Coin Tricks by Willow Scarlett (review)

Tagline: Big, bad bouncer and the waifish twink encounter life, family, and each other

Coin Tricks Book Cover

Title: Coin Tricks

Genre:  Contemporary M/M Romance
Format:  Novel (71k words)

Sites:  Goodreads | Amazon

Publisher: Self-published (Feb. 2016)
ISBN: 9781311339621

Retail: $4.99

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
Sweet, slowly developing but truly heartfelt friendship between opposites in a complicated, economically struggling, life-loving, and a bit exotic setting
Synopsis: Wiremu is a very large bouncer and security guard who catches Sid when the skinny, young gay man attempts to shoplift from his superstore.  The oversized Maori draws upon the support of his extended (but also a bit divided) family when he discovers just what desperate straights face the small, freckled red-head. Sid is too proud to accept much charity for himself and the little girl in his charge, but the big man persists in trying to befriend the library assistant. Can two young gay men who appear to be opposites in almost every way find trust, friendship, and possibly more?  It might take a trick or two, or perhaps a bit of magic, too overcome their differences.
Review: This is a story of a developing relationship between very different men – a huge, native Maori, rugby-playing tough guy versus a quiet, effeminate library assistant who loves magic.  The strength of the writing explores Wiremu’s careful concern for a vulnerable young guy along with his internal struggle to provide help, friendship, and more without scaring the vulnerable man away. I appreciated the struggle of a very strong guy with uber-tough,  homophobic, and hyper-masculine role models coming to grips with his own sweet and gentle center.  His care for a sometimes swishy, troubled, and earnest “twink-like” waif of a man made for a compelling if sometimes a little slow moving read.
The story is set in Auckland, New Zealand and significantly incorporates the protagonist’s native/indigenous family culture, and the dialog is sprinkled with Maori terms. The cross-cultural aspect was very significant but just one of many interesting themes explored, including abandonment, isolated nuclear versus extended family environments, gender issues, homophobia, and difficulties in trusting due to a history of abuse. This jumble of (sometimes conflicting) ideas and feelings creates multi-dimensional and imperfect characters working their way through their coming-of-age, shouldering of adult responsibility, and budding relationships. The role of magic is sometimes subtle but almost always present, from mundane coin tricks and slight of hand diversions to the enchantments cast by true friendship, family, and love. Overall, the author explores a nice array of emotions and hesitancies in this short, sweet, and caring story about two young gay men trying to make it in a sometimes hostile world.
Recommended for:  readers who like a very gentle and sweet, personal story of friendship and possible romance between two young but very different gay men; those looking for “comfort” read with a theme of rescue from abuse; fans of family settings for LGBT stories.

Steam:

Heat:  fire fire  (some explicit sizzle) – This book is centered on building trust and friendship, with romantic feelings definitely present but almost secondary.  There are two scenes of appropriate but explicit intimacy, just crossing the line to “Adult Romance” for me.

Passion – heart heart heart heart  (passionate friendship turning into something more) – More about friendship and trust, the chemistry between the two seemed real, the magic between them slowly building.  (I found the sexual tension to be underplayed.  I would have expected the long, celibate delay – between young men at their hormonal peak who sometimes shared a room and a bed – would have kept both of them much more on edge than seemed to be described.  However, this was a story more about the magic of trust and friendship and love than the passion between the sheets.)

Other Comments (with a minor spoiler):

Although it was touched on fairly briefly, I greatly appreciated Sid’s “admission” of his gender fluid identity.   His fear of rejection for sometimes acting effeminate and also embracing the feminine side of himself struck me as incredibly genuine and authentic to the real world.  The acceptance from a large, tough man like Wiremu, especially given his masculine role models, was touching and comforting.

The dialog includes a smattering of interesting Maori terms, hyperlinked to definitions in an appendix. The linking mostly worked in my epub copy using the iBooks reader on an iPad. Other reviewers have indicated the linking may be problematic using other formats/applications/platforms.

The summary for this story on various book sites call Sid a librarian, but within the book the description of his position (and his economic hardship) seem to indicate he’s a library assistant (I.e., he works in a library, but doesn’t have the full, advanced degree need to be a professional librarian). Overall, it’s not a big deal, but it’s similar to calling anyone who works in a medical office a doctor or a nurse, even when there are plenty of medical assistants, orderlies, office attendants, etc., who provide some level of service. I expect and don’t particularly mind when the general public lumps everybody together (e.g. anyone who works in a library must be a librarian, just like anyone who provides assistance in a medical office must be a nurse, etc.). I do appreciate it and generally expect authors (or in this case, perhaps a publicist) to be accurate about these types of details. (From what I can tell, New Zealand has advanced qualifications for someone to be a professional librarian like the U.S., U.K., and Australia do.)

Themes include homophobia, friends to lovers, gender fluidity, effeminate gay men, magic and magicians, family, siblings.

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