"The James Dean Vintage," by Jess Whitecroft
Gay (M/M) Romance
Winemaker Oliver Caron is used to micromanaging, so when a misguided Vegas marriage and a series of interlocking poor decisions lead to him accidentally introducing a one-night stand as his new husband, he can’t let the matter lie. Driven by social embarrassment and the anxiety that the messy truth might kill off his ninety-nine year old grandmother, Oliver finds himself ‘married’ to one James Dean Jackson.
Hustler, card-counter, lapdancer, drifter – Dean is seemingly a chronic liar, a human tumbleweed incapable of putting down roots. By contrast, Oliver is as deeply rooted as the grape vines that are his livelihood. Oliver’s idea of heaven is a 1945 Chateau d’Yquem, while Dean thinks veraison is a cellphone provider and once almost did the Pinot Noir monologue from Sideways over a Laurent-Perrier Rosé.
As the season unfolds and the grapes ripen, the mismatched pair begin to discover that playing the perfect husband isn’t so hard after all, especially when the other person might just have the thing you were missing all along.
It’s been a hot minute since I last read a “fake boyfriend/fiancé/husband” book, but The James Dean Vintage by Jess Whitecroft scratched an itch for just such a tale I hadn’t even realized was there. This was a fun, well-written read that relied heavily on the backbone of its trope yet still managed to find unique ways to shine as a story all its own.
Can I start by saying… I flat out adore the title. This is set mostly at a California vineyard and either Ms. Whitecroft knows her way around wine making, or that girl did some kick arse research. I learned so much from this book about a world I knew precious little about before… including how they often have pet names for wine harvests, i.e. a vintage. And since the wine made during this book was done so during the spring, summer, and fall our leads fell in love, the title is undeniably apropos.
Our main love interests—winemaker Oliver Caron and human tumbleweed James “Dean” Jackson—have fairly distinctive voices, although I wish we would’ve had a deeper dive into their POVs. As characters, they were easy to tell apart both physically and based on their interests and characterization. However, I found myself frequently trying to remember whose head I was in while reading and never got far enough into either of their inner workings to get a good grasp on who they really were, what they wanted, or how they really felt.
Still, despite that, the story itself was quite enjoyable. As I previously mentioned, it follows the schematics of a “fake husband” trope to the tee, but with some unexpected little gems to freshen the plot and keep the reader guessing. Each of the men have backgrounds that play into the story and bring separate internal and external struggles to the table.
The love between them feels natural and believable, and it develops over several months with well done and delightful scenes to organically enhance their relationship. I applaud Ms. Whitecroft for this aspect of the story, as there was absolutely no insta-love and, when the men finally came together, I was practically dying for it to happen. Brilliantly handled, indeed.
The sexual chemistry between the two was off the charts, and the depicted scenes were delicious and left me wanting more… which Ms. Whitecroft offered. In droves. Once Oliver and Dean got together, it was hard to keep them apart, and I loved it! 💗
At least… most of it. I found the reoccurring mention of sweat and the accompanying body odors to be somewhat off-putting. Those boys sweated… profusely… especially under their arms… and in great detail. When descriptors such as “rank” were associated with said sweaty pits, it kinda killed the mood for me. Fast, and hard. I’m only one reader, and it’s very possible those moments wouldn’t bother others, but in my romance—especially during sexy scenes or times when a character is describing their lover with ooey-gooey heart eyes—I prefer a little less realism in the humans-are-kinda-gross department.
So, overall, I would definitely recommend this to any lovers of male/male romance who might be looking for a trope-heavy contemporary romance with a zesty little hint of the unexpected. Even though I didn’t get to see as deep into Oliver and Dean as I would’ve liked, I still fell for them and spent the book rooting them on. I felt all their happiness, and cringed from all their pain, which quite honestly isn’t something every writer can accomplish.
Until next time,