Thursday, April 18, 2024

Isabelle Rowan - A Note in the Margin

John McCann, a man who judges life by the tally of an accounts ledger, has a supreme goal in life: To achieve, live, and enjoy the rarified executive lifestyle. But he's encountered one problem: The migraines are going to continue to get worse unless you make some major changes in your lifestyle. What you need is a 'sea change' Perhaps buy a nice little business in the country, settle down, something easier to occupy your time
While John knows the doctor is right, he just can't resign from the job he's fought so hard for. He decides the sacrifice of taking a year's leave of absence won't interfere too much with his plans, and so he finds himself running Margins, a cozy little bookstore, with the help of the former owner's son, Jamie. John expects to put in his year, get his stress under control, and then get back to business.
What John doesn't expect is how Margins and its denizens draw him in, particularly the quiet, disheveled man who takes refuge in the old leather chair in the second-hand book section. John's plans for an unattached year of simple business crumble when he meets David and is forced to reevaluate life, love and what he really wants from both. John and David are forced to come to terms with their pasts as they struggle to determine what possible future they might build together.

Comment: As I've said in other posts, I've started to read more often in English around 2006, 2007 and kept going until today. In fact, most of what I read is in English and not in my Portuguese mother language. 
Around that time, I've "discovered" PNR, which was the trend, and from then, I went into other genres and types of stories, including M/M. This book was published in 2009 and I remember I've added this to my TBR because many people I interacted with in forums at that time, who also loved M/M, mentioned this title. 
Well, after all these years, I finally picked it to read!

In this story we meet John McCann, who decides to take things slower after what seemed to be a burnout, which caused the severe migraines he has had. He buys out a bookstore business because it reminded him of his childhood, but he plans on using his adult and demanding business knowledge to make it more profitable than what it is. He likes Jamie, the son of the previous owner and who will remain as his employee, but he isn't as keen on David, the homeless man who visits everyday and even has his own chair inside, where he can read in peace and safety.
At first, he believes David would keep clients away, but as time goes buy, not only does he get used to David, but an't help be drawn to him. Although the interest seems mutual, David can't change his ways as easily as John would want, isn't it? Or will John be able to help David realizing his potential and believe in a future together?

There is something to be said about books being read long after the hype they caused. If there was a hype, or any reason for why that book having caught one's attention, would it work when those emotions aren't to be considered anymore? I do like M/M books to also be a certain way and perhaps it's my perception alone, but some M/M romance novels nowadays seem to be more romantic oriented, or at least those are the one I look for the most. I'm saying this because after finishing this book and comparing it to others which were released years after, this one now looks less vibrant, and written in a not so contemporary way, with less sentimental impact. Would I have felt it differently had I read it back then, or is it the author's style alone?

Perhaps this all in my own head. Anyway, the story is certainly provoking and I confess I thought the vibe would be more about struggling due to mourning and not about one character being homeless but maybe I got it confused with another book. I think the idea of a romance between someone who feels confident in life and someone who doesn't isn't impossible, but I will have to agree with the readers who said that it doesn't feel the dynamics were done as well as they could.

In my opinion, the issue is that while John never forces David into anything and actually has reactions I'd say are realistic to several situations, David himself doesn't seem to manifest his need to change in a way I'd consider convincing. I would have accepted the romance between them more if David had been more proactive sooner, if he had made more decisive options to change/improve himself and his life and not only act and react if guided by John and others who cared about him. 

The way things happen, it felt to me that David wasn't at the best moment to really want to the change, the improvement, and I can't say if it what blocked him was the social circumstances alone, with all the shame and self conscious feelings he had regarding his situation and the things he did for some money, or if everything was really connected to his apparent depression and the mental illness that came from that and his downward spiral, which led him to become homeless.

This said, it means that I felt the romance to be rather weakly done and even though I can accept the fantasy/fiction of this being a possibility, I wasn't convinced David and John were such a strong couple. I think this story would have been stronger if the goal was not the romance.
The slow type pf plot and the issues David needs to deal with, along with John's stronger personality and expectations, especially after getting to know David and his problems, also meant that when they become intimate so quickly after some emotion between them is established, it felt too soon and actually a little ridiculous to me in that situation.

The story is told in third person, from the POV of several characters. At first, it felt as if we would only have John's thoughts, but suddenly, from nowhere, in the following paragraph, we would have someone else's! I didn't expect that, and this kept happening from time to time, and we would have John's POV, and David's, and Jamie's and even Barbara's, the social worker at the shelter David went to sometimes. This is a good way to advance things or for the reader to learn some things better, but I think the author could have structured the story in a more functional way.

While reading, there were some things I liked, others I found less interesting and some actions by John in particular, weren't always that great to endear him to me. This happened mostly in the beginning, which can be understandable, but along with the author's writing style, meant that he and the other characters never felt really well fleshed nor did I feel their progress in the story was well achieved. I think they lacked some depth of character, even more so bearing in mind the type of content in this story, and all the circumstances related to David.

To sum it all: I think the idea of this story is a good one, but the execution wasn't. A few details just didn't seem to follow a logical pattern, and what did was misplaced because the focus seems to be on romance, when there was no real chemistry between the protagonists, the way I see it, nor time and mental availability for things to be taken as such in a serious way. One less off the pile...
Grade: 5/10


  1. I generally don't have a problem with several points of view--even Nora Roberts' head-hopping can work for me--but apparently here the changes are almost paragraph to paragraph, and back and forth? Because that? that really would drive me up a wall.

    1. I always like to read reviews after I finish a book I didn't enjoy completely, and it seems as if more readers mention that as being weird. There was a moment I thought maybe it was the graphic text of my edition or something...