Rating: 4 stars
Quentin Jackson and Jason Spade have been best friends since their freshman days in college. Where Jason leads, Quentin has followed. Dorm to apartment, college into business, year after year, the path ahead for one is the path for both. Orphaned at an early age, Jason grew up with his uncle and his partner as role models and the game poker as his bible. Need a rule to live by? Poker has the answers, at least for Jason. For Quint? Not so much. An out bisexual, Jason spent his years in and out of bed after bed, regardless of their gender. Quint, on the other hand, followed his families strictures, and dated women and watched his friend avoid relationships and commitments at all costs. Jace has been aggressive in his approach to life, his “shark like” mannerisms making him sucessful, but at a price. Quentin has always come behind Jace smoothing the ruffled feathers and feelings of those that came into contact with Jace and his methodology. But eight years later, all that changes in one daring moment when Jace makes a sexual move on his friend that results in a night of passion.
For years, Jace has waited until the odds of success were in his favor to make a romantic play for Quent. When Jace is rewarded with a night of unsurpassed passion, both men must come to grips with a long unstated love now out in the open. For Jace, he needs to learn that all of life is not a poker game. For Quentin, he needs to trust that Jace can learn that winning at all costs will not help them build a relationship that will last. To call or fold before a relationship is even started? That’s the question both men must answer before they can find their HEA.
In Gambling Men by Amy Lane, the author uses the game of Poker as a format for her story of two friends fumbling their ways to love and happiness. As someone only minutely familiar with the game, I found using different Poker hands and actions fun if not occasionally confusing. Jace is convinced that all life is a Poker game to be won, a belief he picked up in adolescence living with his uncle and partner. Amy Lane does her usual great job at characterization by helping us understand Jace’s somewhat juvenile application of a Poker’s rules approach to life’s hardships and hurdles. Equally open is Quentin’s background in cementing his ideals and more passive life style. Winning versus nurture. Or in these case, a winning nature supported by a nurturing one.
Lane really understands relationship dynamics so the story really engaged me when Jace had to learn to adjust his life and its expectation to include Quentin in a role he had never occupied before. Up until then, Jace was still a little too shallow for me if still understandable. It was so appealing to watch each man flounder in turn, as they danced around dating, outing their relationship to their friends and employees, and then finally taking the steps to deepen their commitment to each other by moving in and finally emotionally moving on into the future they both want and deserve. Surrounding these relationship gyrations are a circle of friends as unique and indelible as Jace and Quent themselves. I loved their Poker playing group, their real family, as Quent’s family disowns him after he comes out. I wish I had been given more of these men, so compelling were the glimpses into their lives the author gave us.
Do I have a quibble with the story? Yes, I do, two in fact. One, the Poker game analogy got a tad stale for me after a while. I am not a Poker enthusiast, so Flushes, Draws, etc. became overdone not only as a format for the chapters but as it was used throughout the story even with Jace’s “life is Poker” outlook. I am sure that there are many Poker widows/widowers out there that feel much the same. The other wee quibble? The title. I have way too much Monty Python in me not to look at it and think “Gambling Men: the Novel?” As opposed to “Gambling Men: The Paragraph”? “Gambling Men: The Comic Book”? “Gambling Men: The Tweet”? The possibilities are endless, at least in my somewhat warped brain. Anyone out there with insight on the title, write me, tweet me, inquiring minds want to know. In the meantime, pick this one up and have a wonderful time as two old friends develop into the lovers they were always meant to be.
Cover: Hysterical. Perfect for the novel. Or should I say Gambling Men: The Novel. Really.