that fridge on his block. But then he sees the same man with a child and possibly a wife and that means Robin’s fantasies of being with the guy are just that—fantasies.
Archie isn’t married, but he may as well be because when he runs into Robin again, just the sight of him makes the mother of his child fume and declare that if he dates anyone, he will surely abandon his son when the relationship takes precedence over the boy. Knowing how he felt growing up without a father makes Archie feel even more guilt over the idea of ever letting anyone be more important than Jerrick. So he backs away—telling Robin he isn’t looking for any kind of special someone, but that doesn’t stop the two men from falling for each other in secret.
Counter Culture is a funny and warm-hearted story that brings two very like-minded men together despite every circumstance around them trying to keep them apart. From the mystery surrounding why Lyddie and Archie hate the store where Robin works, to the slow burning attraction that steadily grows between Archie and Robin and the silly misconceptions that tend to keep them apart, the novel is complete with tender moments, sexy longing, and laugh out loud situations. Steampunk fans will love the many references to the lifestyle and the colorful descriptions of various costumes and personas created by Archie’s many friends.
But the real star here is Robin, who often is his own worst enemy while just trying to be a good guy and make his way in the world without hurting anyone. His care for the homeless who live outside the store he works in are some of the most tender moments in the story. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself silently rooting for the young man—I know I fell in love with him immediately and actually found myself disliking his best friend, Azrah. Her penchant for putting him down and her angry attitude wore thin after a while and I think it would have been nice to see her at least be more supportive of her best friend rather than continually be nasty toward him. Perhaps I was oversensitive toward her character, but honestly, all I wanted her to do was lighten up and not verbally assault Robin every chance she got. If I’m being honest, it was her and the strident and unkind way she had of talking to Robin that kept me from giving this novel a higher rating.
However, the chemistry between Archie and Robin won the day for me, as did their fumbling attempts to get closer to one another. They both came off as genuinely good guys who deserved happiness and I reveled in the moments they found it in each other’s arms. Counter Culture is a feel good kind of story that made me smile. It is classic Merrow writing which I have always found appealing.