VespertineVespertine by Leta Blake and Indra Vaughn

Published by: Ledra

Format: Kindle Arc

Buy It Now: Amazon

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Reviewed by: Liz

What we Thought: Beautifully written, if not always entirely believable, and left us wanting a slightly different sort of struggle, perhaps, but overall hopeful, engaging, and hot.

Plot: Can a priest and a rock star obey love’s call?

Seventeen years ago, Jasper Hendricks and Nicholas Blumfeld’s childhood friendship turned into a secret, blissful love affair. They spent several idyllic months together until Jasper’s calling to the Catholic priesthood became impossible to ignore. Left floundering, Nicky followed his own trajectory into rock stardom, but he never stopped looking back.

Today, Jasper pushes boundaries as an out, gay priest, working hard to help vulnerable LGBTQ youth. He’s determined to bring change to the church and the world. Respected, admired, and settled in his skin, Jasper has long ignored his loneliness.

As Nico Blue, guitarist and songwriter for the band Vespertine, Nicky owns the hearts of millions. He and his bandmates have toured the world, lighting their fans on fire with their music. Numbed by drugs and fueled by simmering anger, Nicky feels completely alone. When Vespertine is forced to get sober, Nicky returns home to where it all started.

Jasper and Nicky’s careers have ruled their lives since they parted as teens. When they come face to face again, they must choose between the past’s lingering ghosts or the promise of a new future.

Review: This plot is a trope lover’s wet dream, let’s be honest here. If you want a forbidden sort of love, it doesn’t get much more forbidden than a gay Catholic priest and a rock star. If you are into that sort of thing, of course. Which I am. So, for the most part, I really did enjoy this book. It was a meandering but still pretty nicely constructed novel, one that flowed between the two points of view and the two men’s separate struggles with their demons (and God) smoothly, showing the inherent difficulties therein. Both characters were different enough from each other to make it interesting to see how they would face their own fears and difficulties.

Nicky is the rock god who’s been so strung out on drugs for the past several years, he is forced into detox before shuttling himself back home to Maine for a break from endless touring and heroin. He’s angry and still fucked up over having lost the one great love of his life seventeen years ago, so he isn’t exactly thrilled to be going back to the scene of the crime, so to speak, knowing that Father Jasper may well haunt him there.

Jasper, in the meantime, is an interesting sort of priest. He makes very little secret of his sexuality, but being a priest, has taken no lover since Nicky. Of course, all of that is in the past. They’d been kids. Surely Nicky will eventually come to grips with that and maybe, they can remain friends.

Of course, that isn’t what happens. The tension between the two builds slowly, but surely. First, in anger and frustration on Nicky’s part and pleas for acceptance on Jasper’s, but then life intrudes from all sides and they slowly entwine again like two ivy plants whose very nature is to come together. It progresses to intense levels, with a push and pull that feels largely organic and, at times, painful.

What was interesting to me here was Jasper’s struggle. I went in expecting him to question his faith and perhaps feel shame at wanting to be back in his ex-lover’s arms, but that was not the case. Jasper never once lost his faith or belief in God or in God’s love for him. He struggled, but there was very little rending of garments, and never any shame. He knew his duty, but he also knew his heart. It was an interesting take on questioning your calling, and I appreciated that. At the same time, I am not entirely convinced that it wasn’t an easy out. I think something about it missed for me, like if it had been approached from an angle of a five-degree difference, it would have hit. This is a relatively minor criticism.

I do have a few others. I felt that, at times, it tended towards the melodramatic in an unnecessary way, and certain plot points felt forced. I obviously know very little about how record companies work, and I know a lot of terrible stuff goes on behind the scenes, but “the suits” who hounded Nicky throughout his detox did feel like cartoon villains most of the time. I also had a difficult time picturing how a band that has made several albums together and toured constantly for years barely knew each other as people, even with the added factor of rarely being sober. Something about it felt unrealistic. I think, if stretched, Nicky’s detachment disorder—he was left in a dumpster as a baby, found, and later adopted by his now-parents—could go some ways towards explaining this, but at times, it felt like a convenient plot device than a true emotional thread.

Other things I took some issues with were certain characterizations. While Nicky and Jasper were well fleshed out, some of the secondary characters fell flat, and appeared cardboard-y. Jasper’s mom, Nicky’s bandmate Ramona, who never quite sounded like a real human, and a few others, threw me out of the story at times. (The cat, however, was absolutely tremendous. This is a real comment. I fucking loved that cat.) Also, some of the sexual politics I found a bit troubling, but hesitate to spoil it for the readers.

As a whole, I both really enjoyed this novel and felt it fall apart for me in the second half. As a general rule, I am not crazy about miscommunication plot devices, and several in here felt just a bit of a stretch—or perhaps one characters’ reactions to them. I am still mulling that over in my head.

However, in the end, it was satisfying, if a tad pat and melodramatic. I never stopped rooting for Jasper and Nicky to figure things out, and most of the love scenes were incredibly touching, sweet, and sexy. I also very much appreciated the inclusion of the spectrum of LGBT people, as well as people of color, which you do not always see in m/m romances.

Things You May Not Enjoy: I am uncertain as to whether or not this optimistic view of religion will be everybody’s cup of tea—it may depend on your own history. If you’re not keen on melodrama, this may also Not Be For You. Finally, the plot does not always click, and the emotional arc sometimes rings a tad false, or at the very least, forced.

Things You Will Love: the romance, the sex, the longing, the work that Jasper does in his LGBT youth shelter that I desperately wish existed everywhere, in real life. The language was often very beautiful, and carried the story. Dizzy the Cat and her gifts to her owner. Dizzy was my favorite.

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