Guest Review: Him Improvement by Tanya Chris

The course of true love runs through every neighborhood….

Only one thing stands between Gregory MacPherson II and his dream revitalization project for the gritty neighborhood of Ball’s End: a rinky-dink, run-down used bookstore called Hailey’s Comic. But when master negotiator Mac shows up to make a deal with the owner, he comes face-to-face with quirky, colorful Hailey—unexpectedly good-humored about Mac’s attempted eviction and, also unexpectedly, a hot guy.

Hailey won’t give up his lease, no matter how much money Mac offers. When it comes to consummating their mutual attraction, though, he’s a lot more flexible. Soon Mac has as hard a time prying himself out of Hailey’s bed as he does prying Hailey out of the building. But Hailey doubts Mac’s plans serve Ball’s End’s best interests, and he insists Mac give him a chance to prove his case. If they’re going to build a happy ever after, one of them will have to be remade…

Reviewer: Annery

Do you feel like skipping Halloween & Thanksgiving and diving right into a non-treacly non-Christmas Christmas tale? Look no further than this sweet tale from Tanya Chris. Reminiscent of A Christmas Carol, but without copying it beat for beat, Him Improvement follows a sort of remaking or awakening of Gregory “Mac” McPherson.

Mac is a real estate developer, and his company focuses on rehabilitating underutilized neighborhoods or, as the people who live there might say, paving the way for gentrification. Mac’s current project is in Ball’s End, whose residents are decidedly on the lower-income spectrum, and therefore have been easy to relocate via buyouts, non-renewal of leases, or other methods. The one holdout is Hailey’s Comic, which despite its name, isn’t strictly a comic book store but a rambling used book store. In order to expedite the emptying of this last storefront Mac decides to employ the personal touch and brings himself to 502 Main Street where he meets Hailey Green, the bookstore owner, and it’s basically lights out.

There is a strong element of, if not insta-love, at least insta-lust which quickly morphs into the former, at least on Mac’s part, but I didn’t mind. Refreshingly Mac isn’t conflicted about his attraction to Hailey due to his gender, Mac’s been out as bisexual to his friends and family since college, and the sexual attraction isn’t really ever in question. Hailey likes/wants Mac (a.k.a. Greg to Hailey) and isn’t coy about it. Once Mac starts a relationship with Hailey, he’s not only exposed to Hailey’s views on life, capitalism, and urban planning, but he also gets to meet and spend time with the people of Ball’s End. Lives that were once abstractions in a report are now living, breathing, flesh & blood. This is source of angst in this story. Mac getting to know those who are affected by his company’s projects and Mac wanting to be worthy of Hailey. At heart Mac is a good guy, and he also happens to think that Hailey hangs the moon. This leads him to revise or scrap the way does business in order to embrace the needs of those already living in these areas and not just the new residents his company is hoping to attract.

The story is told from Mac’s P.O.V., and very much centers on Mac continually questioning if Hailey would approve or what would Hailey do? He shouldn’t worry so much. Hailey is also just a good guy trying to do, what he believes is the right thing. To that extent he’s been using the bookstore as community center that covers everything from after-school babysitting to an informal AA meeting place. The only thing he hasn’t been able to do is turn a profit, because he’s terrible at business. Anyway these two men, who on the surface are opposites, make a pretty good whole. I enjoyed that their external appearance didn’t restrict who they were in the bedroom. As usual Tanya Chris delivers realistic relationships full of heat and sensuality. I liked that in spite of their radically different upbringings and likely politics, each man respected where the other was coming from, their goals and motivations.

I’ve only have two quibbles with this story which can absolutely be ignored by everyone else. One is Hailey himself. Granted we know him from Mac’s P.O.V., but he seemed almost too perfect. Also I questioned this decision to plant his flag in a mostly minority neighborhood. I’m not a particularly PC person or at all, but it struck me as a bit of White Savior or White Martyr? I’m not saying his intentions are nefarious or any such thing, far from it, but maybe making the character something other than a white guy looking for purpose amongst underprivileged minorities would’ve sat better. My second quibble is said minorities. Some of them seem to exist to prop up Hailey’s bonafides as do gooder or Mac’s education in social diversity, and the other part had a whiff of the Noble Savage. I’m sure I’m wrong but it did cross my mind.

Of course you can skip my previous paragraph and just enjoy a sweet story about two adults who find a way to live in each other’s different worlds, and enrich each other’s lives because they’ve fallen in love. Isn’t that what we all want in the end?

Merry Early Christmas. xoxo

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