Have you ever been in the rural England? I suggest you to give it a try with A.L. Lester’s latest book, Taking Stock.

I’ve read all of the author’s books (you can find links to her work below), but this one stands out by leaving behind the usual mystical themes. Although I’m a fan of her paranormal romances, I was intrigued by Taking Stock too. Without the magic, time travel and other worlds, the bulk of the story takes place on a farm in a time span of few weeks, the spotlight was directed on the main characters, their struggles and feelings in an even more accentuated way.
So let’s check it out in more detail.

About the book

Cover and Blurb (Goodreads)

Fifteen years ago, teenage Laurie Henshaw came to live at Webber’s Farm with his elderly uncle and settled in to the farming life. Now, age thirty-two, he has a stroke in the middle of working on the farm. As he recovers, he has to come to terms with the fact that some of his new limitations are permanent and he’s never going to be as active as he used to be. Will he be able to accept the helping hands his friends extend to him? With twenty successful years in the City behind him, Phil McManus is hiding in the country after his boyfriend set him up to take the fall for an insider trading deal at his London stockbroking firm.

There’s not enough evidence to prosecute anyone, but not enough to clear him either. He can’t bear the idea of continuing his old stagnating life in the city, or going back to his job now everyone knows he’s gay.
Thrown together in a small country village, can Phil and Laurie forge a new life that suits the two of them and the makeshift family that gathers round them? Or are they too tied up in their own shortcomings to recognise what they have?
A 1970s historical gay romance peripheral to the Lost in Time universe. Stand alone, not paranormal.

Main characters

Laurie
He was always proud and independent, never relying on help managing Webber’s Farm which explains his hardheadedness when it comes to accepting help due to his changed circumstances. His struggles were depicted so well, my heart ached for him. I could feel his pain, anger, self-hatred and frustration when he wasn’t able to move or get something done because of his weakened body. In order to fulfill his new role in his adopted family, he had to learn how to accept help and love.

Phil
Phil’s struggles might pale in comparison to Laurie’s but being stabbed in the back isn’t fun either. It’s a different type of challenge to rebuild your life from the shards of your ruined reputation. He felt pulled to Laurie the first time they met and started to put together his shattered life without him even noticing it. Helping the other man selflessly also helps Phil to find a new purpose too. Phil is unrelenting when taking care the ones he likes – especially Laurie, forcing him to take one steadying step at a time.

A.L. Lester always manages to create characters in great balance who complement each other. In my opinion, these too are so perfect together, they are in absolute harmony. I rooted for Phil not to let go of Laurie when he was in a bad headspace and cruel with everyone, and for Laurie to finally see the treasure he’d found. And finally at the end everything just clicked perfectly.

Supporting and secondary characters

There is a whole variety of supporting characters in the book, and even though they only had minor roles compared to Phil and Laurie, in my opinion every single one of them made a huge impact when appearing on the pages. Helping Laurie to accept his changed circumstances and find the courage to embrace a new life and the makeshift but nonetheless loving family surrounding him. Some of the supporting characters made appearance from Inheritance of Shadows. Unfortunately not Matty and Robert…

The setting

I was intrigued by the historical aspect of the book which takes place after the decriminalization of homosexuality, so we could get a glimpse at how the characters tries to adapt to this “new” world and let go of their old habits born by fear.The life as a stockbroker was also interesting, and even I know next to nothing about it, the description of that world was quite enough for me to understand and imagine Phil’s life before he was framed.

The biggest part of the story takes place in rural England, on Webber’s farm, becoming the metaphor of starting a new life after losing everything, and building a new world/life from the pieces of the ruined one.

Favorite quote

He wasn’t sobbing. The tears were just… flowing undammed. So many years of tears. “I don’t fit any more. They all fit, like a jigsaw. But there’s no place for me anymore. My shape has changed.”
“Shhh,” Phil hushed him. “You’re fine, Laurie. It’s just a different shape, that’s all. It all just needs rearranging a bit, then it’ll make sense again.”

Conclusion

It is a slow-burning and heartfelt story, as everything A.L. Lester has ever written. I really liked the concept of the adopted family which can be as much loving and supporting as a family connected by blood should be accompanied by the expanding feelings between Phil and Laurie. Not to mention the wonderful secondary characters making the events of the book more real and believable. I would highly recommend this book to everyone wanting to read about deep feelings, binding fears and insecurity and a slow but steady healing process. And a promise of very happy ending.

List of A.L. Lester’s previous books

Notes
  • Source of cover image: unsplash com (Matthew T. Rader)

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