The Imperfection of Swans, Brandon Witt
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Dreams To Realisation, Humour, Ex-Husband, Mental Health/ Disorder, Contemporary
Length: 284 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Kevin Bivanti’s dream is to open a wedding dress shop, a place with the stunning gowns to make every bride-to-be feel adored. At thirty-eight, he quits a successful advertising career to buy an old brownstone in a trendy Boston neighborhood and to make his dream a reality. When one of his cosigners drops out, fate intervenes, ushering in Casper James, who hopes to open his own bakery. With Casper willing to take the risk, their ambitions meld into a wedding dress and wedding cake boutique.
Extensive renovations to the brownstone, an affair with his ex-husband, family drama with his mothers, and the anxiety of significant life changes push Kevin to the brink of a nervous breakdown. In the midst of stress and uncertainty, Casper becomes more than a business partner, a mutual attraction that adds another layer of intensity and risk.
With their dreams on the verge of reality, Kevin and Casper must find the courage to face the stress of managing their attraction, the gamble of a new business venture, and the resurgence of Kevin’s personal demons.
**TREAT AS A SPOILER REVIEW**
Kevin Bivanti has loved wedding gowns since he was young. For twenty six years they’ve soothed him in times of high anxiety and feeling imperfect. When he had a lot on his plate, when being the very best, the shiniest at everything he did got to be too much, he would turn to the pages of a glossy bridal magazine.
Within fifteen minutes, Kevin had once again taken his place at his desk, the bridal magazines captivating and healing him enough to stave off the insanity for a while longer. A few more pages and he’d be able to return to his work. Return to his goal. But for now, he’d found strength enough in tulle, brocade patterns, and silk.
At thirty eight, and an advertising executive with an opportunity to be at the very top of the business, the wedding boutique dream hasn’t been quelled whatsoever. And now an opportunity seems like it could come his way if certain things align. One of his mums, Noelle, happens to have done a bit of, uh, creative investigation into a brownstone that is coming on the market in the right part of Boston. The only problem is, it comes with a hefty price tag. Over a Bivanti family dinner it’s decided that the they will each chip in and buy into the business. They believe in Kevin and his business. Kevin’s other mum, Renata, is more guarded in her business philosophy and not as keen as Noelle and the rest of the family, but she relents.
Casper James is the head pasty chef at Savor, an upmarket Boston hotel. He works long hours and days in pursuit of his own dream, to have a specialty cake shop. Casper lives frugally in a shared rental with students who make a lot of noise night and day. He’s fed up with his limited spare time taken up with both noise and mess. He has parents who care, but his mum also guilts him. His best friend, Charu, works at a local bakery he frequents when he can. He also hooks up in an unsatisfactory way with guys when he has time. One of his more regular hook-ups works at an advertising agency and when he calls Casper to meet up for group drinks Capser takes up the offer. Here he meets Kevin Bivanti who has just started the process of buying a brownstone Casper has, coincidentally, just been admiring. Casper can totally relate because of his dream. He’d love to have the opportunity Kevin is now venturing in to. They chat and swap details.
Long story short, Kevin contacts his ex husband, Scott, who is an underwriter. Things didn’t end well between Kevin and Scott when Scott left Kevin for a twink and they divorced two years ago. However, Scott is good at what he does and Kevin needs him to broker the finance for the real estate/business. Scott is supportive and can’t believe Kevin is taking a risk going out on his own for something he’s always wanted, that he’s handed his notice in at the agency. It’s so un-Kevin-like. He’s normally planned, careful, and definitely not a risk-taker.
“Holy fuck.” Scott gaped at him, an unfamiliar look in his eyes. “Who are you? You don’t even pick out new shoes without a week of deliberation.”
One of Kevin’s uncles has personal financial issues and the finance looks like it will fall over but that chance meeting and connection, perhaps fate, play a part in placing Kevin and Casper together when needed. Casper has an inheritance which allows him to pick up the slack and buy into the brownstone/business. He’ll be able to open a bakery on the second floor. One that will compliment the dress boutique by selling wedding cakes and pastries. Amid Scott’s help brokering the finance for the business, and the purchase, Kevin and Scott re-kindle a relationship. Scott is tall, handsome and built. Kevin is always drawn to a pleasing/beautiful aesthetic… and Scott certainly has that.
The book is a fairly in-depth look at setting up a bridal dress boutique/bakery and the renovations of a rundown Boston brownstone. It’s also a romance between two disparate men, bar the same dream of a business they both love. It takes a look at two major psychological health issues, but it isn’t mired in drama. For the topics being covered, Brandon Witt keeps the story on the lighter side with enough to make you see how difficult life is for Kevin Bivanti.
What I really liked.
The two MCs are not hyper-masculine/alpha types, rather they’re portrayed as everyday guys. They each have a bit of flair, and who doesn’t love some flair? They are allowed to cry when something really hurts. They both have insecurities. Kevin more than Casper, but Casper, unfortunately, sees himself out of Kevin’s league of physical attraction. Scott has the body of a “porn star” and good looks to top it off. How do you compete with that? My answer, you won’t if you don’t scratch deeper than skin.
