Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Notorious is a spin off from Leslie McAdam’s IOU series, featuring two side characters connecting. It’s fine to read as a standalone, but I think those people who’ve also read Ambiguous will especially like this book. Please note the author’s strenuous and detailed trigger warnings about a main character’s disordered thinking, depression, and suicidal ideation with intent to self-harm.

Kurt Delmont is a graphic designer with a trust fund whose mission in life is to make it better for the downtrodden, particularly LGBTQ people, but anyone who has a less-than status in society. He’s never held elected office, but he has been an avid and up-front supporter of his mother’s campaigns, and she’s currently the lieutenant governor of California. Kurt has his own money to self-fund his current run for senator, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience or recognition, so he’s in Vegas to woo (gay) mega donors to add credibility to his campaign. When that event turns into a washout–more donors wanting to dish on his ex’s famous lover than his legislative plans–Kurt hits the hotel bar before heading up to his room.

Johnny Haskell, aka adult film mega star Velvet the Cowboy, is prepared to draw his last breaths on earth. A survivor of a recent on-set gang rape, he’s become impotent and unable to make more films. This has cut-off his income and his ability to provide support to his single mom, who’s in dire need of a kidney transplant, and his younger sister, who has a steady job and income, but also assists in his mom’s care team. His mom’s health insurance denied her transplant coverage and she’s getting sicker and more frail by the day. Driven to utter desperation by his mom’s deteriorating health and his own PTSD, Johnny figures he’s worth more in death than in life–his life insurance policy could fund his mom’s transplant. He’s sold everything, consolidated all his accounts, and written his mama a note. As soon as he’s done retiring from porn during his Lifetime Achievement Award speech at a gala in Vegas, he’s going to end it all. Well, maybe after he has a whiskey (or three) at the hotel bar.

Kurt and Johnny hit it off from the start. Kurt knows “Velvet’s” work intimately (super fan!), but meeting the enormous, drawling Johnny is a huge moment for him–especially since he’s so nice, even though pretty drunk. Johnny gets Kurt into some serious drinks and they both make some questionable decisions fast and furious. Okay, they aren’t “questionable” unless you’re trying to run for elected office. The impotence Johnny has suffered since his rape isn’t as strong as the attraction he’s feeling for the adorable Kurt. Figuring his last night could also be his best, Johnny’s willing to go along with anything Kurt suggests–even getting drunk married.

The wake-up call is pretty brutal, however. The story’s leaked everywhere and Kurt’s humiliated, but not unaware that a quickie annulment would look even worse than drunk-marrying a porn star. While coming up with a plan to fix his image issue, Kurt notices all the bottles of pills Johnny’s amassed in his bathroom kit. It triggers his own trauma at losing a lover early in his life, and Kurt’s compelled to take Johnny into his care.

This story is really wonderful, but a LOT of it is centered on mental health, Johnny’s in particular. Their unanticipated marriage hurts Kurt’s aspirations, but his support network is vast. His ex, Sam, is an attorney at the firm representing Johnny in a lawsuit against the producer who orchestrated the rape scene. These men are all in Johnny’s corner, as well, and want him to get healthy. Expect very little in the way of se at the outset, as Johnny’s soon in care for depression. It turns out that Kurt’s health insurance can manage Johnny’s care, and Sam’s merry band of attorneys has a new mission to restore Johnny’s mom’s insurance, while also getting him justice. Meanwhile, Kurt’s mother is even more awesome than Kurt had appreciated to this point in his life. He’s always felt a distance between them, mainly due to her career in politics, but they grow together fiercely in aiding Johnny, his sick mom, and Kurt’s plans for a legislative career.

Expect a gloriously happy ending, with two main characters who are good from the start and only get better in combination. I’ve read a lot of fake-dating, marriage of convenience, and whoops we’re married stories and this book is a stand-out because the marriage is the least of the issues these characters face. They aren’t trying to create an illusion of togetherness for outsiders. Instead, they build an intimacy with each other that only improves with their commitment to honesty and wellness. There are moments of levity, but it’s an intense hurt-comfort story and I really enjoyed how connected I felt to each character in this journey. I appreciated the boldly accurate descriptions of deep depression, and Johnny’s war within himself. His reticence to trust people who are essential strangers was palpable. Kurt, having survived loss, knows that losing Johnny now will irreparably harm him, but he stands with Johnny, giving him space and opportunities to heal without judgment or pressure. The vulnerability was high, for both Kurt and Johnny, and it was so approachable as a reader. These guys will stay with me for a long time.

This is a thoughtful read, with lots of love and strong characters you want to see succeed. As mentioned, the ending is super happy. In terms of Johnny’s justice, well, it seems like there’s a set-up for another book about a risk-taking attorney and the wealthy vigilante he loves. Yep, I’d read that one too!