Fail Seven Times, by Kris Ripper

gretchening's review

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I was given an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Content notes: contains BDSM, homophobia, deep reflections on men lost to HIV/AIDS, combining alcohol and sex and (to a lesser degree) alcohol and BDSM.

This is a very thoughtful, sweet, gentle poly romance that gets in deep with the (frequently aggravatingly prickly) protagonist, Justin. Justin is gay, kind of a jerk, and in love with his best friend Alex--and Alex's girlfriend Jamie. The worst part? They're in love with him, too. Cue a great deal of angst on the part of Justin trying to come to grips with being able to have nice things but not really feeling like he understands them or deserves them. I can relate, buddy.

This book has lots of relatable feelings, some very sweet home repair, reflections on recovering queer history, snarky banter, awkward sex scenes (my JAM), non-sexual BDSM, and dealing with who you are and who you want to be, and who will best fit with you in all of your spiky obnoxious pigheadedness.

The romance in this book was good especially if long, difficult relationship talks and people who are bad at and afraid of feelings are your thing. For me, though, the two aspects of this book that were incredibly moving were: the BDSM scene between Justin and his mostly-lesbian friend Madison, and Justin's deep connection to (fictional) gay artist Enrico Hazeltine, whose work captures the imagination of Justin's very conservative artist boss, and who died of HIV/AIDS in the 80s.

The BDSM scene I'm referring to is just such a sweet, caring, funny interaction between two people who are just... lonely and craving connection with someone who gets them. Madison's giggles at Justin's junk were particularly dear to my heart, and the sense of community that scene brought up was so so wonderful. BDSM can be such a powerful connecting force, and from zir other work I knew Ripper understands this deeply, but seeing it in a totally platonic setting like this was just so hugely appreciated.

The Hazeltine story is peppered throughout the book, and allows the story to reflect deeply on Justin's connection to gay history, and gives a very sweet wrap-up at the end for the power of art to change people (at least a little bit). Justin's read into Hazeltine's diaries, and his research into Hazeltine's death and the photographs he asked his closest community to take of his body, really resonated powerfully for me. I cried so much reflecting on the loss of most of a generation of men, of the art and perspective we lost during the 80s. Seeing Justin remember his youth as a young gay man knowing some of the story of Hazeltine, then see him come back to a deeper reflection on him as an adult, was such a special aspect of this book for me that it almost overshadowed the romance (which is what I was here for to begin with).

In all, I ended up feeling a bit over Justin (he was my least favorite character in Practice Makes Perfect, and I did groan a little to learn we were getting a book about him). His attitude and personality were off-putting for me at first and sometimes made it hard for me to stick with him. However, I got a deeper understanding of him, and to be honest his faults and mistakes make him a more interesting protagonist. I liked this book a lot.

jce's review

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emotional hopeful reflective medium-paced
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


terriaminute's review

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I was given an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for an honest review.

Awesome, unique story! So delighted I got to read it early!

I have never read a more charmingly frustrating, perversely interesting character as Justin. Readers of Ripper's Scientific Universe series met Justin in Practice Makes Perfect, but it isn't necessary to read that first. (Although it is delightful, for totally different reasons.) As is Ripper's usual, every character is great, and since I've read all the associated stories, it was a treat to see them through Justin's warped lens.

mlknits's review

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I found the protagonist frustrating, to say the least, and there were some annoying copy-editing errors (especially Hazeltine/Hazletine) but I’m not kidding myself this isn’t in the top 5% of the genre, easy. And by genre I mean m/m and the general category of queer romance; if we mean the gorg subcategory of m/m/f—and this variation on it is a goddamn treasure—it’s right up at the top.

wart's review

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Thing I Find While Shelving

I received a free ARC in exchange for an honest review

Justin Simos is in love with his best friends, Alex and Jamie. Alex and Jamie are together - and occasionally play with other people - so Justin has to keep that fact under wraps. Except one night there's some alcohol and some spectacularly good sex and Justin is convinced he's mucked everything up. He struggles to build the distance back up between them, trying to reinforce the walls he built to protect them. Well. He tells himself it's to protect them, that anything they start with him will end badly because he isn't worth it.

But Alex and Jamie have known him too long and they can see through his bullshit. They let him have his space, but they also call him on his shit. And slowly, carefully, Justin starts to let himself open up.

Kris Ripper writes an absolutely beautiful polyamorous Friends-To-Lovers story. Justin is raw and difficult, all sarcasm and rough edges. But Ripper does a masterful job of showing us what's under the surface, of taking a character who could too easily slip into two dimensions and showing us the complexities of who he is and how he got to where he is when the story starts.

And how he, Alex, and Jamie reach their ending.

Fail Seven Times is gorgeously written. Ripper's prose is visceral. It gets under your skin, against your nerves. The characters are brilliantly crafted, both the main characters and the side characters. I really loved this book. 5/5 Stars

kjcharles's review

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The story of Justin, a gay prickly, self-loathing, self-identified asshole, who is in love not just with his bi best friend Alex but with Alex's girlfriend Jamie. He loves them; they love him and want him to join them in bed with hope of a proper relationship. The entire conflict here lies in Justin's horrifically aggressive-defensive personality and terror of vulnerability, which causes him to deflect, push away, walk away, and generally screw up.

It's a testament to the author that this is intensely readable and as pacily compelling as the twistiest external plot. It's very hard to pull off a totally convincing romance where all the conflict is internal without frustrating the reader with the character's obtuseness. Ripper does it here precisely by frustrating the reader. We completely feel with Justin, and understand him even as we howl at his self sabotage, because he is howling too, deep down. And his journey to self acceptance is deeply convincing, spurred as it is not just by Alex and Jamie's love and patience, but by developing real friendships outside the trio, becoming more invested in his work for a sculptor, and very much from delving into a piece of queer history and the story of an artist he loves who died of AIDS related complications. That is, we see Justin starting to open his mind and heart in multiple directions to get the HEA and that's why it works.

This is a glorious, affirming book of happiness achieved in the teeth of a lot of stuff. I cried...several times. Highly recommended.