Review: Grime Doesn’t Pay (The Brothers Grime #2) by Z.A. Maxfield

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The Brothers Grime- EddieEddie Vasquez, one of the three owners of The Brothers Grime, has fallen for his niece’s elementary school teacher Mr.  B. Andrew  Daley.  Each time Eddie drops Lucy off at her third grade classroom, he intends to speak to Andrew about more than just Lucy’s accomplishments and classwork and each time he leaves without saying anything.  Eddie finds Andrew gorgeous but daunting because of his education and learning.  Eddie is profoundly dyslexic, leaving him unable to read without special instruments and a considerable amount of time pouring over the words.  And while Eddie has managed to be successful in life working with his disability, he continues to feel as though he is “afflicted”, unworthy of someone whose conversations are filled full of books and book references.

Andrew Daley has his own hidden problems, specifically his father.   Andrew’s father used to own a bookstore but since his mother’s death, his father has changed severely and not for the better. In fact his father’s problems have gotten so extreme that Andrew has not seen his father in months, staying in contact only through sporadic phone calls.  Andrew too has noticed his student Lucy’s gorgeous uncle and looks forward to every visit Eddie Vasquez makes to his classroom.  He loves to see how deeply Eddie loves his niece and the adoration that shows in the way he treats her. And he wonders why the obviously interested Eddie doesn’t approach him.

Then one of Eddie’s former elementary teachers shows up at school, disoriented, hair and clothes rank, smelling of human decomposition, and the two men join forces to help her and discover the events that have brought her to a school she hasn’t work at in decades.  Mrs. Henderson is the teacher responsible for Eddie’s diagnosis of his learning disability, her support and care helped him to move forward, personally and professionally.  Now when she needs help, Eddie is there, together with the rest of The Brothers Grime and Andrew, to provide the assistance she so badly needs.

Mrs. Henderson brings Eddie and Andrew together but each man is still hiding their biggest secrets from each other.  When those secrets are finally disclosed, will the fragile relationship they have been building survive, and grow stronger under the weight of truths finally revealed?

I loved the first book in this series, Grime and Punishment, published in May of 2013.  It was funny, heartrending and so unusual in that the profession of its main character, Jack Masterson, is one rarely found encountered in fiction.  Jack was a former firefighter whose disability forced him off the job into a new profession, that of crime scene cleanup.  Jack, along with childhood friends, Gabe and Eddie Vasquez, formed The Brothers Grime, a crime scene cleaning service whose motto “Because Life Is Not A Fairy Tale” adorns their vans and advertises their business.   It was a fascinating introduction to this necessary and deeply unpleasant profession as well as the intelligent, multidimensional characters who own and operate The Brothers Grime.  It was a smart, engrossing story, one I couldn’t put down and highly recommended.  But it still did not prepare me for the remarkable and absorbing tale to follow, Grime Doesn’t Pay, Eddie’s story.

In Grime Doesn’t Pay, Z.A. Maxfield tackles several tough and complex elements, all crucial to the story, the characters and the series and she handles them all with intelligence, compassion and an authenticity that educated while removing nothing from a riveting story. Maxfield’s narrative moved me to a better understanding of those burdened with these problems while highlighting the need for more education and enlightenment in the media of these issues and their effects upon our society, a powerful statement for any story.

First lets look at Eddie, a complex and admirable character who has learned to deal with his profound dyslexia while still bearing old pain from the manner in which his family, friends and schoolmates treated him growing up.  I loved Eddie and through him, Z.A. Maxfield taught me so much more about dyslexia and the instruments and  coping mechanisms used by those affected by this disease.  It is a dispassionate, layered portrait that encompasses both the adult who manages his dyslexia successfully while never forgetting the child taunted by classmates and torn down by his parents disappointment.  There is so much to this character, from his courtly manners derived from his family and background to his dancing, a fluid and artistic expression of the inner man.  Eddie is full of complexities, and the story, told from his point of view, is enriched in equal measure.

