Review: Play It Again, Charlie — R. Cooper

play_it_againOther Reviewers: Goodreads

 The choice for what book to review this week was difficult, there were three that I wanted to do and a few others I feel like I have to do.  Play It Again, Charlie by R. Copper won out.

This week’s reading focuses on the sub-genre (if we can call it that) as “daddy-kink”.  In the BDSM lifestyle this is called “age-play” (Wikipedia, so accept at your own risk).  Age-play can be sexual, non-sexual, or a mixture.  In BDSM definitions are fluid, someone else might have another take on it than this one.  This can be seen in romances (gay or straight) in how they apply aspects of BDSM.  For more explicit Master/slave story, read Angel and the Assassin.  However, for today’s blog post book review, I want to write about Play It Again, Charlie, which is a much tamer and “romantic” view of “Daddy kink”.

I passed by this book several times the cover put me off for some reason.  Recently I wrote about what can happen when you focus on covers.  Sometimes you either discount the book due to the cover, or you find the cover lacks proper portrayal of content.  This week I read R. Cooper’s A Boy and His Dragon and was blown away with how much I loved it.  So I took a chance on this book and was glad that I did.

Basic Plot:
This is the story of Charlie Howard, a cop who retired only because of a disability (his hip) and now teaches at a local community college and is the super of an apartment building.  He runs into Will Stewart, who is apartment sitting for a renter.  The sparks fly, but we are left to wonder if they can make the romance work despite  their differences.  It is worth the effort?

Will Stewart:

Will is at first glance the stereotypical gay hairdresser.  A description of Will as the first time that Charlie meets Will:

The man-the kid, because he was in his late twenties at most-suddenly moved, dropping the watering can to lean over the balcony ledge.  His eyes sparkled down at Charlie, somehow not looking the least bit apologetic about knocking over the planter, which could have killed Charlie if Charlie had been a few moments faster.

“Oh my God!  Are you all right?”  Full lips formed the question, curving up in a smile that said clearly that he knew Charlie was fine, that he was overreacting to a narrow miss with a potted plant.  Or maybe the man saw the look Charlie quickly swept over what else he could see of that face, that body.

He appears bubbly and care-free, a party boy.  When Charlie first meets Will, that is all that he sees and does not remove Will from this bucket until the end of the novel.

What we learn about Will is that he is courageous.  His background is rocky.  We understand he only has his sister as family.  His family is really his friends.  In many ways he is a chameleon learning that he has to fit into his environment.

What I love about Will is his sense of humor, his ability to laugh at life and make the most of it.  What fascinates a reader regarding Will is his encyclopedic knowledge of film, including the classics.  So many of the best moments in the novel are those where Will is making a quote and then Charlie got it.

Of Human Bondage?”

Will said quickly, moving just out of sight for a moment and forcing Charlie to move to the edge of the dining area to see him.  He tossed one arch look over his shoulder as he reached up to grab that book, and even knowing it was an act, Charlie felt himself tensing.  His eyes fell on the leather cuff at Will’s wrist, as they were probably meant to.

“Kinky.”

Charlie’s throat locked.  “I’m not…”

“Into Bette Davis?  I know, a lot of people find her scary at first, but after awhile you really start to get into her.”

The completely reasonable tone was at odds with the wicked light in the kid’s eyes, the way his lips were curved up, how he held his breath when Charlie blinked and frowned, replaying the insane words until they made sense.  Until he remembered that Bette Davis was in the film version of that novel, until he could finally take his gaze off that wide leather band.

His face was burning.

“Smartass,” he muttered, completely mystified when being called a smartass made Will hop in place, since Will had already made it clear that he had a brain under all that hair and glitter.

Will knows that he is attractive and charming, that is something he accepts and uses.  But what he really wants people to know is that he is clever, yet he feels intimidated by those who are learned.

Charlie Howard:

The character’s name “Charlie Howard,” does not immediately lend itself knowingly to a Hispanic culture.  However, Carlos is the “head of the family,” taking care of his sisters (Ann, Katia, and Missy) and grandmother, Nana. His father left the family early one, so for most of his life, women have played a large role in Charlie’s life.  There is a gargantuan emotional burden from his family, and it is apparently expected of him to carry this:

“Carlos, you are el patriarca.  The man.  You lead by example.  You marry, and your sisters will marry.  And do not tell me I am old-fashioned.”  Nana was upset enough to get up again.  He could hear her banging around the kitchen, opening and closing things.  “Katia talks big for a girl with a daughter and no man.”

So we have  a man who is alone and lonely despite the fact that he is surrounded by family.  There is more that I could say, but I do not want to spoil it here.  Suffice it to say, all of his emotions are tagged for their use.  If they have a problem, he drops everything to help them.

He recently recovered from an accident that forced him to retire as a cop, which results in intense chronic pain that forces him to slow down.  He lost his boyfriend, Mark when he was injured who walked out on him.  He never complains, sacrificing often for his friends and family.  If he is in pain, when questioned the answer is always, “I’m fine.”  His friend, Jeanine is really the only one that calls him on it, and often is the one that gets him drunk so that he will talk, or forcing him to go home and take care of himself.

What makes me angry is how his family takes advantage of Charlie.  Either they are oblivious of his pain or they knowingly lean on him knowing that he is in a precarious position.  Yeah, they might try to fix him up with a boyfriend, but they do not try to handle their own problems.  Coming from a very small family,  I have no experience in this, perhaps this is normal.  But I found I could not respect any of them, including Nana.  He is an example of someone who is so giving, he gives away his own foundation.  He needs to find a partner who can be his support and can be there to tell his family when enough is enough.  Will is this person.

What I like about Charlie is this lack of selfishness.  He is so giving to everyone, often doing things that he does not want to do.  We can all relate to that, going to family meetings or events despite the fact that we do not want to go, we go because of love.  He is also insecure, in opposition of what Will’s insecurity.  While Will is insecure of his inside (intelligence and education), Charlie is insecure of his body because of his injury.

Charlie’s greatest fear is abandonment.  His father left, his mother died, and when he was injured his boyfriend left.  So, accurate or not, Charlie learned the lesson that if you become a burden on any one you love, they will leave you.  Any of his actions then in this book with Will is about waiting for Will to leave him when he finds out about his pain and his family responsibilities.

Theme Summary:

A theme I believe is something that we should all take heed:  Don’t judge a book by a cover.  It sounds trite and tropey, but it’s profound.  For Will, he is beautiful and popular, seemingly carefree, but inside he worries that people think he is stupid and uneducated.  You think he is shallow, but what you learn is that he has so much depth.  Charlie looks at this flighty appearance and is frightened that if he shows that he is not strong, that Will will not stay with him.  Certainly the “daddy” aspect of the relationship gives Charlie the fear that he must always be strong for Will.  For Charlie’s side, just because you say that you are “fine”, does not mean that they are.  You must look deeper than their words and actions, but rather look at their body language, to know where the hidden pain lies.  It is worth the effort for both of them to dig in and find that they are really not that different.  They are the flip side of the same coin.

Strong Points:

What I liked about this book is the age-play (a.k.a “Daddy-kink”), and how slow and subtly it grew.  It has such an organic flow as it evolved, which that is how any person’s sexuality expands.  This is just an illustration of a theme within this book of how Charlie takes care of everyone.  And this aspect of their romantic relationship fulfills both sides of their needs.  This does not mean that Will wants to have sex with his father, but rather it is about how your partner is a strength and a protector.  Usually you will see that they are older, but that is not required.  It is a part of Dominance and submission, but it does not require bondage or whipping, although there is often common bleed over.  In their relationship, this is mostly “daddy” in their sexual moments, although Charlie’s giving and protective nature makes him often daddy like in other moments.  One sexy moment:

Will was talking, low murmurs as his body stopped moving, Charlie’s name, other words as well, and the idea of some of them, that he could be saying that Daddy again, made Charlie clutch at the body beneath him, hold him tighter until he was still too.

It was nice to see this aspect of BDSM as something new to the couple, they are exploring it together, but also coming to understand their own needs and wants individually.

One of my personal views is how a successful relationship must have a balance of yin and yang, where one’s strengths help fulfill the weakness of the other.  This novel is an illustration of this balance.

What could be better?

This is a common complaint I have when we only see one character’s perspective.  In many ways, this is like being in first person.  I wish we could have had more “inside the head” of Will.

The biggest complaint I have with this novel is in the “conflict” between Charlie and Will.  This book could have been finished in  1/3 of the time by them just sitting down and talking honestly.  I understand the reason behind it, but it just seemed rather contrived.

Conclusions:

My favorite romance books deals more with boy meets boy, boy gets boy, boy chases boy, and boy keeps boy.  This is a look at how our own insecurities can keep up from obtaining our own happiness.  Taking that leap with honesty is frightening, but in the end it makes a great relationship.  It certainly  makes a great book.

Bea

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