Published by: Itineris Press
Format: Paperback ARC/Kindle PDF
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Reviewed by: Judith
2 years ago, I was at Book Expo America for the first time, generally walking around a big open space in a book daze. People would look at my badge, see “Reviewer”, and thrust books right into my open hands. Free books were everywhere! And I took them ALL! Thank god I did because little did I know that I held in my hands a book that was to become my top M/M read of all time. I’m serious here. This book is the one I urge everyone to read.
I’ll give you fair warning now: Angel isn’t a flashy book; there’s no crazy drama or gorgeous hunks. There’s no fantastic sex, trash talk, or impossible situations. There’s not even a happily ever after. But what there is, is a finely crafted love story which really spoke to me on a deeper level than I could ever describe adequately here. All I can say is you must give this book a chance and hopefully it will touch you as deeply as it did me.
Plot: Since the loss of his lively, charming wife to cancer six years ago, minister Paul Tobit has been operating on autopilot, performing his religious duties by rote. Everything changes the day he enters the church lobby and encounters a radiant, luminous being lit from behind, breathtakingly beautiful and glowing with life. An angel. For a moment Paul is so moved by his vision that he is tempted to fall on his knees and pray.
Even after he regains his focus and realizes he simply met a flesh-and-blood young man, Paul cannot shake his sense of awe and wonder. He feels an instant and overwhelming attraction for the young man, which puzzles him even as it fills his thoughts and fires his feelings. Paul has no doubt that God has spoken to him through this vision, and Paul must determine what God is calling him to do.
Thus begins a journey that will inspire Paul’s ministry but put him at odds with his church as he is forced to examine his deeply held beliefs and assumptions about himself, his community, and the nature of love.
Review: Hands down one of my top reads of all time. Romance, Contemp lit, M/M, what have you. This is the literary apex for me. Though I will stress again: this is a quiet, thought-provoking read. Don’t go into Angel thinking it’s something flashy or ostentatious. It won’t wow you into loving it with insane situations or turn on the charm with cutesy characters or absurd drama. It’s a very powerful, moving novel about love in all its forms. It engaged me thoroughly and showed me that writing about love, true love, and relationships is possible.
Paul is a priest (not Catholic) and he had a truly loving partnership and marriage until his wife died. Since she’s been gone, he’s kept going, living for his parish and not much else. When recovering alcoholic, Ian, appears in his life, Paul is captivated by him. Ian is full of bravado and charisma. He bursts into Paul’s small world and helps him learn that love is not black and white, much like his faith. Paul’s attraction to Ian grows naturally and when they finally form a relationship it is with an amazing depth of feeling.
Laura Lee is a master of nuance. She takes the minutiae of daily life and breathes a freshness into it in a way that is poignant and inspiring. Even two years after my initial read through, I can still remember so clearly Paul describing Ian vacuuming their home. Sounds like a lame thing to write about and even lamer to remember vividly but it’s just not. It’s this sort of attention to detail that makes her stand out. Laura really dissects their relationship and you can feel the love these two share clearly. It’s a love built on experience and the slow discovery of one another. It’s not easy or dramatic but then, daily life so rarely is. The fact that there is no happily ever after really struck a chord with me. Too often we are given a neat, pat ending; main characters ride off into a sex filled sunset fraught with potential and dreams. Here they are left very raw and very sad. It’s this loss and tension, that absolute gutted feeling when I finished Angel, that moved me so powerfully. You always want love to continue, to be the pinnacle, and too often it’s not. That’s life and Laura Lee has made her book honest with this ending.
You might not like the questioning of religion or the addition of a homosexual relationship between a priest and a younger man. But I’m a sucker for growth and character development so Paul’s slow evolution from confused to accepting was satisfying like nothing else I’ve read.
So based on the following criteria, I’m giving this top billing: a 10/10.
How much did I like the hero: 10. Paul isn’t your typical romance hero. He’s a middle aged, slightly tubby priest with a dead wife and a job that reports directly to god. He’s constantly questioning his attraction to a man and is not what anyone would dub exciting. But his character is so heart breaking and strong, so very real that you are drawn to him regardless. He has an iron will that will amaze you and the ability to have faith even in the face of adversity.
How much did I like the love interest: 10. Ian is fun and flirtatious, a fireball of crazy just ready to explode into your life. He’s charismatic and open, loving and genuine. In fact, genuine would be the most apt word for him. He’s like the best friend you ever had and a playful sex kitten rolled into one. He’s the yang to Paul’s yin.
How believable is the plot: 10. It’s a common and not so shocking theme these days – priests in gay relationships – and this one developed so effortlessly, the characters so real, it felt spot on and 100% believable.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. Laura Lee slays me. She’s a terse writer, not giving much in the way of background or description but man oh man can she write relationships. The effortless interactions between her characters are so perfect and the attention to detail she brings Paul and Ian’s courtship? It’s amazing. I really have to hand it to her because again, the nuance she is capable of is awe-inspiring.
How much did I want to keep reading: 10. I didn’t want it to end like it did but honestly, for this particular story, this was the only ending. It was one of the first contemporary romance books I’ve read that didn’t end happily but it was perfect. Sad…but perfect. I wish it could have kept going and these two could have kept growing but…you know from page one that it doesn’t happen so at least it’s not a sucker punch when disaster strikes.
Final Score: 10/10
If you’re interested in reading more about Laura Lee’s thought process behind writing the book and some of her inspiration, check out this interview I did with her on our sexy, sister site I Love Romantic Fiction.
Here’s a link to the audio version which just released as well: Angel by Laura Lee on Audible