Author: Ryan Loveless
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 5 stars
Buy Links: DSP and Amazon
Type: Standalone Novel
Received from Publisher
Blurb: To an outsider’s view, world-famous action star Joe Nestra lives the Hollywood dream—parties, women, and a high-profile divorce. In reality, Joe’s agent directs his public life. Those women he’s supposedly intimate with? Prearranged dates ending at the red carpet. With his assistant and best friend Derek Simmons’ help, Joe has lived safely in the closet since his divorce, choosing to let off steam with discreet male escorts rather than risk an actual boyfriend. At forty-four, he has no plans to change. Then, taking a role in a film without flashy explosions upends that.
When Joe signs on to play an early 1990s-era AIDS-stricken gay man, his internalized homophobia threatens the production. His out costar Hunter Starling won’t put up with Joe’s behavior. As the animosity between Joe and Hunter grows, saving the film means Joe must face his deepest fear. Challenges pile up from all directions, from his father disowning him to the entertainment industry’s backstabbing reaction. Amid the backlash, Joe ventures into his first gay romantic relationship, tries to help others worse off, and slowly learns how to live his life instead of just acting it.
Review: In Me an Invincible Summer is a difficult book to review without giving away who the love interest is. Since it’s not apparent from the start and isn’t in the book’s blurb, I’m not sure I want to name him in this review.
Joe Nestra is an action movie star in his mid-forties and in the closet. His best friend and PA, Derek, is the only one who knows Joe’s secret. Well, Derek and the hundreds of male escorts Derek has procured for Joe with an iron-clad privacy contract over the last couple of decades. When an on set knee injury means Joe has a couple of months recovery time before he can complete his latest action blockbuster, Joe’s agent urges him to take a lead part in a little indie film being shot in Canada. With nothing else to do, Joe agrees. When he arrives on location, Derek as his PA in tow, Joe discovers just what role he has signed on for; a gay man dying from AIDS. Not exactly the ideal role for a closeted actor. But Joe is a professional and he allows himself to be persuaded that switching to a drama that showcases his quite considerable acting talent can only enhance his career. However, things don’t go smoothly on the set of Hard Soul. His co-star, while extremely talented, is a complete arse and makes no bones of his disdain for Joe. It doesn’t help that when it comes to shooting the first scene of the main characters kissing, Joe completely wigs out from the fear that he’ll be discovered for the gay man he is when the film is released, leaving everyone with the impression that he is a homophobe who has a problem with two men kissing. Not exactly endearing himself further to his co-star, Hunter Starling, an out gay man and married to boot.
Joe grew up in small town USA with his father and younger brother an sister, having lost his mother when he was fourteen. Joe’s father was a hard man and frequently beat on the adolescent Joe, often without even a pretence of a reason. One thing was made very apparent; no son of Merwin’s was going to be a faggot. It’s was no wonder that Joe married his best friend, Abby, at nineteen in an effort to be good (straight) and so they could both get away from their hometown to the bright lights of LA. They managed to stay together for fifteen years, but ultimately Joe couldn’t continue with the lie, even though he remained in the closet, even to Abby, due to his now successful acting career.
In an effort to get Hunter and Joe to become less adversarial towards each other, Hunter’s husband, Chris, in conspiracy with Derek, invites Joe and Derek to dinner at their home. The evening only highlights how lonely Joe has become and how much he wished he could have the kind of loving relationship Hunter and Chris have. Something he knows is impossible for him if he wants to retain his status in the entertainment industry. His growing realisation, loneliness and too much alcohol leads Joe to make an impulsive call to his father declaring his homosexuality. His father promptly and categorically disowns him. Feeling like he’s made the biggest mistake of his life and destroyed any connection to his family, Joe drunkenly blames Hunter and Chris for his woes – if they weren’t so damnably happy, Joe wouldn’t have realised how unhappy he was – and sets off to tell them so. And end up in a ditch. Not that he’ll let that stop him from giving Hunter a piece of his mind. Strangely enough, punching Hunter ends up bringing them closer together as Joe is forced to expose his secret to Hunter and Chris.
And that’s all I can say about the plot, not only because a lot happens in Joe’s story, but because I don’t want to give the romantic element away. Also, this is a review, not a plot summary and I’ve already written quite enough about it! In Me an Invincible Summer is sweet, funny, powerful, heartbreaking, uplifting and, above all, real. With top-notch writing, well-rounded and fully developed characters, Joe’s story is superbly and believably told and I loved every moment of it. I loved Joe, flaws and all – because he wasn’t all perfect, even though he was a good guy. Derek I adored. There was just something about him that I felt drawn to. Maybe it was his snark. Or the way he was always there for his best friend. Their relationship, and the way it developed, felt completely natural. Despite Joe being the buff action movie star and Derek being his PA and, well, not buff, their relationship was equal. I felt torn by Nathan, whom Joe meets on the set of his action movie where Nathan works as a make-up artist. I liked him, he was good for Joe in a lot of ways, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted them to be together, or if I could be brought around to wanting that. I liked that Abby wasn’t stereotyped as the evil ex-wife or the one that turned into her gay ex-husband’s closest, bestest friend. They were on good terms, but it had taken them awhile to get there.
I really do love that the author made sure the characters were real and believable as we follow Joe’s journey of self-discovery. They aren’t perfect, they do make mistakes and sometimes they choose the wrong path. Joe and his love interest (you’ll just have to get the book if you want to find out who that is!), especially, are very well drawn. Flawed, beautiful, complex. Watching them dance around each other before they finally got together, was both frustrating and heartbreaking. They had to work for their HEA. I loved their banter, their interactions. I also loved the little, affectionate gestures that crept into their relationship as additions to how they behaved together once they started dating, just like I loved that they didn’t suddenly change and get all mushy just because they had become lovers. They remained true to their characters. I would have perhaps liked to have seen more of their intimacy, but it was a small niggle really, and there was so much to this book that was perfectly done. I will happily highly recommend In Me an Invincible Summer to anyone and everyone who wants to read a well-crafted story with wonderfully realistic characters. I could not put it down.