Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Allen Jameson was just 21 when he fell in love with Gary, a wealthy man much older than him. From than on life was perfect for Allen, ensconced in a fabulous house, living a fairy tale life. Until Gary died of a heart attack. Then the Allen’s return to the real world was swift and jarring. Allen was unprepared for life outside the bubble Gary had created for him and now must face the real world alone and unprepared. But one thing Allen could do was bake, so he opened the Sweet ‘n’ Sassy Cupcake Shop, where he could lose himself in creating exquisite cupcakes and pleasing others with his creations.
Byron “Bit” Bannigan walked through the door of Sweet’n’ Sassy Cupcake shop and found not only great cupcakes but the man behind the counter. Byron owns a construction company and on this day he was sent to pickup the cupcakes needed for a company party. Byron ended up picking up much more to the amazement of both Allen and Byron. Quickly Byron and Allen’s relationship flourishes as each proves to be the right man for each other. But Allen’s business is struggling under its success and Gary’s old friends disapprove not only of Allen’s business but Byron too. As Allan’s past clashes with his present day reality, he decide if he is ready to let go of his past with Gary to have a future with Byron.
This story started off so well. Allen Jameson is a man who has been cosseted by his much older partner from the moment they met. Gary almost “trained” Allen to be the perfect house husband from the age of 21. Allen baked, decorated, kept the house immaculate and planned all their frequent parties. Plus he looked great doing it. Gary effectively cocooned the man inside Gary’s way of life, leaving Allen ill prepared for the real world when Gary dies. I really liked this plot. It’s a terrific play on the idea of a 1950’s wife whose life revolved around her husband and household. Those housewives were not prepared for their husbands deaths (or divorce) and the social changes that came with it. Using a twist on the same relationship dynamic but within a m/m context was a terrific storyline. How does such a man suddenly adjust to the real world? Once that bubble is gone, how does he deal with all the everyday chores that his husband took responsibility for and are now his? Those scenes would have given Allen the necessary character background we miss out on in this story. Without seeing him in that context, Allen comes across as less believable than he could have been.
The same problem exists with his boutique cupcake store. How did Allen achieve so much so quickly with no business training and no idea of what he was doing? It would have been great to have seen those scenes as well as Allen leased the store and then slowly established himself as the cupcake place of the moment. Instead of showing us Allen as he struggled through Gary’s loss and the startup of Sweet’n’ Sassy Cupcake Shop, we are “told” that it happened. That gave this story a much lighter but also superficial feel.
Byron “Bit” Bannigan does not come with the same requirements for his character that Allen does. As a self made man, Byron is a lovely masculine construct and works well both as foil when compared to Gary’s old friends and as Allen’s new, sexy and younger partner. My only question here is the part about his name. Byron is called Bit throughout the first part of the story, a nickname from a brother. Then once he starts dating Allen and finds out that Allen likes his given name of Byron, then that is the name he is referred to for the rest of the story. It just seems such an unnecessary quirk when the author abandons it completely without any reason.
The relationship between Byron and Allen is sweet and sexy. Much is made of the lack of sex life in Gary and Allen’s relationship as Gary was not a sexual being. So Allen’s rediscovery of his sexual nature with Byron is one of this story’s real joys. It feels both natural and loving, with Allen acting like the happy, sexy young man he should have been all those years with Gary. It’s probably the most realistic part of Cupcakes aside from the ending and the cupcake recipes Allen creates.
The primary issue here is that this is a very even toned sweet romance. No real highs or lows, just a “steady as they go” sort of relationship. Given Allen’s isolated life with Gary, with Gary’s friends, Gary’s things, and Gary’s house, I kept wondering if there was going to be a dark closet somewhere in Gary and Allen’s life as it appeared so very bland. But then again, maybe the blandness of the 50’s housewife lifestyle suited that of Allen’s role as Gary’s househusband. I kept waiting for the “other shoe” to drop when there wasn’t one. There really isn’t much drama here except for a segment towards the end that is as neatly resolved as everything else in Allen’s life.
I think I was disappointed in this story because of the promise of the plot and the author behind it. Sean Michael has created so many multidimensional characters in the past that I expected that here. And didn’t get it. But what I did receive was a sweet, lovely if facile romance, a little Donna Reed gone m/m (google it if you must). It’s a nice story, one you will be happy to read even if you forget it as soon as the story is over. However, I would love to have some of Allen’s cupcakes…now those sounded not only unique but gastronomically memorable. I only wish I could say the same about Cupcakes the story.
Cover art by LC Chase is as sweet and frothy as the story itself.