Carson is upset when Anthony, his boyfriend, breaks up with him just as he's considering suggesting that they move in together. All his adult life, Carson has been well taken care of by his boyfriends, and Anthony was no exception - during the six months they were together, Anthony helped Carson pay for his food, apartment, clothes, you name it. He also saw to it that Carson got a nice job as the "eye candy" at a burlesque show, even though Carson isn't much of a dancer or singer and doesn't have the ambition or willpower necessary to get better. Carson's primary talent is looking pretty - with the way he dresses and looks, it's not an uncommon occurrence for him to be mistaken for a woman.
Without Anthony, Carson's cushy life crumbles. He doesn't know if he can afford to pay for both his rent and food, and his job at the burlesque begins to go downhill. It would all be completely depressing if it weren't for Eddie, the superintendent of his apartment building. Eddie's a manly kind of guy: bearded, good with tools, likes sports. He's not the kind of man Carson usually goes for, and he's not rich enough to give Carson the kind of lifestyle he's used to, but...he's kind, quiet, and sweet. Even though Carson and Eddie are complete opposites, they make each other happy.
Carson's not sure what to do. He loves Eddie more than he has anyone else he's ever been with, but he also knows he needs to learn to stand on his own two feet. Plus, he feels that a great guy like Eddie could do a lot better than someone like him. When Anthony offers to take him back, will Carson succumb to the temptation to go back to the life he used to have, or will he take a risk and try to aim for something better?
The excerpt I read intrigued me, but as I started reading this book I wondered if I had made a mistake in choosing it. Carson seemed a bit like the male version of that perky blonde rich guys always seem to keep around like pets. I was a little surprised he actually had some idea of how to put together a budget and knew what all his bills were.
Amazingly, Carson turned out to be my favorite thing about this book. Instead of being annoyed that he let things get so bad by allowing himself to be completely taken care of by all his boyfriends, I found myself amazed that he actually recognized that this wasn't the best way for him to live. Nearly everyone in his life traded sex for money and pretty things and saw nothing wrong with doing so. In fact, Carson's mother encouraged him to find someone else who could give him the life he was accustomed to and, when Anthony returned and said he'd take Carson back, Carson's mother and one of his friends were thrilled and naturally assumed he'd go back to him. When Carson tried to talk about love with his mother, she dismissed it as foolish and unnecessary.
My impression of Carson was that he was basically a really nice, vibrant person who made a lot of mistakes and was easily blinded by pretty things. As bad as I felt for him, as his life quickly fell down around his ears, I think he needed for that to happen. Had Eddie been capable of giving him all the expensive gifts he was used to, Carson would probably have slipped into a happy, blind relationship with him, once again oblivious to how helpless he was without someone to take care of him. Since Eddie couldn't do that, since Carson liked being with him anyway, and since Carson's job was quickly becoming a source of unhappiness, Carson couldn't just continue to be blind to his own problems.
Unfortunately, it took him ages to get around to doing anything about it. He wanted to stay with Eddie and still have everything else in his life be the way he was used to it being, but it was pretty obvious that wasn't going to work out. At first, it was nice when Eddie helped him, but it gradually become clear that, however well-meaning his intentions, Eddie was just doing the same thing for Carson that all his other boyfriends had done. The only difference was that Eddie had less money to spend.
Carson recognizes that this is unhealthy for him and probably not good for Eddie, either. I didn't realize how bad the situation was for Eddie until Carson told him he was going to leave and Eddie desperately offered him all the money he had. Although I liked that Mykles did not allow Carson to go back to Eddie until after he'd gotten a new job and learned to stand on his own, I didn't like that the emotional unhealthiness on Eddie's part was never addressed. It put a seed of doubt in my mind that Carson and Eddie's HEA could actually last, not the best thing for a romance novel.
I found Eddie in general to be one of the weakest parts of this book. On the one hand, it was probably a good thing that Eddie was so steady, nonjudgmental, and quiet – he balanced out Carson's emotional roller coaster and overall flamboyant nature. On the other hand, I felt like I never really got to know him. I knew that he lived a quiet life, that he probably hadn't dated seriously in a while, and that he really loved his mother, but I didn't really feel like I knew what was going on in his head. He didn't feel like a whole person so much as a somewhat fleshed-out sketch of a character designed to give the story balance. Like I said, that balance was probably a good thing, but I would have liked to have been given a peek into Eddie's perspective on everything.
It's easy for me to let my feelings about the way Eddie reacted to the news that Carson was leaving overshadow things, but there were actually a lot of really sweet moments in the romance between them. I loved reading about how Carson viewed Eddie's home, and, although I was a little disbelieving of how completely nonjudgmental Eddie's mom was (I guess that's where Eddie got it from), I enjoyed reading about Carson getting to meet her.
For me, the primary appeal of this book was Carson. I hated it that it took him so long to finally get out of his unhealthy ruts, because I liked him enough that I didn't want to see him have to suffer through the consequences. Since I found myself more emotionally invested in Carson's growth than in Carson and Eddie's romance, I kind of wish Mykles had shown at least a little of what Carson went through to become independent and get a good, steady job on his own, rather than jumping ahead to the romantic conclusion.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Drawn Together (e-book) by Z.A. Maxfield - This can be had much more cheaply in e-form, but it's also available in paper form. In this book, Rory travels to Anime Expo to meet the girl of his dreams, reclusive artist Ran Yamane. What he doesn't find out until he's standing before Yamane, flowers in hand, is that she is actually a he. Yamane is used to this, but what he doesn't expect is that, once Rory gets over the initial shock, he seems surprisingly willing to overlook Yamane's gender. Their growing attraction to each other is suddenly interrupted by horror from Yamane's past: a psychotic stalker who wants revenge. Those who'd like a really well executed "gay for you" m/m romance might want to try this. As with A Rose is a Rose, one of the characters is very pretty and the other is more manly. I also consider the "heat" levels of the two books to be similar, the only thing on this list for which this is the case.
- Legally Blonde (live action movie) - Blonde sorority president Elle Woods follows her boyfriend to Harvard, determined to win him back from the girl he thinks will make a better future wife for him (in his mind, Elle would probably work better as a secret mistress). Law school turns out to be harder than Elle expected...and, surprisingly, she starts to excel at it. Popular, perky, beautiful Elle would normally be one of those characters I hate, but somehow, like Carson, she ends up likable instead. This is another one in which the eye candy main character becomes something more than what they were. It's not earth-shattering stuff, but it's fun, and there's even a smidgen of romance. I just found out that the movie is based on a book by Amanda Brown, but I'm not sure how similar it is.
- GetBackers (anime TV series) - One of my absolute favorite characters in this series is Kazuki, a guy who dresses and looks feminine enough to be mistaken for a woman. This turns out to actually be on purpose. Other than that, this show doesn't actually have much in common with A Rose is a Rose, but those who'd like something else with a very pretty male character might want to give this a try. I've written about both seasons of the show (click here to read about season one, and click here to read about season two - there may be some spoilers). The anime is based on a fairly long-running manga, which I have not read, although my understanding is that the anime differs from it in several fairly significant ways.
- Her Royal Spyness (book) by Rhys Bowen - Another book starring a character who is used to the finer things in life but who is now suddenly in dire financial straits and must figure out how to take care of themselves. This book takes place in the 1930s. Although it has some romantic possibilities (f/m, not m/m), this is really more of a mystery than a romance. Check out my post on this book if you'd like more info.
- Addition (book) by Toni Jordan - This is another read-alike suggestion for those who are willing to be a bit more adventurous, since it has a different overall feel and is definitely not a m/m romance. Grace's life is ruled by numbers. Unless she has numbers to provide herself with structure, she can't do a thing. While at the grocery store, her life comes to a standstill when she realizes she only has nine bananas in her shopping cart. She is relieved to notice that the guy behind her has one banana, so she stages a diversion and steals it. All is well again, except that Seamus, the banana guy, seeks her out in order to find out why she took his banana. What follows is some witty and enjoyable flirting, but what will happen once Seamus finds out about Grace's problem? Also, is it even possible for someone like Grace to have a normal relationship with another person? This book is more about Grace, the main character, than it is about her romance with Seamus. Those who'd like another book with a likable main character who needs to learn to recognize and deal with the messed up aspects of their life might want to try this. I wrote about this a while back - if you'd like more info, check out my relatively non-spoilery post.