Review: Somebody to Love by Merry Farmer

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Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5

MerryFarmer_SomebodyToLove_CoverBanker Phineas Bell has, by necessity and law, hidden his sexuality behind a kind but prim exterior, one expected of a banker in Montana in 1901.  But the arrival of Elliott Tucker in Cold Springs, Montana  stirs up old feelings and desires Phineas thought he had buried.  Elliot is a vet from Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American war and has been looking for a place to settle down and call home.  A homosexual used to hiding his preference for men behind dalliances with women, Elliot thinks he knows what’s best for  Phineas as well as for himself.

When the only room available in town for the new sheriff is as a lodger in Phin’s house, the close quarters make the sparks fly but the consequences might be not only traumatic but costly when Phin’s uncharacteristic behavior causes an uproar.

But even more dangerous are the scoundrels that have come to town to make sure that Phin’s friends don’t open a store in their mine owned and operated town.  When their insidious plans don’t pan out, then desperation  causes them to kidnap someone close to Phin’s heart.  Elliot and Phin must race to catch the kidnappers before something unthinkable happens and the child is hurt.  But will their hidden romance be revealed?  And at what cost to the themselves, the town, and their loved ones waiting for them to return?

I have very mixed feelings about this story and some come from the westerns I love and read growing up.  Those stories by Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey set a standard against which, right or wrongly, I judge all western stories I read.  From their characters to their authentic settings and plots, I reveled in every story of theirs I could get my hands on.  Luckily for me, my dad was an ardent fan of both authors so I had their entire library of stories to pull from whether it was Louis L’Amour’s The Sacketts or Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

Now I can hear you grumble that this is a m/m romance and that’s true.  But that doesn’t make the comparisons any less relevant.  I bring to these m/m western romances a need to hear a dialog that would make sense in the time period involved.  I want behavior and mannerisms in keeping with the times and culture of the west.  That includes Easterners that have made their home in the territories (for surely they would have appropriated some of the local colloquialisms and idiosyncrasies after they settled in the area) as well as taciturn cowboys and soldiers who have learned to hide their sexual preferences.  I am also a stickler for detail and historical accuracies.  While I have seen more than one author tripped up by poor research and inattention to detail, I have also read stories by authors (m/m authors) who embraced the genre and made it most memorably their own.    With all that in mind, Somebody to Love is a mixed bag for me.

This is the first story I read by Merry Farmer and its apparently one in a series called Montana Romance.  Without the other books as a support, I don’t know if the issues I have with Somebody to Love are pertinent only to this story or all the others too.  So let’s start with the elements I thought were well done.

Merry Farmer has researched the era and physical setting of her story.  The town of Cold Springs, Montana comes alive here with its stores, bank and lively citizenry.  The section of the book that deals with the underhanded tactics of mine owners protecting their interests feels authentic and true to the times.  The “Copper Kings” and the Anaconda Mining Company were ruthless in pursuit of their interests and holdings and their tactics were as varied and wide ranging as their need for domination of the copper market. Those agents are represented here by two women and how you feel about their characters, their “realness”, and their placement in the plot might guide your feelings about the story.

I did enjoy Farmer’s plot.  I found it interesting and certainly entertaining.  But what held me back from connecting with these characters and their passion for each other was believability.  I never found their behaviors or actions to be realistic for both the time period and the setting. Phineas Bell is a “confirmed bachelor”, typical of that age.  He has never demonstrated any interest in the women in town, and other than his adopted family of friends and their children, Phin occupies himself with his bank and financial dealings.  In short, he is an upright, well regarded member of the community.  Into town comes Elliot Tucker to upset everything, and I do mean everything, including the believability in their romance and story.

For me Elliot is everything that is “off” about Somebody to Love.  Elliot is a former member of the Rough Riders that stormed San Juan hill and has arrived to take the Sheriff’s position in town.  But almost immediately, without “taking the lay of the land” so to speak, Elliot decides to admit he’s gay to the town banker he just met, kiss him, assume he knows best for Phin and urges him to flirt and date girls in town, including some of the more disreputable bar girls, to act as beards for their affair.  He starts a fight that Phin is involved in, all in a matter of hours and days.  This is the man the town is supposed to have faith in as a Sheriff?  Someone so completely lacking in judgement that his actions and hotheadedness would surely have gotten him killed in action before now.  And our staid, closeted and utterly reliable banker is following his advice?  Why would the town continue to let him hold their money and futures in his bank when all of a sudden his actions are unaccountably crazy?  The fact is that they wouldn’t and a later scene with a run on the bank should have come much earlier in the story if the author had wanted to remain realistic to the times and actions of a small town in the territory.   And Elliot’s strange and impetuous behaviors continue throughout the story to my astonishment.  In the space of a few days the author has Elliot almost completely destroying Phin’s reputation and business and we are supposed to connect with this man? It never made any sense or came across as realistic for the times.  For a war hardened soldier with the past that Farmer provided for him, Elliot is a strange and unbelievable character from start to finish.   And he takes the character of Phineas Bell down the rabbit hole with him.

