Series: Perfect Harmony #3
Giving true love a spin . . .
Michelin Moses is a country music star on the rise. With a hit single under his Texas-sized belt buckle and a sold-out concert tour underway, his childhood dreams of making it big are finally coming true. But there’s one thing missing—a promise to his dying mother that he’d find it—him—when the time was right. With a little luck, he won’t have to wait too long . . .
Lucky Ramirez is a hunky boy toy who dances at The Broom Closet, one of West Hollywood’s hottest gay bars. He loves what he does, and he’s good at it—almost as good as he is at playing dumb when he spots Michelin Moses at the bar. What happens next is off the charts—and keeps Michelin coming back for more. He’s just not sure it’s the right move for his career. But if Lucky gets his way, Michelin will get Lucky—and no matter how the media spins it, neither of them will be faking it . . .
All Note Long by Annabeth Albert. This book. Oh, this book. I picked it up because it promised to have (explicit) demisexual representation. Also I’m a sucker for books about music. Less so dancing, but the combination? Oh, yes.
TW: All the homomisia. There are some slurs early on and some disparaging comments about sex workers and Michelin has a ton of internalised homomisia to work through. There are some moments of racism and there are some additional homomisic characters and scenes on account of dealing with a big, openly gay country singer performing in conservative areas of the US.
So! Let’s get to it! I kind of wish I’d been keeping track of the numbers, but I’m already done with the trope where a gay friend or lover telling the acespec character that they might be acespec. I just. No. Stop painting the other queer people in books as being somehow more enlightened than your acespec character. If they’re openly acespec themselves, sure. Have at, but I’m already sick and tired of this feeling that we somehow need other queer people telling us what our orientation is and that it’s okay.
And, given that it’s something Michelin gave absolutely no thought to before or after, I was sorely disappointed, especially since there was quite a lot of his behaviour that hit the right buttons for me. There was an equal amount that didn’t.
For example: the way Michelin and Lucky meet is filled with a sense of sexual attraction from Michelin’s point of view that really, really didn’t sit well with me. He’s known Lucky… All of a stripper party and they’re already making out because he’s sexually attracted to Lucky and no. Just no. It’s not just “feelings need to be involved before sex happens”. I swear, if you took out the line where Lucky tells Michelin he’s probably demisexual (which gets no explation, no follow-up, nothing beyond Michelin calling it “a chick thing”), I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between him and a closeted allosexual hermit who’s met someone he’s attracted to. And, like, it’s not that the author doesn’t try to give us a character who’s demisexual. She very clearly does. It’s the way Michelin is oblivious to things allosexuals pick up on. It’s the little note saying that he wasn’t really turned on until they started talking. (Which, sadly, is just that. We’re told this. It looks the same throughout.) It’s the little touches of telling us about how Michelin wasn’t interested in sex at all, except now with Lucky, and once before with another dude. (But again, it’s telling us these things, not showing them.)
And it sucks because there was a lot I like about the way Albert handles Michelin’s feelings and reactions when she’s actually describing them instead of telling us about them. But the overly sexual introduction to Lucky, the way Michelin’s demisexuality niever quite makes it into his actions distinguishably, and the way it utterly ignores any discussion of how romantic attraction isn’t the same as sexual, which I would have expected from a book that recognises demisexuality (and really shouldn’t because none of them ever do, ime) are emphatically not part of it. And I think they grated more precisely because there were things that resonated so much with me too. But also what resonated are things that aren’t, I think, even vaguely… exclusive to acespec people’s experiences. Just fairly common and/or falling into tropes about aces and their reactions to sex. (There are aces who aren’t sex-repulsed or touch-averse! I’m the former, not so much the latter. I LIKE HUGS AND CUDDLING. Just… also I’m shy and anxious, so generally only with people I know won’t decide to read it in ways I don’t mean. Michelin is surprisingly quick to get over his touch aversion when it comes to Lucky. And then it kind of comes back again the first time he hugs Lucky, but beyond that? Either I missed it because it was a really subtle reaction or it just disappeared like it never was.) And also did I mention the part where Lucky goes “Oh, you’re probs demisexual” and this never again comes up in the text? Like ever? Demisexuality is never brought up again ever. Oh, there’s, like, small notes like Lucky realising that sex for Michelin is All About The Feelings (it doesn’t have to be, btw, demisexuals can totally have sex without feelings being involved. The sexual attraction is All About The Feelings, which I will grant is what I think Lucky is trying to get at and just didn’t entirely grasp and, really, that scene is all about Lucky going “I was being selfish and I should pay more attention to my lover’s wants and needs instead of focusing on satisfying my own” that happened without ANY prompting from anyone or anything other than Lucky’s desire to make Michelin happy and it was actually this really nice and sweet little moment.)
And for all that I’m flailing and griping here, just a bit, I did quite enjoy the story itself. I liked the fake-boyfriends trope in play here, even if I felt the way it shifted into being real boyfriends just faking that they’re faking it wasn’t quite developed enough for me, there was more than enough adorableness where Michelin and Lucky got to know one another to suit me. They’re really, really cute together (especially if you just kind of… ignore Lucky going “Oh, you’re probs demisexual”). Lady, a dog they sort-of kind-of adopt for most of the book, is brilliant too. Seriously, I’m not a dog person but I may have squeed every time she was mentioned. Seriously, as lovely and sweet as the domestic scenes between Lucky and Michelin are and as much as I liked Michelin’s social floundering because he’s adorkable in a way that I kind of hope people think I am when I’m anxious, I think it’s Michelin’s relationship with Lady that really steals the show for me. LADY IS THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS BOOK. She’s awesome. She doesn’t appear a lot, but I just. Okay, I think maybe one of the things that will always hit me right in romance novels (or any books) is people caring about animals. And I swear Michelin is the most oblivious dude ever and Albert’s descriptions of how he’s TOTALLY NOT adopting Lady (he only needs to buy a little dog food. And it can totally go with Lady to her new forever home. So can the toys. And the dog bed). And basically Michelin is absolutely 100% into adopting this dog without realising it and it is the best.
There are plenty of communication issues in the book too, mostly born from opposites attracting and personality clashes that aren’t all that easy to fix or address. Michelin loves to help his friends. Lucky loves being independent. Michelin hates standing by and doing nothing when he can help the people he cares about. Lucky absolutely hates it when people try to interfere in his life when he didn’t ask them to. (Or even when he does.) Michelin is rich. Lucky is struggling to pay his rent. It… takes them the majority of the book to work that out. Michelin is anxious and supershy and Lucky is all loud and brash. And, like, I’ve been friends with someone like Lucky and they have this really strong insistence that you fight for things no matter what and they don’t realise that being anxious makes you fight very differently and sometimes, very often, you actually can’t. And, yeah, take out the part where Michelin is dealing with masses of internalised homomisia and it’s a recognisable dynamic. (And also I made the mistake of reading reviews and people are all “Ugh. I hated Michelin because he’s such a pushover” and, like, the book LITERALLY SAYS he has social anxiety. He’s doing the very best he knows how to do. T_T And I am a mite protective of Michelin. He needs protecting. Also more people he trusts standing beside him to support him the way he supports others.)
Anyway! It also takes Michelin the majority of the book to work through his internalised homomisia because he keeps pushing and pushing Lucky away with it. (And, sorry, I’m still not convinced that if the guy wasn’t a hermit and didn’t have his heart broken, decided to start singing country which sounds like, I dunno, THE most conservative American music genre to me – disclaimer: I am not American. I may well be wrong – and had worked out his feelings about being gay ages ago that he wouldn’t have identified as allosexual. Ah, I’m sorry if I’m grumpy, but I actually read this book on a bad day after bad news to cheer me up and I don’t think it’s working. Michelin is certainly the most recognisable demisexual I’ve read in a while, even if the representation in the narration feels off to me and the book as a whole uses a trope I really despise. Though, I admit, the last two m/m romances with a demisexual lead that I read were just horrible and I was upset when I read this, so the bar was lower than it might’ve been. Still, the book did a lot of things that were recognisable to me and what I’m trying to get at is that I think the rep is probably better than I’m managing to make it sound.
This books feels… Very close to where I want to say that it’s good demisexual representation that I’m grumpy about because it’s not 100% my experience. That, really, I’m nitpicking and the only reason I am is because wanting to see your own experience completely is a really strong feeling and I couldn’t entirely shake it. Maybe that is what’s going on here. I truly and sincerely hope that it is because I wanted to love the demisexual rep in this wholeheartedly. This rep felt like a breath of fresh air after some of the books I’ve been reading specifically because it has demisexual representation in them, even though I had some big issues with it. I would just really, really like it to be just “not my experience” coupled with a trope I loathe rather than a genuine (subtle) issue with rep that is otherwise something I really enjoyed to read.But I’m drifting a bit. All Note Long is far more about Michelin’s assumed demisexuality and his internalised homomisia. It’s also about love and romance and fighting for what you care about. It’s about Michelin and Lucky both learning they’re worth caring about. (And yes I think Lucky has some lessons of his own to learn there. They’re just not as obvious as Michelin.) It’s about loving your art and the price we can pay for that art. Also did I mention that Michelin has social anxiety and a huge part of the narrative is him dealing with that? I mean, mostly it’s subtle and it makes people think Michelin is just being a doormat, but it’s very present and I really liked how Albert handled that and the social chameleonness (which I envy) and just seeing the culmination of that was just beautiful and I heart Michelin and I want to wrap him up in a billion blankets and keep him safe from the world because HE DID SO GOOD AND I AM SO PROUD. Anyway. I really liked that aspect.
Moving on! Lucky is… everything Michelin is not. He’s vocal and proud of himself and his accomplishments. He works so hard to make his dreams come true and he keeps stopping for stray animals. Well, stray dogs, as far as we know, because he has a knack for finding and rehoming strays into good and loving forever homes. He’s fierce and brash and… Well, let’s put it this way: Michelin, being anxious, is, like I said, a bit of a doormat and Lucky, being very confident and in the possession of a healthy dose of self-esteem, is absolutely not. He spends… a lot of time learning to work through his own fears of not being wanted for who he is and the prejudices he deals with because he’s a go-go dancer and he loves revue dancing and he’s absolutely projecting past relationships onto Michelin (to be fair, Michelin kinda makes it easy because he too needs to learn the art of compromise).
Honestly it’s weird. Lucky got as much development and screen time as Michelin, if not even more, and yet it feels like I didn’t get to know him even half as well as I did Michelin and I’m kind of struggling to discuss him. But, you may have noticed, I’m Team Michelin all the way.
So oh well. You’ll just have to read it to find out more about Lucky. ^-~ Such hardship.
There are sex scenes, though. Somehow, despite knowing I picked up a romance book to read, those still manage to catch me off guard. IDK why. It’s not like I don’t know there will most likely be graphic descriptions of sex. I do. Except I also don’t. Anyway. The scenes are skippable, though you might miss out on some of the emotional bonding between the two. (I’m not sure. I skimmed here and there to see if the scene was over yet and I kept catching glimpses of conversation about sex or how to have sex. I assume they’re useful for building the emotional connection because later on Lucky remarks on how his focus in those moments didn’t take Michelin into account properly.) But. Yeah. All of that.
And mostly I’m just glad I finally get to write a review that’s not by someone I trust to get the demisexual representation right that’s actually, genuinely pretty positive. Okay, I may have failed to make it sound that way (and also the romantic orientation rep is nonexistent) and if so I apologise, but wow. So much of this book made me want to cheer about how I’d finally picked up a book by a presumed allosexual author who at least partway seems to get it. THEY EXIST. (Sort of. See also: romantic and sexual orientations are not the same thing.)
So here. I finally have another book to add to my list of “books with demisexual characters that I am likely to recommend at least somewhat enthusiastically” that wasn’t written by someone I know and trust. Also you should read it just for Michelin not-adopting Lady because it is precious.
(But, authors, can we please stop it with the introducing acespec characters to their sexuality through other queer-but-not-acespec characters? Please? And also can we, like, recognise that romantic orientations exist and may be different from sexual orientations? Please? That’d be grand.)
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