Jake Wilson has always been the one for Brent Maxwell. But Jake is straight and, after a miscommunication, their friendship ends on a sour note. Brent and Jake leave the military and return to their civilian lives and Brent isn’t sure they’ll ever see one another again. But when the opportunity arises to meet up with Jake and several other military buddies, Brent decides to accept. He knows he can never have what he wants with Jake, but the chance to restore their friendship is worth the risk.
Jake has missed his military brothers and none so more than Brent. He hates that he ended their friendship so badly and, if he’s being honest, he can’t help thinking of what might have been. When a snowstorm strands Jake and Brent together they have a chance to repair their relationship and to explore something new. But the bonds formed in the dark of night don’t always withstand the light of day and Brent and Jake will have to decide if what they have is strong enough to last.
Straight Up is the first in the Only You series by J.S. Finley and almost from the start, it struggles to find its footing. The overall idea of the story is intriguing. Old military friends reunite to support one another following a difficult transition to civilian life and discover a new chance at love. But the execution never fully works. The writing is stiff and stilted. It doesn’t flow smoothly and tends to roll unevenly from one event to another. The pacing is awkward and heightened by the ridiculous speed of the relationship development between Brent and Jake. They go from barely friends, to lovers, to living together within about 48 hours. And given that Jake is supposedly straight, he seems to have zero hesitation about jumping feet first into a sexual partnership with Brent. This whole aspect of the story is unbelievable and, at times, silly. There are references to PTSD and given the military past of these men, I was looking forward to further exploration of this. But we never get it. The idea of it exists as something that may or may not be an issue and is never given the time it deserves.
My biggest problem with Straight Up is one of misogyny. I have no idea if the author is a man or a woman and frankly it doesn’t matter. There are multiple instances of misogyny on the page and all of them strong enough to both offend me and jerk me right out of the story. These are generally found towards the first half of the book and vanish later on, but they definitely left a cloud lingering over the story. Statements like this tended to leave me seeing red: “…he wanted his friends, not sex with some lonely woman who would end up sucking what small amount of joy he had left in his life.” Misogyny is a fact of life for many women and given how many women read m/m fiction, I’m not really sure why the author felt the need to include these types of statements. Unless the intent was to leave a sour taste in the mouths of potential readers.
Straight Up has a lot of problems, not the least of which were uneven writing, an unbelievable romantic relationship, and a misogynistic bent for at least part of the novel. This isn’t one I can recommend, but I am hoping the next in the series manages to correct some of these issues.
Rating: 3 stars
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Clay Simmons is looking forward to another vacation with his buddies from the service. But if he’s being honest, he’s especially looking forward to a few days along with Thomas. They have always been close and given the stress of his job as a police officer, Clay desperately needs some relaxation and a good friend by his side.
Thomas is straight, but he’s always been attracted to Clay. He’s never acted on those feelings because he doesn’t want to risk damaging their friendship. The warmth of a Florida sun and long lazy days let both men lower their guards and they take the next step in their relationship. But the nature of Clay’s job may make a happily ever after impossible, especially when a dangerous situation threatens to destroy everything Clay and Thomas are trying to create.
Overall, Falling In strongly echoes its predecessor. The plot is nearly the same and it suffered from many of the same problems. But the writing does seem somewhat stronger and as a whole the book flows more easily. The misogynistic tone is also gone for the most part and this allowed me to enjoy Falling In a bit more than Straight Up.
Falling In follows Thomas and Clay, men from the same military unit introduced in the first book. There is another vacation on tap for the boys and again Thomas and Clay are isolated from the others for several days. During this time they go from being straight to gay (or at least out for you), friends to lovers, and discuss moving in with one another. All of this happens over the course of perhaps seventy-two hours. It lacks realism and reads like the caricature of a relationship. Thomas and Clay are both fairly shallow characters, never really developing beyond very basic constructs. Clay is a police officer and while visiting with Thomas he confesses there may be a group of dirty cops responsible for several deaths. This blows up in to a rather absurd situation, the resolution to which moves at the same ridiculous speed as everything else in the book. Clay tends to look dithering and weak as he fails to take action quickly. If you knew people were being killed, going on vacation seems like an odd response.
Falling In suffers from a serious case of boredom. Until the end of the book, there is little action, just lots of sex and random scenes of driving to or from somewhere or trips to the hot tub. There’s an excessive amount of sunscreen application, to the point I was laughing out loud every time the subject came up. Because there’s no real connection to the characters, all of these interactions read as flat and empty of purpose.
Falling In does read a little easier than Straight Up and it’s definitely an improvement. Unfortunately the characters still fail to ignite much interest and there isn’t much of a plot. It tends to be rather boring, but given the improvements from Straight Up to Falling In, I’m hoping the third book in this series will be even better.
Rating: 2.5 stars
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Mike Brewer can’t wait to see his old friend Lane Ashford. Having served in the military together, these guys have been to hell and back and it’s good to visit with someone he cares about. But Mike is hiding the severity of his PTSD and all too soon the issue begins to intrude on his tentative romance with Lane.
Lane doesn’t care that Mike is a man or that neither of them are gay. He just knows that Mike is the one he needs to be with. And he also knows Mike needs more help than he can give. It will take time, support from their friends, and a lot of courage on Mike’s part. But as long as they’re together, Lane knows they can get through anything.
Getting Through is the third in the Only You series. I was hoping that Getting Through would continue to improve be series and unfortunately that just didn’t happen. This story follows the same basic premise as the rest of the series — two buddies end up in a contrived situation that allows them to explore their sexual and romantic interests. One of my biggest complaints with the Only You series has been the speed at which these romances move and Getting Through is by far the worst offender. Mike and Lane zoom from the friend zone to sex by page ten and decide to move in together by Chapter 4. It’s a scenario that’s almost impossible to credit or even enjoy. Part of the problem stems from the fact that Mike and Lane, like the other couples in this series, fail to evolve as characters, either independently or as a pair. There is no depth or believability and as a result I failed to connect with them at every turn.
I will give the author credit for expanding the plot and attempting to give a stronger element of emotion to Getting Through. Mike is going through serious issues relating to his untreated PTSD and we see him, with Lane’s support, finally go to therapy and get the help he needs. I find this aspect of Mike rather admirable. What I didn’t like was the fact this character had multiple instances of significant violence towards his sexual partners (though the violence is not sexual in nature), but he doesn’t see the need to seek help until Lane comes along. And his general defense for this behavior is that he “sucks” and deserves to be alone. I am not a veteran. I do not have trauma induced PTSD and I’m not a doctor. So perhaps this is common and if so, fine. But violence, regardless of the reason, is never acceptable towards a domestic partner and I felt like Mike’s PTSD was used as an excuse for this violence rather than an explanation. This doesn’t mean Mike wasn’t upset by what he’d done, but his decision to get help seemed to evolve too slowly given the severity of the situation. And I acknowledge that other readers may not come to the same conclusion on this subject, so perhaps it comes down to personal interpretation.
I’ve struggled with this series from the start and I hate when that happens. Writers work hard and as a reviewer, I sometimes end up feeling like the schoolyard bully. But at the end the day we have to be honest and honesty isn’t always pretty. Getting Through fails to create a meaningful impact. The characters are flat and the plot falters more than once. I’d have to recommend giving this one a pass.