A MelanieM Review: Theory Unproven by Lillian Francis

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Theory Unproven 400x600Working with elephants in their natural habitat has always been Eric Phillips dream. Getting what he’s always desired introduces him to Tyaan Bouwer, the bush pilot that flies in his supplies, and Eric discovers the allure of South Africa goes beyond the wildlife and the scenery.

But in an area where bushveld prejudices and hatred bleed across the borders, realising their love will be a hard fought battle. Keeping hold of it might just kill them.

* * * * *

An unexpected job offer finds zoologist Eric Phillips transported from the elephant house at a zoo just outside London to the wildlife reserves in the South African bushveld. Being able to work with his own herd of elephants, and analysing their behaviour, more than makes up for the remote nature of the research station. The one bright spot on the horizon, quite literally if the sun hits it at the right angle, is the silver freight plane that brings his supplies and half an hour in the company of Tyaan, the gorgeous but taciturn pilot.

With wide open spaces and clear skies, Tyaan Bouwer is never be happier than when he’s flying over the bushveld, the landscape beneath him a changing vista of colour and texture. It’s that view and the freedom to be able to climb in his plane and fly that’s kept him in the small town where he was born and raised. South Africa might be a rainbow nation but in the northern regions where neighbouring countries are far from liberal minded, prejudices and hatred bleed across the borders. Tyaan’s not in the closet, not really. Get him to the city and with his strong, silent routine he can pull a guy without even trying. He’s fine with that as long as they don’t press him into trying to see them again. It’s not like he wants a relationship. And just maybe when he gets home he’s hovering in the doorway of that closet, but he’s never met anyone worth taking the risk for.

The day he’s sent to Limpopo to collect Eric that all changes. He tries to bury the feelings of want that Eric conjures in him, but he can’t resist the bonds of friendship that forms between them.

As a zoologist Eric likes to think that he’s adept at anticipating how a creature will react in any given situation, and they don’t come any more beautiful and skittish than Tyaan. Despite Tyaan’s jittery behaviour Eric has a theory they could be good together but when things go catastrophically wrong it appears their relationship will remain a theory unproven.

Theory Unproven by Lillian Francis was a book I enjoyed on multiple levels.  It was the first novel I had read by this author and now I have a author with a new library to explore.   Love when that happens.  Secondly, as a park naturalist, this book with its location set in a elephant research sanctuary in Africa really resonated with me.  With a zoologist, Eric Phillips, as one half of the main couple, I loved the realistic way his life and work with the elephants was portrayed.  Dirty, all consuming, and soul satisfying…the readers understands through the many passages what it must be like to have that deep connection with another species. Whether Eric is combing through scat (that’s poop) or setting a series of problems for the elephants to work through, it all comes across beautifully and authentically.  It also serves to make the reserve, and the elephants come alive, so much so that they become necessary to the main characters and the plot, and not just act as props for the storyline.  And the elephants!  They rank high among my favorite characters here. I have to admit this element of the story is the most successful for me.

For such a vast landscape in setting and plot, there is really only a small cast of characters involved here.  Outside of Eric and Tyaan, we have a flying doctor, Jessie, Benedict Brooke’s (assistant to Mr. Cowdry, Mr. Cowdry CEO of The Foundation), all of which feel fleshed out and believable.  Jessie is a cornerstone here.  A strong woman, she is never the less the “beard” for Tyaan in town where his “gayness” is not only frowned on but poses a direct threat.Benedict and Mr. Cowdry’s personalities are developed through a series of telephone/Skype conversations that does a great job of making these men and their dysfunctional relationship intriguing and real.  All good characters, all people the reader will want to spend time with.

What is problematic here?  The native peoples themselves.   Only marginally represented first by Akibo, a manager and Eric’s first contact at The Foundation, then by the cook/housekeeper Sethunya (a veritable wisp of a character) and the worker Masumba, you never really get a feel for the people, their tribes or their background.  Their appearances are brief, and lacking in context. Their characters are pencil sketches at best, and,especially in Masumba’s case, that lack of background and solidity hurts both the story and resolution at the end.

