Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
Steven Valenti has a big heart, a heart filled with romance. Maybe a bit too filled. “At the Heart of Love” seems like several m/m romance novels jammed into a pot and stirred. First we have the story of Roger, a Mennonite boy from Ohio who flees the rigidity of his life on the family farm for the freedom of the big city. Parallel to his story is that of Brent, all-American golden boy who also flees, not an unloving family, but a disastrous high-school romance. Roger and Brent’s story takes up nearly three quarters of the book.
Then, for another third of the book, we get the story of another golden boy, Scott – who has a troubled family situation. Scott’s tale is paired with that of Alec, a Latino boy with a devoted, open-minded family. Valenti gives us rather detailed, but also hurried, descriptions of both families and their history. Eventually Scott and Alec meet, for reasons that are made clear, which sets them up for the final ten percent of the book.
In that crucial last ten percent, Part Three, Valenti brings Roger back on stage to tie the whole saga together in a way that, in the author’s mind, demonstrates the power of Love and Fate. For me – even though I am always glad for a happy ending – it felt weirdly forced, not to mention cavalier with the lives of characters I rather cared about. Roger’s ultimate triumph of love came out of left field. “That’s who he was destined to be with?”
What I really think is that this was at least three novellas, each one representing one of the three compressed sections of this book, in which the author explored this weirdly death-filled romance in more carefully, letting us have a fuller experience of the stories of these people that he clearly loves. He’s tried to give us too much all at once.
Mr. Valenti also really needs an editor he can trust to be honest with him, and strict with the red pencil. His writing style is very quirky, which at moments I found quite mesmerizing, even as I found his shaggy-dog-story of a romance quite compelling. There is an aggressive use of the passive voice, and a very weird use of the active voice, almost as if English is not Steven Valenti’s first language (and I’m pretty sure it is). There is a lot of rich material “At the Heart Of Love,” but it is a wild heart that needs to be tamed.