Review: Rite of Summer, by Tess Bowery

Blurb:

cover-tessbowery-riteofsummerThere are terrors worse than stage fright. Like falling in love.

Violinist Stephen Ashbrook is passionate about three things—his music, the excitement of life in London, and his lover, Evander Cade. It’s too bad that Evander only loves himself. A house party at their patron’s beautiful country estate seems like a chance for Stephen to remember who he is, when he’s not trying to live up to someone else’s harsh expectations.

Joshua Beaufort, a painter whose works are very much in demand among the right sort of people, has no expectations about this party at all. Until, that is, he finds out who else is on the guest list. Joshua swore off love long ago, but has been infatuated with Stephen since seeing his brilliant performance at Vauxhall. Now he has the chance to meet the object of his lust face to face—and more.

But changing an open relationship to a triad is a lot more complicated than it seems, and while Evander’s trying to climb the social ladder, Stephen’s trying to climb Joshua. When the dust settles, only two will remain standing…when they’re not flat on their backs.


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Edition read:
June 2, 2015
Samhain Publishing
Regency-Historical, M/M, GLBT+
392 e-book pages
3rd person
Treading the Boards, book 1
May 16-18, 2016
Kindle Edition
See the book on GoodReads.

Rating:     ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ratings are 1 to 5 stars and based mostly on GoodReads standards.
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Review:

***Mildly Spoilerish***

Three stars. Not saying this was bad. It wasn’t. More like…it was okay but not exactly my cuppa. It’s a bit of a personal reminder that, with very few exceptions, I’m not a huge fan of Regency Romance or historicals in general.

There were parts I liked:

I liked that this wasn’t centered on the gentry and was a story more about starving artists / regular class making their way in the world.

I liked that it included a threesome and that overall the sex was scorching hot and abundant with a few solo acts as well as in two and three-part harmony.

I liked that, for as impossible as it is by today’s standards, these men found a Happily Ever After that worked for them at the time this is set.

But…

This isn’t a story that ends in a polyamorous relationship; therefore, I hesitate to tag it as menage — though it does happen a few times. It starts with one couple who, apparently, frequently invite a third for entertainment purposes. Then it ends as a couple, just one of the two gets replaced with the third. I am a SUCKER for long-lasting polyamory relationships, so was a little disappointed that it wasn’t to be.

The majority of this takes place during a six-week house party of some duke or earl or whatever. Any and all bedroom activity, man-to-man conversations/flirting, et cetera must be done secretly because sodomy laws and stuff — and the lord of the manor + other esteemed guests are straight snooty bigots. I get that, okay? I get it was the times. I get it. Just…what I didn’t like was that SO MUCH of this takes place during this eons-long house party where the three men this is about are not even remotely of the social class that would put them there under any other circumstances than at the whims of the elite. So the normal every-day sort of hiding and secrecy they have to freaking LIVE with is ramped-up and thrust under a microscope. I wanted more of them on their own turf, such that it was, to see how things would play out without the added scrutiny.

I despised Evander Cade (boyfriend #1). We’re supposed to. He’s a domineering, abusive, egotistical ass and treats Stephen worse than shit stuck to his boot. I wanted him redeemed. He wasn’t. Maybe he’s redeemed with a later book. Don’t know. But with his unforgivable performance, I’m okay with him becoming an unredeemed afterthought.

Stephen Ashbrook (central boyfriend)…I wanted to like him. Ultimately I think I did like him. But I never loved him. He had lots of growing up and maturing to do to learn to stand on his own two feet. He’s starved for affection but stuck riding Evander’s coattails, so blinded by this man who’s led him on and taken care of him that he can’t tell he’s stuck in an unhealthy, emotionally damaging relationship. I’ve been blinded like that more times than I can count…without the surfing of coattails part. It sucks when you wake up to what’s been right in front of you for however long. I’m glad he woke up. I just hated that it took him so long and that it took another person to open his eyes.

Joshua Beaufort (boyfriend #2) — I liked him best. He knows himself and what he wants. He’s all for jumping in for a hedonistic romp with two other dudes but is helpless against falling in love with Stephen. I liked him best, but I don’t get what he saw in Stephen—other than recognizing someone in dire need of a rescue and some positivity. Except, Joshua didn’t want to do any rescuing. He wanted a partner, an equal, who already knew himself. For him, it was all or nothing, and he ultimately saved himself by turning his back on the situation.

So stuff happens and things transpire, there’s lots and lots of sex that’s really freaking hot, and hearts are broken then made whole again after a lot of interminable waiting for someone to make a move. Finally, Happily Ever After happens.

As far as romance books go…I’m not sure how much I like love-triangle tropes that start with one couple and end with a different couple. The focus seemed a bit wonky because Stephen and Joshua didn’t get much more than a few stolen moments to work up to being a “them.” Evander made himself physically scarce, but Stephen was so tangled up with him he couldn’t help but feel his presence. Because those two were honor-bound to each other for the majority of the book, Stephen wasn’t really free to pursue anything serious with Joshua until the end. I think all that ended up doing Joshua a bit of a disservice.

The last few chapters and the epilogue by far contained some of my favorite moments mainly because we did move beyond the petri dish of the house-party and Stephen grew his spine. But, there was a lot of heartache and longing and waiting and crying into as-yet-not-invented cheerios to wade through to get to those favorite moments.

The writing was solid, but also not quite for me. The expositional narrative is weighted very heavily over conversation and interaction betwixt the characters. I think it was the intended style that so often befits stories of this era and the great authors of yore. Some folks dig it, but more often than not it puts me to sleep.

This review also posted on GoodReads.

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