Title: Counting Daisies (Counting: Book One)
Author: Nicola Haken
Publisher: Self-Published/Kindle Unlimited
Length: 376 Pages
At a Glance: Counting Daisies is a raw and unvarnished look at addiction and its aftermath, with a sweet and satisfying finish.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Dylan Roberts and Cameron O’Neil were good kids. Growing up together, they shared everything. By the age of fourteen they were more than best friends – they were in love. They dreamt of their future, of success, marriage…happiness. They were going to grow old by each other’s side.
But… “Kids are stupid.”
When tragic circumstances forced them apart, Dylan discovered that life wasn’t the fairytale he dreamed of; it was dark, difficult, saturated with pain and shame. Life wasn’t meant to be enjoyed, merely survived, but even that became a challenge.
Damaged, worthless, and disgusting, he saw no point to his pitiful existence…
Until he came face to face with the boy he used to love.
Successful, honourable, and happy, Cameron had achieved the future they planned. He was good, positive, popular…everything Dylan would never be. What would happen if Dylan let him back into his world? Would he destroy Cameron too? Would his poison push him away like everyone else?
“They leave or they die.”
But what if…what if Cameron didn’t?
Counting Daisies is book one in The Counting Series, but can be read as a standalone novel.
***Please note*** This book contains scenes and descriptions of intravenous drug use which may be uncomfortable for some readers.
Review: Dylan Roberts is orphaned at the age of fourteen when his grandmother, his last living relative, dies. He is soon after swallowed up by the foster care system and separated from his best friend and first love, Cameron O’Neil. After sixteen years of radio silence—while Dylan suffers being bounced from family to family before aging out of the system, and Cameron goes on to fulfill his lifelong dream of not only becoming a Michelin star chef but also owning his own restaurant—Dyl resurfaces, dredging rock bottom and grasping at the lifeline he hopes Cam will offer, even if temporarily.
Welcome to the immediate heartbreak that is this novel.
Dylan isn’t only weathering the effects of his addiction to heroin when he calls out to Cameron outside his restaurant that night. Dyl is also plagued by the pain of all his losses and the guilt and self-directed loathing that is a psychological byproduct of what he’s done to feed his beast. Dylan’s self-numbing keeps him from feeling anything at all, and I love how this piece of the Dylan puzzle also plays into the story’s title, even as it’s a sorrowful reminder of the way he misuses it as a coping mechanism to separate mind and body, and how it figures into his reconnecting with Cam.
Cameron has never stopped loving Dylan, even though he realizes most people would find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe he’d found the love of his lifetime at such a young age—even Cam has a difficult time believing it. Seeing Dyl again is shocking, of course, and it’s obvious that the man he still considers his Dyl isn’t living a comfortable existence. Dyl’s very body language speaks volumes, but it’s when he begins to open up to Cam that the dramatic arc of the story hits its stride, and Cameron is tested to remain strong in the face of some bitter and harsh realities.
What is ever more brutal than watching Dyl succumb to his heroin craving is playing witness to his withdrawal from the drug. Haken doesn’t tip toe around these scenes to spare her readers the horror of Dyl purging his system without medical intervention or assistance. It’s one of the things, in fact, that provided a deeper connection to the story, owning it on a more visceral level in my ability to empathize with Cam as he watches this monster emerge, the one that turns Dyl into someone unrecognizable, and then feeling overwhelmed by and powerless against it. I appreciated that the author didn’t play false in this portrayal. The realism was so important here, even if disturbing, as it was a means of later showing readers that no matter how much Dylan loved Cameron, no matter how much he wanted to stay clean and attempt to be someone Cam could love, the pin was always thisclose to being pulled from the grenade, and no amount of love or good intentions was the answer to the problem. Haken does a thorough job of portraying the monkey on Dylan’s back, so honest and full of raw emotion that readers get an up close and personal understanding of why he self-numbs—it isn’t romanticized for the sake of making the story pretty and palatable. What I feel was a gritty and realistic look at the personal hell of his addiction, though, might be triggering, or, at a minimum, unpalatable to someone else, so heed the blurb’s warning.
Counting Daisies then resolves in a supremely sweet and romantic way. Oddly enough, I found the narrative more satisfying while Cam and Dyl were struggling through Dyl’s addiction—not that I didn’t want them to find their happy ending, nor that it’d have been preferred to watch them slogging through repeated relapses, or, worse, having Dyl’s recovery come too handily, but it was more a feeling that after the steep dramatic peaks and the gut wrenching lows that made up the bulk of the story, the sentimentality of its ending was a one-eighty that served its romance genre goals but, as a consequence, comes across as a bit fluffy in comparison. This isn’t a failure to communicate the story on the author’s part, not at all, but more an observation that the difficulty in shifting emotional gears was in part due to the narrative time leaps of Dylan’s treatment and beyond.
Ever a fan of a good redemption story, with a second chance to rekindle a lost love thrown into the mix, Nicola Haken’s Counting Daisies delivers on the promise of both those tropes. Dylan’s story is an unvarnished and uncompromising portrait of a man whose abandonment issues became the fulcrum of his addiction. And then, love inspires his desire to heal. Through recovery, relapse, and the final desperate commitment to get clean for himself and not for Cameron, Dylan not only discovers a passion for cooking but also makes two good friends in Paul and Derek, both chefs at Cam’s restaurant. I loved their honesty and support and, in some cases, their offering the tough love Cam and Dyl both needed to avoid falling into the enabler/enabled trap. I’m looking forward to the next book in this series, with the hope that it’s Paul and Derek who’ll get the star treatment in their own story.
You can buy Counting Daisies here: