Review: The Hideaway Inn (Seasons of New Hope Book One) by Philip William Stover
“High school wasn’t the right time or place for their relationship to grow, but now, fifteen years later, a chance encounter changes both of their lives forever.”
MY HUSBAND brought this novel to my attention a few years ago after noticing I’d been developing an interest in “cozy gay romances.” Yes, me, the guy who reads and writes queer thrillers, sometimes just wants to see two men fall in love and live happily ever after. Upon being shown an article from CBC about Harlequin’s move into the LGBTQ+ Romance Genre, I took a chance and picked up The Hideaway Inn by Philip William Stover, the first book under Harlequin’s new Carina Adores Imprint. I’m glad I did. This engaging love story is about second chances, acceptance of one’s personal authenticity of identity, and the power of a community that welcomes and promotes diversity.
Admittedly, the sheer amount of queer characters living in the seemingly utopian town of New Hope, Pennsylvania, including our gay protagonist, Vince Amato, and his bisexual life-long crush Tack O’Leary, who was once married to a now self-identifying lesbian (and they co-parent a gender non-conforming kid) can be a little taxing on the reader’s suspension of disbelief. But I think perhaps that’s the point: to push past our expectations of family, sexuality and gender. And in New Hope, this broad defining, or in some instances, non-defining, of people and relationships is where we see the flourishing of such a thing. However, the author does not ask the reader to swallow this broad queer narrative whole without some perspective, introspection, and humour.
Even Vince struggles to decipher his place within such a small town-inclusive space in his complicated relationship with New Hope. How does he connect with it and its citizens? Especially while withholding the information that he plans to sell the Hideaway Inn and return to New York City as fast as possible. Vince definitely struggles to maintain his tough New York businessman persona and “alpha-gay” image, especially toward Tack, the man who both stole and broke his heart as a teenager. And as Vince returns to New Hope for the first time since leaving for College, he quickly realizes upon seeing the hot adult version of Tack that those feelings of lust, love, and betrayal have not disappeared despite the passing of fifteen years.
And this is where I have to defend the character of Vince. I’ve read several reviews where the reviewer disparages Vince as “unrelatable,” “caricature-like,” and ultimately unlikeable because of his self-styled “Alpha Male persona.” What bothers me about this short-sighted perception is that the whole point of Vince’s story is his emotional and psychological journey from this problematic, self-created persona toward his acceptance of emotional vulnerability and opening himself up to joy, believing that he and Tack deserve a second chance at love. This complicated closed-off-ness to his own traumatized inner youth makes the romance pay off so satisfactorily in the end, so rewarding. Vince deserves a happy ending with his life-long love because he earned it through self-reflection, accountability, and change. It was hard work–but he did it (with help). If one considers Vince undeserving of compassion and consideration because he started the story as an “Alpha Douche,” the reader hasn’t understood the author’s intent. And that’s a shame.
And for the record, it’s common for gay/queer men to channel past bullied trauma into adult personas that seem hardened, closed-off, and even arrogant. It’s a defence mechanism, building a wall around unresolved issues of once feeling small and powerless. Even afraid. The notion is that by projecting outward confidence and showing power through muscular physicality, one cannot be hurt by others (again). It’s a flawed psychology but still often utilized. A need to inspire both intimidation and desire in the people around him is Vince’s long-practiced routine. I appreciate the author’s attempt to show Vince’s struggle and growth through his ever-evolving narrative.
Does Vince see a place for himself in New Hope’s accepting and non-judgemental environment? Especially with all his lingering adolescent trauma and emotional baggage? Is there hope for a second chance at love with Hack? I think the answers are pretty obvious, but take a trip across the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge to find out how these two get their HEA!
The Hideaway Inn was a terrific choice for Harlequin to begin its effort to have more inclusive fiction. Philip William Stover has put a surprising amount of relatable depth into his main characters, which is why I believe I’ve developed such an attachment to Vince and Hack’s love story.