Frog by Mary Calmes

Title:  Frog (a tired prince/frog allusion)

Author:  Mary Calmes (new to me)

Publisher:  Dreamspinner (against my better judgment)

Why this book?  I liked the cover art and the idea of a modern day cowboy hero.

Frog by Mary Calmes eBookWeber Yates’s dreams of stardom are about to be reduced to a ranch hand’s job in Texas, and his one relationship is with a guy so far out of his league he might as well be on the moon. Or at least in San Francisco, where Weber stops to see him one last time before settling down to the humble, lonely life he figures a frog like him has coming.

 Cyrus Benning is a successful neurosurgeon, so details are never lost on him. He spotted the prince in a broken-down bull rider’s clothing from day one. But watching Weber walk out on him keeps getting harder, and he’s not sure how much more his heart can take. Now Cyrus has one last chance to prove to Weber that it’s not Weber’s job that makes him Cyrus’s perfect man, it’s Weber himself. With the help of his sister’s newly broken family, he’s ready to show Weber that the home the man’s been searching for has always been right there, with him. Cyrus might have laid down an ultimatum once, but now it’s turned into a vow—he’s never going to let Weber out of his life again. 

The long and short of it:  tell tell tell with very little show, and all told by a Gary Stu.  Includes the insta-family trope along with unprotected sex as demonstration of true love.

More specifically:

The book is narrated by Weber, an over-the-hill cowboy — he’s not old, relatively speaking, except for his chosen profession, in which he has not been successful.  He’s broke and on his way to a possible job in Alaska (not Texas) when he looks up his ex.  Cyrus, readers are told, is a very successful neurosurgeon who gave Weber an ultimatum the last time he drifted into town, but who still desperately loves Weber.   Cyrus is wealthy and handsome and at the top of his profession — he’s very much like a category hero, although unlike most categories, which have the wealthy, handsome hero be the one who does the leaving and steering of the relationship, he’s the needier, more passive partner, taking whatever time Weber has been willing to give him in the past.  Cyrus’s profession really isn’t relevant to the book, except as a reason in Weber’s mind for them not to be together — it affords him a nice lifestyle but otherwise doesn’t impinge on the plot in any way; he could have been any name-a-high-profile-and-pay profession.

At the same time as Weber’s return, Cyrus’s brother-in-law, the villain of the piece, runs off with the nanny, leaving his sister without child care.  And of course she immediately entrusts her three children to a random stranger because he’s dating her brother and therefore must be trustworthy.  Forget looking for someone whose qualifications run beyond ranching and rodeoing.  But of course Weber has the magic touch when it comes to children, getting the mute to talk and  instilling manners effortlessly.  (There’s one exchange in the book that I think was supposed to highlight Web’s courtly, cowboy manners (standard good manners to this reader), but which came across to me as backhanded criticism of Carolyn’s parenting.)

Since Weber is the narrator, his reliability is key.  I found his judgment to be less than reliable and verging on TSTL when it comes to the relationship, with his hesitation and wibbling about how Cyrus only loves him for his cowboy persona despite the fact that Cyrus says outright that isn’t what he wants/loves about Weber.  [It was never really clear to me what they loved about each other beyond the sex.]  As an extension of this, the lack of a sense of place or setting contributes to the disconnect:  Cyrus is willing to relocate and nothing about the plot seemed fixed in San Francisco, yet Weber is hung up on the distance between Texas (apparently the only place in the US where he can get a ranch hand job?) and San Francisco.  Aren’t there jobs for neurosurgeons in Texas?  Surely there are ranches near Dallas and other large cities in the Lone Star state.  That excuse just seemed weak to me.

The difference between Weber’s “cowboy” grammar and speaking style is jarringly different from his POV/narration style and vocabulary, which seems more sophisticated.  Also, the use of “loving on” to describe affection between adults and children seriously squicked me, even though I confirmed via Twitter that it is normal, colloquial usage in rural, eastern Texas.

The vast majority of the information about Cyrus and their relationship is told rather than shown.   Readers learn that Cyrus is a completely different person when Weber is around…because Cyrus’s dad says so.  Readers learn about Web’s history and family through, “As you know, Bob,” conversations.  Even Weber’s realizations about “what-made-a-man-a-man” happen off stage and are just described as having occurred rather than shown, which is disappointing since his is the only POV readers get.

The insta-family is problematic for me on a couple of levels.  First, it makes me uncomfortable, the way the children’s mother is relegated to a secondary parental role in favor of a near-stranger.  You could argue that her role is similar to the more traditional male/father role, in that she remains employed and leaves the child-rearing to someone else, even if that someone else is a sort-of-paid caretaker.  (Except, wait! Weber doesn’t take money for being a nanny.  He’s basically a SAHD for his nephews.)  Second, the immediacy of three children plus a sibling living in the same home as the new couple seems awkward for that early stage of their relationship.

Other quibbles:  Weber’s age and the age of his brother when he died don’t really quite work out right.  The use of direct address commas is intermittent, which is more irritating than not using them at all because it’s just sloppy.  There are also several instances of commas being used instead of periods — based on context and the paragraph breaks, a comma could not possibly be the appropriate punctuation there.  Also, “giving up” child support — a giant pet peeve of mine, because authors seem to use this as shorthand for post-marriage independence, but it makes me question their grasp of the economic realities of single parenting and also equates all parental responsibility with treats economic responsibility — the two are not identical.

In the end:  there is some awkward phrasing and punctuation abuse that should have been fixed at the editing stage, but the larger problem for me is the tell rather than show style and the waste of an opportunity to explore gender role expectations (if you can get over the unlikelihood of a rodeo rider turned nanny).  Ultimately, it all comes down to taste:  other readers have enjoyed this book, but the irritations overrode the enjoyment as I read.

Would I try this author again?  Maybe if I found one of her books on sale or as a Kindle giveaway, but not at DSP’s standard prices.  Otherwise, no.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Frog by Mary Calmes

  1. Argh. I have yet to read a review or blurb of a Mary Calmes book that made me want to pick it up, but I was curious about this one because it’s getting such raves. Thanks for taking one for the team (again). There are so many m/m books with these types of flaws (tell-tell-tell, insta-love, unconscious gender assumptions, heteronormative plotlines) that I’m starting to think they are the industry standard. I guess readers WANT to read these kinds of books and they don’t mind subpar writing if they can get their emotional payoff. I don’t know, but they’re certainly popular and widely acclaimed among the m/m readership.

    • The sad thing is that this is BY FAR not the worst m/m I’ve read recently. It frustrated me so much because there was potential in the story. On the relative scale, it was better than that possibly plagiarized book in terms of writing skill.

  2. Pingback: May’s reading | Shuffling through a book-less desert

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