Friday, 11 May 2012

Better by Jaime Samms

After filing charges that put his abusive ex-Dom behind bars, Jesse Turbul relocates halfway across the country, hoping to escape his past—but, of course, it's never that easy. When Jesse meets third-year law student Aadon at the library where he works, their mutual attraction is instant and obvious.

Despite the sparks, they just can't seem to make it work. Aadon is mired in guilt over his inability to help his older brother, damaged by events far too similar to Jesse’s past. Jesse is stuck in his own desperate wish to forget the painful shadow that continues to threaten him and any hope of a happy future.

The only way to move forward is for Jesse to acknowledge he’s broken and for Aadon to accept he can’t make him better.


When I began this book, I doubted seriously how I could possibly review it. It promised to be angst-laden and I’m famous for not taking a kindling to angst-laden stories.

But then—I don’t know how or exactly when—the story exploded all inside me in this very nice fury of emotion. Anger, frustration, hurt, love, arousal, happiness quickly followed by more anger, frustration and hurt. And then, ultimately…happiness.

One factor in this tornado of feeling is Samms’ wonderful knack for painting characters who are true to life. By true to life, I’m not dredging up the popular new trend—flawed. I refuse to use the word flawed, as I personally believe the term is so overused to the point it’s become too trendy, the new must-have in novels. Instead of flaws, the characters in this novel are just…human.

And with their human factor comes all the reactions accompanying real people. I found myself snarling, Get a grip, why don’t you? Get over it! You did not just say that! What are you thinking? Can’t you see he loves you? I can see it, why can’t you? Oh, geez, to have someone love me so hard! Look, look, look! Open your eyes, look!

When an author induces the reader to such a bag of mixed emotion, even though some of it is the point of not liking the character at some moments, that is true literary artistry. And the most beautiful trick of this craft, one which Samms has mastered, is to push me to the edge of this anger and frustration then draw me back and make me love them just as strongly as I had not liked them.

The prose is amazing. I mean incredibly amazing. One snippet, as an example: Strength. The way the muscles move. The way the delicate bones twist and reform every time a person moves their hands.” Aadon sat back on his heels and took Jesse’s bared arm in his hands once again and dropped his gaze to the trace work of lines. “The way all these scars put everything you are right there on your skin for everyone to see. They cover up that strength in you, disguise it so even I didn’t see it. Not at first, but there it is.” He kissed Jesse’s palm, licked at the pulse point on his wrist, moved his lips and tongue along in slow, deliberate increments. Every once in a while he glanced up to see Jesse watching him, fascinated.

E. E. Cummings himself could not have penned such an elegant flourish of the English language, of romance, of the beauty of love and awe of the human body. Not to mention the sensuality in even that one small sampling. Erotic yet gentle and loving.

This book, for this reader, was less about human frailty and more about the powerful strength of human friendship. Aadon and Jesse, the main characters, struggle through the horrors of both their pasts to a trust that is stronger than merely libidos in action. They love. We can see it so clearly, but they—like all of us blinded by insecurity—can almost see it but can’t believe they deserve it.

They are surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast of friends and family, and this element of friendship is the heart of this story. Not walking away. No matter what. That’s just what friends do.

And, speaking of that. Samms presented an angle to the friendship ingredient by allowing the reader to see a not-often-mentioned aspect of gay romance—the straight female friend falling in love with her very best buddy who is gay. I won’t reveal details in order not to spoil, but it, for me, was one of the most poignant, sweet parts of the story. I felt the disappointment—although it was only inevitable—and literally broke my heart. I appreciated Samms for including this extremely sensitive but quite overlooked subject in her book.

And it just occurred to me that I’ve not even mentioned the plot. That is how overwhelmed I was on the pure beauty of the writing, the annoyingly (because the are every friend you ever had) exquisite characters.

I could write all day and still not be able to relay the impact this wonderful story had on me. Just let me say I highly recommend it.

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