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Nothing is more fictionally fun than a good revenge
scenario—of course, the set-up has to be just right. The villain must be foul,
the hero above reproach, and the plan workable. And it doesn’t hurt if there’s
a healthy dollop of boy-meets-boy, boy-loses-boy, and boy-gets-boy-back. Toss
in some makeover magic, and you have Eden Winters’ Settling the Score.
Small-town garage mechanic Joey Nichols has been publicly
outed and dumped by Riker, his equally small-town boyfriend who is taking
Hollywood by storm, but Joey’s too busy dealing with his homophobic neighbors
to think about getting back at him. Not so Troy Steele, whose novel provided
the screenplay for Riker’s fame. In fact, Joey’s story is similar to the book
Troy’s currently writing. Troy invites Joey to Hollywood for a little
polishing, a little research, and a lot of revenge. For both of them.
If all this sounds like a bunch of hackneyed elements thrown
against the wall…well, it is. But a suprising number of them not only
stick, but work quite well together. Its success is partly due to Winters’
pacing, which takes you through the plot quickly enough to miss the patchwork,
but mainly this works because of character. Both Joey Nichols and Troy Steele
are good-ole-boys who have those rural values in common, despite their current
disparity in wealth and knowledge of city ways. Winters works this angle for
all its worth, coming up aces as the reader roots for them as a couple.
And the villains are sufficiently nasty. Riker is a lazy
opportunist, as mean-spirited as his sugar daddy, Ian (who is the director of
Riker’s summer blockbuster as well as Troy Steele’s ex). There is only one
confrontation between the two couples, and the book-length buildup is more than
rewarded. It’s a corker—satisfactory on all levels.
Much of the book takes place in rural locales in Georgia and
South Carolina, but unfortunately you’d never know it. A better sense of place
would have helped us understand Troy and his roots and made a firmer connection
to his burgeoning relationship with Joey. This lack is offset, however, by
Winters’ skill with dialogue and character. Joey’s family, for instance, come
off as endearingly quirky instead of annoying caricatures, which they could
easily have slipped into.
Subsequent editions, however, should lose the back cover
blurb. I don’t usually mention them, but this one is particularly clumsy and
confusing and doesn’t serve the book well. Despite that, this is a fun, breezy
read that has more than a few chuckles and “awwww” moments.
Just don’t read the back cover.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler