The James Dean Vintage, Jess Whitecroft
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Contemporary, California Vineyard, Vintner and Drifter, Vegas Marriage Confusion, Humour/Romcom, Family
Length: 335 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Purchase At: amazon.com
Winemaker Oliver Caron is used to micromanaging, so when a misguided Vegas marriage and a series of interlocking poor decisions lead to him accidentally introducing a one-night stand as his new husband, he can’t let the matter lie. Driven by social embarrassment and the anxiety that the messy truth might kill off his ninety-nine year old grandmother, Oliver finds himself ‘married’ to one James Dean Jackson.
Hustler, card-counter, lapdancer, drifter – Dean is seemingly a chronic liar, a human tumbleweed incapable of putting down roots. By contrast, Oliver is as deeply rooted as the grape vines that are his livelihood. Oliver’s idea of heaven is a 1945 Chateau d’Yquem, while Dean thinks veraison is a cellphone provider and once almost did the Pinot Noir monologue from Sideways over a Laurent-Perrier Rosé.
As the season unfolds and the grapes ripen, the mismatched pair begin to discover that playing the perfect husband isn’t so hard after all, especially when the other person might just have the thing you were missing all along.
Thirty-three year old Oliver Caron is a winemaker of French heritage who hails from California. He’s in Vegas with his boyfriend of four months, Josh. After a night of cock coke lines and plenty of alcoholic frivolity, they wake up to the discovery they’ve become an off-your-face Vegas marriage cliché.
“Weed?” said Oliver. “Really? You’re vaping weed now?” No, maybe that was the wrong thing to say to someone who’d been doing cocaine off your dick last night. Josh’s expression shifted from disgust to outright hostility.
“What? What have I done now?”
“You don’t remember what happened last night?” said Josh.
Put on your fucking pants and marry me already.
After realisation sets in, Oliver is back on his laptop working, as per usual, and catching up with his father and sister – who all run the vineyard together (his mother died last year) – while Josh is weed vaping. Frustrated that he can’t keep Oliver’s attention, that whilst the Caron family know him he’s never actually been introduced as Oliver’s boyfriend, Josh takes off to Bali after getting a quick annulment. In a weird turn of events, after Josh’s pissed-off Vegas departure, in steps an Azerbaijani popstar and his entourage of blondes. A few smouldering looks across the room in Oliver’s direction says the guy’s not so interested in the blondes and plenty interested in him. They start hooking-up in a bathroom then take it upstairs.
This was insane. This would be a perfect moment for Josh to appear and announce that he hadn’t taken that flight to Bali after all, but for once Oliver’s life seemed to be more like a porno than the usual French farce.
“Jesus,” Oliver said. “You’re fucking beautiful.”
The boy caressed himself, all lashes and lips and hard, hard cock. “So are you.”
It’s one hell of a night as the lust pings between them, but when Oliver’s father and sister turn up with confetti the next morning, because he’s already told them he’s gotten married, it’s the random hook-up he introduces as his new husband. Oliver’s hook-up is no more Azerbaijani than I am, he’s an American, James Dean Jackson, who’s caught up in a scam that got a bit out of hand. Basically, the two end up striking an agreement to spend time together on the vineyard as a married couple until Oliver’s grandmother’s one hundredth birthday – seven months away. Dean has nowhere else to be for a while and the vineyard is beautiful, the family are nice, and because Oliver’s father told Oliver’s Grand’Mere the ‘good news’, Oliver doesn’t want to hurt her. They’re a very ‘we want you to be married and happy’ kind of family.
The primary story of this book centres around Oliver and Dean getting to know one another. There are also two POV to help you glimpse into both MCs motivations and feelings. Oliver’s workaholic nature, Dean’s evasiveness and his tendency to bend the truth of his past. That Oliver gets up at 3am and makes sure he has defrosting fans on the grapes. That he prunes them personally. That he isn’t sure what happened with Josh and what he really feels about it. Then there’s his reluctance to have sex with Dean, outside of the original hook-up. He doesn’t know him, other than the fact that the sex was good, Dean is rather spectacular to look at, especially naked, and he isn’t demanding or clingy. Dean admits to Oliver that he grew up as an armed services brat and he gets the itch to move on fairly regularly. Where Oliver and his family have put down roots, Dean is a tumbleweed. Yes, they’ve lived quite different lives but underneath everything, both guys are inherently sensible.
Whatever was going on with Oliver, Dean was sure of one thing. He was definitely better off without the ex-husband, who was looking like more of a dingbat with every passing moment. You’d have to be a special kind of idiot to look at someone like Oliver and think ‘You know what this man needs? Cocaine.’
Oliver’s family all accept Dean straight away. His sister, Phoebe, and his dad think he’s good for their uptight sibling/son. Ninety-nine year old Grand’Mere takes a shine to him when they skype. Dean has a likeable way and manner about him, and his seeming understanding of wine, really his ability to change the topic to someone or something else, buoys them. He also takes the time to read a lot of books about viticulture to understand Oliver and his passion. When the two are around Oliver’s family, they play it like they’re truly, madly, deeply in love. Mind you, Oliver has a tetchy and pulsing vein above his eye and they wonder why that’s been set off of late. It’s the lack of sex and the stress over the sham marriage, but his family don’t know that.
“Do I have a throbby vein in my forehead?”
He turned to Dean and Dean pushed back Oliver’s hair to get a better look. “Oh yeah. Over your eyebrow? It’s kind of prominent.”
But said ‘throbby vein’ is readily seen as their father’s business partner, Jasper, being a different person to Oliver, one who frustrates him. Then there’s some extra craziness around new wine labels as well. Jasper is into performance art and artists, reiki and vibrations – he wants to use the homes they have around the vineyard for performance art to up-vibe the wine. He has more money and random ideas than one man should in any given lifetime. Jasper reminded me of Steve Martin’s character in Baby Mama. I was waiting for Jasper to tell someone they had just been rewarded five minutes of uninterrupted eye contact.
The deal between Oliver and Dean is that Dean will stay until Oliver’s grandmother has her one hundredth birthday in Paris in November, then they can go their separate ways. Dean settles into life on the vineyard and would like Oliver to have sex with him, even if it’s just casual, but Oliver isn’t easy to sway. Normally he doesn’t do casual sex with anyone, let alone tumbleweed scam artists who claim to be ‘Azerbaijani popstars’. He’s spent a lot of his life being serious and studious in regards to wine and vines. He lives a typical lifestyle of anyone who works the land, something that is fraught with sudden climactic changes, now even less predictable with global warming. He worries about a large earthquake, hail, too much rain, not enough rain, any and all of the things that make or break a harvest or crop. Meanwhile, Dean cooks very well, reads, talks to Phoebe – and her dog, Cloud, loves him – and he handles Jasper, learns that there is more to winemaking than creating a fermented grape juice, all while he and Oliver gradually make personal headway.
If you read contemporary romance, or romcom, you already know how this book is going to go. MC #1 has an intoxicated and quickie marriage, splits up with quickie hubby, takes up with the second not-really-married-to hubby, someone a tad enigmatic, and there’s a mix-up with one’s family, they fall for each other, and there will be a hiccup or two along the way. All of which is very true of The James Dean Vintage. However, the things that set it apart from most of its contemporary romance peers is that Jess Whitecroft writes such good, relatable, grown-up stories. Stories which generally have a bit more of an unusual direction in plot or characterisation to others in the genre. And her characters aren’t without their flaws but they’re humorous and engaging, totally and utterly engaging, and very human, which allows a more visceral reader connection. I really did like these two – Oliver and Dean, although Oliver and I had some moments. I liked that there is diversity as well. Oliver is a well-heeled, white boy, Dean’s from an interracial background. It’s not leaned on heavily, nor should it be because people are people and love is love. It’s just nice to read in gay romance.
The James Dean Vintage contains good writing, with storytelling that made me glad to go to bed reading the book and equally happy to pick it up the next morning – only good books give me that feeling. There’s also plenty of humour, a good romance, including some sexy times without overkill, and the MCs had to build up to the I love yous. Their love and understanding of one another developed as seasons passed, and there were valid reasons as to how and why they worked as a couple, and all thoroughly believable. The hiccups were not major and they sorted themselves pretty quickly – but you do need something for MCs to overcome in a story or else a reader can get bored. Not much else for me to say except Jess Whitecroft nails it again and I really, really enjoyed The James Dean Vintage – 4.5 Stars!