Hot Italian Lover is the first book I've read by Ryan Field. In reviewing Mr. Field's titles, he has a penchant for taking tried and true stories and retelling them with a m/m slant. Using such clever titles as A Christmas Carl, Dancing Dirty, or Gay pride and Prejudice, I expected a clever, witty, and perhaps even a little bit satirical story to unfold. As I read this book I got a hint of two movies, Pretty Woman and Under the Tuscan Sun.
Joey King is a female impersonator, a good one, and lived a life he believed was full and permanent. With a lover he'd been with for nearly 20 years, one who was 25 years his senior, and a career which supported a brilliant lifestyle in New York City, it came as a huge surprise when he discovered his lover cheating on him with another man; one almost twenty years younger than Joey.
Devastated, he leaves New York at the close of his Broadway female impersonation show and heads to Italy for some much needed R&R and self-reflection time. But the one thing he doesn't expect, or even want, is what he gets when he goes to Italy in the form of the hot and well-endowed escort Antonio. What unfolds is the development of a tumultuous emotional roller-coaster for both joey and Antonio as they enjoy each other physically and decide whether they are truly meant to be together.
The elements to the story which gave me the flavor of Pretty Woman and Under the Tuscan Sun were Joey being a jilted lover and moving to Italy, Antonio being an escort, Joey being nearly 20 years older than Antonio, the setting being in Italy, Joey moving to Italy as a jilted lover, but that is where the similarities ended. This story was an original.
Written from Joey's perspective, we get to experience the emotional journey of a man who holds lofty ideals which have been put to the test. We see a man who is afraid he won't be able to recover from the disappointment he's experienced from loss of trust and love. And we see the fear and rationalizations Joey goes through to protect his feelings and, in the process, almost letting a great thing slip through his fingers.
At the same time, we see a man who we would normally perceive in a negative light, Antonio the escort, as a truly warm and wonderful man. We see the deep capacity for love and putting Joey's needs first in a man who makes good money selling his body. Now that I'm writing this, I'm reminded of The Wedding Date as well. The pairing of these two characters is what drives the story forward and maintained my interest.
There were certain aspects to this story which drew from my overall enjoyment of the story. Primarily, I found it took a while for me to understand the characters and why they would want to be together. At first, Antonio seemed materialistic and cold. The distance Joey placed between himself and Antonio seemed justified and I wondered when the love interest would appear in the story. Then, Joey breaks down in a convenient way and this catapults the two into their journey towards love. While the convenience of the circumstances bringing them together didn't sit well with me, overlooking it was not difficult and I was able to enjoy the story as a whole.
The other thing that fell a bit short for me was the ending. While everything was wrapped up and there was good closure, the ending seemed rushed. All of the different elements to the novel, both literal and metaphorical, which were woven into the story came to a rapid conclusion within the last 5 pages of the book. After experiencing all of the angst and emotion, I would have enjoyed the ending to have been drawn out a bit more. To see how those emotions resolved within Joey more slowly as opposed to the way they were revealed.
Overall, an enjoyable book; not a homerun, but a good read.
Joey King likes the spotlight. He's worked hard for over twenty years to reach a pinnacle of success and to achieve a cult following, and now he's the big star in one of Broadway's most successful shows.. But when he's not on stage performing, Joey King is an attractive gay man just turned forty who is terrified of growing older.
On the last night of his show, Joey overhears people snickering about his age and it leaves him questioning his future as an actor- he's terrified of becoming a joke, and being laughed at.
In a state of confusion, Joey travels to Chicago in the middle of the night to be with his longtime partner of twenty years, Ned Stevens, who is there on a business trip. Ned has always been the one constant strength in Joey's life.
But when Joey reaches Chicago, he is met with a devastating shock.
Joey buys a one-way ticket to Florence to recover. There he meets handsome young Antonio, who is almost half Joey's age. Joey initially protests, but Antonio finally throws him down on the terrace and takes him in ways Joey never imagined were possible. Antonio does things to Joey that Joey's ex-partner, Ned, never did in the twenty years they were together. But more than that, Antonio introduces Joey to the kind of love and passion he never dared to believe existed.
But no matter how many times Antonio professes his love, Joey isn't sure he'll ever be able to embrace love or to trust anyone again. Will Antonio figure out a way to prove his love for Joey? And will Joey ever find enough room in his heart to love Antonio as much as Antonio loves him?