Tyaan is a character that will draw conflicted feelings among the readers.  I thought his was a character grounded in the reality of the changing times in South Africa where you can be legally out yet being gay can also get you hung or worse in neighboring countries and in the conservative bush lands where the local mentality is as rigid and inflexible as the past societies has made it.   Fear and past history has made him limit his relationships to one night stands in the anonymous city landscape and it has kept him in the closet at home where he works and lives.  Got it, you understand him even if you don’t like his actions, it makes him human.

But its that “realness” that will make Eric’s naivete less believable.  Surely, Eric will have done more than a cursory research job when looking at the area and his outwardly gay status. Assuming he would have no problems being an “out gay”  white man in the wilds of a  reserve on a nation that just accepted being homosexual as legal, would be like thinking you could act in a small rural, conservative town in (fill in the blank area) like you would in New York City.  Uh, no.  And while I have known quite a few “been in the woods too long”  researchers, few of them would display that set of blinders that looms so large on Eric.

But most of those thoughts came after I had finished the story and had time to think about it.  While I was reading it, I was hooked on the elephants, Eric and Tyaan’s attraction for each other and strained journey towards a relationship.  This is a long book yet most of the time I spent reading it flew by.  And I could easily book a flight back to this universe.  I would love to know more about Mr. Cowdry and Benedict’s convoluted relationship and surely there are more bumps on the relationship road for Tyaan and Eric.  A return trip would be more than welcome.

I vacillated on the rating here.  I wanted to go higher for the location, setting, elephants and research.  And lower for the context and native characters.  So I settled for a 4 star rating which I’m not entirely happy with…because this story is so lush, so vibrant in feeling and scope that I am still so very much in love with Theory Unproven weeks later.

I recommend this story for all who love romance, foreign lands and a landscape of adventure where the search for love can be rough, affectionate, and hard won.  Pick it up today and decide for yourself.

Cover art by Meredith Russell.  I feel the same way about the cover that I do about the story.  Love/dislike the cover.  The models work/don’t work for the characters within.  See?  Just not sure.  Love the background though.

Sales Links:  Love Lane Books uk      All Romance (ARe)        Amazon                Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 327 pages
Published February 20th 2015 by Love Lane Books

Limited (first published January 30th 2015)

In Our Book Spotlight: Theory Unproven by Lilian Francis

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Theory Unproven by Lilian Francis

Love Lane Books

 

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About Theory Unproven…

Working with elephants in their natural habitat has always been Eric Phillips dream. Getting what he’s always desired introduces him to Tyaan Bouwer, the bush pilot that flies in his supplies, and Eric discovers the allure of South Africa goes beyond the wildlife and the scenery.

But in an area where bushveld prejudices and hatred bleed across the borders, realising their love will be a hard fought battle. Keeping hold of it might just kill them.

Theory Unproven by Lilian Francis
Love Lane Books
Cover Artist :  Meredith Russell
Sales Links can be found here at Love Lane Books

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About Lillian Francis

An avid reader, Lillian Francis was always determined she wanted to write, but a ‘proper’ job and raising a family distracted her for over a decade. Over the years and thanks to the charms of the Internet, Lillian realized she’d been writing at least one of her characters in the wrong gender. Ever since, she’s been happily letting her ‘boys’ run her writing life.

Lillian now divides her time between family, a job and the numerous men in her head all clamouring for ‘their’ story to be told.

Lillian lives in an imposing castle on a wind-swept desolate moor or in an elaborate ‘shack’ on the edge of a beach somewhere depending on her mood, with the heroes of her stories either chained up in the dungeon or wandering the shack serving drinks in nothing but skimpy barista aprons.

In reality, she would love to own a camper van and to live by the sea.

You can read more about Lillian here:
Blog:  http://lillianfrancis.blogspot.com/
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/lillian.francis.100
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/LillianFrancis_

Theory Unproven Excerpt

Preparing to ask the stranger his name, Eric opened his mouth to speak, when he was interrupted by a doleful bleat. Startled, he glanced over his shoulder, scanning the airfield expecting to find signs of a wayward sheep. The forlorn stuttering cry came again, and Eric whipped back round, suspiciously eyeing a crate that was securely strapped to the internal wall of the plane.

