rebelRating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel

After a bad breakup sent Gus Scott running out of town, he has now returned home ready to face his life. In specific, the three-year-old son that Gus never knew he had. After a horrific home life and then time spent in the foster system, Gus is determined to be a father to his son, and that means returning home to his brothers and their tattoo shop. It also means facing the man who broke his heart three years ago, Rey Montenegro.

Rey was hurt and frustrated by Gus’ seeming lack of commitment to their relationship, enough so that he figured the men just didn’t want the same things out of their future. But seeing how hurt Gus was by the breakup made Rey realize he may have been too quick to push Gus away. Now that Gus has returned home, Rey would love for the guys to get back together, but Gus has a lot on his plate as he deals with getting shared custody of his son and he isn’t sure this is the time to also focus on his relationship. But the connection between Gus and Rey is still strong and it is clear the love they had for one another is not gone. Now the men must figure out if they can move on from the past and navigate the complicated future in order to be together.

Rebel is the first book in Rhys Ford’s 415 Ink series and it’s off to a great start. Most of Ford’s work is in suspense and urban fantasy, so I was really curious how this straight contemporary story would go, but Ford infuses it with her trademark intensity and emotion that makes the story really shine. The series focuses on five brothers, some of whom are blood relatives and others who are brothers of the heart. They came together as kids struggling through the foster care system and bonded into a family. Several of them now work at/co-own the 415 Ink tattoo parlor and the series will follow each of the brothers.

What I loved most about this story is the connection between the five men. The bond between them is incredibly strong, and though they bicker and fuss at one another, it is clear how much of a loving family they are. When crisis hits, the men rally around one another and you can just feel the strength of their relationship. Each of them have difficult pasts and have overcome horrible circumstances. That shared sense of history gives them all the ability to really understand one another and be there for each other. It is a lovely dynamic and I am sure it will continue to play out as the series continues. My only hurdle here is that I found the beginning of the story a bit overwhelming as all these guys are introduced. There are five brothers, plus one who died, plus Rey, all being introduced at the start of the book. It is necessary to give you the foundation of the story and their relationships, but as a reader I had a little trouble at first keeping up with who is who, how they are related, what their backgrounds are, etc. Once I was a few chapters in, things settled down, so if you experience this just give it a chance and things come together fairly quickly.

I enjoyed the connection between Rey and Gus as well. They have known each other for years and Rey is practically a part of the family (he is also best friends with Gus’ brother Mason). While it isn’t quite a misunderstanding that sends them apart, it doesn’t take long for Rey to understand that his actions in breaking things off were too hasty and that he didn’t give Gus the chance he needed (nor perhaps realize just how strongly Gus felt about him). So the guys are able to come to a good place fairly quickly, but at the same time, Gus has a lot on his plate and he isn’t emotionally ready to jump back in with Rey no matter how much he cares for him. So the guys take things slowly and carefully here, building back up their friendship and getting a solid foundation before they fall back into the romance. But as a reader I never doubted them and I loved seeing them find their way back together again.

I’ll also note how much I enjoyed the way the storyline plays out with Gus’ son and the mother of his child, Jules. This could so easily have been yet another story of the nasty woman and her horrible family refusing custody and making life difficult. It was refreshing to see a book where the child’s mother is friendly and caring and willing to involve the father in the child’s life. Yes, they take some time to make sure Gus is stable and able to take on the responsibility for a child. But the family is lovely and welcoming and it just made for a nice change to the typical romance novel dynamic. I think this particularly works well because there is a lot of intensity to the rest of the book, a lot of issues these guys are all going through. So I appreciated that Ford doesn’t go for the easy conflict here with the custody situation.

So as I said, lots of intensity and lots of issues. This isn’t always an easy book as there is a lot of pain going around here. These brothers have had a hard life and I don’t think any of them are going to be easy stories. But Ford does such a wonderful job here juxtaposing the intensity and tension with the love and joy and connection of this makeshift family. Add in Rey’s love and support, and I never doubted that these guys could make it all work. So I really enjoyed this first book in the series and can’t wait for more.

P.S. Ford throws in a lot of Easter eggs here for her other books. Nothing that matters if you haven’t read them, but if you are familiar with her library you will enjoy seeing the subtle nods in things like a Crossroads Gin t-shirt, Damien playing guitar outside the pub, Ichi guest tattooing, and more.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

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