The Other Guy by Cary Atwell

theotherguyRating: 9/10 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 
Title: The Other Guy
Author: Cary Atwell
Genre: m/m, contemporary, humour
URL: Smashwords
Price: $3.99
Other Information/warnings: no explicit sexual content
Summary [from the author]:
Emory James is, by his own admission, not the type of person the adjective exciting would ever deign to touch with a ten-foot pole. Cautious, reserved and staid, however, all crowd around him like best friends. Still, he gets by — or at least he gets by up until his fiancĂ©e dumps him at the altar. Out of spite, he takes a solo honeymoon to Thailand, where he can pretend to be someone better than himself for a little while. In meeting Nate, a fellow traveler, Emory slowly discovers how to stop pretending.

My review:
Like most discriminating readers I can decide whether a new to me story is dreck pretty much by the end of the first paragraph (sometimes the first sentence). But it often takes me a couple of pages of more of a sample before I’m prepared to spend time, let alone actual money, on a story.

Readers, The Other Guy grabbed by the throat from word one:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A plucky heroine sashays onto the silver screen, her slender arm linked to that of a bland chump. A diamond sparkles on her left hand. Their wedding plans come nicely along, he agreeably accommodating to her needs and whims, she acutely aware that this is a fault in his genetic make-up she must overlook.

Meanwhile, the actual love of her life, a man who, at some point prior, probably broke her heart, gets thrown into the mix and spends much of his allotted screen time being extremely handsome as well as something of a freewheeling bastard.

But then, on some pretext, Good-Looking Bastard realizes that the love of a good woman (i.e. Plucky Heroine) makes him want to change his ways, till death do him and Plucky Heroine part.
And we all root for them to realize they’re meant for each other, mostly because they are exceptionally pretty together, and also because The Other Guy isn’t on the movie poster, so you know he’s doomed to be sidelined right around the eighty-two-minute mark.

That, and because being raised on a steady diet of meet-cutes, happily ever afters and butter- flavored popcorn instills in our hopeful hearts the illusion that sometimes good-looking bastards are actually Good-Looking Bastards with Secret Hearts of Gold.

Everything you need to know about this book is on the first page – Emory’s wry, self-deprecatory, sharply observant style. The clever, tight writing. And the promise that this is not going to be your typical m/m.

How many m/m stories start with a heterosexual wedding (even if it ends up not happening?) And a hero who’s bi, but for whom this isn’t a major feature of his life or his lovelife? A hero who is still in love with a woman, and still attracted to them even at the end of the book? Not too bloody many, I can tell you.

So this book has several things going for it from the start – a narrator with an interesting, idiosyncratic voice, an unusual set up, and good, professional level editing.

Then you start to read, and you realise that not only is Emory wry, he’s adorable. So is Nate, in a totally different way – he’s a genuinely nice man, who knows what he wants, but isn’t going to be an arse about it. Their coming together, and then coming together again, is cute, without the least sappiness – a neat trick if you can manage it. Ms Atwell gives us two winning protagonists, a cast of credible minor characters (except just possibly Emory’s ex), an interfering yenta of a dog who doesn’t outstay its welcome, a plot which doesn’t stretch credulity too much – and a bittersweet reminder towards the end of the book that Emory’s choice of a male partner will make life a lot harder for him, just as it had already done for Nate.

This is a wonderful debut novel from an author who has a poised, polished style, and a nice handle on the complexities of same sex relationships. She manages to create a good deal of sexual tension and chemistry without ever creating an actual sex scene (and in that, she is in good company with Tamara Allen.) Ms Atwell’s work reminds me of Sean Kennedy’s writing, which is always a good thing. (Simon and Emory would create snark critical mass if they were ever in the same room together.)

I heartily recommend The Other Guy to anyone who loves a good romance, sharp writing, and adorable guys.