Book Reviews

Little Rock by Alex Beltran

Genre Gay / Historical / Paranormal / Recent (1990s) / Shifters / Young Adult / Romance / Action/Adventure
Reviewed by ParisDude on 18-January-2023

Book Blurb

England, fall 1993. Sent against his will, Owen Appletoff arrives at Little Rock boarding school from his hometown of San Diego. Within its high walls awaits Taylor, his handsome golden-haired roommate, with whom a strong friendship quickly blossoms. Meanwhile Daniel, the sexy school bully, lends a watchful eye to the school’s newest arrival. As the days go by, any harmony Owen sought is torn apart by the strange visions haunting his dreams. The kelpie, a spirit of ancient Celtic legend, has marked him out as a target. In a school where things are not quite as they first appear and everyone seems to be hiding something, Owen, Taylor, and Daniel must put aside their differences to unravel the mysteries of Little Rock.


Book Review

By and large, the blurb already tells the broad outlines of the story. Owen Appletoff, a Californian teenager recently bereaved of his much-loved mother, is sent to a British boarding school for boys by his mostly absent father. His roommate Taylor turns out to be a charming if slightly rebellious blond boy with whom he quickly becomes friends. Against all odds, he also strikes an improbable friendship with the school bully, handsome Daniel. What most intrigues him, though, are the strange visions and dreams he’s haunted by; dreams of a lake lost in the woods nearby, and dreams of the Celtic lake monster, the legendary kelpie, a bloodthirsty being half human, half horse. While his two closest friendships soon bloom into something more—love, that is—these visions spell danger not only in his dreams, but also in his real life… the two main questions being, whom between Taylor and Daniel will he ultimately choose, and more importantly: how will he survive the attempts on his life?


Well, this was… a first. Meaning this was the first book I ever read that was written by a Spanish writer (read: a writer from Spain), then translated into English. It was also Alex Beltran’s debut novel, so I decided to be indulgent—I almost always am, but even more so when someone has just published their very first book. Without any indulgence, I can already say that I enjoyed most of the book. The storyline was interesting enough to keep me going, the secrets were revealed slowly, the mysteries unraveled one by one, and the tension mixed in by the strange kelpie creature was upheld throughout the book until the—surprising and unexpected—ending. Mixed in was the romantic sideplot (sideplots, I should say, as with Taylor and Daniel, two love interests were involved), which didn’t lead me down the path of insta-love, but showed Owen’s intrigued interest, then self-questioning—“What does it mean that I feel drawn not only to one boy, but two?”—then acceptance, avowal, deliverance, new torments triggered by the sheer impossibility to choose one of the two, and finally… happy ending or not? Sorry, I don’t do spoilers. It’s in the book, so you should find out by yourselves.


As debut novels go (except those proofread, edited, and streamlined to death by major publishers eager to release the next bestseller), ‘Little Rock’ had flaws. Even though the writing and style were engaging and pleasant to read, some passages felt clumsy and a little bit off. Of course, as I said in the previous paragraph, this is a translation, and some details and characteristics of a writer’s style are always lost in the process. Having mentioned proofreading, a thorough final round of that should have been done, too—maybe the clumsiness I perceived came from the errors and typos I encountered. They were plentiful enough for me to notice, yet quite fortunately not too overwhelming for me to stop reading.


In my eyes the major flaw, however, was the changing points of view. I’m not averse to characters telling and pushing a story alternately, but that should be done expertly, in alternating chapters or subchapters. What I’m not keen on is the alternation of the “narrating voice” in one chapter or even one paragraph. I understood whether it was Owen, Taylor, or Daniel; that was not the problem. It just added to the… clumsiness, for want of a better word. As the three boys (and the many others they interacted with in that boarding school) were often referred to as “he” (duh!), it sometimes got hard to distinguish of whom the author was talking, too.


Last but not least, even though I did enjoy the story, the characters felt a bit flat. For one, Owen’s background could have been fleshed out (the absent father figure was just a teensy bit too absent to make sense—he was the one sending the boy to the UK, after all) so that I could better understand him and his actions. Taylor, whose rebellion didn’t exceed the odd forbidden cigarette, was too nice to be true, too selfless; he could have done with a bit more edge and bite and fight in him. As to Daniel, who was probably my favorite, he was the school bully, all right, but only in name. Yes, I know, I followed his despicable actions in the beginning, but it felt as if his heart weren’t in it. His subsequent wooing and gently pursuing of Owen, without pressure nor nastiness, therefore struck me as the logical side effect of his nice nature, yet it didn’t match his stance as the mean boy. Bullies should inspire fear and loathing to be believable, I guess, to make their transformation all the more surprising; Daniel was likeable from the start, so that didn’t work out.


All in all, ‘Little Rock’ was a mixed bag. Clever storyline with a clever ending. Well constructed group dynamics, which always make a huge part of the attraction of boarding school plots, and a heart-warming romance woven in. Too many flecks and flaws, however, to make this my read of the year. And yet… I recommend it if only because I always appreciate a good yarn, even one somewhat clumsily spun.




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Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 237 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 04-October-2022
Price $7.46 ebook, $15.95 paperback
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