Title: Love After Love
Author: Peter Styles
Length: 156 Pages (plus the bonus novella, The CEO and the Artist)
At a Glance: With a bit more exposition, these two short novels could have been just about perfect, but what we do get is still pretty fine.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: After losing the love of his life, Henry feels directionless. All he has is his best friend, Ray, who is as socially inept as he is supportive. When Henry meets the handsome, charming Ben, he starts to feel a glimmer of hope – but he’s still not sure if he’s ready for a relationship.
Review: Always a fan of the second chance trope, and, more recently, a new fan of author Peter Styles, I was excited to find them together in one book. Considering Styles wrote the book, I admit it wasn’t much of a stretch to find them together, but I’m delighted nonetheless because not only do we get Love After Love, we get a bonus second story as well, and they’re both charming each in their own ways.
Love After Love, the first story in the book and a title that cleverly encompasses the second chances theme, delivers on everything that I fell for in this author’s Drop Dead series and, more recently, his Sugar and Shakedowns. The dialogue—the witty banter, in particular—is spot on and fresh and funny and goes a long way in making the characters themselves so endearing. Henry and his best friend, Ray, had me chuckling one moment, and then, as is this author’s apparent forte, Henry was playing my heartstrings like a two-bit fiddle the next.
Oh, dear Henry… Dear big huggable lug of a Henry is in mourning, and it’s the way he came to this grieving place that Styles dangles like the proverbial carrot at the end of a stick. As bits and pieces are teased out in the story, it kept me turning pages to find out why our Henry is such a hurting soul and what causes Ray to worry so much that he has to force Henry to leave the house. These guys are top notch nerdy and adorkable, and their first foray into a bar called The Stir—which turns out to be not so much a gay bar as it is…something else—is where they meet Ben—who turns out to be far more than a guy who’s just looking for…a good time.
A comical misunderstanding makes for an awkward start to a friendship, but once they get things ironed out, that’s exactly what happens. Ben is warm and wonderful and happens to have some of the same interests as Henry and Ray, so his finding a place of his own among the friends works, and, of course, it doesn’t hurt that Ben would love to get to know Henry much better. One of the things I so appreciated about this sweet little story is that Styles didn’t manufacture unnecessary angst beyond what was plausible in Henry’s grief. There was no Ray and Henry fighting for Ben’s attention, simply a nifty scenario where a friend wants nothing more than to see his bestie happy again.
Ben and Henry’s relationship builds slow and steady, or as slow and steady as this short novel allowed for, and best of all, I wanted so much for them to find their happy beginning together. When they did, the wait was worth it.
As a separate short novel with a different angle on the second chances trope, The CEO and the Artist is a lot broodier than Love After Love, and while I didn’t love it quite as much as Henry and Ben’s story, I liked this one differently. On top of it being a story about starting over, you might have also gleaned from the title that this is a story of opposites. Tristan Black is an art major who was in school on scholarship. Mark Logan was the golden boy heir to a family fortune and the position as CEO of Logan Enterprises when he graduated. The two met in college, dated briefly and fell madly in love with each other in that short time, and everything was moonlight and roses for a few short months—until, without warning or provocation, Mark broke up with Tristan, leaving Tristan crushed and heartbroken and now, eight years later, emotionally guarded and bitter.
As people are beginning to take notice of his work, Tristan is informed that he has a buyer for Untitled #8, a painting that he never expected to sell because it’s a violent riot of pain and anger, an artistic reflection of his breakup with Mark and the hurt Tristan uses now as his creative spark. When Tristan discovers that the “some CEO type” buyer is, in fact, Mark…well, you can imagine how well that goes over, but it’s when the conflict in the story is introduced and everything gains traction here as the drama begins to unfold.
Just in case you’re wondering, why the sudden reappearance after eight long years? Mark means to win Tristan back, and he’s prepared to go through whatever hell and jump through whatever hoops his beautiful artist puts him through to prove he’s never stopped loving him, even after all their years apart and the separate lives they’ve lived during that time. There’s a lot of angst to get through before these two guys manage to find some semblance of a truce and Mark can convince Tristan that he’s looking for a happily-ever-after.
The villainous ex-fiancée plays her role in this story as well. She’s all stereotype and little substance but serves her purpose as an antagonist for Mark and Tristan, so in that regard she works the cliché just fine. While I’d have liked her to eat a little more crow than the author cooked up, it was still nice to see her and her accomplice’s plans to cause maximum damage foiled by an unexpected ally.
As a bonus novella, The CEO and the Artist is a nice surprise and pleasant treat, though I have to admit I was thrown off a couple of times by the editor/beta markups that weren’t deleted before the file was published. They were a bit confusing as I tried to decipher why random asides were peppered here and there, but once I figured out what was happening, I was able to move along and stick with the narrative itself, which was a nice redemption story.
As seems to be a pattern with this author, my one and only complaint is this: he has such a gift for rolling out attention-grabbing story foundations, immersing his readers in the lives of real and interesting characters, but then wrapping things up so whiplash-quick that we’re left craving another twenty pages or more of exposition to make the plots more robust. Or, at least that’s been the case for me thus far. Nonetheless, he’s caught my attention and I’m hooked.
You can buy Love After Love here: