Rating: 4 stars
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After a life spent as an alcoholic, Marshall Ellerbee makes his way to an AA meeting and the path to sobriety. Finally sober, Marshall finds a new outlook and the strength to change his life in every aspect. He starts a new job at the Wellness Center that houses his sponsor and starts making amends. Then his sponsor suffers a heart attack and dies. His replacement is none other than Kyle Young, Marshall’s ex-lover’s best friend. Kyle was no friend to Marshall, even when Marshall and Eric were just dating. But after the drunk driving accident that cost Eric the use of his legs, Kyle’s disdain turned to hate. And now Marshall is expected to work with the man who hates him. Marshall wants to show Kyle that he has changed, but isn’t sure Kyle will accept that fact or Marshall.
Kyle is floored when he finds out that the athletic manager for the Wellness Center where he was just hired is none other than the drunk that almost killed his best friend. But Marshall appears sober and when Marshall saves Eric’s life, Kyle must finally accept the fact that Marshall has turned his life around and become a better person, not just a sober one.
When the men find themselves attracted to each other, and not just physically, it upsets the fragile state of their budding friendship. Is a romance even possible between two men who shared a past like this one?
I thoroughly enjoyed Lara Brukz’s first story in the series, Five-Star Review. That novel featured Eric Carillo and Cade Montgomery’s story. But Marshall figured largely in that tale as the ex-lover who, driving drunk, put Eric in the wheelchair and the lifestyle that isolated him in his loft. His attempts to re-enter Eric’s life after the accident only caused more pain and heartache through a scheme hatched by a drunken Marshall. In another story, it would have been easy to write Marshall off as the villain he certainly was, but in Brukz’s hands, Marshall was also a person in great pain, drowning in alcohol, destroying his life and others in the process. Eric could never bring himself to hate Marshall, although he hated what the man had done and who he became under the influence of alcohol. Brukz created a character who could be redeemed but not in that story. I think many of us who read Five-Star Review wanted to see what happened to Marshall and now we have our answer in Reviewing Life.
As the story opens we find Marshall sitting in at his first AA meeting, listening to people relate the traumatic events that finally made them get sober. It is a bleak picture and Marshall sits there shaking, wondering if he has the courage to go to the podium and acknowledge that he is an alcoholic. It is a powerful scene and handled with the painful realism it deserves by Brukz. Alcoholism and the path to sobriety is a topic of much larger and detailed stories. But Brukz’s treatment rings with sincerity and the need to make Marshall’s recovery as authentic as possible. We get glimpses into Marshall’s upbringing and his use of booze as a bandaid for the problems he encountered. And Brukz makes Marshall work for his acceptance, asking for forgiveness and trying the make amends for his past actions.
Kyle also has a past that includes alcoholism, although not his own. So Kyle’s approach to the disease and those afflicted is colored by his own experiences, again a realistic handling of the subject matter. I liked Kyle and the sober Marshall found in this story. Their romance was slow to build, as it should be with these two characters and their past issues.
At 124 pages, it would be a challenge for any author to bring in the full range of issues and milestones in an alcoholic’s road to recovery. There are several mentions of the temptation to drink again, including one scene at a bar. The need for support for a alcoholic is there throughout Reviewing Life, a necessity for someone to remain sober. Brukz introduces a few secondary characters at the Wellness Center, including a young man called Toby. I loved the scenes that took place there and can only hope the next novel is located at the Center and brings back not only Toby, but the other children and adults as well.
Of course Eric and Cade are strong secondary characters in this tale, so those readers as fond of them as I am will be overjoyed to see them again. This is a strong romance which could have benefited by additional length to add some more layers to Marshall’s recovery and Kyle’s background. However, I enjoyed Marshall and Kyle’s romance and think most readers will too. Consider this definitely recommended for both the story and the author. More please.
This is how Reviewing Life starts…
I LOVED vodka. Vodka martinis; Bloody Marys; screwdrivers. Oh, and I loved green apple vodka. Simply an amazing drink. It was what I went to when I was happy, when I was sad, when I was frustrated. I used any excuse as a reason to practically drink myself into a coma.
Cover art by Catt Ford. Just a terrific cover, love the artwork.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.