Desert Isle Keeper
Against the Grain
Jay Hogan returns to her Auckland Med. series with Against the Grain, which features a romance between sassy spitfire pathologist’s assistant Sandy Williams (who appeared as a key secondary character in the last book, Up Close and Personal) and Miller Harrison, a member of the Wheel Blacks elite wheelchair rubgy team as well as a new member of staff at the busy hospital. During the course of the story, the author explores some important issues around disability and gender, adds in a bit of gripping drama and develops a warm, sexy and very genuine romance between the two leads, weaving it all seamlessly together to form a very enjoyable, cohesive whole.
After a car accident put paid to his dreams of playing for the All Blacks, Miller fought hard to get his life back on track, and now, ten years later, has competed – with the Wheel Blacks – in two Paralympics and is aiming to make it to a third, and maybe even a fourth. But wheelchair rugby isn’t known as ‘murderball’ for nothing; like any elite sport, it’s incredibly tough on mind and body, and at thirty-five, Miller knows he’s only got a few years left playing at that level and is utterly determined to keep doing it for as long as he can. He’d never really looked beyond professional rugby as a career when he was younger, and he’s just as focused now, having little room in his life for anything but his sport and his job. That narrow focus is the main reason he’s never come out to anyone but his family; after his accident he prioritised his rehab, knowing it was going to be hard enough to adjust to living with a disability without the added drama likely to follow an announcement about his sexuality. But it’s not really an issue, as he doesn’t have time for anything more than the occasional casual hook-up anyway.
Sandy Williams – “six foot three of insecure, gangly, potty-mouthed confusion who struggles to find a dress size to fit” – is out and unapologetically proud. He’s not a great believer in labels; the only one he’ll attach to himself is that he’s sexually attracted to men, but when it comes to gender identification, that’s more or a fluid issue and he’s doesn’t see why he should have to fit into a particular box. He wears whatever reflects the way he feels on the inside on any given day, be it jeans or skirts, heels or Doc Martens, and fuck anyone who doesn’t like it. He’s fought to be who he is almost his entire life; school bullies, an arsehole dad who left the very same day Sandy came out, boyfriends who wanted him only for the novelty value or wanted him to be other than he was – and it’s taken considerable time and effort for him to get to a place where he knows who he is and is comfortable in his own skin.
Sandy and Miller make an inauspicious beginning when, after sustaining a gash to his arm during practice, Miller needs to visit the ER at Auckland Med, where he’s recently taken up the position of Clinical Governance Coordinator. He’s exiting the staff accessible bathroom in the ER and almost collides with Sandy, who – not having seen him before – asks rather sharply to see his ID. Miller’s already had to deal with an insensitive arsehole in the car park who had a go at him for parking in a disabled space, he’s injured, he’s worried about a pain in his hip that might be getting worse, and the last thing he needs is some jobsworth going off at him about which bathroom he’s using. Even through their mutual animosity, the sparks fly like nobody’s business, and thankfully, the misunderstanding is sorted out and they go their separate ways. But not before Miller has become smitten by Sandy’s take-no-prisoners attitude and striking good looks and Sandy… well, he’s surprised to find that Miller ticks so many boxes he never knew he had, but ultimately being seriously hot is no excuse for also being an arsehole, so he mentally consigns him to the ‘jerk’ pile.
Another chance meeting a few days later seems like it’s going to go the same way, until they find themselves laughing together at something totally random and silly, and the ice is broken. A cup of coffee, some conversation and a bit of subtle flirting later, and they’re getting on really well, finding lots to talk about and thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. From there, it’s a short step to an actual date, to spending more time together getting to know each other and then to deciding that they want to see if this thing between them has legs.
The relationship development in this book is stellar, and although Sandy and Miller’s life experience has been very different and they make mistakes along the way, the author clearly shows that these two people are perfectly matched on every level. Miller has never had a long-term relationship at all, let alone one with a man, and doesn’t have much of a clue how to go about it, but he tries hard to do the right thing and the little things he does to show he cares are very sweet. Being in a committed relationship is new to Sandy, too; being with someone who sees him so clearly and loves him exactly for who he is is liberating and wonderful. He and Miller make a point of being honest with each other and talking through things that bother them, and I loved watching the progress of a genuinely adult relationship between two ordinary-yet-extraordinary people who love each other and are prepared to do whatever they need to do to make things work. Their relationship is really put to the test near the end, when a work-related situation threatens to drive a wedge between them, and the way they find their way back to one another is extremely well done.
I’ve enjoyed all the Auckland Med. books, but this is the best yet. Jay Hogan has obviously done a lot of research into Miller’s disability and his life as a disabled man, integrating this fully into his character so there’s never any suggestion of her just parroting her research or underplaying the problems he faces every day, whether it’s misunderstanding and prejudice of others or his own fears that his condition might be worsening and threatening his future in professional sport. I was engrossed in his journey, in watching him realise how life in the closet has developed an instinct in him to keep his head down and not draw attention, and then watching him push his way through the barriers he’s erected, to realise that if he wants to be with Sandy he needs to do better. The sub-plot centred around Sandy’s relationship with his father, and his struggles for acceptance are equally well-rendered, and I loved his inner strength and the way he is so true to himself throughout the story.
There are a couple of really well-done sub-plots, and a lovely found-family aspect to the story, and I was delighted to see some of the characters from the other books in the series cropping up, most notably the “Yoda of sass” himself, ER Charge Nurse Cam Wano, who can always be relied upon for the snarkiest smackdowns and the biggest hugs.
Funny, warm, poignant and scorchingly sexy, featuring a fantastic cast of characters and a superbly developed romance that arrives at a hard-won, well-deserved HEA, Against the Grain is a compelling and hugely entertaining read. It earns a strong recommendation and a place on my keeper shelf.
