Warning for Spoilers.
Like it says in the blurb, this story contrasts an idyll and reality. When Alec and Darren meet, they have one perfect day together, but the rest of the story is much more down to earth. It's like a relationship compressed--appropriately so when they both start out think this will be a summer fling only. There's a "honeymoon" period--the one perfect day when they meet, ending in what has a feel of a wedding night, especially as it's Alec's first time with a man. But even there reality is starting to intrude. The scene happens in Darren's tatty camper van. So this less-than-fairytale setting is a kind of warning that life can't be a fantasy. That reality will be along any time now.
And it is, as the "honeymoon" ends and they find themselves dealing with various problems, some of their own making and external ones. They briefly have another idyllic time, heading over to France for a few days on Alec's boat. (Hey, it's a Beecroft book. There has to be a boat!) But that can't last either. And even there, Darren especially is worrying about the main barrier to their happiness--money.
Money and class are important themes in the story. It's very British in that regard. The detail of the setting, the dialogue, the general atmosphere, are all very British; but the tension between classes is what truly marks it out as a story about British people. Class differences put barriers between Alec and Darren, and though of course their love eventually breaks down these barriers, it's not easy and there's a feeling at the end that it's always going to be something they'll have to deal with, even if mostly as assumptions and prejudices from other people.
Although there are plenty of outside events intruding on their lives, the relationship still drives the story. When they are pulled apart by events they keep on finding each other again, always drawn back together. There's a real feeling that this relationship is the one that will change their lives. Alec is the one at a point of change first. He's finally acting on his repressed desires, unable to repress them any more once he meets Darren (an idea I like a lot.) But this also triggers Darren to change. He wants things to be different now with Alec. Be more than just his boy for the summer.
Though both heroes could be classified as "betas" if you like to look at them that way, they are not wimps. They may feel physically intimidated by other more dominant men in the story, but they still show courage and stand up and fight back when it counts. The relationship gives them the strength to do that, which they didn't have before, when they had nobody to back them up.
I liked them being "betas". It's more realistic. They've both got issues undermining their confidence. Alec is under his family's thumb and full of angst about his repression of his real self. Darren is still traumatised by events the previous summer involving an ex-boyfriend. There's no macho posturing and no being overly-dramatic, the way alpha type heroes are. Certainly they both suffer from 'foot in mouth' disease, have bad timing and the ability to grab the wrong end of the stick and hang on tight, just as romance novel protagonists need to. And that leads to a few 'storming-off in a huff' moments. But they calm down and think it through later and give each other the benefit of the doubt--like grown-ups. Something I'm always pleased to see.
Another theme, something I've seen in Alex Beecroft's other books, is the villain who's not all he appears. Who's not quite as villainous as he seems. Which is another nice touch of realism, I think and also suits a story without an Alpha hero. A two-dimensional villain, set up only for the heroes to knock down is dull. Someone more nuanced and complicated that we want to hate and yet in the end, can't quite, is much better.
Darren and Alec aren't what they seem either at time. Darren uses a false name on that perfect day with Alec--giving it even more of a fantasy-like quality. Alec is in a way half-forgetting, half-pretending about who he really is while he's here in Cornwall and neglects to mention to Darren the fact that he's engaged to be married. Naturally his fiancée, Caroline, shows up in the story at just the wrong moment, to shatter Darren's dreams.
She actually turns into one of my favourite characters in the story though. She has some great lines and far from ending up as the wronged woman she appears to have foreseen for a while that Alec lacked enthusiasm for the idea of them getting married. And since she has a spreadsheet of seventeen other better marriage prospects than Alec, she's okay. I so relate to Caroline and her spreadsheet...
I enjoyed it a lot. I loved the British setting, and the details of that. The writing is excellent, the description especially in the first half, as the writer vividly creates the setting, is beautiful. The dialogue is good. Though the publisher's warning talks about lots of swearing it's not something I found overwhelming. Maybe because I am British and that's just the way I expect people to speak!
There is, as the warning says "one explicit m/m sex scene". They do have sex more than once in the story, but only the first time is fully described. And very well described, at length. So this definitely isn't a "sex scene per chapter" type of book, but one more focused on the romance.
About the only part I had an issue with was the ending, which is a little bit too neat for me. I'm not too keen on the marriage proposal. It felt very soon in their relationship for that to happen. Maybe it's just me, I'm not someone who thinks a romance book has to end with marriage at least proposed to make me believe two people are definitely going to be sticking together after the story ends. It bothers me just as much in straight contemporary romance too. I sometimes feel like the writer is trying too hard to prove to me that they are definitely in love. Don't get me wrong, I totally approve of man putting his money where his mouth is and making that commitment, I just think in contemporary stories it's slightly unrealistic for it to happen so soon in a relationship, gay or straight.
But that's the only issue I had and it could really be down to a personal preference. I definitely recommend this as a good read for people who like a story with a focus on the feelings and relationship as it grows, and subtle, non-clichéd characterisations.