Desert Isle Keeper
Home Grown Talent
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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|Review Date:||August 26, 2022|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||Creative Types series | Male/Male romance | model | Queer romance|
Although I enjoyed this one and I raced through it, I wish the characterizations of both men was a bit deeper. I wanted to know Owen better.
Male models are big these days! Just finished the new Morton (which I loved!) & I think the most recent Hogan featured a model, too? I’m digging it!
love both these authors and I am stoked they are writing together!
let’s talk dream anthology ok?
I’d probably leave out LM, as she’s not working for me that well these days, but I’d go with all the others!
And yes, Jay Hogan’s Strut does feature a model.
Lily Morton is not working for me either, which makes me sad because her books are usually a nice, light palate cleanser after a harder read. In spite of the lovely cover, her latest was predictable and seemingly phoned in, and the lack of conflict until the very end made it a slow read. The premise had SO much potential. I had just reread Summer of Us before The Sunny Side, so how good she can be was front of mind. I thought that Olivier and Pip getting together would be a really fun story, but I’m afraid I’d be disappointed with her treatment. :sniff:
I enjoyed The Sunny Side, gave it a B. Lily still works well for me as a low-angst read. Yes, some are better than others. I loved Beautifully Unexpected (especially on audio), for example, although I wasn’t all that sold on Cuckoo’s Call.
Agree that she’s a great comfort read. I sometimes reread her older books when I need that. In fact I just started one today. But unless something changes, I don’t think I’ll be adding anymore of her books to my permanent library. Doesn’t mean I won’t read them haha (thank you Kindle Unlimited).
I’ve loved a number of her books – although she has yet to top Rule Breaker IMO. The humour started to feel forced a few books ago and, dare I say it, I think the formula is getting tired.
Rule Breaker is right up there for me as well.
I liked The Sunny Side & I’m working through her books in audio because of it! I was off Morton for quite a bit & I agree they are a bit formulaic. But sometimes easy, breezy beautiful is just what the doctor ordered so – I’m feeling these stories again. Summer of Us is a fave for me, too!
I’d personally swap out G. Ashe for J. Hogan, but otherwise it sounds like a great anthology. :-)
If Em is in charge, you know swapping out GA isn’t gonna happen ;) But my list would include Hogan instead of Morton!
Haha! I guess we can each need our own custom anthology! But perhaps I could read an Ashe short story. How much pain can he inflict on his poor characters in short form, right? :-D
The good thing about the shorts is that he uses them to show us the characters in their “other” lives – the more domestic parts where they’re not getting beaten up or shot at, and they’re often very funny and relatable. For instance, there’s one in the latest H&S set where Somers is desperately trying to have a nap but with a toddler and a teen (and said teen’s inseparable friend) in the house, it’s tough. And then there’s one where he and Hazard are desperately trying to get some ‘alone time’… The only trouble would be reading them without really knowing much about the characters.
You are correct!
I read Home Grown Talent over the weekend. I had a mild state of anxiety throughout the book as I knew from the start that Mason not being completely honest with Owen was going to backfire badly. It was also a bit predictable that Mason would make a grand gesture (but when he did, it was a really good one). However, I loved watching the development of Mason and Owen’s relationship and I thought they were well matched. They had similar experiences in their background and I could tell each fulfilled something the other one needed. I found the storyline about social media to be thought provoking and liked that the final message seemed to be one of temperance. There was also just the right amount of previous characters (Lewis and Aaron) and preview of future characters (Tag and Jay). I am looking forward to the next book in the series!
On my TBR pile!
Thanks for the review, which inspired me to read this book over the weekend. It was overall a really good read. I especially liked how essential character was to the (very sexy) sex scenes. i LOVED the cinnamon roll / lemon tart pairing, and the fact that Owen and Mason felt like real characters within these tropes, rather than tropes masquerading as characters if that makes sense. However, Mason’s role in creating the big conflict really bothered me – I thought his actions verged on being out-of-character because there wasn’t enough external pressure at that time to make him act the way he did. Plus, the reasons he gave for not talking to Owen before their big falling-out were weak, particularly given how brilliantly the authors had conveyed a sense of genuine (if fragile) connection between the MCs leading up to that point. Finally, I thought there was a missed opportunity to do more with the tension between social media and intimacy that the novel quite beautifully introduced. For me, one of the most moving moments in the book was when Mason felt a sense of unease about posting intimate content on Insta because it was too precious to share. I wanted more on this. I hugely enjoyed this book but it’s almost like, because it was so good, I wanted it to be even better. Whereas with a less well written book, I might just be happy with the Id satisfactions it offered.
I really enjoyed this and am now looking forward to Tag and Jay’s book!
(Whispers quietly…. I’d really love something from them individually in their historical worlds).
Joanna is writing another Enlightenment novel (George’s story) although I’m not sure how far along it is, or when it might be out – and yes, I’d love the follow up to King’s Man from Sally, too!
The King’s Man was is so good! I do hope there’s more like that. I haven’t yet read the Enlightenment series, but my library has most of them on audio, so I just need to jump in.
They’re really good and the narration is excellent – I think we reviewed them all at AG if you want to check them out!
Excellent in all forms. Maybe my favorite historical series ever? Chambers Porthkennack contribution is similarly wonderful!
That’s just come out in audio – I’m reviewing for AG :)
I love Sally Malcolm. I haven’t read as much Joanna Chambers but what I have read, I have enjoyed. I liked Total Creative Control and had Home Grown Talent pre-ordered. I’m excited to see this great review and look forward to reading it!
I’m a big fan of both authors – Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment series is fantastic, so you’ve got a treat in store (if you haven’t read them yet.) I hope you enjoy this one.
I’ve been waiting for this one, so I’m glad it’s a winner! I thought the first one started off a tad slow, but loved it once they were at Charlie’s. Thanks for the review!
I think the pacing in this one is better – things get going quite quickly; in fact, the ‘minus ‘ in the grade is because there are a few short time-jumps in the early stages of the relationship – although there are still some good getting-to-know-you scenes.
Ah. Thanks for the heads up. You know me well. I’m still looking forward to it, but I won’t pick this as a stress-free read. (I need the light reads for a mental break.)
You’re welcome. It doesn’t overbalance the rest of the story, but I thought you’d probably like to know in advance!