REVIEW: At the Heart of Love, by Steven Valenti

The Heart of Love - Steven Valenti

Title: At the Heart of Love

Author: Steven Valenti

Genre: Erotic Romance

LGBTQ+ Category: MM Gay

Publisher: Self

Pages: 244

Reviewer: Ulysses, Paranormal Romance Guild

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About The Book

Nothing in life is by chance; it all happens for a reason. Something, Roger Janzen, a farm boy from Ohio, realizes after escaping to Chicago. Instantly finding Brent Pierce, a financial executive, who transforms Roger into a socialite. Following Brent’s murder, Roger discovers it’s not the life for him. While Scott Turner and Alec Lopez, high school seniors, fall in love. It too tragically ends, allowing Roger and Scott, young widowers, to meet for the repeat of love and death. Roger’s the prevailer re-encountering, Barak Christopoulos, an artist he met ten-years ago. Together they meld for the perfect coupling and life’s pinnacle—true-self-discovery of the heart.

Discovery of sexuality. Surrender of virginity—that first orgasm shared with another. First loves that end and those that follow. At the Heart of Love is a gay erotic romance set in the mid-90s and into the millennium as Roger, Brent, Scott, and Alec journey from boys to men. They discover love at first sight. Intimate, loving relationships that blossom and grow, with experiences of true love ending in breakups or death. Lives intertwined and meshed for their souls’ journey and hearts’ fulfillment of love. 

The Review

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.  

The Reviewer

Ulysses Grant Dietz grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his Leave It to Beaver life was enlivened by his fascination with vampires, from Bela Lugosi to Barnabas Collins. He studied French at Yale, and was trained to be a museum curator at the University of Delaware. A curator since 1980, Ulysses has never stopped writing fiction for the sheer pleasure of it. He created the character of Desmond Beckwith in 1988 as his personal response to Anne Rice’s landmark novels. Alyson Books released his first novel, Desmond, in 1998. Vampire in Suburbia, the sequel to Desmond, is his second novel.

Ulysses lives in suburban New Jersey with his husband of over 41 years and their two almost-grown children.

By the way, the name Ulysses was not his parents’ idea of a joke: he is a great-great grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, and his mother was the President’s last living great-grandchild. Every year on April 27 he gives a speech at Grant’s Tomb in New York City. 

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