Last week the Twitter Discourse around Romance focused on fallout from a tweet by Jack Harbon about the intent of those outside a marginalized community writing exclusively about that community (he was specifically referring to women, often white women, writing only about queer men). Separate from the actual conversations that happened around that initial tweet, it made me realize that while I’ve read queer romance by queer women, non-binary authors, and those who identify as genderqueer I had not yet read a m/m romance written by a man. I decided to rectify that at once and went to see if there was a Jack Harbon book that looked good to me, because I might as well start with the person who made me conscious of my oversight (I had already put books by Alexis Hall and Cole McCade on my to read for this year but decided to hop Harbon to the front of the line).
Which brings me to Meet Cute Club, the titular book club run by Jordan Collins, who is struggling to keep this beloved part of his social life afloat. He loves romance novels, and he loves sharing that love with fellow readers. But as the months progress his book club is shedding members. The rest of his life isn’t faring much better apart from the time he spends with his beloved grandmother as he is trying and failing to make his case for a raise at his job that doesn’t exactly love but is stable and pays the bills. To help keep the book club afloat Jordan buys copies of all the books they read for his fellow members, provides snacks, and hosts in his own home and it isn’t helping his mood that the new part time bookseller at Jordan’s local indie bookstore is a frustratingly sarcastic handsome asshole who heckles him about the stack of romances he’s buying.
But Jordan gives Rex Bailey what for (several times in fact, a series of fun defenses of the genre for those of us who appreciate it as Jordan does), which in turn inspires Rex to show up at the cute boy’s house for a meeting of the book club to see what its really all about and if he can get Jordan’s sexy uptight demeanor out of his mind. Rex is only in town long enough to clean out and sell his recently deceased grandmother’s home so as a tentative friendship, which leads to dating, begins to develop Rex is as caught off guard as Jordan is by their connection, and they’ll both need to confront the challenges holding them back.
Overall, I enjoyed the heck out of watching Jordan and Rex navigate their growing relationship. But there were a handful of pacing and POV issues that kept bringing it down to a three-star read from its four-star highs. Every so often Harbon would shortcut background information, for example how the Meet Cute Book Club started in the first place. I had some definite questions about the way this book club works, to be honest and none of them were answered. But more importantly, we don’t experience all the conversations to explain how each character gains that information or pieces together known information to come to a conclusion about their partner, sometimes we’re left to assume it’s in the text and phone conversations we don’t see, and sometimes there’s just no plausible way for them to have happened. Because both leads are unsure about what exactly is happening emotionally to match what is physically developing between them it feels like a big letdown, particularly as this is a first-person narration that switches between the leads (I noticed some of the POV switch issues others have in their reviews and other than some formatting changes needed I don’t think its as confusing as others did).
The book had some things to say about toxic relationships with parents, with what actual acceptance and love looks like, what pouring love into another person can mean and why it matters. It reminded me of Sally Thorne’s Second First Impressions thematically, and that is likely affecting my rating, as Thorne expertly paced out the emotional landscape between Ruthie and Teddy and it made me wish Harbon had given himself more space to give us more of the emotional landscape of the pair together in Meet Cute Club not just separately. But I can still absolutely recommend this 3.5 star read.