Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
** Spoiler Alert: The story is the second half of a two-book set and this review will spoil events from Special Needs **
Liam has just found out that his boyfriend Ryan has been lying to him and the rest of the world. Despite claiming to be a paraplegic, Ryan can in fact walk. Liam saw it himself when Ryan fled the burning hotel, and now Liam feels completely betrayed by the lies. Ryan can’t give much of an explanation for why he has been pretending to need the wheelchair, and just wants to move past it. But Liam is angry and upset that Ryan would keep something like this from him, especially as he thinks back to all the lies Ryan has told since they have been together. As far as Liam is concerned, it is over between them.
But after Liam talks to Ryan some more, Liam comes to realize that he does in fact still want to be with Ryan. Especially when Ryan agrees to stop using his wheelchair and to try walking. Liam thinks maybe the positive attention Ryan got after his accident years ago is something he craved after all the bullying and the trauma of losing his foot, and that is why he likes the chair. So Liam decides that lots of positive reinforcement for Ryan walking will help him move past the need to use the wheelchair.
But for Ryan, every step he takes just feels wrong. He becomes depressed and starts cutting again, hiding his feelings from Liam because he worries what his boyfriend will think if he knows the truth. But eventually Ryan’s depression worsens, and finally he is forced to share his feelings with Liam about the chair and how he feels about his body.
Even when things smooth over for the men about Ryan and his wheelchair, things are still complicated with the hotel. Despite everything Ryan has tried, he still is burning money and there are barely any guests. Everything Ryan tries seems to fail, and if Ryan isn’t careful, he could lose everything, including his home. Between that and his awful next door neighbor, Ryan and Liam face tough times even with their newfound love.
So what worked for me so well in this story are the same elements that drew me to the first book. First off, I really loved Ryan and Liam. They are such an interesting couple, neither your typical romance hero. I loved how different they are, both physically and in personality, but how well the two men mesh together. We see them fall in love in the first book, and here that relationship really grows. Ryan especially is a fascinating character. He manages to project both a frailness and a strength at the same time. In many ways Ryan is still so young and naive. He wants things to work with the hotel and with Liam, and he can’t always understand why things don’t happen the way he expects. Part of it is intentional, as Ryan loves the feeling of being cared for and protected, and part of it seems to just be a bit of naiveté about the world. At the same time, Ryan can be strong and independent. He won’t be pushed around and he works hard for the things he really wants. It is an interesting balance, as we see this blue haired, pierced goth guy who also wears footie pirate pajamas and likes to be cuddled.
The two men together are a fun couple. There is a playfulness between them that I really enjoyed. Both men are a little bit alternative in their lifestyle, pierced and tattooed and into lots of kink. There is such warmth and love between them, but also lots of heat. This story focuses more on the sexual end of their relationship than the first book, and the guys are super hot together. Their kinks mesh perfectly, with Ryan loving the feeling of bondage and being immobile or held down, and Liam having a dominant side. They explore a lot of kink, such as bondage and role play. These guys just work well together, both in and out of the bedroom, and I really enjoyed them and seeing their relationship really bloom in this book.
One of things that frustrated me here, however, is how the conflict over Ryan lying about the walking is resolved early on. Liam is understandably angry, hurt, and very confused. He has no frame of reference for why Ryan would possibly want to use a wheelchair instead of walk, and Ryan never really explains it to him until much later on. Even with Ryan agreeing to try to walk, I never really understood what prompted Liam to suddenly forgive him for everything, especially when he still doesn’t understand why Ryan did it. It just seemed so fast for such a complicated conflict. Personally I suspected what was really going on with Ryan, but I think sharing this information with the reader earlier on would have been helpful. By the time Ryan explains the real situation, we are 70% of the way through the story, and I think that is a long time for readers to be confused as to what is motivating Ryan.
The answer is actually quite fascinating to be honest, and I thought it added a really interesting dynamic to Ryan’s personality and also to the story. I wish once it all came out it hadn’t been put aside so quickly though. Once Ryan tells Liam the truth, all the conflict is quickly over and barely mentioned again. I think this would have been interesting to explore in more detail, but either way, I think this was a really unique plot development and I found it to be a fascinating idea.
I also had some issues with the story due to the length and the way it connects to the first book. As I mentioned in the spoiler note, this book is part 2 of a longer story and is directly connected to that first book. This is a bit different from a sequel, in that almost none of the plot threads in the first book are resolved and the story ends with a cliffhanger that picks up immediately here. There is no way the first book can stand alone, and I don’t really think this one could either. So really this is a two parts of the same book and it is very hard to evaluate it completely independently of the larger story.
