After surviving a turbulent childhood, with a physically abusive father to whom his mother was wholly devoted, Ethan Blair knew nothing good could come of love. At thirty-eight, his every need and desire is fulfilled with a steady stream of one-night stands. They scratch his itch without messy emotions getting involved. Until a shy, quiet linguaphile named Thomas Read steps into Drihten, the antique bookstore in New York Ethan runs. For Ethan, it’s absolutely lust at first sight and he is rather confident he could bed Thomas almost immediately. But something about the slender, young, British man makes Ethan content to wait, to give a little bit of a chase. Their first meeting is electrifying, both men talking of their love of classic works and linguistic declension. Thomas’s grueling work for his father, however, keeps him away from New York and Ethan the next few months.
When Thomas finally reappears in Drihten, Ethan is ready to wine and dine the man right into his bed. But after an evening of fine Italian food and plenty of innuendo, Ethan finds himself again willing to play the game of seduction on Thomas’s terms. If nothing else, Ethan knows that the taking of Thomas will be all the sweeter for the wait…and he is not wrong. But he also didn’t expect to want to see Thomas again and again. But they find a way and soon, Ethan knows he can’t get enough of Thomas. The longer their courtship goes on, the more Ethan learns about the unsavory details about Thomas’ controlling family. As much Ethan wants to help, though, Thomas keeps him at arms length…and it almost ruins the most precious relationship Ethan has. Can Ethan learn to love, to accept that level of devotion, despite his background, all while Thomas comes to terms with his problematic family?
From the blurb, I wasn’t expecting much more than a curmudgeonly man (Ethan) learning to love from a comely love interest (Thomas). But Macbeth sets the stage for Read Me True by giving readers a glimpse of where Ethan is at during the chronological middle of the book–that is to say, an utterly broken-hearted man. Then, we rewind to the beginning and the story unfolds. I must say, it was a rather effective way to frame the first half of the book and set the reader up with plenty of anticipation. My first impression of Ethan was that of a man who is scrupulous, supercilious, and stylish. He is painted as something of a recluse and, obviously, a man who cannot (easily) form emotional attachments. All of this makes him a very stark contrast for Thomas, who is described as very attractive, very pale, and very interested in ancient texts and languages, despite being saddled with handling the family pharmaceutical business. For me, Thomas’ overt obfuscation of exactly why he is unhappily trapped in the family business and the very obvious way he has Ethan wrapped around his aloof little finger made him an appealing, mysterious love interest.
I found the idea of having an honest-to-betsy playboy engage in a slow-burn relationship an interesting approach. It seems like Ethan’s perspective on this is that he’s willing to wait for such an appealing sex partner as Thomas, but from the reader’s perspective, we clearly see the two characters bonding over some non-sexual encounters as well. Still, I definitely got the impression that Ethan is extremely focused on getting sex, even after he understands what he has with Thomas is more than a one-time fling.
The on-page relationship seems to be broken into two parts that are separated by a surprise event that results in Ethan and Thomas being separated from one another for a period of time. Before this separation, I thought of Ethan as a suave, sort of older man, enthusiastically pursuing sex with Thomas and Thomas as a waif-like love interest acting almost virginally coy towards Ethan. This and Ethan’s aggressively “toppish” attitude set the tone for their potential romance and a certain level of expectation in me as a reader. After the separation event, the two characters pick up personality attributes they were lacking previously: Ethan learns what it is to love and Thomas gets a spine. This also seems to precipitate at least a partial (and pretty enthusiastic) reversal in their tastes in the bedroom. Sure, this is a pretty limited way to show “character growth,” but at least it serves as a way to reinforce their newly acquired personality attributes, albeit through sex.
With all this focus on sex, sex, sex, I was absolutely stunned by Macbeth’s graphic depiction of sex…and all the errors apparent in the prose. The most horrifying for me was how Ethan and Thomas seem to feel a little spit is sufficient lube before “…his lover rammed in, sheathing himself to the hilt in one, glorious, excruciatingly rough thrust.” Later in this scene, the author reiterates that both characters are looking to “reconnect” by having the receiving partner take his lover dry. But there are also simple mechanics issues, like when Thomas is straddling a supine (that one means face up) Ethan, but Thomas’s penis is pressing against Ethan’s ass. Or when the receiving partner is again supine on the bed in a presumably missionary position with his partner and the backs of the receptive partner’s knees collide with the headboard. Honestly, I completely skimmed the final sex scene because I was done with no-prep and physically implausible (if not outright impossible) depictions.
The portrayal of their relationship after the separation was sort of a tough sell for me, too. I was disappointed that even with the joy of their reunion, their behavior felt mired in melodrama and needlessly complicated by their complete failure to communicate. Thomas and Ethan were not telling each other how they felt or why or that they needed space, they were both just saying they were “fine.” It did not make for a very satsifying relationship, in my opinion, despite all the graphic sex. It was like they thought bumping uglies would be enough to solve all their worries and when that didn’t work, well, Ethan does have an incredibly convenient, incredibly wealthy friend who just happens to know what they need when they need it and is able to provide it exactly when it’s needed.
Overall, Read Me True starts off with a strong air of mystery and two very tropey, but very enjoyable characters. I didn’t mind the big “lovers separated” cliche, but I felt that after this event, the story devolved into melodramatics and shot through copious quantities of what I considered bad sex. Thomas’ family issues were tantalizing prospects, but ultimately failed to dig any deeper than Thomas’ “it’s my cross to bear” mentality. Ethan also had some side story revolving around his work at the bookstore he owns, but it gets cut out of the story after the separation and really only serves as a vehicle to introduce the side character who acts as a desu ex machina regarding Thomas’ family.