Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
A celebrated chef, Adriano has had to quit his job at a posh Beverly Hills restaurant because during his recovery from stage four cancer, chemo killed his taste buds. He can’t even taste his own cuisine. About the only thing that penetrates the dull sensation is coffee, so he’s bought a cafe in Waldo, hoping to find a new life in spite of his memory of it being a rigidly conservative town.
Looking forward to recuperating and spending time his mom, Adriano soon finds that Colin Mackenzie-the first man he ever loved, the only man he has ever wanted-never left Waldo. He apparently hasn’t forgotten Adriano either. But Colin, who once seduced then dumped him, seems to be playing games. He keeps coming into the cafe ordering his coffee-tall with room…for milk-but he doesn’t seem to have room for Adriano. Soon, the love they once shared is re-ignited in an explosive way, but what is going on in Waldo? Why do things seem so…haunted by the past?
I had just finished reading The Line by Angel Martinez and found the blurb for Tall With Room by A.J. Llewellyn at the end of the story. It intrigued me with its unusual premise and main character. So I got it without ever having seen the cover…if I had only checked out the cover. That would definitely have changed things. I thought I was getting a contemporary romance and ended up with something else all together. Was it a bad something or good something? A little bit of both actually.
I come away from this short story very divided in my feelings towards it. I loved most of it actually and that started with a character the likes of which I had never met before. Adriano was a hot chef in LA and he loved everything about his life. His restaurant and his rising recognition as a chef of high merit. He had a boyfriend he loved and a condo which suited him. A great life until a small spot is found on his tongue, one misdiagnosis later and the cancer has become wide spread. The treatment Adriano undergoes to cure the tongue cancer, (chemo and more) kills his taste buds and his ability to cook and remain a chef. Alive but his living destroyed, Adriano returns to the hometown he happily left behind and his ailing mother. What a great character and situation! Llewellyn pulled me in with multiple tugs at my heart and a situation I hadn’t seen in a M/M romance before. Throw in an old love, the love of his life, that disappeared early on in his youth, and you have a plot that is emotionally deep and gripping.
Even the title is pretty great when you know the story behind it. Tall With Room refers to a type of coffee ordered, one with room for milk left at the top. A special order that Adriano’s past boyfriend was especially fond of. Its also a metaphor for their relationship. So unusual illness, compelling character, and a home situation (mom with dementia) that most readers will connect with…all that added up to a story that should have been a real highlight on my reading list. Those elements alone make this a story to remember. Until it zags instead of zigs and takes an altogether different path into the supernatural.
If I had just seen that darn cover.
Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy the turn the story took. I figured out what was going on before the end (when it picked up too much speed in the race to the denouement) and things got confusing with a flipflopping time line and elements that came at you with little to no setup. It left me bereft and moping over the loss of the story I thought I was getting and a little bit peeved over the “feel good” ending the author employed. One that I have seen/read before to more of a happy surprise/stunner than is revealed here.
The thing is I came to this book weighed down by my expectations from the blurb. That sense of anticipation never left no matter where I was in the story (until towards the end that is). Tall With Room a well-written tale, aside from the rushed elements and ending I mentioned. The characters and situation remain lovely and original. If I had only seen that cover first, then I think my anticipation about what I thought I was going to read would have been more in line with the actual story. Yes, Virginia, book covers do make a difference! That didn’t occur and I’m left with a sense of disappointment at how it all turned out.
So do I recommend this story? Yep, because I have given you the cover as well as the blurb. Its all there so you decide if you like your romance with a side order of the supernatural or not. If so, then Tall With Room by A.J. Llewellyn is just the short story for you. This is a HEA…although not the one you might be anticipating. It certainly wasn’t the one I thought I was getting. And yes, still mourning that fact.
You probably won’t.
Cover art by Reese Dante, I’m now biased and no, I don’t like it. But only because of petty reasons, it’s actually pretty dramatic but where are the other elements from the story?
ebook, 53 pages
Published August 24th 2012 by Total-E-Bound
ISBN 1781841020 (ISBN13: 9781781841020)
Note: All LGBT books from Totally Bound are being transferred to their new LGBT imprint, Pride Books.