In the interest of full disclosure: I do not usually review books below six fountain pens (three stars) if they were sent as a request. I follow up with the author, and I explain my rating. However, if the author chooses to allow a review, I will post it. So in this case, especially because this has been one of my favorite series and because I spoke directly with the author, I’m posting my review. Fair warning: I didn’t like this one much.
About the Book
Title: Waking the Behr
Author: Pat Henshaw
Series: Foothills Pride (#7)
Genre: Contemporary gay romance
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publication date: September 20, 2017
Cover design: AngstyG
Length: 102 pages (29, 689 words)
Both Ben and Mitch think they know exactly what they want. Turns out, they don’t even know their own hearts.
Good old boy Ben has dated women his entire life, while gay nightclub owner Mitch has never considered unsophisticated country boys his type. But after they start hanging out, the small-town contractor and the urban entrepreneur are both stunned by the electricity sparking between them.
As they step outside their comfort zones to spend time together, Mitch finds he enjoys rural car rallies, and Ben is intrigued by the upscale bars Mitch owns in San Francisco. When they share their lives and grow closer, they start to question the way they’ve always defined themselves. Then they kiss and fling open the door to love. Now they must step up and travel the road that may lead to happily ever after—even if that path isn’t one they ever expected to walk.
This is a tough one for me to review because out of all the books in the series, I didn’t care for this one. There were things I liked, but the storyline itself was deeply troubling to me.
I had a feeling going in that this might end up being somewhat of a gay-for-you book. However, I held out hope because many of the books in this series are deceptively simple in concept but much deeper in their exploration of the themes. Unfortunately, I think this one fell a bit flat in that sense.
Ben has only dated women, up until meeting Mitch. From the blurb, I expected they might spend time together and Ben’s feelings for him would emerge. Instead, he’s nearly ready to drag Mitch into a back room almost from the time he lays eyes on him. Right away, that sent up red flags for me. Not only that, Ben even says he’s not “even a little bit” gay. I was already disoriented and confused myself at only a few pages in.
I almost might have bought into the fantasy, except nearly the whole rest of the story is Ben having an identity crisis and spending pages and pages arguing with himself about how he can’t be gay. This is fairly typical straight-to-gay language, and I find it hard to take in book form. Internal struggles are real, but they are difficult to capture on page in a meaningful way. This falls into the category of “too much tell, not enough show.” Instead of a slow-bloom romance, we’re simply told that Ben likes Mitch but still isn’t gay. Repeatedly. Including the very strange phrase “het-o-meter” to describe his attraction and how this meter steadily points more toward “gay.”
The way Ben ends up falling for Mitch is touchy as well. Mitch has almost no personality. His method of charming Ben essentially consists of manhandling him and non-consensually kissing him. Ben has not asked for or implied that this is what he wants; Mitch just does it. That isn’t appropriate on any level. I don’t know if it was meant as romantic or sexy, but I was surprised Ben didn’t deck him. I would have.
Ultimately, Ben concludes (after instant love with Mitch) that he’s bisexual but “leaning toward gay.” It’s true that most bisexual people have preference, however this is done in such an inauthentic way and with nothing to back it up. Ben has also implied that his relationships with women were mistakes, which would lead one to conclude that he really is just gay after all. Once again, this is telling us, not showing us, how Ben reached such a conclusion.
The other thing that really bothered me was Ben’s talk with his brother, Adam (who appeared in a previous book, and I had some issues with his coming out as well). Adam says the equivalent of “hearts not parts” and that labels don’t matter. Unfortunately, he’s wrong, especially in this case. Where we usually get treated to bi erasure by way of “no labels,” this time we had a label with no identifiable information to back it up.
I would not have had any problem with a coming-out-bi story or even one where the character does conclude he’s bi but with preference for men. What I had issues with was how it was done in the most typical, bland gay-for-you fashion. It felt rushed and underdeveloped to me. Confusion in a character is fine, but not if it also confuses the reader. Ben’s angst needed something to counter it, and he needed someone to help him process his emerging sense of self without delivering a no-labels sermon.
The one thing I did love was Ben’s visit to the city with Mitch. The different themed bars/restaurants they stop at are really cool, and it was fun seeing them through Ben’s eyes. However, I did miss the town and people of Stone Acres. We didn’t see much of anyone except Ben’s brothers, and the rest were only passing mentions. As they’ve become like friends, I wished we could’ve seen more of them. They might have balanced Ben out a bit in his angst.
For me, this simply wasn’t up to the standard of the rest. It felt rushed and like it tried to do too much in a small space. And even using the word “bisexual,” it still felt erasing. In spite of that, I would not hesitate to read more from the author because a single disappointing book is exactly that: one book.
For poor handling of coming out, thin character development, and a gay-for-you plot, this gets 4 fountain pens.
About the Author
Pat Henshaw, author of the Foothills Pride Stories, was born and raised in Nebraska where she promptly left the cold and snow after college, living at various times in Texas, Colorado, Northern Virginia, and Northern California. Pat enjoys travel, having visited Mexico, Canada, Europe, Nicaragua, Thailand, and Egypt, and Europe, including a cruise down the Danube. She now lives in Sacramento.
Now retired, Pat has spent her life surrounded by words: Teaching English composition at the junior college level; writing book reviews for newspapers, magazines, and websites; helping students find information as a librarian; and promoting PBS television programs.
Her triumphs are raising two incredible daughters who daily amaze her with their power and compassion. Fortunately, her incredibly supportive husband keeps her grounded in reality when she threatens to drift away while writing fiction.