New to me author, sports romance, coming of age and coming out tale? Yeah, I was interested. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but yet I must have still formed some expectations because this one had a different feel to me and it took a while for me to settle in and get comfortable. Once that happened, I was right there and part of the action and emotions. Yep, emotions…it gets angsty at times, but under the circumstances it was totally understandable. This isn’t easy and it was quite the personal journey for two separate people and these people together, but it was definitely worth it in the end.
The story is a sequel of sorts though it doesn’t say that anywhere that I noticed. It is a follow-up to Four Summers a book about one hero’s best friend and the other hero’s brother. I didn’t read that one first so I’m only guessing, but I think it’s a YA. This one can definitely read as a standalone, but I could tell as I was reading that there was a previous story about Charlotte and Nate.
As to this book, it is told in alternating first person point of view. It is also told through a few flashbacks though not many. There is the prologue from the past, then it jumps to the present situation, and then there are just a few times that are clearly delineated in Italics where a past memory is told. I warn you, the prologue and these memories really grab at the emotions.
The story opens with Brandon and Alex separated for over a year due to Brandon cutting things off completely with his secret summer teenage lover. He is a college football player and he wants to focus on that while pretending he’s not gay. It all feels wrong to leave Alex, but that is the choice he makes. No one, but Alex and his brother knows he’s gay and he can’t even admit it to himself. Alex is heartbroken, but he tries to move on from Brand. He is almost in the same position as Brand in that nobody except his best friend and new gay friend know about him being gay. Unlike Brand, Alex has a long term goal of coming out and being real, but his plans to move on don’t work so well because he can’t get over Brand so he can’t seem to start anything up with anyone else.
Into this miserable situation, Brand gets into an accident going four-wheeling with his friends. It nearly kills him and he goes through open-heart surgery. Alex gets the call days later and comes even though going to Brand is a hard thing. Brand had stopped making any effort even to see his family, his friends or to take up his physical therapy to get back in shape for his last college season of football. He’s having a mental crisis whether he can get better or even wants to, whether he can keep up the facade his life is and whether he’ll end up disappointing people. Alex’s visit changes nothing between them and yet it does because Brand starts coming to life again. After Alex returns home to Virginia, Brand decides that he’s done pushing Alex entirely out of his life. His life only feels right and whole when he is with Alex. He wants a friendship and he would love the rest of the summer with him to prove he deserves even friendship with Alex.
Alex doesn’t know what to make of the idea of Brand joining his brother and Charlotte on the trip back to the lake and taking a cabin for the summer. He finally decides that he’ll take whatever he can get even if it’s just one last summer together. At the end of the summer, the reckoning on their hearts will come, but in the mean time they’ll live in Alex’s apartment, get Brand back in shape and pretend for the rest of the world. They both dream of more, but reality leaves a bitter taste.
Alright, so this one offers up a lot. There is so much going on that I would be writing my own book just to discuss it all in detail so its pretty amazing that the story didn’t feel too crowded with stuff. There is the romance between these guys that began while they were still teens when Brand’s family came to spend each summer at The Village at the Lake cabins where Alex worked with his family. There are their personal coming of age and self-discovery stuff of who they are and who others see them as. There are the family dynamics caused by the guys both being gay and figuring out how to put it out there to their parents, but there are also those parent-child expectation/disappointment issues that both boys suffered. And finally, the gay athlete thing for Brand. See? A lot.
As you can imagine, this means that the book is more an internal conflict thing that makes the pacing take a hit. There was a bit of lag. I was alright with the emotional and mental stuff because its real and I wouldn’t have connected with the characters or their story if they didn’t spend time processing, but I will also admit to times when I got impatient when one or the other of them would get stuck in their own head and cover the same mental territory over and over.
Now that being said, much of the story did move forward. I enjoyed all the scenes of these two guys reuniting and figuring out how to be a couple. Neither of them knew much about being gay so they had to explore. The little squabbles over stuff like one or the other getting sappy or smothering or accepting outward support when around other people or even who would top and bottom in their physical relationship. The cute domestic scenes of cooking or shopping, working out or lazing on the couch together were a nice touch to contrast the anxious moments. And the physical relationship was told well. They had to go slow with that. I loved the feel of this time in the middle of the book when they were hiding and anticipating having to part from each other, but they were still happy and excited to be together. This is good because near the end when things went south again, I was so vested that I was talking to my e-reader pushing these two not to screw this up and be courageous to get their chance at happiness.
I had a few thoughts that I needed to toss out there. I found it interesting that they came from very different homes and parents who had different parenting methods and expectations and yet both of them had the impression that they were disappointments. Brand’s folks made the error of not making him clearly understand that they were proud of who he was just the way he was with no expectation that he take a certain path. Alex’s parents, particularly the dad, actually do make it clear that they find their kid a disappointment and this is not about sexual orientation, but just in general. Love wasn’t the issue and the boys know this, but the parent approval/disappointment stuff was still crushing. I was so glad to see the clear message this story sends about this issue even if that’s not necessarily the point of the story.
In the end, I had a satisfying journey with the two heroes through some tough times and some good times. The author is all that others said when they recommended her writing. I would definitely grab another book that she writes. I’m recommending this one to those who enjoy NA level M/M Contemporary Romance that isn’t light or easy due to the ground it covers and offers just a slightly spicy romance.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
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