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|Review Date:||December 11, 2020|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||athlete | athlete hero | Auckland Med series | disability | Male/Male romance | New Zealand | nonbinary | Queer romance | rugby | wheelchair|
Ive just finished reading this for the first time, ready for the next book in the series which is released tomorrow. Before this month I had only read the first book, so had some catching up to do!
Yes, this goes straight to my favourites of Jay Hogan’s books too, alongside Off Balance and, maybe, Crossing the Touchline.
I thought everything about the MCs relationship was terrifically well-written and found them both compelling characters.
I particularly enjoyed the subplot about Geo and the way the characters from the previous books were woven into the plot. Loved Sandy shopping with Bridezilla Cam for his wedding lingerie! I’m looking forward to reading You are Cordially Invited tomorrow.
I had intended to read/review the new Hogan in time for release but unfortunately, real life has knocked me on the arse this week in the form of the first cold I’ve had for eighteen months :( I hope to get my act together in time to do it for next week.
Hope you’re feeling better soon. I’ve just had a think and I haven’t had one either since end of Jan 2020. And that was a very suspicious one, as I had a cough (I never get coughs) and it recurred………….
I think Hayfever is particularly brutal at the moment, so I hope it isn’t that. I say that because I had a ‘bad cold’ when I was 21 which turned out to be the start of hayfever. It was dreadful all through my 20s and 30s then just stopped!
Anyway, the wait will just make us appreciate your review more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’m allergic to things like dust and cat-fur so I’m on antihistamines all year round. My youngest is at college locally and brought it home from there most likely, as they no longer have to wear masks. I suppose we should be thankful it’s just a cold and not Covid! Mr. Caz and I are both double jabbed now, but our eldest isn’t (she’s 21 and just got her ‘invite’ today). Not being in and out of schools has definitely ment fewer colds and of course all the mask wearing and social distancing has helped. I think we should all continue those things in the winter.
I’m on the mend, I just found it hard to see straight enough to read much. But yes, watch this space!
Thank you. I don’t think it’s hayfever – I take antihistamines all year round because I’m allergic to dust and stuff like that, so if I get hayfever it’s dealt with! I’m pretty sure my eldest brought the cold home from college – they don’t have to wear masks in class any more – so I suppose I should be thankful it’s just a cold and not Covid!
Not being in and out of different schools every day (I used to be a supply teacher) has definitely made a difference, but I think the mask using and social distancing has meant we’ve all had a cold-free year. I htink we should all continue to do those things in the winter.
But I’m on the mend, so watch this space!
I’m so glad you posted today! I forgot the wedding book was coming out this month. Since I have so much free time and no other books to read and review (ahem), I’ll be able to pick this one up tomorrow and begin reading immediately. Ha!
I am so happy that I took up your review and finally read a Jay Hogan book.
Until now, they sounded too angsty for me, and I did not pick them up.
Now I will.
The lovely way Sandy is portrayed and how I could truly relate to him, and to Miler too, his clueless love, and how they both managed to learn and develop better together, it was a truly wonderful journey, not just a good romance.
Outstanding, thank you, your review “made me do it”:-))))
I’m so happy to hear that . I hope you enjoy her other books – do come back and let me know what you think!
Another great review Caz. I have just finished this latest book in the series and loved it. I really love how Jay Hogan deals with some pretty serious issues in such a sympathetic way. In this one and in Crossing the Touch Line she deals with the difficulties faced by professional sports people coming out in the macho environment in which they operate in a very empathetic way. Most of her characters are people you invest in and would wish to have as friends rather than cardboard cut out characters.
Thank you. Co-incidentally, as I was finishing this, I started listening to book one (First Impressions), which I reviewed back in 2018; it was lovely to revisit, and to see how JH is growing as an author (that wasn’t a bad book by any means, but this is even better!. Crossing the Touchline is the only one of her books I haven’t managed to get around to reading – but I’m told the audio will be out in January so I’ll be able to catch up then.
If you’ve not seen the documentary film, Murderball, it’s worth watching. I saw it in the theatre when it first came out and was so impressed by the players. What the film shows is that they are first and foremost young men with the hopes, dreams, and fears all young men have. It’s their bodies that have changed, not who they are.
Hogan is an auto-buy for me. I had this on pre-order and read it on release day. Love her NZ settings, real-world conflicts, and integration of romance with work life. Her characters don’t exist in a vacuum of Magic Workplace or Magic Friends Group, and her own experience really shows up when a character has a physical/medical issue. ‘Against the Grain’ is duking it out with ‘Tamarillo Tart’ and ‘Off Balance’ for top of my personal Hogan chart. :-)
“Her characters don’t exist in a vacuum of Magic Workplace or Magic Friends Group,”
Could you explain what that means? I don’t quite understand. Thanks!
Well, I’d say it’s that her characters feel real; they have real jobs that we see them actually doing, and the secondary characters who form the friendship groups have actual roles to play within the story rather than just being walk-on “remember me?” cameos.
Ah… That helps. Thanks!
yes, exactly :-)
I really agree. Ms. Hogan is an auto-buy for me as well and I bought this book on release day but am waiting for uninterrupted time this weekend to read it. I didn’t know until I got it who the main characters were going to be and I am so excited one is Sandy as I loved him in Up Close and Personal. I work in the medical field and have been very impressed by how Ms. Hogan has portrayed chronic medical conditions such as in Digging Deep and Off Balance. There are no miracle cures in her books but rather an exploration of both medical and social implications of the disease and how the main characters manage living with their disorder, working and having relationships despite it. My favorites of hers are Powder and Pavlova (my first one so it will always be special) and Up Close and Personal.