Title: Seattle Stories Box Set
Author: Con Riley
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 794 Pages
At a Glance: Author Con Riley knows how to create characters with depth, and that makes each of these novels worth the read.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Experience the tug and pull of love while weathering life’s challenges in contemporary Seattle in these bestsellers from Con Riley—After Ben: 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 soon discovers, sometimes life has other plans—Saving Sean: Saving Sean means Peter must let go of his pride and turn to friends and family. Asking for help is a bitter pill for Peter to swallow, but if he can’t, how can he expect Sean to accept his help—and his love—in turn?—Aiden’s Luck: Aiden remains closeted and lonely, convinced that bad luck is the only luck he’ll ever have. Then a crisis at work finally brings Aiden to his breaking point. Accepting support from Marco is a gamble, but it could be just what Aiden needs to turn his luck around.
Review: Author Con Riley’s Seattle Stories Bundle holds three novels, all centering round a small group of men whose stories are interwoven to some degree. While these three could be read as standalone novels, I found that each subsequent installment was made richer for having read the ones before it. As a trilogy there are some fantastic moments in each novel, with gorgeous characters who often tug at your heartstrings and burrow under your skin fairly rapidly. These are novels with a slow burn, but once the men are committed to each other there is no turning back for them, even when there seems to be insurmountable barriers or real mistakes made that threaten the relationships they so desperately want to develop. I will review each novel separately but must say that as a whole I would rate this series as quite good with just some minor difficulties in each story. Author Con Riley knows how to create characters with depth, and that makes each of these novels worth the read. Overall Rating: 4.5 star
At the onset of this novel we are met with a grieving man, Theo, who has lost the love of his life, Ben, to a freak heart attack resulting in a deadly accident. Ben was a force of nature in Theo’s eyes, constantly seeking to wring every moment of joy from life, and carrying a more skeptical Theo along for the ride. Despite their age gap, (Ben was nine years older than Theo) the two men were a match made in heaven, and their love lasted fifteen years before Ben was taken from Theo. Now Theo barely makes it through the day, shouldering both the guilt over not being with Ben at the end, and his anger at both his mother and father, who didn’t get along with Ben while he lived, forcing Theo to choose between them and damaging their relationship as a family.
When he meets a paramedic at the gym, and tentatively begins trying to actually move on from grief and try dating again, the result is somewhat disastrous. Theo finds himself unable to commit to even giving himself and Peter a chance. But in the anonymity of an online chat room, Theo discovers his intellectual match, and someone who truly piques his curiosity. As time goes on, the need to meet this Morgan from the Internet becomes more important to Theo, who is slowly but surely falling for the online man. But when Morgan reveals his age, Theo is gob smacked and thrown back into a gut wrenching state that leaves him questioning why he ever thought he could get over Ben in the first place. Now the question is will Theo give Morgan a chance and realize that his irrational fear of being the older man, who could go the same way as his own Ben did, should not stop him from taking another chance on love?
After Ben was a study in the stages of grief as we watch the life of a man who must travel through each one. Desperately sad and alone, Theo has truly lost some of his will to live life without Ben, and it shows in the way he drives himself at work and at the gym, missing meals and running himself ragged in order to find some solace in hard fought sleep at the end of each day. For Theo there is never a time when he does not mourn the loss of his partner, and that despair permeates his every waking moment. With a strong and wonderful cast of secondary characters, this long novel never felt bogged down—instead, we traveled the lonely road Theo was on right by his side, and ached to hold his hand and assure him things would get better.
When Theo and Morgan finally meet, you feel an almost palpable relief; that is, until you are privy to the fact that Morgan has some real ghosts of his own, and is not ready to share them with Theo yet. There were some serious issues in this novel—grief and it’s toll on a person, and then Morgan’s revelations—or really, lack thereof—about his past, which left you wondering how these two men were going to ever make it together without some serious discussions. My one real problem with this novel was the way too rapid finish that also sought to sort of throw Morgan’s problems under the rug for the time being. It was so abrupt—way too simple and really left a giant question mark as to how these two guys would ever handle what had happened to Morgan in the past without discussing it.
While the ending was not my cup of tea, After Ben was still a very well written story with outstanding characters who felt so real and approachable. I loved how we got to know Theo and his friend, Maggie, as well as some of the office interns. This was a bittersweet novel that left much room for hope and the beginnings of a lasting new relationship in the end. Rating: 4.5 stars
Of the three novels in this collection, this was my least favorite, and yet I loved the characters and the premise of the story. However, I felt the author made some plot choices that simply didn’t make sense to me, and therefore, I found myself questioning decisions made by one of the main characters whom I found myself wishing were a real life person I could meet, because he was such a good guy.
Those who read the first book will remember the paramedic Theo met at the gym, who really became the first person to convince Theo to take a chance on living life again after he lost Ben. You will also remember that Peter liked Theo way more than vice versa, and as this story begins, Peter is still nursing a bit of an unrequited crush on Theo. So when he is asked by Theo to check in on Maggie’s reclusive brother, it is impossible for him to say no. He ends up rescuing Sean from some people who were less than happy about Sean’s reluctance to sell off the land his father left him for the new golf resort that will revive the town and save it from financial ruin. The sale will also help Maggie, whose husband had lost his job and left them on thin ice as regards their bill paying. But Sean is reluctant to sell, and Maggie is angry at what she thinks is his selfishness. The two are estranged over a real misunderstanding about their past—one that could be easily remedied if either would talk to the other.
