Rating: 4 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Alex Maddox has been preparing his whole life for the events of the Maker Summit next month. For the past four years he has been developing a robot that will be totally innovative, with fine motor abilities never seen before. Alex’s robot Yudo could be revolutionary, assuming it works, he can pull off the demo, and he can get other people interested in his invention.
When a friend suggests that Alex meet with an advertising agent he knows, Alex agrees it could be a good opportunity to really drum up some excitement for Yudo at the Summit. But Alex is unprepared for the gorgeous, Thor lookalike Christian Lawson. At first Alex assumes Christian is all smooth arrogance with his amazing looks and fancy office. But soon he realizes Christian is a really down-to-earth guy, one who has admired Alex from afar since he first saw him at the Maker Summit years before. As the Summit nears, Alex and Christian begin to grow closer and fall for one another. But the pressures of the Summit and the major life changes that may come as a result are overwhelming for both of them, especially Alex.
When things go well at the Summit, Alex, Christian, Alex’s twin brother Micah, and Micah’s boyfriend JT all decide to go into business together to further develop Yudo and his technology. But things are not all easy for the guys. Christian’s leg injury is growing steadily worse, making him frustrated and leading to additional surgeries. But what is worse is the reappearance of Christian’s ex boyfriend in their lives. Jeromy was once incredibly important to Christian, and only a few months into Alex and Christian’s relationship, his return threatens what the men have just started to build together. Christian knows that Alex is the man for him, but he must show Alex that his feelings for Jeromy are in the past and the future belongs to him.
Tread Marks & Trademarks is an expanded and re-edited version of two novellas previous released by another publisher. It is written in two parts (presumably along similar lines as the original stories) with the first part told from Alex’s POV and the second from Christian’s. As is sometimes the case when two stories are combined into one, I found a fairly clear distinction between the two parts, and ended up having different feelings about each.
So first off, I have to say I love my geeky heroes and really enjoyed Alex. He is brilliant and focused when he is working on his inventions, but also a bit all over the place the rest of the time. He is fun and quirky and adorably dorky, with an entertaining mix of being geeky with a dirty and sexy side to go along with it. I found him to be a lot of fun and I couldn’t help but root for him as he pours his heart into Yudo and his dreams, as well as when he struggles with the emotional challenges that come from the reappearance of Jeromy in Christian’s life.
I also really liked Christian. He is big and sexy and strong, but also vulnerable. He is on one hand very accomplished and confident in his career, gorgeous, and friendly. But on the other hand, he has had a terrible motorcycle injury to his leg which causes him to need to use a cane and have trouble with pain and mobility. So although Alex at first sees just the professional image, when we get to know Christian we see that he is in fact warm and caring and somewhat vulnerable as well. Christian and Alex are a really good match in that Christian tends to be the rock in the chaos that is Alex’s mind. He is someone Alex can lean on and go to for calm as things with Yudo and the company get crazy. At the same time, Alex is the first man in a while who has been accepting of Christian’s disability and makes Christian feel loved and cared for.
While the story primarily focuses on Alex and Christian, Alex’s twin Micah and his boyfriend JT also play a large role in the story. Alex and Micah live together and are incredibly close, and ultimately all four men go into business together. So there is a lot of interaction with this second couple and I really loved them as well. Micah is flamboyant and wild and manages to push all of Christian’s buttons. He and Alex are totally different, but at the same time share an unbreakable bond. And JT is the solid, grounding influence that keeps flighty, crazy Micah from just running out of control. I loved them together (as well as Micah and Alex’s relationship) and was very excited to see in the Dedication that Micah’s story is coming next.
So while I really loved the characters and their relationships, I found the book itself to be a little uneven, again back to that two parts issue. The first part focuses on the lead up to the Summit and Alex unveiling Yudo to the world. Because we are in Alex’s POV, it is sort of fun and quirky and a little crazy like Alex himself, as he experiences the thrills and anxieties of this huge, life changing endeavor. I do think Alex and Christian fall for each other sort of instalove fast. They have barely known each other a few weeks when they are moving in, starting a business together, and generally have fallen for each other. I think again that probably comes back to when this was a freestanding story and getting an HEA into the novella. But now that it is a longer book, it really makes the speed with which they fall for one another particularly apparent. Despite that, I found this section light and fun and a great introduction to the characters and to setting up the series.
The second portion felt very different in tone for me, perhaps because of the conflicts or maybe because Christian just has a different voice than Alex. It starts with the problems with Christian and his leg, which is steadily declining and going to require surgery again. It is upsetting to Christian as he is not the kind of guy to want to be incapacitated or have to ask for help. Most of this section is pretty internal to Christian as he deals with the news and what it means for him.
The larger conflict centers around the return of Christian’s ex-boyfriend, Jeromy. I was sort of at mixed feelings about this subplot. On one hand, I think the conflict was really fascinating. Jeromy is not just an ex, but someone with whom Christian at one point imagined spending his life. I won’t spoil the details because their backstory is really interesting, but I found it a unique spin on the old “bad boyfriend returns” trope and created some really intriguing dynamics that I think will be interesting to explore as the series goes on. On the other hand, I found it odd that Jeromy is painted as such a bad guy. Given their history, I didn’t find it that strange that he would want Christian back, or even that he would suggest it to Christian considering he didn’t really know much about Christian’s relationship with Alex. All things considered, I don’t think he was all that horrible, despite being portrayed that way. I also think Christian blaming himself for how things roll out (and Micah blaming him as well) seemed unfair too. He couldn’t know what would happen between them and the idea that Christian shouldn’t have any interaction with Jeromy who is potentially an investor in their company seems sort of unrealistic.
So I think this conflict felt a little overdramatic for what actually happens. I also found the whole tone of this second half to be much heavier and not as lively and fun as the first. I did love how the story ends however, and enjoyed the way things wrap up. We once again see that close bond between Alex and Christian, as well as between all four men, and I think the author really sets things up nicely for the next book in the series.
So I was of mixed feelings on this one, but overall found it enjoyable. I think the book just suffered somewhat from trying to merge two stories. Or at least from the way the parts of this new book were divided. But I think the first half, as well as the fabulous characters, really are enough to carry this one for me and in the end I found it very entertaining and satisfying. I am really looking forward to where this series goes from here and can’t wait to find out what happens to Micah!
Cover Review: I love this cover. The detail with the motorcycle helmet and the robot head are perfect representations of Alex and Christian. And the steampunk theme ties in with many elements of the story, including the logos for their new company and Christian’s steampunk themed cane. So very nicely done.