Saturday 20 August 2016

What it Looks Like by Matthew J. Metzger - Release Day Review

Author: Matthew J Metzger

Release Date: August 20 2016

Buy Links:  Amazon US  Amazon UK  JMS Books

Add to Goodreads here.

Length: 80,615 words

The blurb:

Eli Bell is the only son of a police chief inspector and a forensic scientist. He's grown up wonky in a world that only deals with the straight and narrow -- and his new boyfriend isn't helping.

Rob Hawkes is six feet of muscle, tattoos, and arrest warrants. A career criminal and a former tenant of Her Majesty's Prison Service, he'd rather hit Eli's parents than sit down to dinner with them. One wrong move, and Rob could destroy Eli -- and his family -- without a second thought.

But this isn't what it looks like.

Rob's not in control here -- and Eli's the one to blame.

My thoughts:

“You’re always going to be the guy who proved to me that…that being trans isn’t a death sentence for my love life, you know? That there are gay guys out there who aren’t going to run a mile when they find out I was born a girl, that there are gay guys who are going to find me sexy and want to sleep with me, want to be with me, aren’t going to…I dunno, run away screaming because I have a vagina.”

Normally when I finish a book I open a word document and write my review straight away. This book is different. A few hours have passed since I read the epilogue and I’m still going over the story in my mind and trying to figure out how to best put all my thoughts and feelings into words. And the longer I allow my thoughts to flow freely through my mind, the more depth I discover in this story.

At first glance this is an almost light hearted story, but you don’t have to read very deep beneath the surface to realise that it’s not quite what it looks like—pun very much intended J What it Looks Like tells an insightful, at times heartbreaking, at times laugh-out-loud funny and always gripping story with such ease that it would be easy to miss all the emotions it deals with.

Eli appears to be sure and confident until you realise that he really isn’t. While the change he’s gone through means that he now is who he was always meant to be, the lack of support from family hurts. While Rob’s total and unquestionable acceptance of who he is means everything to Eli, that doesn’t mean he isn’t afraid of what the future changes might mean for them.

Rob comes across as tough and untouchable but underneath it all, and as the result of a lifetime of abuse and neglect, he is in dire need of someone who will love him as he is, and accept him. Afraid to show this need because it will make him vulnerable and he doesn’t trust the world to begin with, he hides behind anger.

While Rob and Eli are perfect for each other, their relationship is volatile. Both men lash out as a result of the insecurities they have about themselves which leads to harsh and at times heartbreaking fights between Rob and Eli.

It would be easy to condemn Eli’s parents for their lack of understanding or even acceptance of who Eli is and his decisions. I love that this book made it possible to understand why they might act the way they do without ever excusing or condoning it. The fact that this wasn’t a black vs white / good vs evil sort of story made it all the more powerful and touching. And, as a parent, I had to sit back and ask myself once or twice how I would react under the circumstances Eli’s parents find themselves facing.

Rob and Eli’s sexual relationship was fascinating, hot and gloriously beautiful. Yes, some of it was definitely BDSM, but maybe not quite as we encounter it in most books. The power exchange in this story was fluent. Control flowed from one to the other depending on the time and the situation. The one constant was their insistence on the use of safewords, regardless of who was doing what to whom.

I love that I learned and gained new insights while reading this book without ever feeling that was being taught stuff. Explanations were given as a natural part of the story rather than information dumps and made a much bigger impression because of that approach. Seeing and feeling the transition through Eli’s eyes, thoughts, and emotions meant that I got to gain some insight into questions I had never really thought about.

In fact, I think it is safe to say that the title covers just about everything that happens in this story. Nothing and nobody are exactly what they appear to be a first glance, and that is just one of the things that take this book from being great to being extra special.

I once again managed to write a long review that doesn’t quite articulate how deeply I feel about this book. What it Looks Like and Eli and Rob will stay with me for a long time because it was a thought-provoking read without ever being heavy-handed; because both the characters and the story had layers on top of layers; because every character in this book came across as realistic, and because the story made me feel all the feels without taking me on an emotional rollercoaster. Matthew J. Metzger made a huge impression on me with this book and it won’t be long before I dive into his other books.

Author Bio

Matthew J. Metzger is the front for a British-born author dragged up in the south of England as part of a typical nuclear family with three kids, a mortgage, and no dog because a dog would get hair on the carpet. A brief escape to the north to study focused his writing from daydreaming rambles to his first novel, Our Last Summer. It is unquestionably better than the dissertation he produced at the same time for his university degree, but probably not as inventive as the excuses he provided for missing classes so often.

Matthew has since returned to the London area, and therefore lives mostly on the public transport. He suspects that his next few pieces will probably involve homicidal characters on the London Underground.

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