Title: Nothing Ventured
Author: Jay Northcote
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 142 Pages
At a Glance: An unfortunate miss
Blurb: When Aiden agrees to run the Mad Mucker—a twelve-mile muddy slog over an obstacle course—he’s expecting it to be a bit of a laugh. The training will be tough, but Aiden could use the motivation to regain some fitness.
Matt is the sexy cousin of one of Aiden’s coworkers and a last-minute addition to the team. When he agrees to train with Aiden, Aiden suddenly finds the prospect of regular workouts a lot more appealing.
Soon attraction flares, and they embark on an intense physical relationship. Matt doesn’t want to fall in love with a man, and Aiden doesn’t want to fall in love at all, but despite their insistence on no strings, they grow closer. As the day of the race approaches, time is running out for them to work out how they feel about each other.
Review: I want to begin this review by saying that I have read other works by this author, and have thoroughly enjoyed them and found them worthy of very high praise. It is rare for me to not connect with a novel on some level, or at least be able to see past what seems to be a more shallow character or plot premise. Nothing Ventured tested that sentiment on many levels, and unfortunately, it left me wanting.
The story is a simple one. After promising his friend and co worker, Liv, that he would be part of a team to run a 12 mile “mad mucker” race for a charity event, Aiden wants nothing more than to renege on his promise. But once he gets a look at Liv’s supposedly straight cousin, Matt, Aiden finds himself agreeing to partner with the deliciously fit Adonis in order to prepare for the race. As weeks flow by, Aiden, a self-proclaimed bachelor, finds himself drawn more and more to the deeply closeted, bisexual Matt. Could Aiden actually be falling in love? And with a closet case who would rather hold on to his deceased father’s homophobic beliefs to boot?
Jay Northcote is an excellent writer—her stories tend to flow and have clever plotlines surrounded by sweet and tender moments. Nothing Ventured had all these possibilities but unfortunately, the characters, Aiden, in particular, seemed rather flat. There were several allusions to a past relationship that had left Aiden cynical and steadfastly holding on to the belief that lasting love was not really possible. He was content to occasionally hook up with a buddy for sex, but the idea of finding that someone special was laughable at best to him. I felt that his backstory was the vital piece missing that would allow me to feel sorry for him—to connect with his cynicism and see it for what it was—a wounded heart. But the author chose not to evolve Aiden’s past and by doing so, I felt that it weakened him as a sympathetic figure overall.
Matt, on the other hand, wanted all the bells and whistles—just not with a man, even though he was attracted to both sexes. No, he was intent on somehow pleasing a father who had been dead for a decade rather than living his own life. The idea that Matt was still grieving his father’s death after so many years, and was still so deeply affected by his Dad’s homophobic tendencies, was very telling. So when he was somehow able to step beyond the pull of all those years of grieving and inbred shame over his bisexuality so easily at novel’s end, it made me feel that his character lost some credibility. He not only came out—but he came out in a huge way and, quite frankly, I felt that his character would not have allowed himself to be so exposed after hiding for so long. Somehow, a more gradual or smaller venue for his reveal seemed more apropos, given his reluctance to admit he was bisexual up to the very end of the story.
Nothing Ventured felt underdeveloped in many ways. I found myself not investing much in the way of emotional energy in the fate of these characters, and that was primarily because I recognized early on that I knew so very little about what made them the men they were. Why was Aiden so cynical? How had he been hurt in the past? Matt obviously had deep emotional scars from pursuing approval from a father who was never going to give it. How could he move past that so quickly, and without us seeing any of the thought process behind his decisions to come out and admit he was in love with a man? Too many unanswered questions leads me to say that this was not a story that felt complete, but rather in need of further development.
I have read great work by Jay Northcote and would recommend her to anyone, but her latest novel, Nothing Ventured, was, unfortunately, a miss for me.
You can buy Nothing Ventured here: