Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61923-457-4
Contemporary Romance, 2016
Jacob Shain is the sensible twin, which means he’s working in an office and making just enough to make ends meet. His brother, Ethan, on the other, owns a tattoo parlor that attracts a crowd for the artistry of the craft as well as the good looks of the guys working there. He’s the cool one, while Jacob is just… there. But when Jacob meets Cody Turner, the new piercer in Ethan’s tattoo parlor, he realizes that he can be pretty good at letting his hair down and painting the town red too. When Ethan and Uncle Joe get into trouble with the law for having a bit too much weed on them (it’s for a good cause – really), Jacob does some things he’d never imagine he’d do. Along the way, he discovers that Cody has some skeletons in his closet…
High Contrast is a welcome read after the last few checklist romances I had the misfortune to come across. While there is a bit of social justice stuff here, it is delivered in a manner that is seamlessly integrated into the plot and the personalities in the story. No speech that seems like it is copied verbatim from some college gender studies textbook. No whining from privileged people who think that that their sexuality and gender identities alone are substitutes for actual personalities. Also no stereotypical masc-to-masc antics, reverse racism, misogyny, stilted conversations… nothing of that sort. The characters here actually feel like real people acting their age, with actual lives. Hurray for the good guys.
Aside from the relief I feel from not reading what seems like messy transcripts from someone’s Twitter profile, I love that there is a relatable, likable protagonist here. The POV here is mostly Jacob’s, and he’s not the one-dimensional whiny, boring twin stereotype. He has some realistic depths, and let’s just say that anyone who has worked hard to get a good paper only to find himself or herself in a “What am I doing? How did I get there?” kind of job will relate to him. But he’s not whiny, he doesn’t resent his brother too much, and he has no weird hang-ups. Instead, I like him, he’s a nice person to hang out with, and I never feel an urge to strangle him or bash him in the head with a gender studies textbook.
The story can be predictable at times, but there is a farcical element to the proceedings that keep things interesting. The over the top elements can be a hit or miss, though, mostly because the author’s overall style doesn’t seem campy enough to make the more farcical elements feel more at home. The later parts of the story sometimes feel like they are parts of a more flamboyant story that have been mistakenly placed here. To be fair to the author, though, when weed is a part of the plot, maybe things should be expected to go crazy later on.
The pacing is fine and the likable cast of characters make the whole thing an enjoyable, easy to digest read. I buy the romance, the camaraderie, the story… you know what, I buy most everything. High Contrast is made from happiness.