Desert Isle Keeper
Strut is the second book in Jay Hogan’s Style series of romances set in the world of high fashion, and in it, the action moves from New Zealand to New York as we follow events in the life of model Alec Williamson. We met Alec, an up-and-comer, in book one, Flare, where he made his mark at Auckland Fashion Week in designer Rhys Hellier’s first collection. There was an obvious frisson of atrraction between Alec and Rhys’ friend, fashion photographer Hunter Donovan, and I’ve eagerly been awaitng their story. Jay Hogan doesn’t disappoint, delivering a sexy and tender second-chance romance alongside a fascinating – and sometimes disturbing – storyline centred around Alec’s experiences in the modelling world. If I have a complaint it’s that the romance takes a bit of a back seat to the plot once it gets going, but the book is nonetheless a compelling read that I found difficult to set aside to do things like work, eat and sleep!
In a prologue set a year before the story proper, we learn that Alec and Hunter had a very quick club hook-up one night – and that immediately they were finished, Hunter merely mumbled an apology and left like someone had lit a fire under his arse. Alec berates himself for his stupidity; he knew Hunter was a one-and-done type, but he can’t help being embarrassed at the knock to his ego and hurt when Hunter immediately puts distance between them and then ghosts him.
A year later finds Alec in New York where he’s slowly making a name for himself, but modelling is an incredibly tough gig. The author doesn’t pull any punches when she writes about just how hard it is for newcomers – and even slightly more established guys like Alec – to make a lliving, especially as their lives are in hock to the modelling agencies, who house them, often in awful conditions (Alec shares a three bedroom house with NINE other models!) and take rent and any other expenses from their fees so they’re often deeply in debt to them, even when they are working. It’s a well-known fact that male models earn less than their female counterparts (surely one of the few industries where that is the case), even at the highest level, and they, like the women, have to put up with some seriously awful shit if they’re not to end up being dismissed as ‘difficult to work with’ and find their careers suddenly curtailed. Ms. Hogan has clearly done her homework when it comes to this part of the story; it’s real train-wreck reading, mesmerising and repulsive all at once.
But Alec is gaining traction as a model and starting to get noticed. When they worked together in Auckland, Hunter recognised in Alec that special something that would set him apart from the pack – and it looks like Alec’s hard work might be about to pay off when he’s shortlisted for an ad campain for a prestigious men’s label. He’s shooting an assignment for a magazine editorial when an unexpected visitor arrives at the studio at the end of the shoot – Hunter Donovan. Heart in his throat, Alec can’t help but take him in, all rakish mischief and charm, surprised at Hunter’s genuine delight at seeing him and caught completely off guard when he’s swept into a crushing hug.
Flustered, Alec isn’t sure how to respond when Hunter asks him if they can catch up over coffee. Hunter ran out on him and then ignored him for over a year, and Alec isn’t keen on being made a fool of again, but there’s something about Hunter’s manner that pulls him in and he agrees. To coffee. That’s all.
Hunter has had a lot of time to think and to regret walking away from Alec all those months ago. He’s admitted what he was in too much denial to own up to at the time, that Alec had got under his skin during those few months they’d worked together for Flare and that it terrified him. He doesn’t really know what the hell he’s doing now – all he does know is that Alec is unlike any guy he’s ever been with (and there have been plenty) and he can’t turn away. Not this time.
Jay Hogan is so good at writing believable adult relationships. At just twenty-two, Alec is one of her youngest protagonists, but he’s level-headed and has a very mature approach – both of which are impressive considering the industry he’s working in. Hunter is a few years older, and although he’s a dick to Alec to start with, he more than redeems himself during the course of the story. Alec is understandably wary of starting anything with Hunter – he knows Hunter is a player, whereas Alec is looking for connection and intimacy – and I absolutely loved that Hunter is prepared to let himself be vulnerable and put himself out there; he’s honest with Alec about why he did what he did, and just as honest when he says he’s likely to fuck up in future but that he hopes Alec will give him another chance anyway. He’s in New York for a few more weeks and hopes they can spend some time together – even if it’s only as friends.
Alec is torn. He’s as strongly attracted to Hunter as he ever was, but he can’t afford to be derailed by a broken heart, not when his big break might be just around the corner. When Hunter proves to be not only persistent, but intuitive, Alec can’t help melting inside, just a little bit – and finally agrees to give them a shot. Life is looking up; just before agreeing to date Hunter, Alec got the call destined to change his life. Unfortunately, it’s not going change it in the way he’d expected.
The second-chance romance between Alec and Hunter is filled with tenderness and honesty and sizzling chemistry. They go on dates and they talk – about the past and about what they want for the future – but Alec doesn’t let Hunter off the hook easily. He makes it clear how deeply Hunter hurt him and that he’s not interested in travelling that road again, and I appreciated that, though it’s not easy for either of them, they’re so wonderfully open with each other about their hopes and dreams and fears – their road back to one another is beautifully done.
I won’t say any more about the plot, because that would take us into spoiler territory, but I’ll add a warning here that the story does deal with workplace sexual harrassment and assault (not graphic, but disturbing nonetheless) and makes no bones about how hard it is for victims to come forward and be taken seriously, even now after several years of #metoo.
Mention the words “male model” and then add in “sexual assault”, and Alec was on the receiving end of three hours of incredulity, scepticism [and] scorn
The way the author writes about what happens to Alec – both physically and mentally – is masterful; you’ll want to cry with sorrow and rage, you’ll want to scream and throw things and you’ll want to wrap him up in the biggest, fluffiest blanket you can find – but Hunter is with him every step of the way with all those things and more, not caring that his own career could take a hit through association. He’s Alec’s rock – so supportive, understanding and loving through the lowest point of his life, and I was pleased to see Rhys and Kip again as they rally round to support their friends. I thoroughly appreciated the realism of the ending; there’s an HEA for Hunter and Alec of course, and a very satisfactory ending to the plot, but it’s clear that it hasn’t come easy and that there is still a long way to go if real change is to be effected.
