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In two words, this book is “not bad.” What Amazon Encore does is re-release the best of what was self-published through their Booksurge division, usually after giving the manuscript a thorough edit. There are enough good things about this novel that I can see why Amazon Encore chose it.
At core, the story is a rags to riches fantasy. Seventeen-year-old Jeremy Tyler is stuck with an abusive, direly alcoholic mother in Fresno, but after an extra-huge binge lands Mom in rehab, Jeremy is whisked off to his Great Aunt Katherine’s mansion in Ballena Beach. This is déjà-vu for Aunt Katherine as she had to take in Jeremy’s father, Jonathan, after his parents died, and a portion of the plot is Aunt Katherine’s plan to mold Jeremy into the perfect gentleman worthy of representing the Tyler family.
Jeremy has another problem: He’s gay and doesn’t want to be. He hopes to have beautiful and exotic Reed as his girlfriend so she can “straighten him out,” but he longs for his swim team rival, gorgeous but sociopathic, Coby. Meanwhile, he fends off the advances of flamboyant but sweet-natured Carlo, who is too out and proud to make Jeremy comfortable.
As a writer, I noticed a few rules that Nick Nolan broke such as head-hopping from one point-of-view to another to a third, but I think what is most important is whether or not a writer conveys his meaning clearly, and I think he did that. The problem, in my opinion, is that the book attempted too much. If you look at the new cover Amazon Encore gave Strings Attached, you’ll see how busy it is. In this story, there is a Pinocchio motif, there are references to Greek mythology, there’s a mystery surrounding the death of Jeremy’s father, there’s something sinister about Katherine’s husband, Bill Mortson (Did you catch that last name? That pain you’re feeling is the author hitting you over the head.) There’s Jeremy’s transformation into the Prince of Ballena Beach by his gay ex-marine butler, Arthur. There’s the mix-up with Reed and Coby, there’s a burgeoning romance with Carlo, there’s the scheming of Jeremy’s mother, and I could go on.
The trouble with this undertaking is that the book is only about 290 pages and takes place over a school year. It’s pretty unbelievable and highly soap operatic although, surprisingly, the pacing is somewhat slow in parts. I’m not sure expanding the novel would help, but having more time pass might have made it more realistic. Even then, I wouldn’t buy that Jeremy, who was repulsed by Carlo’s loud flamboyance, would turn around to the point that he finds Carlo an irresistible love interest. Carlo does tone things done halfway through the book after realizing that his “flaming” behavior was a reaction to his father’s oppression instead of the “real Carlo,” but that only serves to make Carlo disappear as a distinct character.
Still, this is a fun fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to basically wake up rich? Even if part of the lesson is that wealth doesn’t lead to self-acceptance, I think it provides a pleasant background for young readers who may be going through the same struggle. Also, in Arthur, Jeremy has a loving father-figure who I think many a young gay man would wish for. The dialogue given to the teenagers is sometimes pretty clever, and Aunt Katherine is a well-drawn and formidable character. While not perfect, I think many readers will enjoy this novel.
Reviewed by Gavin Atlas