Mason is a small-time model and aspiring TV personality, not because he loves the lifestyle–or at least the carefully curated one he constantly posts about on social media–but because it pays the bills. And his mother’s bills. And even some of his teenage sisters’ school costs. It’s a constant hustle, but at least there are perks, like free designer clothes and invites to the parties where Mason hopeful he can schmooze his way into some real fame. When he meets a wildly successful TV producer at an awards show, she drops hints that she may be open to creating a spot for him on her weekend lifestyle program. She is especially keen to cash in on what she perceives to be the holy grail to that program’s core demographic: a will-they-or-won’t-they flirtation between Mason and a future co-host. A fake relationship is nothing new to Mason; all he needs to do is make sure he’s upfront with his fake love interest. Mason just never imagined the program would rope a complete TV novice to fill the role.
Owen knows he has a knight-in-shining-armor complex. It’s part of how he coped with raising his little brother after their mom passed away years ago. It also means he has a hard time saying no, which is how he found himself attending a ritzy awards dinner at his brother’s behest. Also in attendance is his brother’s ex, Mason. Despite Owen’s brother accusing Mason of being shallow and chained to social media, Owen is willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt. That apparently extends to letting his knight-complex ride to Mason’s rescue not once, but twice during the show. First, Owen helps Mason avoid making an embarrassment out of himself after indulging in too much wine. Then, he helps Mason by agreeing to co-star in a new segment on a popular weekend magazine show. At least the show is about gardening, the one thing Owen is passionate about.
Gardening isn’t supposed to be hot, but the chemistry between Mason and Owen is on fire. Their producer tells Owen to really work the flirtation angle and if it develops into something more, well, so much the better. Mason doesn’t mind a bit of flirting with a hunk like Owen, but it doesn’t take long for a mutual spark of interest to grow into a flame of bona fide attraction. Mason explains how it’ll help his career and even Owen’s gardening business. Eventually, Owen accepts a level of social engagement for Mason’s sake, but the two are clearly operating on different levels when it comes to on-line presence. As things heat up between Mason and Owen, viewers of the show get more invested in the relationship than the gardening. When the show all but demands Owen to compromise his professional and ethical standards, things go south quickly. To make things worse, it seems like everything gets orchestrated to make Owen the scapegoat…and Mason may be in on it.
Home Grown Talent is the second book in Chambers and Malcolm’s Creative Types series. It takes place after the events of book one, Total Creative Control, featuring Owen’s brother, Lewis, and his fan-turned-assistant, Aaron. Fans of Lewis and Aaron will enjoy the multiple cameos they get in this book. I enjoyed the glimpse into their happily-ever-after life and really enjoyed getting to see Owen turn to Lewis for comfort during a highly emotional scene for Owen.
The book chapters are headed by the POV characters, so we get a lot of insight into Owen and Mason as people, as well as a couple. I thought it made Mason especially feel more dynamic as a character. Mason really struggles with his role in his family and we see how he resents being a financial safety net, yet also feels badly that he resents helping them out. Scenes where Mason is interacting with his mother felt so visceral. It was easy to see how he balances his conflicting feelings about supporting and parenting his mother, while also finding comfort in her presence. By contrast, Owen generally seems to wear his heart on his sleeve when things are going smoothly. When things get rough, however, we learn that Owen has another complex, one that his brother and one of his closest work colleagues point out: he stonewalls feelings and even people when the emotions are too much.
The whole conceit about Mason and Owen getting together was a delight. In this story, the two start off with a quick bit of wrong impressions. Owen is convinced a man as attractive as Mason would never look twice at him; Mason is convinced Lewis has painted him as a fame-obsessed socialite. However, by the end of the awards show, both men are seeing one another in a better light. So they happily agree to explore their hot-as-fuck connection. Yet there are so many little mental comments from Mason about how he can also get social media content out of his new relationship. And there are just as many times where Owen actively reminds Mason there’s more to life than sharing the sparkliest bits with randos on the internet. It sets up a big potential for conflict: when is something real and when is it just for likes on social media?
To me, it felt a lot like Mason got to grow and shine as a character. There was always a careful balance between his public life that made him money and his personal life and passions. Mason also guides Owen through the minefield of being a public personality. This aspect of them getting to know each other was an amazing way to build their relationship and show how opposite they were yet able to connect and communicate. Mostly. It didn’t take long for Mason and Owen to agree to explore their mutual attraction and as something more than a one-night stand kind of thing. Yet there was always a sense of restraint from Mason. His own father was a terrible partner to his wife and Mason constantly tells himself he doesn’t want anything too serious with Owen. On the other hand, Owen seems to get under all of Mason’s guards, even as he lets Mason slip through his own. The ultimate effect was like a slow burn; not to the bumping uglies part, but rather to the realization that you actually love this person you’ve been sleeping with. And, of course, this makes the blow up that much more delicious. I also liked that it wasn’t just Mason’s almost automatically posting personal things on the internet, but Owen finds out his stonewalling of emotions made the blow up that much more painful for everyone.
Overall, I thought this was an excellently planned and executed book. I loved how our two MCs knew about each other from the previous book and past interpersonal relationships. In this book, I really liked the juxtaposition of Mason and his fame with Owen and his down-to-earth personality. The authors really maximized how different these two men are, yet still found enough common ground to fall in love with each other. Owen and Mason have fantastic chemistry together and I loved it all the more when Mason finally stopped viewing his world and his relationship through the lens of the career he’d grown to really hate. Home Grown Talent is a fantastic addition to this series. I think this would be a great read for anyone who likes opposites-attract stories or slow-burns (again, not as a build up to sex, but a build up to capital-L Love). I think you’ll really enjoy this book.