Rating: 4.25 stars
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After breaking up with his long-time boyfriend, Jay, a few years ago, Levon Ludlow has tried to move forward on his own. The two weren’t able to make it work long distance and have mostly drifted apart. Since then, Levon has bought a home, taken over the bookstore where he worked, and runs children’s parties using his animal talking skills. He even went on a makeover show, where they redid his home and wardrobe, and tried to instill in Levon some new confidence. In some ways, it has helped. Levon and Jay were so focused on one another that they didn’t allow room for either of them to really grow. But while Levon has tried to move on and publicly says he is over Jay, in his deepest of hearts, he still misses him.
When Jay calls out of nowhere for Levon’s help, Levon can’t find it in him to say no. A friend of Jay’s owns a Florida resort that has been overrun by birds. The birds are somehow affecting the guests, making them act strangely and no one can figure out how to get rid of them. Levon is an animal talker with a special affinity for birds, so Jay hopes he may be able to figure out why the birds are there and get them to leave. Jay will be on the island as well, as a storm is brewing and his water-moving skills may be needed to keep flood waters at bay.
At first, things between the men are awkward, as they each try to keep things strictly professional. But spending days together working at the resort brings back that connection between them, and the underlying love and affection that was never lost. Even as they find themselves struggling with the bird mystery, Jay and Levon realize that they are falling back in love with one another. But there are reasons that the men didn’t work together the first time, and finding a way to move forward that doesn’t open up the same old problems isn’t going to be easy. But Jay and Levon are meant for one another, and both have grown and changed. Now they have to figure out if the love they share is enough to help them find forever together.
The Forever Place is the follow-up to J.C. Lillis’ excellent, bittersweet novel, You First. The first book introduces us to Jay and Levon, a couple who had been together 15 years. They were both low-level supers, Jay with an ability to control water and Levon to talk to animals. They lived in a small town with quiet lives and Levon thought they had everything they could ever want. However, Jay wanted more from life, a chance to do more with his powers, and ultimately, the men realized that while they loved each other deeply, they didn’t quite fit together anymore. It is a lovely story, incredibly beautiful and moving, but with a bittersweet ending as the men are where they need to be, but not fully together. This story then picks up a few years later as Jay and Levon reunite. I think you could probably start here if you wanted, but I think your enjoyment will be much richer if you read You First, particularly knowing this second book is out there to bring the men back together again.
This book gives us a bit of a mystery for Levon and Jay to untangle, which I think works well for the story. Rather than focus solely on the relationship, it gives the men a chance to reconnect more casually as their feelings build once again. The case is fun, as it takes place on a lovers resort, complete with pretty much every cheesy heart and flowers and romance cliche you can imagine. (Vibrating beds? Check. Pink bubbles in the baths for two? Check.) So there is some playful humor here as they spend time at the resort, but there is also a sweetness to it all. The owner of the resort is kind and sympathetic and there is an earnestness about the place that says these people are really trying to make something wonderful for their guests. So even as we can giggle at some of the craziness, there is also a lot of heart. The mystery is interesting as they piece together what is happening with the birds and why, and while this isn’t a high-intensity investigation by any means, I think it gives nice balance to the romantic side.
If you have read You First, I expect that, like me, you are going to be eager to see Jay and Levon get back together. Lillis does a wonderful job in the first book of showing how just being in love isn’t always enough, and that both men need things that they can’t get by staying together. For Jay, it is getting to explore his super powers and figure out his potential. He is looking to find his place and he can’t do it in their small town. But Levon doesn’t want to change, doesn’t want anything new or different, and is content with his life as it is. What this story shows is that Levon had things he needed to work on as well, things he could only really explore once he and Jay separated. The two were so close, had created such a little bubble for themselves, that they didn’t branch out or expand their lives. When Jay is gone, Levon realizes that it is time he needs to do that as well, even though it is hard for him. When the men come back together, I could believe it could work this second time around. Levon has really grown in confidence, he is willing to try more things, and he has figured out a way to reconcile that part of him that wanted everything to stay the same with the side of him that was ready to step out for something a little bit more. Jay has made his own changes, which are revealed over the course of the book, so I won’t go into detail here. But I felt confident that these guys have both reached the point individually where they could make it work together. It is sweet and sweeping and romantic, and I just loved it.
As with the first book, Lillis gives us some parallels with a side love story. Here we hear a story Levon’s father has written, which is loosely veiled tale of his own life. Levon is very like his father, who passed away in the time between the books, and being able to read about his father’s loves and regrets and the choices he made really helps Levon figure out his own life.
Fans of the first book are not going to want to miss this follow up story, as it really creates a lovely ending for Levon and Jay. And for new readers, I can highly recommend both books. Lillis really has created something warm and romantic, with the right dose of humor to keep some lightness. I found myself laughing at loud at points, as well as really moved by the beautiful journey. I loved these books and definitely urge you to give them a try.