Merry Farmer included some wonderful and suspenseful scenes within this story.  There are fires, and rescues, and all sort of shenanigans that will make you catch your breath and tense in anticipation of the action to come. Those segments are described with energy and are bright with emotion. But time after time, an element rises up to disconnect me from the story with its irrational and unrealistic idea or plot point.  The town is flooded with counterfeit money at the exact same time to strange women come to town with threats and devious actions.  Elliot and Phin figure it out but the town immediately assumes it’s Phin whose the culprit? And the actions they take, even after some initial investigations into the nefarious goings on, had me dumbfounded because they were so far removed from reality and common sense.  The behavior of Phin and Elliot seemed to change according to the needs of the plot instead of being aligned along those of human nature and societal norms of 1901 in the Territories.   I just could never lose myself in either their romance or the storyline as it proceeded no matter how I appreciated other parts of the story and various characters I met along the way.

It’s a difficult task authors set for themselves when writing historical novels, western or otherwise.  They must bring their characters and stories to life within a defined range of cultural morays and mannerisms found in the particular time period they have set their stories.  Everything, from the dialog and to laws and societal norms must be taken into consideration and still connect the readers to the plots and passions of those involved.  That’s a huge undertaking, and it’s one I’m not sure Merry Farmer accomplished here.  For every element I enjoyed there is its opposite that served to disconnect me from the story and the characters.

Somebody to Love is similar in my mind to a m/m “Paint Your Wagon” sort of story.  Part of it made no sense, likewise the casting.  Parts of it were fun, absolutely enjoyable while others were, well, lets be kind and just say perplexing. But not every reader will feel as I do and for some, this journey into 1901 Montana and a Cold Springs romance might just be the thing for them.  It’s all in how you approach historical fiction and your tastes might vary from mine.

But if, like me, you are a fan of the more typical Western, including m/m Westerns, there is a host of other stories and authors to explore.  Start with the older authors such as Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour and then look at the 5 star western m/m stories circulating now.  There is a book and author out there for everyone.  Let me know who is at the top of your list of authors and stories who brought the West alive to you!

Buy Links:    All Romance (ARe)          Amazon  ” title=”Amazon”>Somebody To Love

Cover Art: The lovely cover is by Pehr Graphic Design.

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published April 27th 2014
ASINB00K02UWIS
edition languageEnglish

Author Spotlight: An Interview with Merry Farmer & her release “Somebody To Love”

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Somebody To Love†is the fourth full-length novel in Merry Farmer’s highly acclaimed, historical†Montana Romance series. In this novel, which has already found a home atop Amazon’s LGBT romance lists, she writes about the love between two men, Phinneas Bell and Elliott Tucker, and the issues that surround them as they try to make their way in 1800s Montana.

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I have Merry Farmer sitting in our Author Spotlight today for an interview about writing, her story and the muse behind Somebody To Love:

STRW:
Why did you choose to write M/M stories?

Merry Farmer:  It wasn’t so much that I started out to write an m/m story as much as I knew from the beginning of the series that I needed to write a love story for the character of Phineas Bell. He was part of the Montana Romance series from the start, and I always felt as though he deserved to find love too. So it was only natural to write that story of Phin falling in love.

STRW: Where do you find your inspiration?

Merry Farmer:  
You know, I find inspiration in the strangest places. History itself has always been a source of wonder and stories for me. So many of the actual people and events of history are fantastic stories in and of themselves that it takes just a little imagination to spin them into a complete book. I am also inspired by those quirky little questions that pop into my mind for no apparent reason, like “How were animals originally domesticated by the earliest humans?” That simple question inspired my entire Grace’s Moon science fiction series as I went on pondering how civilizations are born.

STRW:  What is for you the perfect book hero?