I think my biggest hurdle here is a combination of the length and the pacing. This book is 135,000 words, which is roughly 335 pages. And until 94% of the way through, the open plot threads from the first book are completely ignored. Then suddenly, at the last minute, they are tossed in for a thriller ending that feels out of nowhere and completely off with the tone of the rest of the book. To be honest, I kept waiting for this big conflict from the first story to reappear the whole time I was reading. It seemed hard to imagine after all the dropped hints in the first book that it wouldn’t get picked up again here. But we hear nothing at all about this storyline until the very last minute, going hundreds of pages ignoring it until it is sprung on us at the end. Again, these books are meant to be read as a set, and I just don’t understand how this plot thread could be worked in all throughout the first book and then dropped for so long here before making a surprise reappearance.
So that brings me to the length. This is a super long book, and together the two parts are well over 700 pages. The authors actually address this issue in the Afterword, mentioning how they wanted to “show a slow and steady progress of a relationship and how the issues unravel on the way.” And to some degree, I do get that. I think that for a lot of books there is enough complexity of issues and plot that a slow telling of the story can make for a really rich book. And I do agree that some of the elements of this story, such as Ryan’s issues with walking, lend themselves to more detail and a slower build. But I think there is some middle ground here between rushing a story and shoving the good bits into an epilogue, and including so much day to day that the story feels meandering. And unfortunately, the latter was the case here for me a good bit of the time.
There just didn’t feel like enough happening in this story to sustain a book that is so long. There is a really interesting thread of a plot here, first of Ryan and Liam getting back together, then Ryan struggling with his body issues and his walking, and the two of them ultimately falling in love. But it gets buried under so many other things that don’t add enough to the story. It is not even that they are side plots, as much as routine things that distract from the major issue. For example, Ryan hires a new caretaker while he and Liam are broken up. We get a lengthy scene where Rufio takes Ryan to a petting zoo, we see Rufio hanging out in the hotel, learn he is a virgin, see him trying to hook up with a porn star he likes. But none of this seemed to have any impact on the real story. To be honest, his character could have been cut completely and I don’t think it would have hurt the story; in fact, it may have helped. We also get a big section where Ryan, Liam, and Rufio go to a porn convention to drum up business. Again, I think this whole portion could have been cut out as we get nothing really new out of it. So I guess my point is that the length of the book in and of itself is not the issue, so much as that there seems to be just tons of unnecessary stuff here that masks the real meat of the story.
Ok, one last thing that I can’t leave out because it made me crazy and that is the camping trip. Liam and his brother Cole are going camping and Liam decides he wants Ryan to go. This is still when he is sure that Ryan will learn to love walking and is trying to encourage him to get out there and do it. So he has his brother pretend to be his ex-lover to make Ryan jealous and get him agree to join them on the trip. This is a man who has been in a wheelchair for years, who has been walking again for a very short time, and who has an ill fitting prosthetic foot that causes a limp. Hiking for days over rugged terrain would be a terrible idea, even if Ryan was actually enthusiastic about it. Not to mention telling your boyfriend that your straight brother is actually your gay ex-lover? And having him flirt with you and make suggestive comments about gay sex? This honestly was so absurd and ill conceived that even though it backfires on Liam, I still found it irritating. He honestly thinks Ryan will be fine to learn he has been lied to once he actually meets Cole as Liam’s brother. What redeems it for me is that this conflict ultimately leads to Ryan coming clean about his real issues with the wheelchair and he and Liam working past it. But I still felt like we had to go down a long and very frustrating road to get there.
So I am really of mixed feelings here. Overall, when I think about this book and about this set, I would definitely say I enjoyed it. I loved Liam and Ryan and found them such interesting characters. I think the sexual dynamic between them is intense and fun. I found them to be sweet and romantic together and I loved the way they fit together so well. Ryan especially is both endearing and a really complex character and I liked him a lot. I enjoyed reading about them and watching their growth over the books. At the same time, I had a lot of issues here, mostly with the length and the meandering pace of the story. Too much of the good stuff is either buried or unexplored, and I think much more rigorous editing could have gotten rid of the excess and led to expanding on some of the meatier issues, such as Ryan’s issues with walking. So I think that if you are willing to sink some time in here, that this story is worth taking on. But just be aware that there is a lot of stuff to wade through along with the highlights.
P.S. As I mentioned, you need to read these two books as a set. Amazon and ARE are selling them as one complete book, in addition to individually, and that seems to be the most cost effective option.