ARC Review by Jude: Just Like Honey by Ajax Bell


Artist Ryan Ikeda’s domestic bliss shatters after an invitation to join a career-launching gallery show in 1990s Seattle. His artistic uncertainty and secret desires, dangerous as turpentine and flame, threaten to torch his bond with Ben, his handsome boyfriend and muse.

Suddenly, instability rocks every aspect of Ryan’s life: his grandmother’s sinking health, his friends moving on to new jobs, even his apartment is endangered. Worst of all, Ben’s work demands more time away from home, the overload of changes jeopardizing the stability of their open relationship. Striving for both balance and success, Ryan faces the greatest risks of his personal and professional life.

Just Like Honey peeks inside working artists’ studios, cruises the 1990s Seattle bar scene, and eavesdrops on artists gossiping about their competitors at hot gallery shows, while Ryan and Ben explore the communication and tenderness required for a deep, open relationship.

Just Like Honey is a standalone book in the interrelated Queen City Boys series.

Purchase on Amazon | Add on Goodreads
Release Date: December 15th


*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review

4.5 Stars

This is a new to me author: when Annie and I received an inquiry about this ARC, I was sold hook, line and sinker, by the blurb.

Somehow this book was not quite what I expected, but who even cares because it was so. much. more. I really, intensely loved this one. The prose is beautiful. Bell’s take on Ben and Ryan’s open relationship was sweet and sexy and hit all the right notes.  The fact that the lack of jealously enables them both to enjoy their partner having a good time, enjoying themselves — alone or with each other — was really great. As a person who does not get romantically jealous, I loved how spot on it felt. I often feel like threesome scenes can be too logistical and weird when I read them, but Bell’s are really well executed. You’re not thrown off by too much “what goes where” and “who does what” to get pulled out of the scene. Even with a third, Ben and Ryan are just to beautiful together and toward each other, my heart was consistently melting (and thumping, because yowza, sexy!)

Often I find that books about existing romances can be hard to pull off. In removing the “will they or won’t they” from the story, the author has to create tension that carries the reader from the get-go, which is not easy to do without falling on cliched stories about misunderstandings. Bell does not fall into this trap at all. This is very well done.

What I love in this story is that under all of what is happening in Ryan’s life, in their lives, I trusted that Ryan and Ben would be together. It was lovely to watch real life and real world frustrations appear in a story, to know their heft and feel how hard they are to navigate, but to feel this sort of calm kernel of trust under it all. Bell made both characters shine, and they made how they are uniquely right for each other come brightly through at all times.

There are elements of this story that really moved me. Ryan’s grandmother — in fact his connection to community and heritage and his understanding of it — how it develops and how it changes as he changes, were lovely. Ryan waking up to who he is as an artist is wonderful. I also think Bell did a great job of showing us the ways in which Ryan holding back particular desires in intimacy was correlated to how he understood intimacy based on past heartbreak. There’s no doubt he loves Ben — but there’s no doubt that so many factors in his life are tied to how he loves him, how he shows him, how he comes to see his own art and what makes him happy. Basically, there’s a lot going on, because it’s complicated. As life and love and growing are. Bell really does an amazing job weaving these multiple threads without it seeming heavy handed or transparent. They created complex characters being real, complex people, and working these things out individually, together, and with community.

After I read this book I went and bought the other two books in this series, if only because there are *so* many side characters whose stories I also wanted to know, and I knew that their stories would be wonderful as well. It was a great exercise as well because I got to watch Bell’s growth as a storyteller and as a writer. The prose in this book is beautiful. We all know I’m a sucker for gorgeous prose.

My tiny criticism (tiny) was how much Ryan struggled with wanting to talk to and experience the d/s dynamic with Ben. I know it was important for the story about Ryan’s fear of total intimacy, but there were moments when it felt a little unbelievable (for example, Ryan’s desire to see Ben on his knees in an intimate moment, and saying he’d never asked for that. Maybe this is colored by my experience, but that didn’t seem like a totally out of bounds position between two people who aren’t practicing d/s? Perhaps I misunderstood though). But honestly, these little niggles were so fleeting. In fact I only really caught them on my second read of the book (yes, I read it twice, it’s that good).

I highly recommend this book and author. In fact, I’d advise you to pick them all up, and prepare to fall in love with Seattle through the decades and with these characters.

Genre: Contemporary Orientation: Bisexual Orientation: Gay Pairing: M/M/M Pairing: Open Relationship Publisher: Jungum Press Review Tag: Art / Artist Tag: BDSM Tag: d/s Tag: PoC

Jude Sierra View All →

Jude Sierra is a Latinx poet, author, academic and mother who began her writing career at the age of eight when she immortalized her summer vacation with ten entries in a row that read “pool+tv”. Jude began writing long-form fiction by tackling her first National Novel Writing Month project in 2007.

Jude is currently working toward her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric, looking at the intersections of Queer, Feminist and Pop Culture Studies. She also works as an LGBTQAI+ book reviewer for Queer Books Unbound. Her novels include Hush, What it Takes, and Idlewild, a contemporary queer romance set in Detroit’s renaissance, which was named a Best Book of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. Her most recent novel A Tiny Piece of Something Greater was released in May of 2018. Shadows you Left, a co-written novel with Taylor Brooke will arrive spring of 2019 from Entangled Press.

Twitter: @JudeSierra
Instagram: /judemsierra/

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