Tagged: The Belonging Series – Carina

What Are Best Friends For: Review of Getting it Right

20150710gettingGetting It Right by A.M. Arthur

You may know Dr. James Taggert, or friendly club hook-up Tag from A.M.’s other successful books in The Belonging Series. This first book in the brand new Restoration Series is extremely promising.

Police detective Nathan and his psychologist best friend James have always been on the verge of something. Both have feelings for the other, each lives depressingly unaware of his friend’s internal struggle. James stays away from Nathan on the grounds that he’s straight, Nathan stays away from James on the grounds that James doesn’t like him back.

As Jame’s alcoholism progresses, and Nathan closes in on a career making case, the two friends fall into a drunken make-out session that leaves Nathan more sure of his intentions than ever, but black-out drunk James has absolutely no memory of the relationship changing event.

When a brutal attack leaves Nathan fighting for his life, then under the care of his parents, James is forced to come to grips with what loosing Nathan would really mean to him. it’s time to grow up and stop playing at club boy if he wants a shot with the true love of his life. But will Nathan still want him when he recovers?

For his part, Nathan pretends that his avoiding James is all about getting better, but it’s also about keeping his distance from a man he’s always thought didn’t want him, and who he can’t imagine would want him now covered in scars and suffering from some serious trauma.

Where the Belonging Series were clearly young and new, the Restoration Series feels grown up and serious. I like it. I also like the transformation that the characters go through. Unlike other books I’ve read where one partner turns to the other says “gee honey, I wish you wouldn’t drink so much” and the book basically ends in a giant heart around them both as the other partner promises to do just that.

There are some things missing, for example, how Nathan could be in love with his openly gay male best friend for most of their friendship and neither bring it up, nor act on it with any other dudes. Or that he would also decide to repress these feelings despite having incredibly accepting parents and a gay best friend.

My arguments in that past that the writer either didn’t access their own trauma, or didn’t know much about trauma are slightly assuaged. The portrayal is way more realistic than it has been in the past.

Otherwise, I approve of this new, darker direction.

3.5 stars

Reaching Out – Review of Stand By You

cover51538-mediumStand By You
by A.M. Arthur

Thanks to NetGalley and Carina Press for the review copy.

This is the third installment of The Belonging Series. Reviews for books one and two can be found here.

We met Brendan and Romy in book two, when Donner called in former football star best friend Brendan to help rescue his boyfriend Ezra’s ex-trick Romy from a seriously fucked abuse situation. It was pretty obvious right then that book three was going to be about these guys.

After literally breaking free from his dom turned kidnapper, Romy is shattered and experiencing a lot of social anxiety. Closeted, shy Brendan becomes the friend Romy needs, but he wants more than that. Can they overcome their own personal issues in order to build the kind of life together that neither of them had ever dared to hope for? With the help of their friends, the answer looks like it could be yes.

You may recall that I took some issue with the way trauma and anxiety was portrayed in the last book, Maybe This Time, and there still is a little bit of that for me. For example, in my limited experience, the first thing to do about an abuse survivor having a panic attack is to give them space. Certainly don’t touch them, and really really don’t touch their neck. My teeth itched through what was supposed to be a touching scene where Romy is having a panic attack in a bar and his future therapist, at that point a relative stranger, reaches out and casually palms the back of his neck. This is intended to show how they’re a really great therapist and can calm down panicking people, but it just freaked me out by osmosis. It’s really likely that I’m insinuating my own personal issues in here, and not being a medical professional, I’m just talking out my ass, but for future reference, if I’m having a panic-attack, don’t touch me. You might get kicked. Or puked on. Just saying.

Anyway, aside from that small incident that’s probably more about me than the book, I really enjoyed Stand By You. Romy and Brendan felt real to me. I could know guys like Romy. Given a different set of circumstances, I could have been someone like Romy. Mainly, if I was just a little bit less of an asshole.

One of the things I really like about Arthur’s books is that no one is saving anyone else. Her protagonists are flawed, amazing, uniquely human characters that come together on their own terms, not for a perfect love, but for a real love. The kind of love that can offer a little redemption, if we just reach for it.

As usual, the sub-five dollar price point looks damn good.

4.5 stars out of 5

Adorable Small City Boys in Love – Review of “Maybe This Time” by A.M. Arthur

cover47561-mediumMaybe This Time by A.M. Arthur

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

I was already nearly a chapter into Maybe This Time before I realized it was the sequel to No Such Thing, which I reviewed here. Former main characters Alessandro and Jaime make several small appearances throughout this second book, but they’re largely background noise to the main romance between bar tender Donner and rich kid Ezra.

Finally starting to recover from the loss of his boyfriend over two years before, Donner has just started to come back to life. He’s relaunched the activist charity that they had previously done together, and he’s met a new guy who seems like someone he could save rely on.

When it comes to recovery, Ezra seems to know the definition of the word, but he has no understanding of it. Still smarting eight years after some serious trauma, and living off the guilt payments his parents send him, he’s been joyfully unattached since his first serious boyfriend left him for someone “less complicated.” He drinks, he fucks, and he has a big screen TV. Basically, his life is perfect until Donner shows up to throw a wrench in the gears. The wrench of emotionally healthy monogamy.