How the two MCs met and fell into business was organic and never felt contrived. The dreams of a wedding boutique and a complimentary bakery were inspired and I swear that there was a lot of love poured into that writing, along with deep affection of Boston brownstones. Two men’s dreams come alive on the page – I could see the tin roofs, the floorboards, the exposed brick.
My favourite parts of the book are when Kevin and Casper go to see Wicked in New York then they go to a bar. And definitely when they try on wedding dresses as part of an exploration of competition. The reason being is because those scenes had something in common, Kevin let his guard down and was far more accessible and relaxed as an individual.
While this book is first and foremost a romance and about following a dream, taking a risk, it also tackles some highly invasive and deeply rooted mental health demons. Two of which are some of the hardest to conquer – an eating disorder and anxiety. The eating disorder means a lot to me because of a dear friend who has suffered and is an absolute champion in the way they have faced it head on. As for anxiety, so many people deal with anxiety, from more minor to intense, or extremely debilitating. Kevin’s is quite intense. How to do justice to the serious nature of the topics without weighing a book down is key. Brandon Witt does a very good job of being sensitive to both while developing a believable and sweet romance between Kevin and Casper. They are two characters who are night and day in disposition and outlook – Kevin is highly strung, unwell, and living by a flawed plan of perfection and an ideal aesthetic. Casper is calmer and while also a hard worker, he’s a firm believer in fate and taking a chance. Kevin feels the pressure of family investing in his dream, now Casper has invested too, which pushes Kevin more and more throughout the book. His tightly held grip on control seems to be losing traction. He worries excessively about the business, he pushes himself at the gym, and he doesn’t eat.
The spirit and character of a big, overbearing, loving family is well captured. The Bivanti’s are a force of Italian nature and pretty awesome.
Yet again I really like the way Brandon Witt writes women. I know it’s gay romance but women form a big part of a lot of gay guy’s lives – mothers, sisters, friends – so it’s important they are respected in the genre. Kevin’s two mothers are like chalk and cheese in the personality stakes but love one another. Renata is cool polish and shine. She is assertive and voices her opinion as and when she sees fit. Noelle is the nurturing, outwardly warm, patient type who most people gravitate toward to keep the peace. Both of them are fantastic characters. And there is Charu, Casper’s bff. Another very likeable young woman. Even bridal designer Devina Malloy, whom Kevin courts for his new business, and is in the book quite briefly, has grace and strength.
Then there’s the relationship between two interesting opposites-attract characters which works. However, like most things, it takes some work, honesty, communication, open eyes, and a lack of fear to be able to talk about anything, no matter how hard. Especially with an eating disorder thrown into the mix. I have a niggle in regards to Kevin but I will say that what I liked was that he grew. He was brave and he pushed through so much (fear) with sheer determination.
The cover, the stripped back nature of it…it’s wonderful, and the title is simply glorious.
I know it was all part of Kevin holding onto something from the past when so much change was happening, his need for destructive perfection, but I struggled with Scott being a love interest for him again. While Scott is far removed from the worst character in a book, in fact he’s fairly innocuous, he aggravated the dickens out of me and I didn’t like Kevin with him. Renata and I had carbon copy feelings about Scott and the relationship. Scott = urgh!
It took a while for me to warm to Kevin because his outlook is totally alien to my own. Things are looked at as pretty, beautiful, the right look. So this is a personal thing, my perception of initial superficiality. It’s definitely there…
Having said the above, superficiality, intellectually I do understand a great deal about the core of Kevin’s issues. Seeming control. Needing perfection. Striving for it. Not understanding for the longest time that perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion – like the story of the ugly duckling who grows into a beautiful swan. That ‘ugly duckling’ was pretty sweet, no matter the package. Anyway, what I’m saying is swans are cranky buggers, for one. If you go near them, beautiful though they may be, you’ll soon discover they aren’t perfection. However, being with someone who gives Kevin the aesthetic he automatically gravitates toward, Scott was viewed as the pinnacle. Handsome, built, smooth, known. In reality he caused mostly pain and frustration. Casper, who is more ‘geeky’, wears glasses, and is not the typical perfection model, is a much-needed balm.
I make no secret of the fact that I really like/love Brandon Witt’s writing, and I’ve read everything he has written to-date. This book is no exception, because I really liked The Imperfection of Swans. If you enjoy emotion, some sass, some fun, some build towards a relationship that works for the right reasons. If you enjoy a primarily sweet contemporary romance with topical, relevant issues that add to the story, not bog it down. Topics that many people can relate to, with one character who grows a hell of a lot as the books progresses, and another supportive enough to help, then The Imperfection of Swans is a sensitive, kind, romantic read with a lot of love thrown into the pages and the subject matter. 4.5 Stars!
ARC supplied by the author in exchange for an honest review.