river leithRating: 5 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

Leith Wenz has no memory of the past three years.  After suffering an illegal blow to the head while boxing and falling into a coma, the last thing Leith remembers is writing to his brother Arthur as Leith was about to get out of jail. He doesn’t remember moving to New York, working at Arthur’s bar, or training to become one of the top amateur boxers in the city.  He doesn’t remember the two women who are his roommates, and he doesn’t remember the man he is told is his best friend, Zachariah Stephens.

When Leith meets Zach, he likes the man, but he feels the weight of Zach’s expectations just like everyone else’s. Everyone wants Leith to remember so badly. He can feel their hopes and their disappointment when Leith has no idea who they are.  But more than most, Leith finds it hard to disappoint Zach, who is clearly crushed that Leith doesn’t know him but is trying to be strong.  Even though Leith doesn’t remember him, he feels a connection to Zach, a comfort with him.  As Zach continues to visit with Leith in the hospital and in rehab, Leith realizes a surprising truth: he and Zach had been more than friends; he had been in love with the man.  What is even more surprising for Leith, who woke up from the coma identifying as straight, is that he is falling for Zach again.

Zach was devastated when Leith had his accident. His relief that the man he loves is alive is tempered by the fact that Leith has no memory of Zach or their life together.  Now that Leith has fallen for Zach again, the two begin to slowly rebuild their relationship.  But falling in love again is the easy part.  Both men struggle with the fact that Leith’s memories of their time together are gone, likely forever.  Leith must figure out what to do with his life, and whether he wants to return to boxing.  Zach must come to terms with the fact that he is basically in love with a different man, a new Leith with new experiences.  Both men must figure out the role of their pasts and how they are going to move into the future together.

Sigh. So good, you guys. Just so good.  Leta Blake crafts such a beautiful, moving story here that is so romantic, sexy, and incredibly well written.  I loved every moment of it.

So many things work just perfectly here, but let me highlight a few.  First off, I loved the pacing of the story.  We start off with this conflict as Leith has no memory of Zach since they didn’t first meet until Leith was in New York.  As readers we know that the men had been lovers and partners, but Leith has no idea.  Zach and the doctors have agreed not to push Leith by telling him the relationship, at least until he is out of the hospital and into the real world again. So we experience the heartbreak on Zach’s end as he knows Leith doesn’t remember him or the life they had together, may never think of him as more than a friend again. It is killing him, but at the same time, he is just so grateful to have Leith alive.  Then we have Leith, who finds inexplicable comfort in this man he is told is his best friend.  He finds he needs Zach and wants him around.  But Leith also feels this attraction he doesn’t understand, yet which continues to grow.  It is such delicious tension, so beautifully crafted as each man is longing for the other, not daring to push things too hard.  And wow, when they finally get together, it is so explosive and sexy and heartwarming.  I loved that Blake builds to this moment, while at the same time not dragging it out forever.  So wonderfully done.

Even after Zach and Leith act on their feelings for one another, it is not all easy.  Even though they are in love, there are still so many hurdles they must overcome.  For Leith, every day he must face people he once knew and see their disappointment as he doesn’t remember them.  He comes back into an apartment and a job and a life he doesn’t remember at all and must figure out where he fits in.  Even tiny things, like which toothbrush is his in the bathroom and what deli he likes the most.  Or finding out that his father died during the last three years and he didn’t even know the man was dead.  Not to mention he must now figure out his future and whether he will return to boxing, a sport he loves but that almost killed him.

As he spends more time with Zach, Leith finds himself battling his anger and his aggression. He is so frustrated not to remember his old life, and even jealous of his former self.  That is the Leith that had so many wonderful experiences with Zach. The one who remembers how they met, who knows what it was like to make love to Zach for the first time, and Leith resents that version of himself for what he has lost.  He really struggles to find the balance between knowing who he was and figuring out the person he is now.

While we can easily see how hard it all is for Leith, Blake does a wonderful job of also showing us Zach’s challenges.  Zach must accept that Leith will never remember their lives together.  Though Leith is still alive, it is like that relationship is over and a whole new one is beginning.  Zach mourns for what they had at the same time he is growing a new relationship with Leith.  While the story is in Leith’s POV, we get regular entries from Zach’s vlog.  This gives us a chance to see what Zach is thinking and feeling along the way, as he shares the ups and downs with his followers.  At first I was a little uncertain how this would work, but it actually comes together really well.  There are so many things Zach must hold back with Leith — how painful it is when Leith doesn’t know him, how scared Zach is about their future.  The video entries give us a chance to see all of these emotions while still keeping most of the focus on Leith’s POV.  I love the way Blake uses the vlog to feed us information that is relevant as the story goes on and helps us to really round out what is happening between the two men.

Now I hope I am not making this story sound too depressing because it is not all. It is moving and poignant and Blake does an amazing job of letting us experience the emotions Leith and Zach go through along the way.  But it is also so beautifully romantic and super sexy as well.  We get to watch as these two men fall in love again.  We see the wonder of their first kiss, their first sexual experiences.  We see Leith’s thrills as he realizes he was in love with Zach before the coma, and that maybe he still is.

This quote about the River Lethe, the mythical river of the underworld that erases memories, starts off the book.  It captures the romance of the story so perfectly, the way their hearts are drawn together, even as the memory of their past is gone.

“Give me the waters of Lethe that numb the heart, if they exist, I will still not have the power to forget you.” Ovid, The Poems of Exile: Tristia and the Black Sea Letters.

So you guys really need to read this book. I truly loved everything about it. I couldn’t put it down and was so sad for it to end.  Blake’s writing is beautiful and so eloquent.  I could feel the tension between the past and the present, of figuring out where to draw the line between remembering their experiences together and building new ones.  The men are sweet, romantic, and incredibly sexy together.  This story is just so fabulous and well done, I highly recommend it.

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