Fearne Hill’s Dipped in Sunshine is a fun, sexy/sweet age-gap romance with a lot of humour and an endearing grumpy/sunshine pairing. It picks up right after the previous book – Brushed with Love – ended, and although it’s not essential to read that book before this, I’d recommend it because a) it’s a great read and b) it introduces the main players in this story and readers will benefit from knowing a bit about them in advance.
Ragnar Eggebraaten – Eggy – and his boyfriend Clem have relocated to the Spanish island of Fuerteventura where Eggy and his best friend Fifty have set up a surfing business. Right at the end of Brushed With Love, Eggy meets his youngest brother, nineteen-year-old Otto, at the airport, believing him to have come for a short visit. When Dipped in Sunshine begins Otto is quick to disabuse Eggy of that notion and tells him he’s not there for a holiday, he’s there for good and intends to fulfil his ambition of going to nursing school. Fifty and Clem look on somewhat dumbfounded as the six-foot-five, muscle-bound Eggy is pretty much put in his place by the slight, stroppy elf with the shock of blond hair – who clearly shares his brother’s stubbornness and self-confidence, if not his imposing physique. Otto is determined that he’s going to take charge of his own life from now on and wants to fully embrace his identity as an out, gay man, something which just wasn’t possible in his small home-town – or something he could do living with the homophobic father who threw Eggy out when he was a teenager. Owing to his health issues (he has epilepsy and also had heart surgery when he was a baby), his large – in both senses of the word (the other Eggebraaten brothers are all six-foot plus Vikings) – and overprotective family have kept him wrapped up in cotton wool all his life and he’s had enough of that, too. He’s aware of his limits and all the dos and don’ts relating to his condition and he wants to spread his wings and have some fun.
Fifty – so called because his real name is Christian Grey – and Eggy have been friends ever since he picked up a cold, hungry and homeless seventeen-year-old Norwegian boy at a motorway service station one night. They’ve spent the intervening years surfing and doing seasonal work back in England, but opening the surf school in Fuerteventura has been their dream for years – and now, they’re living it. Well, mostly. Fifty is over his very inconvenient crush on Eggy, and seeing his old friend so happy with Clem makes him long for something similar, someone to build a life with – or at least, someone to go on dates and have fun with. But it’s just not happening for him; crippling anxiety relating to ‘performance’ issues and dating expectations have dogged him for a while now, so here he is, almost thirty, still single and likely to remain so. He’s miserable and he’s lonely – in his own words, “Fifty Shades of fucked-up.”
Fifty and Otto (whom he nicknames “fluffball”) strike up an unlikely friendship, and it’s not long before Fifty starts finding it increasingly difficult not to notice how attractive his best friend’s little brother is. But he knows he shouldn’t go there; Eggy is just as protective of Otto as all the brothers back in Norway and Fifty knows full well his friend would have his balls if he started something with Otto. But Otto is a force of nature – small, but every bit as mighty and determined as any six-foot Viking – and every bit as irresistible.
Dipped in Sunshine is light-hearted and funny with loveable, deftly realised characters, and breezy, confident and immensely readable prose, but the book is not without its more serious moments. The author does a good job of depicting Otto’s epilepsy, not only of describing an episode, but of showing how it affects his friends and loved ones; you can feel Fifty’s panic when he witnesses one of Otto’s fits for the first time. Fifty’s issues are handled sensitively and with good-humour; erectile dysfunction isn’t a common theme in romance novels (although I’ve read it a few times) and Fifty’s anxieties and insecurities feel very realistic. Fortunately for him, Otto bursts into his life like a whirlwind and blows all that out of the water with his matter-of-fact acceptance of the situation and his willingness to listen and offer Fifty a non-judgmental space to be able to try new things and find what works for him. In return, Fifty treats Otto like the adult he is, looking out for him but not suffocating him with concern and, in one lovely scene, finding a way for him to experience something he’s never been able to do before.
The ten year age-gap between Otto and Fifty is addressed in a realistic way; as Clem rightly points out, ten years isn’t huge, but the difference between nineteen and twenty-nine is somehow much bigger than that between twenty-nine and thirty-nine (and I agree – it’s something I always say, too!) Otto is a very believable nineteen and while he’s sometimes adorably innocent, at others, he’s wise beyond his years, and it’s clear he knows his own mind and knows what he wants. Once he figures out what he wants is Fifty, he’s all in, and I rather liked that he’s the one leading the way in their relationship; neither of them is very experienced so they’re on that voyage of sexual exploration together, and some of the book’s funniest moments arise as a result:
“You know what edging is, right?”
“Dude, I’ve been a painter and decorator since I left school. Of course I know what edging is. But Eggy certainly never had the patience for it. He always left the hard bits, like window frames, to me.”
Had me almost spitting out my tea. They’re tender, sweet and hilarious together, and best of all, they’re good for each other, the cinnamon roll and the ray of sunshine.
Dipped in Sunshine is one of those books you finish with a smile on your face. I had a couple of small quibbles but nothing that spoiled my enjoyment, and although I’m not the biggest fan of epilogues, this one is perfect.
Grab a copy, then just sit back and enjoy the sunshine, the laughs and the feels.
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