Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Aqua Follies
AUTHOR: Liv Rancourt
LENGTH: 220 pages
RELEASE DATE: June 15, 2017
The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.
Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.
From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen, but the timing has to be right. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.
The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?
Russell is sure about how his life is gonna turn out. Or, at least how it should. He should find a law firm to work for. He should ask his girlfriend to marry him. He should get a house, raise a family, and live a life about as normal as Leave it to Beaver. Only problem is that he is not so sure that he wants all or any of that. And the one thing he is sure about–his desire to kiss the mesmerizing trumpet player–is the one thing that would make that fairy-tale life go up in smoke. Skip is too much to resist, though, and as Russell gets to know that man, he can’t help but falling further and further from the “dream” he had for so long. But knowing that he is only in town for a little over week, and that the world would happily condemn (and jail) him for loving the free-spirited man, Russell is determined to not get so tangled up in Skip that he sinks under weight of expectation from all sides.
I was intrigued going into this book. I found the idea of a story involving water ballet to be rather unique, and I love a good historical–even if the 50’s is pushing my usual boundaries there a bit. And for the most part I enjoyed it. The story has a definite since of place, and while I was pretty sure the plot wasn’t going to be revolutionary, there were a few times where it didn’t go quite the way I expected and I like that.
The fact that this book is set in Seattle, I found really cool. I love that city, and I don’t think it gets nearly enough stage time in fiction. And I can tell the author did their research into the gay scene back then, because it didn’t come off as just generic-historic-city, but felt like Seattle in that time (I assume). But the author also never lets the setting take precedence over the story and I appreciate that. I love learning about new places, but when things start to feel like tourist advert, I tend to check out. Here I got just enough to make the setting of this book unique, but also let is support the story instead of taking over it.
I will say though that there were times I would have liked if the author had found a bit more subtle way to remind us about the time period. I found the constant use of 50’s slang to be a bit jarring at times. It made the dialogue feel a bit wonky in places. If that had been cut down a little–not completely by any means, since I do think it worked a good bit of the time–I think I would have had an easier time sinking further into the story instead of feeling like I was having someone tapping on my shoulder and whispering, “It’s a 50’s book. Remember, it is in the 50’s!”
The water ballet parts were cool, though I wish they had played a bigger role in this story. Mostly since that is what originally drew me to reviewing this book. I think maybe if Russell had a more active part in the performance (maybe not performing, but helping craft it) it would have helped the book stand out a bit more. As it was there were times when this story started to feel a bit too generic-gay-romance. One that took place 65 years ago, but that also hit a lot of what contemporary romance stories have as well. They are not things I particularity dislike, and most of the times I really enjoy those simple romances the most, but I was hoping for something that stood out just a bit more than what I got.
This story does have a good heart, though. And I found the main characters well written. Skip probably got a bit more exploration than Russell did (even though Russell plays main pov for a majority of the story), but they were never uninteresting. The women in this book came off a bit one-toned at times, but I’m not sure that wasn’t just a product of the era and the somewhat unreliable narrator in Russell in regards to how he viewed the woman around him. There were moments where the story questioned that slightly patriarchal view, and I appreciated that, but wish it could have done just a little more.
Overall, I think this is a good story and well worth the read. Especially if you like reading historicals set in this time period. I had fun reading it, and think other will as well.