Secondly, and on par with the misinformation and misunderstandings of the complexities and range of dyslexia is the mental disorder of hoarding.  Too often this mental disorder is viewed through the superficial treatment given in the media, a foil for comics and the subject of cable tv programming.  But in the hands of this author, and seen through the eyes of Eddie, Andrew and his father, it becomes  real and grimly relevant to our understanding of mental illness today.  Each man is a different prism through which the disease can be viewed. Andrew’s anguish as the son lacking the understanding of his father’s illness, full of anger and pain, and reeling with embarassment, is the voice we so often see in the media.  His is the channel through which most of us see the disease and its effects  upon family and loved ones. Next, in Andrew’s father, we see the disease given full reign, but made very human, grounded in his pain and humiliation.  His own embarrassment and pride in full conflict with the reality of his situation and his inability to cope with his mental illness on his own. We are brought into his home, piled up with debris, overridden with roaches, and infused with a stench of old food and rat excrement that you can almost smell coming out of the pages. That picture combined with the pathetic state of his person and the dignity that he is trying to maintain will bring you to tears and still let you understand the fury of the son.  And finally, to give the reader yet one more perspective from which to view this disease, we see it from Eddie’s standpoint.  As a dyslexic who stands outside the norms of society, he is perhaps the only person (outside of a psychiatrist specializing in hoarders) who can reach Andrew’s father and understand him.  And once again, Maxfield makes us feel every bit of their pain, of Eddie, who can’t read, being the one to understand Mr. Daley, a person who has lived his life for books and now uses them as a basis for his hoarding.

Added to these exceptional aspects of this story are marvelous characterizations outside of Eddie, Andrew and Mr. Daley, including Mrs. Henderson and the problem of the aged (another beautifully rendered subject).  There is the culturally rich Vasquez family, surrounding Eddie with love and expectations.  The hilarious morally challenged employee, Skippy, and the ever closeted police officer and childhood friend of The Brothers Grime, Dave Huntley, who figures in all the stories.  So many wonderful characters to challenge the way you view people and the manner in which they live their lives.

If the serious nature of these topics give you pause, don’t let it.  There is a wonderfully moving romance that binds these issues together.  There are scenes of terrific warmth and humor to balance those of grim realism and pain.  Z. A. Maxfield moves her story along concisely and smoothly, leaving the reader so wrapped up in the people and events that you will barely be aware of the pages flipping by.  This story left me floored and throughly addicted to these characters and their future.  I think you will feel the same.  Consider Grime Doesn’t Pay not only a must read but one of Scattered Thoughts Best Contemporary Stories of 2013.

Book Details:
ebook, 241 pages
Published November 27th 2013 by Loose Id (first published November 25th 2013)
ISBN13 9781623005863
edition language English

Review of Second Hand (Tucker Springs #2) by Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinan

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Rating:    4.75 stars

Paul Hammond’s girl friend has just left him after he moved to Tucker Springs to further her art career while he put his on hold.  Now he is left living in a rental house she picked out and a front yard full of her awful oversized metal sculptures.  Paul looks around him at a house he hates but has a 3 year lease he can barely afford, a job as a receptionist for a local vet, and a engagement ring he never gave to Stacy because she moved out before he could propose.  When a flyer for a neighborhood yard contest and a $500 prize is shoved in his mailbox, Paul decides to enter and use the money to pay his bills.  But how to get the money to buy the plants for the yard? And that’s when Paul remembers meeting El Rozal at his Pawn shop when Paul was buying a necklace for Stacy.  Armed with kitchen appliances he never wanted to buy in the first place, Paul heads off to El’s shop and changes his life forever.

El Rozel’s life is stuck in one gear, that of family and work.  El deals with family matters including a mother who hoards, he does laundry with his best friend at the Laundromat on Friday’s and the rest of the time is spent at his pawn shop.  El realizes he is stuck in a pattern but doesn’t know how to change it.  Then Paul Hammond, adorable, confused, freckle-faced Paul Hammond enters his shop and his world tilts on its axis.  He knows Paul is straight because he has listened to Paul when he was buying the necklace.  But that doesn’t seem to matter, everything about Paul draws El closer.  Paul is kind, naive, generous and easily hurt.  He is also incredibly sexy even if he doesn’t know it.  El wants him in his life in any way possible.

Paul wants to come first in someone’s life, to stop being everyone’s second choice.  El knows first hand that someone else’s seconds can be the treasure another has always  wanted and Paul is that one person El has been waiting for.  Now all he has to do is persuade the man to give him the chance to change both of their lives forever.