“Goat,” said the pilot—Eric had decided that’s what he was—as he came back down the ramp.

The deep timbre of that one word surprised Eric. It was rough and low, with an unfamiliar accent Eric’s subconscious demanded to hear more of. That wasn’t likely to happen, though, because the pilot was already surveying his cargo with his back to Eric. He bent to hoist a crate into his arms, leaving Eric to stare dry-mouthed at the enticing pull of khaki for several seconds. Then the pilot straightened and carried the crate into the plane.

Eric wondered if he should offer to help, but despite the ease with which the crate had been hefted into the air, Eric thought they would probably be too heavy and he didn’t want to make a fool of himself. Not in front of this man.

The blond wore the almost obligatory light khaki bush clothes similar to his own uniform The Foundation had provided. Eric hadn’t noticed a logo on his shirt, but he could hope. If this man worked for The Foundation, Eric could at least enjoy the view, since it was unlikely he was gay. He hadn’t even looked twice at Eric. Not that Eric considered himself drop-dead gorgeous or anything, but he was used to getting his fair share of interest back home in England.

Eric caught a glimpse of Akibo gesticulating wildly at the cab driver. His holdalls were piled at Akibo’s feet, Eric noticed thankfully. At least if the altercation didn’t go well and the cab driver took off, he wouldn’t abscond with Eric’s luggage.

The hollow echo of footfalls on the ramp drew Eric’s attention back to the pilot. Tiredness was pulling on Eric’s nerves, leaving him out of sorts, and the lack of conversation was doing nothing to ease his irritability.

Taking the bull by the horns, Eric graced the pilot with the brightest smile he could muster. “So, do you work for The Foundation too?”

“No.” The man’s stride didn’t even falter as he continued toward the next crate.

Not chatty, then. Downright rude, in fact.

The firm slap of a hand on his back caught him just off centre, almost pitching him forward, and Akibo’s fingers curled over his shoulder and squeezed.

“I see you’ve met Tyaan. Tyaan Bouwer. He’s the local freight pilot. He’ll run your supplies into the research station every week.”

It was almost as if the pilot finally saw Eric as anything other than an annoyance for the first time. Tyaan stepped toward him, straightening to his full height, and Eric resisted the urge to check out the breadth of his chest, instead raising his gaze the few inches’ difference in their height to meet Tyaan’s eyes head-on.

“Tyaan, this is Eric. Eric Philips. He’s the new researcher out at olifant velde.” Akibo turned back to Eric. “That’s the local name for your part of the reserve. It means elephant fields.”

“Howzit.” Tyaan stuck out his hand. Eric extended his own automatically, and Tyaan pressed their palms together, enveloping Eric’s fingers in warmth. He gave Eric’s hand a short, sharp shake before releasing him from the firm grip. “The elephant man, hey?”

Eric smiled. “I know I’m no oil painting, but I hope I’m not that bad.”

Tyaan’s top-to-toe appraisal was so fleeting that Eric thought he’d imagined it. An expression skittered across the pilot’s face. Interest, curiosity—Eric wasn’t sure. It manifested itself as a bright spark in his eyes and the faint quirk of his lips, as if he were biting the inside of his cheek. The look vanished before Eric could really work out what it meant, but the amber-coloured eyes still seemed to hold a welcome within them.

“Tyaan’s a man of few words, but you won’t find a finer bush pilot. He’s reliable too. He’ll never leave you wanting.”

Wanting. Despite the pilot’s brusque manner, Eric wasn’t surprised he already wanted to press Tyaan up against the shiny metal body of his plane.

“I’m going up front,” Akibo said, blissfully unaware of the thoughts rampaging through Eric’s head. At least Eric hoped that was the case, since he followed that statement with “Coming, Eric?”

In his dreams, maybe.