A couple of weeks ago I discovered a new contemporary LGBTQ romance writer, Roan Parrish, whose work I really enjoyed. Finding a new author is always exciting for me, as I have a tendency to read everything by the authors I like. I’ve been working my way through Roan Parrish’s work, but her books tend towards the heavy and serious, and I found myself looking for something light and romantic…enter this series. Lily Morton’s Mixed Messages series consists of three books: the first book is about Dylan and Gabe, the second is about Dylan’s best friend Jude, and the third is about Gabe’s best friend Henry. The books can absolutely be read as standalone, but the characters show up in all three books and I quite enjoy checking in with characters from previous books, so I’m a sucker for a series.
I started with the first book, Rule Breaker, and when I got 25% of the way through I was enjoying it so much I downloaded the other two books. When I got 50% of the way through I was pretty convinced that I’d found the LGBTQ version of The Hating Game (my favorite contemporary romance of the last several years and the gold standard of enemies-but-not-really-to-lovers): it was funny, snarky, narrated by an absolutely delightful and lovable main character, Dylan, and fizzed along as a really zippy little romance. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off a bit for me in the back half of the book and I had to dampen my early enthusiasm.
Dylan is a 27 year-old personal assistant to his demanding bastard of a boss, 32 year-old law partner Gabe. (One of the small quibbles I have with this book: Gabe should be older. Usually I don’t love a big age difference, but given that we’re doing a boss/employee thing, Gabe should have been in his late 30s. Anyway.) Dylan spends a lot of time convincing himself that he hates Gabe, but it’s immediately clear from their constant bantering and verbal sparring that they actually really like each other. Gabe is a complete commitment-phobe who has no interest in a relationship and sticks with no-strings-hookups while Dylan is looking for someone to love and commit to, so it’s a pretty familiar set up for a romance novel. I’m generally on board with the “commitment phobe due to loss/grief/trauma/heartbreak slowly opens up and learns to love” romance trope, as long as the character doesn’t do anything truly unforgivable while they’re running scared and figuring it all out. And that’s where Rule Breaker lost me, because Gabe does a couple of things that cross the line into cruel and it took away some of my ability to root for the main couple. Dylan is an absolute sweetheart of a guy and he doesn’t deserve the treatment that he gets, and Gabe gets off the hook way too easily for the way that he behaved. I was glad that the two of them featured prominently in the next book because it allowed me to feel better about their relationship.
Deal Maker- Jude is a successful model with money issues. One night his neighbor’s bathtub falls through the ceiling of his apartment and he finds himself homeless. Needing a place to live for a few months and being cash poor, Jude accepts an offer from a friend to act as a personal assistant to the friend’s step-brother Asa. Asa is a talented actor who has taken several years away from his career to raise his young son. Jude is gay, Asa is bisexual, and this is definitely the funniest book in the series. Asa has a low opinion of models, and Jude plays into that with everything he has. But because Asa is awesome, he pretty quickly recognizes how great Jude is, and Jude pretty quickly sees how awesome Asa is. Asa’s son Billy is adorable, the hurdles that they have to overcome to be together are actually pretty good in that they are external to the couple, and don’t require either character to act like a jerk/pull emotionally away/etc. This is my favorite of the series, and my second favorite Lily Morton book after Summer of Us.
Risk Taker- Henry has been in love with his ex-stepbrother Ivo since they were teens. Best friends, Henry and Ivo inherited a London house together, though Ivo is often gone on assignment as a photojournalist in war zones. They’ve managed to keep their relationship purely platonic because they don’t actually spend much time together. However, when Ivo returns to London to recover from a significant injury just at the moment that Henry has decided to get over his unrequited love, the two men have to decide what they really want from each other. I didn’t love this book as much as the first two. This book has humor, as Henry’s friends set him up on a series of horrible first dates in his attempt to get over Ivo once and for all. But where this book lost me was in not having either character have the guts to actually go after what he wants. Neither will give voice to their feelings, then when they become romantically involved, neither man will say what he really wants. What I appreciated in the first two books was characters who give voice to what they want and have the guts to go after it. It just became tedious to see Henry and Ivo shy away from saying what needed to be said. Add onto that the PTSD Ivo suffers from due to his job and a lot of issues from his deceased father, and this one just didn’t do it for me like the other two books. Eh.