I loved this story.  Under the definition of warmhearted in the dictionary you will find the cover of this book and deservedly so.  Take two well-known authors whose books are beloved by many, throw in Sexton and Cullinan’s talent for giving us characters who are both quirky and  unusual and we have Second Hand, a novel of two men trying to deal with life’s disappointments and finding love in unexpected  places.  I read this book twice for the good feelings and happy thoughts it left me with after putting it down.  What’s even more remarkable is that  Second Hand is an effortless read considering all the themes involved in the plot.  Tucker Springs, Colorado acts as the location for the series and it’s the perfect choice as its richness of history, Light District, and other characteristics match up brilliantly with the characters living there.

And what charming, affecting characters they are.  Paul Hammond is that one who is oblivious to the way he affects others.  He has grown up feeling less successful than his siblings, his one girlfriend has just left him for someone who has achieved more materially, and he left college without  meeting his goal of being a veterinarian. But he doesn’t see what other people do when they look at him.  Someone who is kind, cute, tenderhearted, great with animals and people alike.  Some who happens to be absolutely adorable.  Paul is so likable, so genuine that you root for him to succeed from the very first page.  El Rozel is a wonderful complementary character for Paul Hammond.  El comes from a large family who   impacts his life on a daily basis, from his sisters and their kids, to his abuela and mother with their house so stuffed full of objects that just moving down the hallway is a challenge.

El Rozel jumped from the pages of Second Hand with a clarity few characters achieve with their first impressions.  As the smoke from his cigarette rises about him, so does his view of life and its disappointments hang around him like a cloud. El watches his sister ignore his advice as she jumps from one bad relationship to the next. And he’s awful when he tries to intervene with his mother Patty’s hoarding to little effect.  El wants things to change in the lives of those he loves but feels helpless when it comes to solutions. I love how the authors give us two men stymied by life and disappointments and makes them the catalyst for change in each other’s lives.  El starts helping Paul empty his life of meaningless objects that came along with his relationship with Stacy.  Paul starts giving El the power to see changes happening in someone’s life.  Paul gives El hope that change can happen and then gives him hope that love can happen for them both.    And all of this relationship movement, all of this building of self worth is carried out realistically, with nary a wrong touch to the process or misstep in characterization.

Sexton and Cullinan also deal delicately and with sensitivity when it comes to Paul’s feelings about his sexuality.  Paul had one disastrous gay encounter in his youth that causes him to put aside his attraction towards men and concentrate on women.  That is if you can call a one woman experience a change in sexuality.  It comes across, even to Paul, as more a convenient sexuality, one more acceptable to society, than Paul having a true bisexual nature.  If Paul had truly been bisexual, Stacy ‘s attraction for him would have gone beyond representing a “normal lifestyle” as she does for him to one of being physically drawn to Stacy which he is not.  Because the one person he is truly attracted to?  That would be El in every way.  El is the person he wants to spend time with, whose Cover conversations he enjoys and is the person Paul wants to take to bed.  But it takes time for Paul to realize all this and the authors give it to him and to us.  This is not a “gay for you” story but a slow acceptance of one’s true sexuality.  Paul has to have time to look at his past history and reexamine his actions before he can accept that he wants El as much as El wants him.  The authors handle Paul emotional growth in such a beautiful, realistic manner that I wanted to start handing out gold stars right then and there.

An equally serious issue addressed here is that of hoarding.  Hoarding is a disease that affects families everywhere.  Both authors show how hoarding is a disease that hurts those affected by it on so many levels, from the day to day reality of living with gargantuan clutter to the embarrassment of not wanting to have outsiders see the living conditions at home.  Sexton and Cullinan give us the  screaming arguments of the family stressed out by their efforts to deal with the hoarder and the pain of the person in the throes of the disease.  I cannot begin to give them enough credit for the sensitive manner in which they handled this problem within the story.  Again, it was just so beautifully done.

The Tucker Springs series is interesting in itself as it is being written by different authors.  The first in the series is Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs #1) by LA Witt, which I have not read.   There is an actual website for this series TuckerSprings.com.  Find it here.  There will be more books in the series and I for one can’t wait.  Pick up Second Hand and become acquainted with a town and characters you will not soon forget.  I know I will be going back to visit there often.

What a wonderful cover.  Perfection in every way.

Available from Riptide Publishsing, Amazon, and All Romance eBooks.