Alec’s storyline in Strut is not an easy one to read, but then it’s not meant to be; it’s hard-hitting, shocking, well-researched and brilliantly told. Jay Hogan chalks up another DIK with this emotional, thought-provoking love story..
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|Review Date:||July 14, 2022|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||Male/Male romance | model | photographer | Queer romance | sexual assault | Style series | tearjerker|
I finally read Strut last night. It was really good and I agree with everything in Caz’s review. Like Flare is a little more about Rhys than Beck, I felt Strut was a little more about Alec than Hunter but I was OK with that. I really, really loved Alec. He was young but mature and I liked how he called out Hunter on his poor behavior and also how he looked out after Tim. Alec’s assault was difficult to read about but the events that followed seemed realistic and I loved seeing the support he got from his friends, family and Hunter. Alec and Hunter’s relationship did develop really quickly but it was a second chance relationship so they weren’t completely new to each other and there were lots of scenes where they talked widely. I really liked the scene where Hunter called out Alec for running away – Hunter learned from his own mistakes and Alec wasn’t stubborn but rather listened to reason. I also liked that although both Flare and Strut have characters dealing with sexual assault, the storylines were really quite different. And the ending was great. I am looking forward to Kip’s book next!
I’m really glad you enjoyed it – thanks for dropping by again!
Great review, Caz. Even though I had preordered this, it arrived in the middle of a reading slump and I only read it a few days ago.
I think that I preferred this to Flare. I loved Alec as a character and the very smitten former ‘player’ recognising that he only wants one person, was stupid to have let them go, then trying really hard to convince them that he is worth the risk, is one of my favourite tropes.
Even though the plot of Strut concerns sexual assault, it is completely different to Flare. Both the assault and the part it plays in the plot are not at all similar.
Thank you! Sorry to hear you had a slump, but pleased to know you’re past it!
I know I’ve said this before, but with over a dozen books under her belt, JH is still managing to never write the same book twice, even if/when they have similar plot points and character types – and she demonstrates that incredibly well here.
I finished reading Strut, and I agree with everything you said in your review, Caz. I loved Alec and Hunter individually and as a couple. Jay Hogan has obviously done her homework in her portrayal of the world of male models and how difficult it is to make a living, advance your career, avoid being used and abused, etc. The overall angst level is higher than I like in a romance. Not only is Alec the victim of sexual assault, but another model is in very dire straits and seems to be in a coerced relationship of some kind, although we do not get all the details. For some reason I did not enjoy this book as much as Flare. Alec and Hunter barely get their relationship going when they are challenged with the assault and aftermath, and the rest of the book deals with that. We don’t get enough time with them happy and living their lives at the end. I would have loved a longer epilogue to recover from all the stress of the earlier chapters. My grade for this book would be a B.
I did have some similar quibbles about the relationship; when I read it, I almost felt that the forgiveness and moving forward happened a little quickly to make room for what was to follow, especially as Alec would need Hunter’s support so very much. BUT, when I was sorting out my thoughts for the review, I decided that while it might have happened a bit fast, it was still done in a believable way although yes, I see what you mean about things barely getting started between them when the bomb dropped. But in the end, I found the book so compelling overall, I decided it was worth the DIK. Thanks for coming back to comment!
Another Hogan to catch up on for me!
Oh, you really must – she’s one of the best CR authors around.
Thank you for the review, Caz! I also appreciate the content warning. Since Flare was about dealing with a sexual assault, I am surprised that it is a theme in this book as well. Do you know if all the books in the Style series will involve this topic? If so, Hogan sure likes a challenge and good for her for taking it on. It is a difficult one to write about in any genre, and she must feel strongly to be willing to risk turning away some readers who like the romance without it.
Given your positive review and my enjoyment of Flare, I will give Strut a try.
You’re welcome :) I don’t know if the next book will include a similar theme, and like you, was surprised to find it tackled twice in a row. The circumstances and aftermath are very different however and I never felt as though I was reading the same story twice.
Do come back and share your thoughts once you’ve read it.
Thanks for the great review. I was very curious about this one. I have to admit, as much as I loved Flare, I’m not sure I want to read another story about sexual assault. She did a great job with it in the first book, and I realize this uses a different scenario, but still, it’s a difficult topic to read about.
I also appreciate the review and I’m with you too, Carrie. Flare was great but I went into it thinking it would be a lot lighter than it turned out to be. Strut sounds like it will be just as good but I think I am going to have to be in the right mind frame to read it and have a dedicated chunk of time so I can read it straight through.
I remember the author saying that after the real emotional heft of the Painted Bay books, she was planning something different and more plot-driven. I was thinking maybe that meant they’d be more light-hearted in tone, but they aren’t. For me, that’s good news – I’m ‘fluffed out’ after the last couple of years – these are fairly hard-hitting and as I’ve said above, may not be for everyone.
That’s an interesting distinction that the author made. I loved the Painted Bay series and while emotional, the topics didn’t feel as heavy to me as sexual assault. But what affects us may have something to do with our own experiences. You know I enjoy my share of fluff, but I don’t read Hogan for that. I know her books often have real depth and I’m glad. However, I definitely need to be in the right frame of mind to read about sexual assault and it’s aftermath.
Agreed. The assault takes place on the page and it’s real punch-to-the-gut writing – it’s a fairly short scene though and the story is mostly concerned with the aftermath, how Alec is treated and how Hunter and the Flare guys support him. But it’s probably not a book for everyone.
I’m sure I’ll read it at some point when I feel up for it. :-)