The honest, clear communication skills I appreciated in No Such Thing are back in Maybe This Time, but I kind of get the feeling that someone close to the writer advised them to dial down the mystery and dial up the relationship drama (the exact opposite of what I’d have wanted) because there’s no real B plot here. Certainly not to the same extent as there was in the first book. So what we have is great communication, and a healthy reliance on internal turmoil to create drama, rather than the random yelling, mind-changing, manipulative bullshit character flaws so many lesser authors will use. But, we do have a few weird yelling and/or spastic emotional moments that result in Donner and Ezra not feeling as natural to me as Jaime and Ale did.

I can’t tell if A.M. is having a hard time writing about the somewhat broken protagonists because they themselves aren’t an abuse survivor, or if it’s because they are, and are afraid to really reach into that pain. Either way, the emotional process the characters went through feels a little like a puppet show. They hit a lot of the right marks, at the right times, but I had a hard time believing their emotional state. Unlike in No Such Thing, where the saccharine innocence of the characters was like the beating heart of their development.

That said, I still liked this book. I still want to know what happens to the rest of the series. I have a feeling I know who book three is about, and I am damn interested in the seeds that were planted. Hopefully by book three there will be some more development in terms of what trauma, recovery and relationship negotiation in the light of that might look like. But even if that doesn’t change at all, I’ll still be happy to read it.

At $3.03 for Prime members and $3.99 for regular Kindle users, this is a steal. There’s not much better at that price.

4 out of 5 stars

Adorable Small Town Boys in Love: Review of “No Such Thing” by A.M. Arthur

cover41136-mediumNo Such Thing by A.M. Arthur

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

What can I say about No Such Thing? Except that it’s sweet as shit.

Earnest, intelligent college student Jaime Winters may have recovered from his heart transplant, but being a gay guy in a small town hasn’t exactly done his sex life any favors. That is until reformed bad boy Alessandro Silva walks into his sister’s bakery looking for a job and finds so much more than that. Back home to help his foster mother take care of his youngest foster siblings, Alé is unprepared for the combination of new love and old debt that’s about to hit the fan.

Arthur is serving bucolic haze of youth so hard in this book, and I fucking love it. Even though Alé is supposed to be at least slightly more hardened than Jaime, both boys are just adorable. Silva’s criminal past is more that of a stoner wash-out than anything really serious, and the haunting secret of his youth is one hundred percent a wrong place, wrong time situation. Winter’s almost childish naivety is sharpened by a razor wit and an obviously well turned hand at research. Together, these gamboling lambs will warm the hackles of your cynical, porn-stunted limbic system.

Despite, or more probably because of this overwhelming tenderness, the sex scenes are positively bursting with tension. Heat rolls off the characters, especially when they go into the big city (Wilmington) for some fun gay bar action and end up getting steamy in a foreplay foresome. There’s no actual group sex, but you won’t miss it. Especially if you’re as ADD as I can be when it comes to multiple partners in text-only format (in an IRL format too, but we’re not talking about high school right now).

I do wish A.M. had done better character motivation. It can be scattered. Jaime seems to be extremely well read in terms of sex and sexuality one moment, and then it’s like he grew up without cable the next. His shy impulsiveness in regard to communication can be explained away with his relative lack of social interaction. However, Alessandro’s not so much. Here’s a guy who “doesn’t do boyfriends” but who also gives up his job and his apartment in the city to come home and take care of a woman and her children for no other reason than that they need him; who thinks everybody leaves, but has the unwounded generosity of spirit that could only belong to a man who believes in love and kindness. Maybe I’m judging the character more harshly because I’ve been the no boyfriends, everybody leaves type (for as long as that lasted) and it didn’t keep a lot of room for compassionate patience with my fellow man. But I’ve only got myself as an example. Maybe there is such a thing as a pessimist so mellow and so yet so cynical that they’re totally cool with giving of themselves, despite the fact that, at the end of the day they know they’ll get left high and dry with nothing to show for it.

I also wish there was one major dramatic plot device instead of two. Jaime and Alessandro’s love me or leave me cha cha was in direct competition with the far more interesting, far more dramatic past-comes-back-to-bite-you trauma with Alé and the town jock/bully/rich and privileged douche bag. If I were the editor, I would have advised the author to tone down the emotional turmoil over the future of their relationship and dial up the mystery. Although I would also would have advised against making Jaime too much of a damsel in distress. It’s an easy place to put him in, but easy isn’t always the best course of action.

I don’t want to make it sound like the boys are fighting about their relationship or having the kind of irrational commitment fits so many less skilled romance writers will fall back on in lieu of naturally occurring plot, far from it. All their relationship turmoil is completely internal, and they manage to communicate with one another in a healthy way, while maintaining the appropriate amount of tension. This well-walked line is probably one of my favorite elements in No Such Thing. The characters have drama, they are not themselves drama. This is so hard for so many writers to accomplish, and it shines in this book.

For the oddly lucky looking price of $3.03, you can have one of the most adorable pieces of good clean porno I’ve yet found. So pick it up. There’s supposed to be a sequel, but having read the ending, I do wonder what the duo could possibly tackle next. Personally, I hope for more on the extended family members we met in book one, I kind of fell in love with everybody, and I want to see them grow and change as well.

4.5 stars out of 5