House of Cards by Garrett Leigh
Rating: 2 Stars
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Second Chances, HIV, Partner Abuse, Tattoos Parlour, Part of Standalone Series
Length: 249 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Calum Hardy’s life has unravelled. Reeling from the betrayal of a man he once loved, he boards a train heading south, with no real idea where he’s going except a world away from London.
Brix Lusmoore can hardly believe his eyes when he spots one of his oldest friends outside Truro station. He hasn’t seen Calum since he fled the capital himself four years ago, harbouring a life-changing secret. But despite the years of silence, their old bond remains, warm and true—and layered with simmering heat they’ve never forgotten.
Calum takes refuge with Brix and a job at his Porthkennack tattoo shop. Bit by bit, he rebuilds his life, but both men carry the ghosts of the past, and it will take more than a rekindled friendship and the magic of the Cornish coast to chase them away.
Last year I read Rented Heart and thought it was a fantastic book, beautifully written, humorous, great characters, I had a real connection to the MCs and to a very strong secondary voice, Jamie. Addiction was tackled and I liked that too. I love the cover of House of Cards, it kept pulling my eye back to it and on top of my first success with Garrett Leigh I thought this book might be just as passionate and inspiring, but it wasn’t to be. I can see the similarities in writing they’re just different vehicles and I didn’t click with this particular model.
I had two major problems with this book. The first one lay with the characters and I not connecting, something that is extremely problematic for reader-me. I felt like the MCs stepped around issues they should have talked about ages before they did and I couldn’t muster much interest in either of them. I should have been interested in Brix, he rescues battery hens and I have a soft spot for that, it’s my daughter’s passion, but it didn’t rally me. He also takes others under his wing who need some direction or assistance. I really should have been behind Brix because I like people who look out for animals and people, yet I couldn’t find any particular attachment. I should have had a ton of empathy for Calum, and I did to a degree, because partner abuse is totally unacceptable and something I’ve worked with and understand, but he fell short of any real personality. There wasn’t much of anything else going on to grab my attention either. As for the romance, the burn is so slow it’s doused before it’s started. However, if this book had been about two guys who were friends, or maybe theirs could have been an asexual relationship, I would have believed that much more. That made more sense in my mind. There was a definite care, concern and camaraderie but I didn’t buy any sexual heat between them.
While I respect the art form behind tattoos, I’m absolutely certain now that I am not interested in the day-to-day running or machinations of a tattoo parlour – dot work and inking included.
This book also reminded me of how much I don’t like towns that are intolerant of outsiders. I’m talking about that closed-minded idea of what constitutes a true local or how important it is, for whatever bizarre reason, to be a local.
Oh, and I have a question, what happened to Rob? For someone who was so hell-bent on getting Calum back, chasing him, ringing the tattoo parlour, he just seemed to vanish.
The overall pace of the story was so slow. I guess it suits the town, it certainly suits the individual MCs, it definitely suits the relationship. I just didn’t feel like I was moving anywhere with these guys. When I’m checking the percentage I’m at on my Kindle during reading it means one of two things – I don’t want a book to end or I am bored. The latter was the reason with this book.
The second big issue I had was the handling of the HIV storyline. I worked out that was Brix’s issue long before it was mentioned, and that’s okay. But, come on, we live in 2017, you cannot tell me that in this day and age of HIV awareness and easy access to health information that Brix thought protected sex still meant infection. That he believed he would never have sex with another man ever again. He knew his viral load, it was undetectable, he was on top of his tests, his health, his medication. He had been positive for a number of years. Brix remained locked in a mindset of total abstinence and locked into feeling foolish/embarrassed. I understand people initially dealing with hurt and worry and fear after discovery of infection, and I understand stigma, but times have changed considerably and Brix has had years to digest this. Brix is not the first or only person to have had this occur because of his belief in a partner being honest about (un)protected sex or not necessarily thinking clearly, especially when young. Sometimes while using substances. These stories are innumerable. It was something he could have worked through, not remained in his mindset of abstinence and being shutdown. I also understood his Truvada thoughts to a degree, but it isn’t the only way of being careful. Also, Brix had quite a few (queer) people around him who cared for and respected him deeply. That he couldn’t talk to one of them made little sense in this story. It just read like a ghost from decades ago and a clunky plot device. I understand the social commentary Garrett Leigh was making in relation to the expense of PrEP and the NHS, I appreciate that, but this aspect of the book didn’t sit right with me. It didn’t feel progressive or organic.
There were pleasant moments scattered throughout the book. The belief that the town could instil life into people who needed it was nice. As was the scenery, the rescue of battery hens, helping others – I appreciated the humanity. There was a love of the sea, and even though Brix could be (understandably) frustrated by his own family he saw their merits and was loyal in a very real way. The cover is beautiful. The writing is fine, it has a definite sense of place, it paints life in a Cornish town well and the atmosphere is lovely. I just wasn’t interested in anyone enough to be emotionally invested.
If you’re looking for something sedate and quite unique in terms of the location, and you like British writing for a British setting, if you like second chances, and you love Garrett Leigh, then this is a book you may well enjoy. For me it’s 2 Stars!