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After Ben

(Seattle Stories, #1)

Genre: Contemporary Romance (Male/Male)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

No more kissing a ghost…

A year after the sudden death of his longtime partner, Ben, Theo Anderson is still grieving. The last thing he’s looking for is a new lover, but as Theo discovers, sometimes life has its own plans.

The strength of his attraction to fellow gym member Peter is surprising. So is how compelling he finds Morgan, a new friend he makes online. Morgan is witty and fierce on the internet forum they frequent, while Peter is physically present in a way that’s hard to ignore.

Both men bring Theo closer to acceptance: he needs to lay Ben’s memory to rest if he’s to start afresh with a new lover.

Getting honest about the reasons for his yearlong isolation means confronting why he lost Ben… only just when he’s ready to commit, Theo finds he isn’t the only one haunted by the past.

Whether with Peter or with Morgan, choosing to love again—after Ben—might not be Theo’s toughest challenge.

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I have only recently become a fan of Con Riley’s after a personal recommendation from favourite author, Joanna Chambers, who assured me that I would love Ms. Riley’s writing and particularly After Ben. She wasn’t wrong.  What completely astounded me, and I didn’t discover this fact until after I had devoured the author’s first edition of After Ben, was that this beautiful, insightful story of love after loss was Con Riley’s debut novel.

This novel was first released in 2012 and has recently been given a bit of a face-lift and a wonderful new cover. As far as I’m concerned, and I’ve read both editions, it needed little, if anything, to improve it. As well as the changes the author has made internally, without a doubt she has played an absolute blinder in her choice of the stunning new cover, which perfectly reflects my vision of the kind, charismatic, life embracing Ben de Luca. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about book covers and titles and, in this case, both are as classy as the writing and the story.

The author opens the story with Ben already deceased. How many writers could pull that scenario off? Well Con Riley does, and to wonderful effect. One year on, Theo Anderson is a grieving, heartbroken man, who had cut himself from friends and family, his love and partner of fifteen years having died of a heart attack at the wheel of his car. The sudden, brutal ending to their life together has left Theo incapable of coping with life other than in an automaton kind of way. Ben had been his everything – lover, friend and homemaker. His death has touched every part of Theo’s life just as his living did, and Theo is floundering without him. He immerses himself in work and pounds the treadmill at the gym feeling nothing but exhaustion. And that’s the way he prefers it – cutting himself off from family and friends is so much easier than caring again after Ben.

And then two things happen that are about to change Theo’s life once again. To help fill his lonely nights during the early days of his ‘annus horribilis’, Theo had joined a local, online political debate forum and it’s here he eventually ‘meets’ angry, argumentative, and quite obviously intelligent Morgan. Theo feels a connection to him/her immediately and I really liked how Con Riley grew this ‘friendship’ from a purely intellectual connection to begin with. And then, during one of his early morning relentless-pounding-of-the-treadmill sessions, he’s befriended by paramedic, Peter Morse, who senses Theo’s desolation – yes, he wants to help him – Peter’s a lovely guy – but his feelings are not completely altruistic – he fancies the pants off of him. These two men, each in their own way, are Theo’s salvation, pulling him back from the edge of not-giving-a-damn to the land of the living once more.

Slowly and painfully Theo begins his rehabilitation, and it is with the help of these two men that Theo starts to ‘listen’ to what Ben would have wanted for him. It soon becomes apparent that Theo will begin his ‘new normal’ with one of them and, oh my goodness, but the thought that only one of them would find happiness with the delectable Theo had me tied up in knots. I loved the characterisation of both Peter and Morgan and really couldn’t choose between them to begin with.

How did Con Riley convince me that it was okay to love again after loss? How did she put it all so perfectly into perspective that I didn’t feel that Theo was betraying the complete and utter love he had felt for Ben? The way I see it is that Theo keeps Ben with him – not a three in a bed kind of relationship –  but rather Ben is accepted by Theo’s new love as someone who has shaped the man he loves and is therefore an integral part of their relationship. I love that Theo can talk about Ben without his ‘new love’ feeling like second best. The author shows us, in her intuitive way, that Theo needs help in order to let Ben go before he can live again.

Ms. Riley, very cleverly, has her remarkable character Ben living and breathing throughout this story. She’s so skilled in the way she keeps him alive that it’s almost impossible to feel sad, revealing that she is quite obviously a caring and thoughtful people watcher, who is able to transfer what she sees around her into her characters to marvellous effect. I find that, as I get older, I really need to feel an emotional depth and caring in my reading; a writer may be technically brilliant but if he/she isn’t ‘kind’ I’m left feeling cheated. Con Riley has this elusive quality in spadesful. She has also captured ‘grief’ in all its intricacies – I’ve been there, felt what she describes, and totally agree.

I know it is a book I shall comfort read regularly. I’ve already read it twice. Ben, Theo, Morgan and Peter are superbly drawn MC’s, and there’s also a fabulous cast of secondary characters who we don’t have to say goodbye to as they reappear in later books in the series, and who help make this memorable story even more unforgettable. Just to whet your appetite, Saving Sean, the second in the Seattle series, also soon to be re-released, sees the lovely man who didn’t capture Theo’s heart find a love of his own.

MY VERDICT: This is a wonderfully emotive and beautiful read and, if you want to go all gooey inside, then I can recommend AFTER BEN wholeheartedly.

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SIZZLING

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Genre: Contemporary Romance (Male/Male)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

Things haven’t been going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast.

Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.

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I’ve only discovered Joanna Chambers in the last couple of years and find I can’t get enough of her writing now.  Once I start one of her books I need to leave myself enough time and a clear run as I find it difficult to put it down, and this has been the case with everything of hers I’ve read and she never disappoints. There’s something special in her way of writing – an innate kindness and compassion that calls out to me. It says a lot about her writing, that because I feel the need to read everything she’s written, I’ve now even begun to enjoy some contemporaries, mostly hers, as well as my usual favourites, historical fiction and historical romance. My first by Joanna Chambers was her utterly fabulous Enlightenment series, which I chose for its compelling synopsis. It had me captivated from page one of the first book and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Rest and Be Thankful would normally have slipped through my reading net as it’s not only a contemporary but also little more than a novella. I’m generally not fond of novellas because I feel the majority of authors can’t tell a plausible story in such a short word count. However, Rest and Be Thankful is 76 pages of pure delight, which I read in one sitting in a coffee shop. I absolutely adored this heart-warmingly romantic and eloquently written little book, which is packed full of love and understanding, and I’m sure I must have had a silly grin on my face as I read the last page.

Cam McMorrow, who having been made redundant from his accountancy firm at around the same time as his relationship failed, has decided to see the positive in the situation and has seized the opportunity to change his life. Discovering that he no longer wants to sit behind a desk and, having always enjoyed the outdoor life, he has used his redundancy money, together with a further loan, to set up an outdoor activity business, which is centred in and around the village in the wilds of Scotland where he has happy memories of the holidays spent there as a child. Looking back through rose tinted glasses, he remembers the carefree time when he’d had no responsibilities, and life with his happy, loving family in their little holiday cottage had seemed like endless fun. Fast forward to adulthood, and now aged thirty, Cam is stony broke; bookings for the spring and summer are good but he hadn’t counted on his business being so seasonal. Consequently, he has no money coming in during the winter months. So, with a loan to repay, food to be bought, and the ancient heating boiler in his parents’ dilapidated holiday cottage having irretrievably broken down, he’s at an all-time low, both mentally and financially.

Cam’s sister, Eilidh, pays him a visit to invite him to a Hogmanay bash in Glasgow and insists they eat lunch together in the cafe owned by local artist, Rob Armstrong. Cam reluctantly agrees to lunch there, and we learn the reason for his reticence as his bright spark of a sister winkles out the truth. When Cam had first arrived in the village a year previously, the two men had begun a tentative friendship, enjoying a pint together in the local pub, but more importantly, there was the stirring of an attraction between them. Both had suffered in their previous relationships for different reasons. And then Cam unwittingly steps on Rob’s toes in the course of his business dealings and ends up having a very angry and public confrontation with Rob. Obviously, after this, the attraction has no chance of developing further and, worse still, Cam imagines that the villagers are taking sides and so withdraws into himself.  I felt Cam’s loneliness very keenly; it was impossible not to, such is the author’s clever and compassionate way with words.

Cam’s natural reticence doesn’t help, manifesting itself in apparent arrogance though in reality he’s far from it.  Both Cam and Rob have since had time to cool down and realise that they both overreacted. Eilidh very astutely sees that there is still something simmering under the surface between the two men. Cam sets out on his much anticipated journey to Glasgow for Hogmanay which doesn’t go to plan and that’s all I’m saying, except that we discover there’s a lot more to both men than meets the eye…

I love Joanna Chambers’ ability to have her characters jump right off the page. They’re real and multi-dimensional, coping with the everyday problems and difficulties we all have to deal with. Her observational skills are phenomenal and she has no problem in transferring them to the written page. It’s so subtle that it seems almost effortless but it’s a rare gift.

This story is eloquently written and wonderfully descriptive, with expertly developed and lovable characters, both central and secondary ones. I was completely invested in the lives of Cam and Rob, their struggles and sadnesses, and the growing attraction between these two gorgeous men who had a way to go to overcome their differences and find each other.

What’s more, Joanna Chambers’ ability to describe a scene, such that I feel as if I am right in the middle of it, is another quality of her writing I am in awe of. Here, she’s talking about a gathering snowstorm:

Already a clutch of sooty storm clouds was scudding across the horizon, bullying the last of the weak, winter daylight away and ushering in a violet-grey dusk. In that strange half-light, the colours of the landscape were oddly intense—the darkly vivid green of the sweeping hillsides, the rusty amber of the dying bracken, the silvery grey of the road itself, meandering through the glen

Can’t you just imagine it? Feel it?

MY VERDICT: This little gem of a book gets 5 stars from me and Joanna Chambers has become an auto-buy author – I’ll read anything she puts her name to. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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