The Broken H, by J. L. Langley

3 Mar

If in case anyone reading here wonders how all this started—the flood of reviews, the cockpuppets, etc.—winning a book over at Nose in a Book was the event that opened the gates. It’s only fair, then, that I share the wealth. Blame Lisabea. I do :) And here’s the book:

The Broken H, by J.L. Langley

Reader beware: This is an erotic m/m romance—so anyone who has some sort of objection to same sex relationships should probably stop reading right about now. And people who object to graphic or explicit writing would not like this book so…goodbye?

Okay, now that’s done… Here’s the back blurb:

Once, Sheriff Grayson Hunter loved The Broken H, his ancestral home, and Shane Cortéz with all that he was. But he hasn’t felt like he belonged there for a long time. For years, he’s stayed as far away from the ranch and the man as possible.

Shane Cortéz has been The Broken H’s foreman for going on twenty years; he’s lived there even longer. As a young man, he fled his home to seek refuge at the ranch. He found it, but owing to his rocky past, he’s kept himself from the one thing that has always been dear to him: Grayson.

Now Shane has to let go of his demons that haunted him for so long. And he wants Gray. An accident brings them together, but they’ll have to mend what’s broken to build a life together at The Broken H.

At about two hundred pages, this is a relatively short book with a rather ambitious overall story arc. There is the love story—a variation on the friends to lovers via a huge past misunderstanding theme—and there’s the social acceptance/disapproval of homosexuality tangent, and there are two external conflicts, and *breath* there’s the secret past come to haunt the hero.

Er… one of them, anyway.

By its very nature, an erotic novel will have more sex scenes and more graphic language than other types of books, and as a reader one has to flip a switch, if you will—the same way that one approaches mysteries, and science fiction, and horror, and a children’s story with specific expectations. I confess I had to check myself and reassess my reactions after the first reading. On the second pass it worked better for me, because by then I had thrown the mental switch.

In a well written erotic romance, the sex serves a purpose within the story. It showcases the development of the protagonists’ relationship, or highlights particular issues a character may have, or perhaps can serve as catalyst for a future event in the story. In The Broken H, most of the sex is necessary, but frankly, not all of it is. On the other hand, writing a sex scene well ain’t easy—if you doubt it, try to write one that won’t make the reader burst out laughing. Go on, I dare you! ;) —and on this score, J.L. Langley definitely hits the mark. There’s no fumbling, and at no point is the reader wondering whether these two are double jointed contortionists from a Chinese circus.

Dialogue is another stumbling point for many writers. Here it is well done over all, with only a couple of awkward spots; for the most part it flows the way actual conversation does. While I found the characterization a bit sketchy (I blame the book length—but then I blame a lot of ills on that), both Shane and Grayson come across as decent, likable guys, and their feelings for each other seemed realistic enough that I was rooting for them.

However…

There were at least two too many secondary plotlines—what’s with the stalking teenager, I ask you? the re-election campaign? the dying estranged father? I would have much preferred a deeper exploration and development of the issues between Shane and Grayson, which at times felt shortchanged to me. This cluttering led to a jumpy pacing for the story, with a couple of flashbacks that felt completely unnecessary, and more than a bit repetitious.

Also, given that the story is set in smallish-town Texas, the sudden revelation that both these characters are gay (something which apparently no one has suspected in over 25 years, by the way) should have created way more conflict for, and with, their family, coworkers, friends, etc. Either make this issue the center conflict of the story, or else it should have been left out. As it is, it comes across as something that exists mainly in Shane’s head and, therefore, a non-issue. Because that is definitely not how this would play out in pretty much any rural town in the world I live in, this bit bothered me quite a lot.

The funny thing is that, despite all the things that bothered me, the book is very readable. I am definitely looking forward to My Fair Captain, by this author, and will post a review as soon as I can.

The Broken H gets a 6.5 out of 10 from me.

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