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Book Review: Downpayment, by A.J. Mars

Downpayment - A.J. Mars

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Downpayment - A.J. Mars Cover

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Mike Barrow and his friends are among many boys in Manchester who think the city will be their chance to improve themselves. But for now Mike is living in a damp flat with his friend Callum, and they’re both making ends meet by working the streets. When Mike meets Chris Wildsmith, a late-twenties entrepreneur, he thinks he’s hooked a job that will pay his rent for several weeks—a windfall already.

But his connection with Chris quickly goes beyond what’s normal between rent boy and client. Mike meets Chris’s friends, goes to Chris’s parties with him as his “boyfriend,” and finds himself swept up in a world he’s never known. He’s sure it’s all going to go horribly wrong, and when Chris’s work colleague figures them out and becomes violent, he’s almost proven right. But Mike isn’t the only one who has confused professionalism with something else. The breakup that follows gives Mike the impetus he needs to relaunch himself as somebody else, a man who will hopefully be someone Chris very much wants to be with.

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Book – Downpayment

Author – A.J. Mars

Star rating – ★★★☆☆

No. of Pages – 200

Movie Potential – 0 – been done before.

Ease of reading – some parts easy, some parts confusing. Equal mix.

Would I read it again – Possibly. Not sure yet.

** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **

Reviewed for Divine Magazine

Warning. Hazard ahead!

Great plot and awesome characters ruined by “too close for comfort” copying of Pretty Woman. I can’t even say it’s done by accident, because both the film and Julia Roberts are mentioned more than once. In what ways are they similar? Only in the best/worst ways. The best parts of the movie – the hooker and rich guy, with a penthouse apartment; the shopping spree, both the good and bad parts; and the attack by an inconsiderate jerk who sees only dollar signs.

Oh, and let me just say that I’ve never liked Pretty Woman anyway, so that didn’t help.

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Ugh! I wanted to love this book so much. As I said above, the characters were brilliant – unique, well written, really well explored in terms of depth and history – and the plot was unique in some ways that made it refreshing, at first. Then more and more little “Pretty Woman” moments cropped up. More and more things began itching away at me, telling me this wasn’t as original as I’d first thought. It’s just an M/M version of the movie, with more sex with Chris being a more free, tolerant, happy-go-lucky version of Richard Gere.

This book isn’t about your typical high-flying, top of the line escorts, that some of these rent boy stories are about. Mike and Callum are real, honest-to-God, down on their luck kids, who just need to make enough money to pay the rent, so they can stay together.

Unfortunately, it’s also written in 3rd person, present tense, which doesn’t sit well with my equilibrium. The two don’t mix. Then, in between, we have diary entries from Mike, written in 1st person past tense. It’s really quite confusing. I took a half star off, for that fact alone. It was disconcerting to read 1 page or scene of the present story, then have to shift into reading the diary entries that were sprawled throughout. Also, it was really annoying the way that the diary entries sometimes hint – and sometimes downright shouted out – future events or things we hadn’t seen yet.

The chemistry between the characters – Chris and Mike – is the brilliant part of the story. Their relationship, though odd, is remarkable and wonderful to read. I just wish the cheesy “Pretty Woman” parts had been a little more original or completely removed. They spoiled it for me and I removed a whole star for that alone. It’s also really annoying to read them getting to know one another, having this brilliant chemistry, then to have the diary entries tell us that they’ve already separated. It’s a total WTF? moment!

The storytelling – the parts that are real and original to Chris and Mike – is fantastic. Really well done, well explored and done with depth. However, I found more meaning and depth, more honesty, in the diary entries by Mike than in some of their encounters. Plus, the really important event – the one that separates them for a time and sets events into motion at the end of the story – is glossed over in memories and diary entries. We don’t get to see any of what really matters and that removed the final half star. Such an important turning point in the story, in Chris and Mike’s relationship, should never be glossed over in that way. It felt ignored. One minute everything was fine, in Paris, then we were back in Manchester and Mike was back living with Callum and his friends. It made no sense.

As for the supporting characters – Callum, Balil and Ben – were all interesting people, but they never really jumped out and showed too much of themselves, which was nice. I knew they were there, but they truly were background characters. Chris and Mike were the focal point. As the story was told in Mike’s POV only, it took some time to get to know Chris, but once I did, I really liked him. He and Mike together were magic and that became something I really loved. Even doing ordinary things, they could bask in each other and the situation, without getting over the top.

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OVERALL

Disappointed. I wanted this to be a 5 or even a 4 star read. But the more I read and the more I thought about it, the Pretty Woman parts were unforgiveable. Yes, they were mutilated into something new, more modern and in keeping with the M/M theme and the character’s personalities, but the fact that I noticed them was bad. It wasn’t even a coincidence, since the author clearly mentioned both the film and the actors in dialogue or Mike’s thoughts, so the similarity was in their mind. I just wish they’d masked it or removed it, because either could have been done without compromising the story.

The writing, storytelling and characterisation means that I’ll give this author another try. But the style – of two different tenses in one book, both of which were done the opposite to how I would normally read them – unsettled me. If all the others are the same, I’ll miss them, unless by strong recommendation. It’s just too confusing.

The ending was also a little more abrupt than I’d have liked, with more of a feel of an HFN than a HEA. I still have questions that have gone unanswered.

Like I said, I was really rooting for this one, all the way through. The blurb sounded awesome and when I read the “hooker/rich guy” theme to it, I desperately hoped it wouldn’t be Pretty Woman style, but it was and that’s the main reason I’m disappointed. I expected more.

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FAVOURITE QUOTE

I have a few, so keep with me.

Falling for you will always taste like breakfast wrapped in a duvet at sunset on a balcony – and a little bit like pickles. And oddly I don’t mind that at all.

You didn’t even really look, but as I turned for the door, you said, “Bye, Mike. Thanks.”

It was real soft and quiet, like the same way people say “but I love you” when the person they gave everything to just left indefinitely and they’ve got nothing but a door to talk to.

and the final one…

““Have a good day, honey,” I said, just before I left.

I’m not sure if you could tell, but what I meant was, “I don’t quite know it, but I’m already bereft.”

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