Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a newly released contemporary M/M romance from Alexis Hall. PANSIES is also an enemies-to-lovers romance that is lush and beautiful. I’ve also loved FOR REAL, LOOKING FOR GROUP, and WAITING FOR THE FLOOD from this author, so I couldn’t pass the chance to pick up PANSIES.
It’s rough, though, going back to South Shields now that they all know he’s a fully paid-up pansy. It’s the last place he’s expecting to pull. But Fen’s gorgeous, with his pink-tipped hair and hipster glasses, full of the sort of courage Alfie’s never had. It should be a one-night thing, but Alfie’s never met anyone like Fen before.
Except he has. At school, when Alfie was everything he was supposed to be, and Fen was the stubborn little gay boy who wouldn’t keep his head down. And now it’s a proper mess: Fen might have slept with Alfie, but he’ll probably never forgive him, and Fen’s got all this other stuff going on anyway, with his mam and her flower shop and the life he left down south.
Alfie just wants to make it right. But how can he, when all they’ve got in common is the nowhere town they both ran away from.
Highly recommend! This is a fantastically lyrical, deeply emotional story of two unlikely lovers and their complicated history.
Alfie Bell is a big beast of a man, nearly thirty and only recognized his gayness two years ago. He’s from the north Atlantic coast of England, a rundown beach village called South Shields. Having been smart he did his schooling, got a masters and took a job in investment banking. He’s fabulously wealthy, living his openly gay life in London, and quietly caring for his family up north. He’s had a falling out with them, over his sexuality, and he really wants everything to be normal in his life. He wants a committed relationship, and a family some day. His ambitions are much simpler than his profession might indicate. And, ultimately, Alfie’s been feeling rather empty of late, wishing he had stronger connections and feeling disenchanted with London’s shiny veneer.
While on a rare trip home, Alfie inadvertently outs himself to his best friend–while at his wedding. It’s a mortifying event, and Alfie takes a drive to clear his discomfort. Popping in to a nearby bar, Alfie spots a slight, slim man with silver-blonde pink tipped hair and the most gorgeous body…ever. He offers to buy the man a drink, and the reaction he gets is not welcome. Fen, as he calls himself, doesn’t believe that a strapping man would ever find him sexually attractive, but they do get on with an interesting evening adventure–which turns out really good, as far as Alfie is concerned. Until Fen reveals his full identity the next morning–that Fen was the shy gay boy that Alfie and his mates all tormented throughout grade school. Alfie’s world shifts. He’s not the same uncouth boy who did those horrible things, and those memories are terrifying related through Fen’s point-of-view.
When he returns to London, Alfie simmers on this new development. He’s filled with shame, and wants to make amends however he can. He books some time off to make the long trip north again, and turns up at Fen’s business–a flower shop called Pansies that used to belong to his late grandmother and mother. Life hasn’t gone to Fen’s plan much; he’s only running the shop (into the ground) out of grief for his mother’s early death. It’s a way of connecting to her, even as it meant giving up his own career, breaking it off from his boyfriend, and losing his half of their mortgaged flat. Alfie knows none of this, he only wants to be near Fen. The encounter isn’t much better than their recent meeting, ending with a comic spectacle in Fen’s run-down bath that requires repairs. Alfie, always the fixer, attempts to make that right, too. And ends up needing his own rescue. From his estranged family.
Fen, honestly, has a very conflicted experience with his former tormentor. He was bizarrely attracted to Alfie as a teen. He was so strong, and sure, and manly, yet still had a softer side, like rescuing trapped butterflies. Seeing Alfie so committed to helping him in his suffering now is turning all the right switches, awakening long-buried attraction. Alfie is tender and compliant in a way Fen had imagined in his deepest adolescent fantasies–you know the type: getting one over on your nemesis, only with sexytimes.
As they spend time together, Alfie recognizes that he’s really falling for Fen. He also loves the idea of being back home. There’s so much familiarity, and he envisions being a partner to Fen in more than just Fen’s broke-down futon. He convinces Fen to let him look over his finances and help with the flower shop. It’s not easy for Fen to let go–and Alfie’s continually blundering when it comes to the homophobic incidents that they keep getting involved in. See, Fen’s not even gay, exactly, (probably pansexual though Fen calls himself queer) and yet he endured a lifetime of teasing and abuse for his queerness. And, Alfie’s only been out in London, where there’s less of an in-your-face homophobia. He can’t bear to have himself and Fen called out for just existing. It’s all very chilling, for Fen. He wants a lover, not a felon–and he knows how dangerous it can be to engage with homophobes in groups. Plus, part of Alfie’s issue is his own internalized homophobia. Fen helps him to tease apart all the “masc” constructs that have really been lead weight surrounding his neck for thirty years. Alfie is so utterly vulnerable, and deeply in love with Fen after a couple of weeks–and that’s when it’s got to end.
Fen’s not meant to stay in South Shields, nursing his memories for a dead mother–even his father thinks so. And, while Alfie would be happy to give up his posh London life and build a new one with Fen, Alfie’s pretty-well decided he wants to do it in his hometown. It’s not fair!! There’s a kerfuffle, and a break, and more grand gestures to win Fen back–and I can’t actually do any justice at all to this without giving away too much. The book is so lush, and the writing so lyrical. I’ve never been to England, and yet I feel like I moved into Fen’s shop, and got insulted by Gothshelley, and ate finger-burning chips on the beach and curried paneer at Raj’s Indian restaurant. I could see the spun silk of Fen’s silver-pink-blonde hair, and hear the creak of pain in Alfie’s voice when he tried, once again, to connect with his baffled father. There’s an all-encompassing accessibility to Alfie’s point-of-view that absolutely dropped me into his brain, and his experience. His youthful regrets are intense, and his determination to quietly fix all and sundry is unquestionably endearing. The book has a sweet HEA that is sure to please any romance fan.
About the Author:
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!