Merry Farmer:  Ah. Here’s something that makes me a little different from other Romance writers. I’m madly in love with beta heroes. I love the intelligent, clever men who might not be as macho or hunky as an alpha hero, but who love the heroine with their whole heart. I love the sidekick who never gets the girl and absolutely adore writing books where the nice guy wins.

STRW:  When you start a book, do you already have the whole story in your head or is it built progressively?

Merry Farmer:  
I usually have a general idea of where I’m going with a story before I start and maybe one or two important plot points, but I certainly don’t have everything figured out before I start typing. In fact, I learn so much about my characters and their world and the story of what happens to them as I write that a lot of times I need to go back and rewrite the beginning once I finish so that it matches the end.

STRW:  Do you pay attention to literary criticism?

Merry Farmer:  Sometimes. It’s important to take criticism with a grain of salt. Occasionally you can learn something from the faults that readers see that you were unable to see yourself. It can help you to write better in the future (or revise that book after publication). But a lot of the time reading criticism will just get you down.

STRW:  What inspired you to write your first book?

Merry Farmer:  Well, I’d been dating this guy for a while. I was certain I was going to marry him. Then suddenly, he broke up with me. I was devastated. Even more devastated when, six months later, he got engaged to someone else. I fell into a horrible, horrible depression. I’d been writing since I was ten years old, but in the depths of that break-up depression, something just clicked in me and I knew I had to WRITE. I sat down and started writing The Loyal Heart and it pulled me right out of that depression. The rest is history.

STRW:Do you have a specific writing style?

Merry Farmer:  I think I do. I would be hard-pressed to define it, though. I’ve been told by people that know me that they can hear me speaking when they read my writing, so in terms of prose, I think I write like I speak. As far as subject matter and theme, I have always been more interested in the underdog and people who had had to struggle in life more than the alpha heroes and standard heroines of much of Romance fiction. I would like to be known for writing romantic stories about the non-dukes and the middle class characters of the world.

STRW: How do you come up with the titles?

Merry Farmer:  Titles are HARD! I struggle with them through the entire process of thinking about and writing my stories. I spend a lot of time (especially when I’m driving) thinking up word combinations, possible titles, shifting things around, counting syllables, all sorts of weird tricks. Ultimately, something just pops into my head and I know that’s it. Sometimes it’s song lyrics. Somebody to Love comes directly from the Queen song of the same name because it fits my characters and their journey…and because it came on the radio as I was driving.

STRW:  Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Merry Farmer:  Be true to who you are, even if it’s not popular, even if it’s difficult, even if it’s dangerous. You can stand to lose material things, but integrity is more valuable. If you stay true to yourself, true love will find you against all odds.

STRW: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Merry Farmer:  
I guess I have a problem with saggy middles. But I have that problem in real life too. 😉

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Get Somebody To Love†on Amazon, Amazon UK, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble,  ARe ,
and iBooks.

Add In Your Arms†to your Goodreads to-read shelf!

About Somebody To Love

MerryFarmer_SomebodyToLove_CoverFor Phineas Bell, love has not only been out of reach, it has been impossible. In a world where men who love other men are anathema, he has poured his love into his work, his town, and the friends who accept him as family. But when a handsome new lodger takes over his home and his heart, breaking all his careful rules, Phin must choose between playing it safe and letting love in.

War hero Elliott Tucker is the answer to Cold Springs ís prayers for a sheriff worth his salt. But with every single woman in town throwing themselves at him, Elliott has eyes for only one person: Phin. The sparks are hot between then, but in spite of Elliottís best efforts, Phinís heart proves the toughest nut to crack. A love that starts with fire threatens to burn them both until a shocking abduction throws Phin and Elliott together on the trail of ruthless kidnappers. Will their efforts to save a child wrench them apart or will it prove that at last theyíve found somebody to love?

Genre classification:†M/M LGBT Western Historical Romance

Get†Somebody to Love†on†Amazon,†Amazon UK,†Smashwords,†Barnes & Noble, and†iBooks.

Add†Somebody to Love†to your Goodreads to-read shelf!

About the author

Merry FarmerMerry Farmer is an award-winning author of Historical Romance and what she likes to call ìSci-Fi for Women.î She lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats and enough story ideas to keep her writing until sheís 132. Her second novel, The Faithful Heart, was a 2102 RONE Award finalist and her unpublished futuristic novel A Manís World won first place in the Novel: Character category at the 2013 Philadelphia Writerís Conference. She is out to prove that you can make a living as a self-published author and to help others to do the same.

Find Merry Farmer on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon Author Page.