goodbye paradiseRating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel

Josh has grown up on a remote Wyoming ranch as part of a small, religious group. At the Compound, the men have multiple wives, girls are married off as teens, and the young men do most of the work. They live totally insular lives as everyone is kept away from the “sins” of the outside world and Josh hasn’t left in about ten years. But the real sin Josh struggles with is right here at home: his attraction to his best friend Caleb.

Caleb has always looked after and protected Josh, and when trouble hits, Caleb is there again to save him. The two find themselves free of the Compound and hope to connect with Maggie, a women who left years before and is now living on the East Coast. But with little money and no transportation, they are in a desperate situation. Fortunately, when they finally make it to Maggie and her husband Daniel’s home, the couple welcomes the men with open arms.

Things are looking up for Caleb and Josh. They have a home, Caleb has found a job, and Josh spends his days helping to care for Maggie’s baby daughter. They are turning into a real family and finding a place that is safe and happy. The men have even gotten up the nerve to share their feelings for one another, and the love is growing between them. But neither man can anticipate how Maggie and Daniel will react when they find out the men are gay; the guys fear that they will send them away once they learn the truth. And when someone from their past finds their way to Massachusetts as well, it could ruin what they have built together.

Ok, before I go too far, let me mention that this book was originally released in 2015 as In Front of God and Everyone under the pen name Nealy Wagner. It has now been re-released with a new title and as author Sarina Bowen. According to the author, the story has not really changed. She will also be re-releasing the second book in the series under Sarina Bowen as well.

I also want to make mention of what to me was an obvious similarity in set up to A Forbidden Rumspringa by Keira Andrews, which was released in 2014. I usually try to avoid comparing books by different authors in a review, but for anyone who has read Andrew’s super popular book, Goodbye Paradise is likely to sound familiar so I felt like it was worth addressing it here. Both books do in fact feature young, closeted men living in a small, ultra religious enclave. In each story the men ultimately leave and find their way to safety with another former member of their group who gives them support and helps them assimilate. So yes, on paper, there is a lot here in common. I’ll admit, when I first started this book, I was concerned about the similarities in set up, but I will say that once I started reading, I never felt a problem. The tone of the books is different, and aside from the aforementioned plot points, the way the stories play out and the issues the characters face are different. So I’d encourage you to not let that worry you if you are interested in this book.

Ok, with that out of the way, I’ll say that I really enjoyed this one. I loved Caleb and Josh and found their journey so rewarding. They are not at the Compound for long, but there is enough time to give us a sense of their upbringing and each of their personalities. I enjoyed the road trip portion and seeing how these guys manage to make their way to Massachusetts. And I loved seeing them settle into their life with Maggie, Daniel, and baby Chloe. Bowen does a nice job balancing between showing us the challenges these guys face as they try to adapt to a totally new life, but at the same time give us the reward of seeing these guys we care about finding the love and security they need. Things are a bit pat in some ways as Maggie and Daniel are endlessly welcoming and generous. But I appreciated the warmth and the love we see here, which nicely balances out the more tense moments.

Caleb and Josh are a nice match. We learn at the Compound that Caleb is the caretaker and Josh is the one more at risk, and we see these roles continue through a lot of book. Caleb had a job that let him occasionally out into town, so he is much more worldly, in addition to having a birth certificate and driver’s license. So at first, Josh is at a bit of a loss as Caleb is able to find a job and he is left more floundering. I liked how over time we see Josh really come into his own, both as more of an equal partner in their relationship, but also sort of finding himself over the course of the story. The guys are sweet and romantic and sexy together and I found them a great couple.

As I said, at times I found things with Maggie and Daniel to be a little too pat and easy, and the same holds true to an extent between the guys as well. I also wished for more of a sense of what made these men see beyond the Compound and look for more. I can understand for Caleb having exposure to more of the outside world, but Josh hasn’t been away from the ranch for half of his life. They also grew up in an environment where men had absolutely no household responsibilities, yet Josh helps with cooking and takes over much of the childcare in their new home with no hesitation. I just wish we had a better sense of what makes Josh different and not accept what he always has been taught. I also found myself wondering quite often at the easy way he seems to adapt to what would be an extremely unfamiliar world. Even when he was off the ranch, it was only to go to school. He has no experience with even the most basic of technology or popular culture, yet he is rarely surprised or concerned by anything he encounters. So I do think this aspect of the story could have been fleshed out better.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed Goodbye Paradise. This is the first book I have read by Sarina Bowen and I was really impressed and found it quite well done. There is a second book in the series featuring new MCs that is also being re-released and I am really eager to read it as well. Overall I found this story engaging, romantic, and really enjoyable.

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