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**Note: this review contains spoiler tags, which are shown only on the bottom of the review and are not included in the book info at the top. If you don’t want to be spoiled, avoid the bottom of the post please!**

neveraheroTitle: Never a Hero (Tucker Springs #5)
Author: Marie Sexton
Publisher: Riptide
Length: 45k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Tucker Springs series, Neighbors, First Times, Veterinarians, Animals, Physical Injuries/Disabilities, Music (Piano), Behavioral Disorders (Social Anxiety), Horrendous Mothers!, Stutters, Awesome Female Characters!, Halloween
Rating: Really Liked It

BLURB

Everyone deserves a hero.

Owen Meade is desperately in need of a hero. Raised by a mother who made him ashamed of his stutter, his sexual orientation, and his congenitally amputated arm, Owen lives like a hermit in his Tucker Springs apartment. But then hunky veterinarian Nick Reynolds moves in downstairs.

Nick is sexy and confident, and makes Owen comfortable with himself in a way nobody ever has. He also introduces Owen to his firecracker of a little sister, who was born with a similar congenital amputation but never let it stand in her way. When she signs the two of them up for piano lessons—and insists that they play together in a recital—Owen can’t find a way to say no. Especially since it gives him a good excuse to spend more time with Nick.

Owen knows he’s falling hard for his neighbor, but every time he gets close, Nick inexplicably pulls away. Battling his mother’s scorn and Nick’s secrets, Owen soon realizes that instead of waiting for a hero, it’s time to be one—for himself and for Nick.

REVIEW

To be honest, I was a bit daunted when I started thinking of writing this review. Not because of the book itself, but because I read this book about two months ago and then didn’t write the review promptly (not a surprise, honestly!). But, in a twist I didn’t expect, but should have, I find that this book comes back to me in detail that books I read two months previously usually never do. And that just shows how much of this book stuck with me. I remember thinking about it for a couple of weeks afterward, and when I consider that I usually hold books that stay with me for a few days in high esteem, then this was a really special read for me. And without doubt, the best book in the Tucker Springs series by far. Admittedly, my feelings about the books in this series so far have been so so; while I liked them all, none of them really stuck with me (a statement I’ve made in past reviews of those books). Enter Never a Hero to make me eat my words…

We first meet Owen sequestered in his dark apartment, the main floor of a split level home in Tucker Springs. He rarely leaves, working at home on his computer and getting his groceries delivered. His life is a pretty depressing one. Raised to be ashamed of his missing arm, the result of a congenital amputation (that’s where the blood supply to a limb is cut off by the amniotic cord in the womb and the fetus is born without a limb or with a partial limb), Owen was further humiliated by his mother’s negativity and verbal abuse as a child to the point where he has extreme social anxiety that goes even beyond his embarrassment over his missing arm and his stutter. Even worse, his mother’s campaign of abuse frequently centered on his obvious homosexuality and her relative displeasure at such a prospect of a gay son. Naturally, as an adult Owen’s life is rather tormented and lonely, and even though his courage stretched far enough to move away from her influence, his mother’s work was done. Owen takes hardly any pleasures in life, and the one he cherishes is soon to end. Owen has fallen in love with his downstair neighbor’s daily piano playing and by proxy, Owen fancies himself in love with the woman himself.

Even worse than the prospect of the absence of his unrequited hetero love, Owen’s new neighbor is a beautiful gay man. Owen could easily resent Nick’s presence — he’s confident, sexy and doesn’t deal with the same sort of social anxieties as Owen (proved by the loads of gay male friends who come to help him move in) — but Nick’s charm and easy going nature seem to deflate Owen’s bubble of derision and longing. As the two get to know each other, Owen starts to find it difficult to pretend that he still wants his old neighbor, the woman, especially when Nick cooks for him (nasty healthy food) and little by little starts to draw Owen out of his shell and out of his apartment. But the best thing about Nick is his reaction to Owen’s missing arm. He doesn’t stare, but he doesn’t ignore it either. He’s comfortable talking about it.

Of course, Nick isn’t perfect. As his self-confidence grows with Nick’s patient encouragement, Owen finds that as much as he needs a hero (and found one), Nick needs one too. He’s full of secrets that he’s extremely persistent to keep and each subsequent intimate step forward in their relationship leads to Nick taking two steps away.

Take one look at the tags for this book, even without knowing what the book is about or having read the blurb, and you’ll be able to tell that the characters in this story deal with a shitload of adversity. It’s enough to pound on the angst button and send me clamoring for the hills! But, once again, Marie Sexton won me over by the charm of her writing. Some writers just have a way of connecting to the reader through their words. Sometimes I like to think of it as if I’m reading the book out loud. Would it sound and feel like I’m telling a story? It doesn’t necessarily require a strong or unique character voice, but the narration immediately takes a spark in you and you’re hooked. I shouldn’t have been surprised… Marie’s words have done this to me before in other books of hers. Nevertheless, I felt as if the charm and honesty in the writing cut through whatever natural angst exists from dealing with characters who have such enormous difficulties.

While the growing relationship between Owen and Nick is central to the story, the real star of the story is Owen and the ongoing catalyst to keep the story moving is really Owen’s personal growth. Like the blurb says, Owen soon realizes that instead of waiting for a hero, it’s time to be one—for himself…. It is important that Owen take the steps to take control of his life himself. I think it’s also important that Owen has a goal other than his own self-worth. I think that having both characters dealing with really heavy issues isn’t only to show that the two much rely on one another in any kind of relationship, but it’s important to motivate Owen, to show that he can help not only himself but Nick as well.

There’s something I found unique to this book in the series that I was really happy to see. You can see in the book that Marie made a decision to incorporate all of the past characters from the books into the story, and not just the ones that are affiliated with her books. I really appreciated this, because the opposite has been true for some of the other books and showing the other characters really helped build a feeling of community in the story. It refreshed all of the connections between the men in a way that wasn’t as apparent before. When I first heard that there was going to be a multi-author series based on interconnected stories set in the same town, I think I got a (perhaps) misconstrued notion of a series that was going to be much more interconnected that it has been thus far, which has been somewhat disappointing to me. This book went quite a way appease that disappointment and I hope that in the future the characters from other books start to pop up here and there, or even better that characters would have a more important part to play in books that aren’t their own. Maybe authors have an unspoken rule not to fuck up other authors pet characters 😉 Maybe not. Maybe this isn’t even in the cards for this series, but I would love to see these authors having a more hands on approach to the other authors’ characters, perhaps even working together to plan character trajectories over each other’s books so that the stories are more integrated. Just my own wish 🙂

The fact that the stories are by and large separate means that though this is a series, you can feel free to enter at any stage and read whichever books take your particular fancy. If that’s the case with you and you haven’t read any of the Tucker Springs books, or even if you’ve read the others, this remains my favorite and as good of a place as any to start reading. You can always go back and read the others if you find yourself interested in the secondary characters in Never a Hero. Definitely Recommended!