What It Looks Like by Matthew J. Metzger: 7/10 Stars

 

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Eli Bell is the only son of a police chief inspector and a forensic scientist. He’s grown up wonky in a world that only deals with the straight and narrow — and his new boyfriend isn’t helping.

Rob Hawkes is six feet of muscle, tattoos, and arrest warrants. A career criminal and a former guest of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, he’d rather hit Eli’s parents than sit down to dinner with them. One wrong move, and Rob could destroy Eli — and his family — without a second thought.

But this isn’t what it looks like.

Rob’s not in control here — and Eli’s the one to blame.

 

 

 

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Overall Rating: 7/10 stars

Leigh’s Review: 3/5 Stars

This book is hard to review. On the one hand, it’s really good. On the other hand, it took me like three months to actually finish it.

The primary conflict in the book comes from Eli’s father. He’s Chief Inspector with the police, and seriously disapproves of Eli’s tattooed-up ex-con boyfriend, Rob. I could NOT stand Eli’s father. He’s “overprotective” to the point of being abusive, doesn’t listen to a word his son is saying to him, refuses to communicate… I hated him so much that I actually put the book aside after about 25% and didn’t want to pick it back up. I hate the shitty family trope. In this case, the shittiness wasn’t even outright due to Eli being trans. He still lives with his parents, they didn’t throw him out, they don’t deadname him or misgender him, but God his dad is intolerable. Holy shit.

But there are two things I really loved about this book: First, the kink. This kink is unique in the grand scheme of kinky books because Eli, the physically smaller, younger, transgender man is the power-tripping dominant, and Rob, the aggressive, foul-mouthed, tattooed cis man, endures bondage and punishment at Eli’s hand. And yet sometimes Rob does take control. It’s not one of those clear-cut Dom/sub relationships you get in most kinky books, and I loved that.

The second thing I loved was the contrast between Eli’s family and Rob’s family. Not the conflict between them, that was awful and gave me anxiety, but the contrast between how the upstanding citizens in Eli’s family, and those with questionable morals in Rob’s family, reacted to Eli. Rob and his family, despite criminal backgrounds and drug dealing and low income and an inability to spell or go five seconds without swearing, don’t bat an eye about Eli being trans. It’s a complete non-issue to them. On the other hand, Eli’s parents, despite both being involved with police, having prestigious titles, being well-educated, and making good money, are the ones who struggle with Eli’s gender. They kind of just… ignore it and hope it’ll go away. This book is aptly named. People aren’t always what they look like.

In typical Matthew Metzger style, the book is full of funny banter, emotional moments, and deeply human characters. There’s no question that it’s well-written… but it was painful to read at times. There’s a lot of yelling and fighting and bickering and not-listening, which had me cringing and skimming through parts of the book. It does have a happy ending, and the family tension is mostly resolved by the end. I want to give it a 4-star rating for being well-written and for how well the trans rep is handled and for the subverting of tropes, but I’m knocking a star off because of the shitty family and how bad it stressed me out to read those scenes…

Amanda’s Review: 4/5 Stars

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I think my favorite part is how realistically Eli views Rob. Eli acknowledges on several occasions how temperamental and high strung both he and Rob can be. He’s also unafraid to deal with the repercussions of said tempers. I like that neither of them are perfect characters—and neither of them have to make a major change to be with the other.

Even with their internal issues, most of the struggle for Eli and Rob comes from external sources (Eli’s family mostly). Rob opening up about how it makes him feel every time that Eli has him try to mend things between Rob and Eli’s parents comes at a moment when it’s most cathartic for the character and reader. The timing couldn’t be better here.

Eli being trans and how that impacts both he and Rob and Eli’s family relationship is a really realistic portrayal. There’s a lot of love and a lot of emotion involved in both negative and positive ways. Rob’s understanding of who Eli is is believable and refreshing in the face of how Eli’s parents act towards him.

I had a hard time getting into the first 60 or so pages of the book so, hence the four out of five stars. The quickness of both Danny and Jenny’s introductions, and the way it went down just seemed out of pace with the rest of the introductions and slightly forced. After that point, I was really drawn into it.

What It Looks Like is an intense read in a good way. Overall, I would highly recommend this book.

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