Tuesday, April 11, 2017

ARC Review: Starting from Scratch (Housemates, #5) by Jay Northcote

Starting over isn’t easy, but Ben is ready to live his life as the man he was always meant to be.

Ben is transgender and back at university after hormone treatment and chest surgery. His new housemates have no idea about his history and Ben would prefer to keep it that way. He’s starting from scratch and his life is finally on track, except in the romance department. The idea of dating guys as a guy is exhilarating but terrifying, because if Ben wants a boyfriend he’ll have to disclose his secret.

Sid is drawn to Ben from the moment they meet. He normally gets what he wants—in the short term at least. Ben’s guarded at first, and Sid’s not used to guys rejecting his advances. He eventually charms his way through Ben’s defences and helps Ben on his journey of sexual awakening.

It doesn’t matter to Sid that Ben is trans. He’s attracted to the whole person, and isn’t worried about what is—or isn’t—in Ben’s pants. They’re good together, and both of them are falling hard and fast, but Ben’s insecurities keep getting in the way. If Sid can convince Ben he's committed, will Ben finally be able to put his heart on the line?

Although this book is part of the Housemates series, it has new main characters, a satisfying happy ending, and can be read as a standalone. Length: 57,000 words approx.

Jewel's rating:

Oh how I love this series! I've been looking forward to reading Starting From Scratch since I found out Jay was writing it. I haven't read many books with a trans MC, but I'm always interested in the many facets of the human experience, and if I can learn something along the way, all the better. I can't pretend to know a damn thing about what it is like to go through life in the wrong body or what transgender people go through on a daily basis. Being cisgender, I know I have privilege I didn't earn and I can only hope that our species evolves (sooner, rather than later) to recognize that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Starting From Scratch really felt like an intensely personal story. And given that the author is in the process of transitioning himself, I suspect it really was. I loved it. Every moment. Thank you, Jay, for writing it.

We were introduced to both Ben and Sid in Watching and Wanting. Ben was the quiet new housemate and Sid was the guy who had been previously involved with Jude. In Starting From Scratch they start out getting to know one another and, when they hit it off, they try for more.

Ben is transgender, and since his transition, he hasn't put himself out there for pretty much any kind of relationship. Trust is hard and putting yourself out there is scary, and Ben just hasn't felt ready before now. It's still scary, but he and Sid hit it off, so Ben wants to see if there is a chance. Plus, he did make a New Year's Resolution to be more social, so there is that, too. Is he nervous about how people will react when they find out he is transgender? Yes. Does he still experience dysphoria and internalized transphobia? Yes. Ben, like the rest of us, is a work in progress and he has more challenges than most of us do. He's getting there, and part of that journey is taking chances and learning how to trust other people, as well as himself.

Sid was attracted to Ben from the start. Sid was nervous, though, because of a couple recent rejections, he felt cautious. Mostly. But after some texting and finally getting Ben to say yes to a date, Sid was on top of the world. While there was a touch of awkwardness, at first, when Ben told Sid he was transgender, I loved that the awkwardness was short lived. Sid was attracted to all of Ben and never made him feel less than. And they were very compatible and downright adorable and sexy. I loved every minute of them together.

There are so many ways that angst could have been introduced into this story and so many ways it could have been full of drama. But never did it feel overdone. It had just the right amount of angst to give it the depth it needed. I was also very appreciative that never once did Starting From Scratch feel didactic or preachy. And yet, I feel like I've learned something, along with getting a wonderful story. Jay Northcote is brilliant at giving us well drawn characters and low angst stories and Starting From Scratch was no different. The writing was top notch as was the character and relationship development. I just loved Ben and Sid's story.


ARC of Starting From Scratch was generously provided by the author, in exchange for an honest review.

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