Rating: 4 stars
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The latest release by author Jake C. Wallace has left me a wee bit wrung out in many good ways. Happily Ever After Isn’t Easy isn’t an easy romance to read, mostly due to Gabe’s ex-wife and her immensely difficult emotional/mental illness. What saves this story from becoming too maudlin or heavy is a few things. The first is Brandt Sawyer and his way with the children Gabe’s ex has with her second husband and second is the way in which the relationship between these two guys blossoms over time. This novel does not flinch from spelling out just how insidious a mental illness is when it comes to creating havoc and leaching the energy from those who are along the sidelines trying to care for the person caught it it’s grip. However, the book also doesn’t shy away from recognizing that no matter how much we love someone, we cannot live their life or make their illness vanish. This is a hard learned lesson for Gabe, despite the fact that he is a mental health counselor and should have seemingly understood that all along.
The novel picks up a few years after he has divorced having lived a lie for so long. His ex had cheated on him for many reasons, not the least of which was that she and Gabe could not get pregnant despite both of them wanting children. Now Gabe is not just her emotional crutch and babysitter, but also the one she turns to when she is spiraling out of control and life is threatening to overwhelm her. Suffice it to say that Gabe’s need to save his ex over and over has not done great things for her second marriage or, for that matter, his own love life. Exhausted from his own job counseling troubled teens in an understaffed counseling center and for shouldering the guilt he feels every time he must pick up his ex when she falters, Gabe is also absolutely emotionally devastated when the man he has loved since he was in high school dumps him not once, but twice. Poor Gabe is a mess and when he is called to the high school to help one of his clients, he is ill prepared to meet the substitute gym teacher/drill sergeant, Brandt Sawyer. Despite being physically appealing on sight, Gabe is sure that Brandt is not your gay friendly kind of guy and has a stick up his you know where; in other words, instant attraction followed by definite loathing. Gabe quickly finds out just how wrong he is about Brandt, but nothing is really very easy in life and sometimes love is a very slippery slope, which Gabe and Brandt will soon learn.
There were so many good things about this novel that the smaller issues I had with it seemed to quickly dissipate. For instance, while the story is told from Gabe’s point of view, I really felt the author capitalized on every opportunity to further develop both characters, allowing us to deeply understand what made these guys tick and where the stumbling blocks to their relationship were going to surface. While there was pretty intense lusting after each other from the get go, the deeper connections they needed to make a go of being a couple were developed gradually, allowing us to see the bond between the two men strengthen and grow. This novel was a lovely study in how two men gradually become entwined in each other’s lives and strive to work out differences rather than just walking away when things get rough.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of how Gabe chose to respond to his ex late in the story, I also understand the need to do so. However, with him being a mental health counselor, I found myself rather mystified that Gabe chose to insert himself so forcefully into his ex’s life and couldn’t see the damage he was doing to her new marriage. I felt for such a smart man, Gabe really stumbled when it came to his ex and the blind spot he had was just a bit too big for me to fully believe in it. But again, this was a minor irritation—and the overall story really swept me up in a very good way, keeping any annoyance at this secondary plot point at bay.
Happily Ever After Isn’t Easy by Jake C. Wallace takes a careful look at later in life romance and a second chance at the elusive happy ever after and creates a beautiful love story in the end. I think you will find that Brandt and Gabe’s story will stick with you well beyond the final chapters of this book.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.