By knowing both sides of the issue, and seeing the obsessive hoarding situation left behind for Sean to deal with by a father who threw him out when he found out he was gay, Peter could have helped the two siblings, but instead chose to not involve himself in what he considered a family dispute. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Sean is more than reluctant to simply torch the myriad of files, etc. his father left behind and move on, signing the bill of sale. There is a lot of emotional closure wrapped up in settling the estate, and Sean is pretty much an angry, lost soul who needs both help and understanding, and Peter is just the right guy to do both. Now, if Sean will just let him in.
Let me begin by saying I really loved Sean and Peter. Both guys were fairly complex people with baggage that didn’t always allow them to see their way to having any kind of relationship very easily. Peter was so compassionate and patient; really a good guy, who had empathy for anyone who was struggling, and Sean was doing that, in spades. With Sean, as his story unfolded, your heart just broke for his teenage self, who was tossed aside at a young age and forced to leave a sister and home he loved. His father’s illness precluded him from returning, and yet here he was, left with the incredible mess his father’s diseased mind had left behind. This story was a real emotional roller coaster for anyone grappling with an estranged parent and unresolved anger and hurt. But there were gaps as well, some that really left me scratching my head.
For instance, who exactly had grabbed Sean and forced him into the car at the beginning of the novel, and why didn’t the author ever clarify that issue? You got the impression that this was not the first time Sean had been given a rough go for not signing the paperwork, and yet that was really glossed over even though it was a pretty big plot point at the start of the story. Secondly, what had happened to Sean in the intervening years after he was thrown out? How did he have the means to attend university, and how did he survive? It was a huge gap considering his employer shows up to help him at one point, and they obviously have heaps of history, but we only get a scant look at what that was. Lastly, why doesn’t Peter take the chance to at least explain to Maggie what really happened between Sean and his dad, or tell Sean that Maggie believed he’d left of his own free will, abandoning her? So much anger toward each other could have been at least slightly diminished if he had—yet, he remains neutral and doesn’t really push too hard for the two of them to even meet. For such a compassionate and caring guy, this made absolutely no sense to me. It seemed a rather mean thing to do when he held some info that may have helped the two siblings resolved their issues with each other.
In the end even though Saving Sean had some lovely characters and great moments, I struggled with what appeared to be come serious plot gaps which put it at the bottom of the pack for me. Rating: 3 stars
I really liked this story—it was, by far, my favorite. Aiden and his brother, Evan, have shown up in previous stories, but little was known about them other than that their father had passed away suddenly, and their mother had been left in a rather fragile mental state ever since. Both boys were working hard and giving up their own dreams to make sure she was happy—so often a recipe for disaster. In this story, Aiden, the oldest, has moved out of the apartment he shares with Evan and taken over Peter’s home while he is away with Sean. At the same time, Ben’s brother, Marco has come to America to fully take on the reigns of Ben’s business since his death, because it has become difficult to run it any longer from Italy. He is also staying at Peter’s house, and the two men do not a match in heaven make!
Those who remember getting a glimpse of Marco in the first novel will recall how oblivious he is when it comes to defined personal space. He thinks nothing of climbing into bed with roommates early in the morning and discussing the day ahead. Aiden, on the other hand, is a repressed, closeted gay man, mostly due to the idea that he has concerning his mother not being able to deal with he or Evan being gay. Their father, while not outwardly homophobic toward Theo and Ben, was definitely not gay friendly and never wanted it for his adopted boys. Therefore both boys felt their mother would lose what little ground she had gained in therapy if she found out they were not straight. This was just the beginning of the assumptions regarding his mother’s stability, as well as Evan’s well-being, Aiden makes. He had assumed the financial burden of maintaining the lifestyle his mom and brother were used to without cluing them in to the fact that there was no money—not a cent that their Dad had not gambled away before committing suicide.
Now, here Aiden is running a business whose profits barely cover the bills, working and worrying continually about the financial future, and whether or not his mother will find out about Evan and he being gay, and dealing with the loud, touchy-feely Italian he rooms with—and secretly lusts after. In a word, Aden is on a downward spiral and bottoming out fast.
I absolutely adored Marco. He is quirky, sweet and sexy, but most importantly, smart and honest to a fault. Poor Aiden is so lost, so mired down in work and maintaining the lies he has built to keep his brother and mom from discovering the truth, that he is a wreck. As we watch it all unravel, it is striking how deeply we get into the way Aiden thinks—while admittedly wrong, it is also understandable once you learn all the backstory on his and Evan’s adoptions and their time with their dad. Author Con Riley really draws an intimate portrait of both her main characters in this one, and builds a story that is logical, compelling and multi-layered. While it may be frustrating to read Aiden’s assumptions as to how life must go for everyone and how their happiness must always override his own, there is such a vein of truth and realism to his thinking that you cannot really fault him for trying to do the impossible. He sacrifices so much, and needn’t have done so, but that is part of his huge learning curve.
Aiden’s Luck is a rich and tender romance that leaves you so very happy at the end, putting it at the top for me! Rating: 5 stars
You can buy the Seattle Stories Bundle here: