ARC Review - The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen

Right up front I want to tell you that this is not my usual read - it's a full-on romance novel.

People have strong reactions to the romance genre - they either love romance books or they hate them. And I get that. The last romance novel I attempted to read was about a million years ago. In my teens one of my sisters left a romance novel, based in Australia's Outback, laying around the house. I was intrigued enough by the setting to give it a try. I was a rabid reader of American Westerns at the time and wondered how a book set in the Australian Outback would compare. But I didn't get far in the book - hated it in fact - and found that all that "bodice ripping" stuff was NOT for me. 

These days, while I hope my reading is varied, it tends toward nonfiction, with an emphasis on history and science. I do have to admit though that in my later years I've become a sucker for love stories - particularly gay love stories. Just not so much in my reading. The profusion of gay love stories on television and in movies over the last several years has been great to see. "Love, Simon" and  "Heartstopper" and stories like them have caught my attention on the screen. Even though I loved the screen versions and knew many were based on books I never bothered to go back and read them. I did read Bloom last year - my first graphic novel and a YA gay romance - and I thought enough of it to give it four stars

A lot of the people who follow me on Bookstagram are big readers of gay romance, and I've seen KJ Charles' novels popping up quite a bit on Insta and the other socials. It was through those posts that I became interested in Charles' "Will Darling Adventure" series and thought that at some point I should give them a try. They are action-adventure stories while also being gay romances. 

So when a KJ Charles title showed up on NetGalley I decided to give it a try. It's not part of the Will Darling series, but is the first of a new series - the Doomsday Books. It's has turned out to be a good introduction to KJ Charles.

This is not Young Adult reading, as are many of the popular gay romances I hear about online. This is a book that's meant for adults, and as such you should know that it has some adult content. By which I mean there are "sex scenes", and fairly explicit ones at that. But the bulk of the book is an adventure story. A young Londoner learns to fit into the life of an outwardly quiet country town when his father, who he hasn't seen since he was a young boy, unexpectedly passes away. Suddenly the young Londoner is a baronet.

The book starts with one of those sex scenes, leaving me to wonder what I'd gotten myself into! This scene turns out to be the abrupt ending of an brief affair as Gareth, the soon to be baronet, breaks things off with the paramour he knows only as "Kent". The book then moves into a slowly evolving story as Gareth moves into his country estate. He soon comes to understand that the quiet country around him is actually home to an active smuggling operation, and soon he comes up against the head of the local smuggling dynasty, none other than his paramour Kent whose real name is Joss (short for Josiah).

The adventure, and the romance, pick up steam about half way through the book and I found myself racing through several plot twists to get to the end. I literally couldn't put the book down.

The book has its share of tropes - Gareth plays the "damsel in distress" role a couple of times in the book - though he's quick to push back at the assumptions of his "rescuer".  It's 1810 when the book starts. England is at war with France, and gay men are firmly in the closet in England (though not in France). The fact that our heroes are living as closeted gay men, and then as a gay couple, is an important point of the plot, and there are appropriately low key "coming out" scenes.

I found The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen to be well written and greatly entertaining. I know now why I keep seeing KJ Charles' name on the bookish socials. 

RATING: Four and a Half Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐🌠

NOTE: I read an advanced review copy of the book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher Sourcebooks CasablancaThe book will be available to the public this Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

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Title: The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen

Author: KJ Charles

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Publish Date: Mar 07, 2023

ISBN-13: 9781728255859

Publisher’s List Price: $16.99 Paperback (as of 3/2023)