Home Grown Talent
Grade : A-

Joanna Chambers and Sally Malcolm earned a DIK from me for their first collaboration, Total Creative Control, a funny, sexy grumpy/sunshine romance set in the world of television production. Now they’re back with its sequel, Home Grown Talent, an opposites-attract romance between a cinnamon roll and a “lemon tart” (this NEEDS to be a new trope!) that takes a long hard look at the intrusiveness of social media and the behind-the-scenes toxicity found in certain types of broadcast media. The characters are loveable, complex and fully-rounded, their romance is beautifully written and although the story is perhaps a little more serious in tone than the previous one, it’s every bit as full of warmth, humour and feels.

Owen Hunter (older brother of Lewis from book one) is a private and very down-to-earth sort of guy with a big heart and a desire to smooth the way for those he cares for. He runs a successful landscaping and gardening business, and, okay, so maybe he isn’t loved up like Lewis and his boyfriend Aaron are – they’re just a bit sickening in their lovey-dovey-ness – but he’s happy for them and content with his life, even though he wouldn’t mind finding someone to share it with. He’s been attracted to the gorgeous Mason Nash – Lewis’ ex – for a while, but has resigned himself to the fact that beneath the beautiful exterior, Mason is probably shallow and a bit dull. Even if he wasn’t and Owen ever got up the courage to actually ask him out, no way would a guy like Mason look twice at a guy like him.

Mason makes a pretty good living as a model and is good at his job, but it’s not something he ever envisaged himself doing and can’t say he likes it all that much. The main thing is that it pays well and he needs to keep earning good money so he can support his mother and younger sisters, but he’s looking to move on from modelling. He’s working on building his Instagram numbers so he can attract more lucrative sponsorship deals and has just picked up a temporary presenting gig on the health, beauty and fitness segment of a magazine TV show called Weekend Wellness. If rumours are to be believed, one of the main presenters is leaving, and Mason hopes maybe something permanent will open up for him there.

Lewis invites Owen to an awards dinner, and even though it’s not really Owen’s scene, there’s no way he’s going to miss out on his little brother getting recognition for his work on his TV show, Leeches. He doesn’t know anyone else at their table – other than Mason, who is there as the guest of Leeches’ lead actor – and is surprised when Misty Watson-King, the producer of Weekend Wellness, takes an interest in him. Owen is astonished when she suggests that maybe he would consider taking part in the gardening segment she wants to add to the show, and although he insists he’s not the TV type, Misty won’t let it go, delighted with her idea that the slot should feature Owen teaching basic gardening techniques to a total newbie. Mason.

Owen isn’t wild about the idea, but does eventually agree to do the show, and over the next few weeks spent preparing – working out what each week’s segment will include, what plants and techniques to use – Mason and Owen get to know each other better and find they really enjoy each other’s company. As the chemistry between them crackles and their attraction grows Owen realises he’s misjudged Mason and, far from being a spoiled air-head, he’s bright, quick and curious, able to talk to anyone about anything. In Owen, Mason discovers the kind of friendship and support he has never really known and opens up to him, explaining that before he became a model, he’d trained as a chef – cooking is obviously something he adores – but he gave it up because modelling was better paid. His dad left his mum and younger sisters (who are ten years younger than Mason) when the girls were little, and Mason is pretty much supporting them financially because his dad rarely makes his maintenance payments on time, and his mum is not good with money.

Despite their outward differences, Owen and Mason really are a great fit. Their chemistry is palpable and the authors create a very real and strong emotional connection between them. Even though Owen isn’t completely comfortable with what he sees as Mason’s obsession with social media and doesn’t really understand it, he does realise Mason is using it as a tool to build a career. He’s falling head-over-heels for the Mason he’s coming to know, the real Mason who is so much more than the fake one with the fake life plastered all over Instagram. But he worries about losing his Mason to the fake one somewhere along the way.

Mason is as deeply invested in the relationship as Owen, and loves how straightforward and true to himself he is – but he worries that maybe he’s too honest to be working in the world of spin that is reality television. Also worrying is the pressure Misty is putting on Mason to play up his and Owen’s obvious chemistry to whip up interest in the show by engaging in some flirty teasing on social media, and getting a whole ‘will they/won’t they’ thing going. And if things between them go a bit further than that in private, well, it’s all great publicity. Mason instantly draws the line at the idea of sleeping with Owen for ratings, but he also knows Owen won’t be up for using their relationship for the show’s benefit. But… if they’re really together – which they are – then all the flirting and couple-y photos won’t actually be a lie – will they?

Of course, we know this isn’t going to turn out well and sure enough, Mason is pushed into making an unwise decision which then spirals into a silly yet plausible scandal that quickly has serious consequences for Owen – who can’t help but wonder if what he had with Mason was ever real.

At the heart of Home Grown Talent are two charming, likeable but very different men, who have, in different ways, spent most of their lives looking out for other people and have forgotten to look after themselves. In continually bailing out his mother, Mason has basically enabled her to give up responsibility for looking after herself and her daughters; he’s assumed the parental role in the family, but needs to learn to put himself first and live his own life. Owen had a parental role thrust upon him in his teens (he brought Lewis up after their parents died), and he’s become so used to being a fixer, a “white knight” who rides in to sort out other people’s problems that he finds it difficult to be vulnerable and accept that sometimes he doesn’t have all the answers. Unfortunately, his reaction to that is usually to shut people out and try to bulldoze his way through problems rather than communicate his thoughts and feelings and work through them.

The intrusiveness of social media and the way it’s used to sell everything from actual products to lifestyles and relationships and people is a key part of the story and the authors do a good job of showing just how invasive and damaging it can be. Being an old fogey myself, social media is something about which I maintain a healthy scepticism, but you’ve only got to lurk around on it for a short while or look at the headlines to find, day after day, stories about how it so often brings out the worst in people.

Home Grown Talent is insightful, funny and touching, boasting two likeable leads, a lovely romance with some seriously sexy steamy moments and a well-realised secondary cast. It works perfectly well as a standalone, although Total Creative Control is excellent and well worth reading, too. More, please, ladies!

Buy it at: Amazon

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Reviewed by Caz Owens

Grade: A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : August 26, 2022

Publication Date: 08/2022

Recent Comments …

  1. Serena Bell has never done wrong in my eyes; I went a little higher on this with an A-but it’s…

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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