Title : Keeping Sweets
Author : Cate Ashwood
Publisher : Dreamspinner Press (BUY HERE)
Genre : M/M/M or more, Contemporary
Length : 206 pages (e-book)
Published : March 11, 2013
Rating : ★★★★1/2
Days away from high school graduation, with hardly a penny to his name, Evan Lowry needs to earn money for college. When he comes across an ad for modelling, he thinks his luck has changed—until he learns he’s interviewing for an adult film and will be expected to have sex. On camera. With other men.
For gay porn star Brandon Court, the shine has worn off of regular shoots. He and his producer, Les, decide to try something new: a reality-show porno set at a beach house. When he meets wide-eyed and naïve Evan for the first time, Brandon isn’t sure if he wants the kid to get lost or get naked. Naked wins.
On set, Brandon takes Evan under his wing, and over the next month, they are thrown together in every intimate way conceivable—except emotionally. Both Brandon and Evan are terrified of trying for anything deeper, and insecurities and doubts wear on their hopes, but the chemistry between them won’t let them slow things down.
Right from the start Cate Ashwood’s debut novel grabbed me and drew me in. An enjoyable read, with solid main characters and a hot romance, I found myself not wanting to put it down. I loved that there was a draw, an attraction, but also a connection from the beginning between Bran and Evan, but it didn’t come across as instalove, even if it did happen quickly. The circumstances and their internal dialogue made it believable. There was a definite development of their relationship with Evan questioning what it was based on and Bran struggling against an increasing pull towards Evan. There was tension created without it being on every page and in the characters’ every thoughts. The main characters are complex and convincing. Although coming across as confident and secure, even jaded, Bran is unsure of his own worth outside of the porn industry, not seeing what he has to contribute to the world or a relationship. Evan is sweet and innocent without being completely naive. Both come from a past filled with abandonment and a lack of love.
The story starts just days before Evan’s High School graduation and his forced departure from home. His mother, an alcoholic, had died a year earlier and his step-father couldn’t wait until the promise he’d made to Evan’s mother expired and he could kick Evan to the curb. Knowing what was coming, Evan had worked hard on his grades, securing a scholarship at the University of Oregon. Not believing he has the necessary qualifications (buff body and height) but desperate for a job, he answers an ad for an adult model not realising at the time what that entailed. When the owner, Les, contacts Evan back saying he would like to set up an interview with himself and one of the models, Noah, Evan googles the studio to find out more and is shocked that it’s porn, not exactly what he had in mind! After thinking about it, he decides how bad could it be? It was a lot of money just to jack off, something as a horny eighteen year old virgin he did a lot anyway! The beautiful man with the flawless tanned skin and defined muscles Evan had seen on the website, who’s name, incidentally, was the same as the model, may have helped his decision.
Bran’s politically ambitious parents turned their backs on him at the age of fifteen when they discovered he was gay. He made his way to Portland, the furthest city he could get to with the money he was given. After a kind man found him at the bus station and helped him find a job, Bran managed to keep on his feet. At seventeen, Bran’s boyfriend introduced him to the porn industry, hooking him up with a shady producer even though he was still underage. At eighteen, Les, the owner of Sonic Street Studios, found Bran working at the disreputable studio and got him out of there. Although it’s been good to him since then, after ten years in the industry Bran is feeling unsatisfied and weary of the whole thing. His job is a strain on relationships, most of the guys more interested in screwing Noah Conway than getting to know Brandon Court, and had stopped bothering with them a while ago.
During the interview, Bran and Evan’s chemistry ignites. On location for the shoot, Bran finds himself struggling to keep a professional distance from Evan. He’s aware of Evan’s virgin status and wants to make sure his first time is great and that he feels safe with Bran. As the days progress, all the little gestures in unguarded moments make it obvious that they care for and feel comfortable with each other. Bran gives in to his growing feelings for Evan, his need to protect and make sure Evan is happy and feels safe. Although Brandon has set a time limit on their romance Evan decides to make the most of it, ensuring every minute counts. Neither of them really want it to end, though.
I found the biggest issues I had with this book were in the editing. There was some things that really should have been picked up, such as a word that doesn’t actually exist, although I understood what it was trying to say, and some unnecessary repetition and inconsistencies (such as right at the start it’s stated that Evan’s graduation is in three days, then on the very next page it’s six days). The pacing flagged in spots and a few times believability was lost. There were a few pages of sex scenes one after the other that seemed largely unnecessary as they didn’t contribute anything to either plot or characterisation. Especially towards the end it became a bit uneven. The author suddenly started using the word boy in reference to Evan when in Bran’s POV, and Evan’s first time giving a blowjob slipped into some eye rolling with how he could amazingly deep throat (even though he does possess a gag reflex) and swallow everything to boot. Not to mention that Bran, who apparently had no way of contacting Evan (what about email?), had descended into such despair that a month later he was unwashed, starving and ignoring an expensive film that needed to be edited, and Les let him get away with that? The ending felt a bit rushed and incomplete. An epilogue would have probably helped a lot with that.
I don’t need a book to be realistic, but it does have to be believable and, for the most part, this book ticks that box along with a few others. While it may not be a perfect, there are a lot of moments that I truly loved. There’s a scene where Evan sees the ocean for the first time that brought tears to my eyes because it was just so beautiful. I could see him in my mind’s eye, standing there on the shoreline and staring out at the sea in wonderment. The two main characters were easy to love with fully developed personalities and growth throughout the story. I would have liked to see more of that with the secondary characters. They started out well represented, but quickly faded into the background and I felt that was a bit of a lost opportunity. They could have been used to really allow the reader to know the MC’s even more outside of the bedroom. The relationship between Bran and even was tender and sweet as well as full of hot sex. I liked how those elements offset each other. I also like that Evan thought about how true his developing feelings for Bran were, that they might have been an infatuation born of Bran being his first, before deciding that it was love and worth pursuing regardless of any eventual heartache when it was time for them to part. Conflict in the romance mainly came from Bran’s ‘must let him go for his own good’ attitude and a little from Evan believing a gorgeous man like Bran couldn’t possibly want to stay with him. I think the balance of the internal thoughts of both MC’s in that conflict was largely well done.
Despite some unevenness, I really did love this book. It was never enough to truly detract from the story and there were some beautifully written lines and powerful scenes that I read more than once. I’m very much looking forward to reading more from this author in the future.
Rated 4.5 stars by BookSmitten