Story Rating: 4.25 stars
Audio Rating: 4.25 stars
Narrators: Teddy Hamilton and Stephen Dexter
Length: 9 hours, 5 minutes
Roderick left the small town of Colebury, Vermont, eight years ago after being rejected by his parents for being gay. He spent some time homeless, before ultimately settling in Nashville. However, a bad break up from a cheating, closeted boyfriend has Roderick returning to Colebury looking for a fresh start. Trained as a chef, he finds a job at the Busy Bean as a baker. Finances are tight, as his ex cut off Roderick’s bank accounts, so he is struggling to make ends meet, living in his car until he can find a place that he can afford.
Kieran Shipley remembers Roderick from high school; in fact, Roderick was the stuff of Kieran’s fantasies when he spied on Roderick fooling around with another guy in the school gym. Now, Kieran can barely look at Roderick for all the sexual tension. Kieran knows he is not straight, but it is a secret he is in no way ready to share. But when he realizes how desperately Roderick needs a place to stay, Kieran offers him a room in his new house.
Things are a little awkward at first between the men, but soon they get past the tension from their high school days. Roderick is so friendly and full of life, Kieran finds himself drawn to the man. And Roderick is more than happy to help Keiran explore his obviously conflicted feelings about being with a guy. As their friendship grows, so does the attraction and soon both men are eagerly acting on their feelings. Kieran is normally so reserved; he is a man who isn’t particularly comfortable with other people, and with a lot of secrets to hide, he keeps to himself. But with Roderick, Kieran finds himself feeling alive in ways he never dreamed. In fact, his life is everything he could want — except for the fact that he can’t ever imagine coming out. But with Roderick having been burned once by a closeted boyfriend, he isn’t sure he is willing to repeat that disaster. Now, Kieran must figure out if he is ready to take a chance on love and open up about his feelings for Roderick, or if is he going to risk losing the happiness they have built together.
Roommates is a sexy, romantic, roommates-to-lovers story that I really enjoyed. I think the pace works nicely here to slowly develop the awkward tension between the men, then the tentative friendship, the sexual attraction, and ultimately the deep emotional bond. We get enough time to believe in their hesitation, as well as to see that real connection grow. I really liked both of these guys and think there is a fun, sexy dynamic between them. Roderick is so bright and full of life, and he really brings a sense of peace and contentment to Kieran that he has been missing. I enjoyed the way that Roderick just puts his feelings out there and his confidence, as well as his gentle understanding, helps Kieran begin to feel comfortable reaching for what he wants with Roderick.
While Roderick does have some family issues, as well as the rocky past with his ex, the story feels mostly like Kieran’s journey as he has the most to overcome. When the story opens, Kieran is living unhappily on the family farm, never feeling like his father truly cares about him and being taken advantage of by his brother for free labor. Breaking out of that environment to live on his own is the first step in Keiran finding himself, but a lot of it comes from Roderick as well. Roderick is so supportive and calmly understanding. He never pushes Kieran, but he helps him feel more confident and loved. He also helps to give Kieran a vision of what his life could be like if he is willing to take some chances and some steps out of his comfort zone. I think Bowen does a nice job here really showing how reserved Kieran is and why. He is such a deeply private man and one who holds so much of himself back, at least with everyone but Roderick. So while his issues are the main roadblock to their happiness, they are also really grounded in his character, which makes it all work. And when you see the men together and happy, it is so rewarding.
I think there are some issues that needed a little more development here. While the conflict between the men themselves gets worked out nicely, there are outside relationship dynamics that are affecting both of them that don’t feel addressed fully. In Roderick’s case, he has this ex, who not only cheated on him, but froze his credit cards and bank accounts. While they do circle back to get some closure on the relationship itself, I found it unclear why Roderick is so content to just let his ex keep all his money rather than actually fighting to get it back (particularly early on when he is living in his car in the freezing Vermont winter due to lack of funds). In Kieran’s case, we learn about a big secret that he has been carrying around for years and once it comes out, it never really gets the as much discussion as I wanted. Also, his tension with his father in many areas, including his father’s past homophobic remarks, plays a huge role in a lot of Kieran’s doubts and fears, and this wraps up too tidily without really developing the resolution.
I listened to this story in audio with dual narration by Teddy Hamilton and Stephen Dexter. The book is written with dual, first person POV and each narrator takes a character’s chapters. I’ll admit, it was a little jarring at first, as I haven’t listened to many dual narrations and Dexter and Hamilton have very different styles and voices. Neither man could really recreate the other actor’s voices, so Roderick and Kieran sound pretty different in Hamilton’s chapters versus Dexter’s. For the most part, the narrators rely on a deep voice for Kieran and a higher voice for Roderick to really differentiate them. So it took me a while to get used to the style, but there were enough cues that I had no trouble telling the characters apart, particularly since the first-person POV makes it very clear who is talking. I enjoyed Hamilton’s performance in particular, as he really captures Roderick’s energy so well. There is a quirky, liveliness to Roderick that really comes through in the narration. For his part, Dexter gives Kieran that solid, steadiness that really fits his character. So I ended up really enjoying this in audio and will definitely look forward to work from both narrators in the future.
One last note… Roommate is somewhat of a bridge book that connects Bowen’s True North series with her upcoming World of True North universe. Some of the Shipley cousins play a role in that first series, and this story then transitions readers into what looks like four new series that will add to that universe, each with books written by a variety of authors. It will feature series focused on the Busy Bean coffee shop and on the Speakeasy Taproom in Colebury, as well as a new adult series called Moo U Hockey at the local university, and then the LGBTQ Vino and Veritas series. Vino and Veritas is a combination bookstore and bar and there are a host of authors contributing LGBTQ stories (the locale gets a quick preview at the end of this book). We already have some of these on the calendar to review and I am really looking forward to seeing all of these authors play in Bowen’s world. I’ll admit that it would be nice to see more integration across the series. While this book is M/M, all the other series in this world appear to be M/F, with the exception of Vino and Veritas. It might have been nice to not segregate all the gay characters into one series, rather than letting them interact in the larger True North world (particularly since this book takes place at the Busy Bean). But in the end, it is at least great to see so much representation in what I think will turn out to be a big and popular series, and maybe this will bring in some crossover readers from the other books.
So I really enjoyed this story and loved Kieran and Roderick together. The audio was a great addition and I think this book can be easily enjoyed in either format. This story was a great way to launch into the larger True North universe and I am looking forward to the stories to come.