Monday, September 12, 2016

Say It Right by A.M. Arthur

After his parents kicked him out for being gay, Marc Villegas lived on the streets before getting a second chance. Now he's giving back by working at a shelter for LGBT teenagers—because helping fight their demons keeps his own at bay. Including his infatuation with the former best friend he's sure is straight.

Anthony Romano hasn't seen Marc since Marc left home eight years ago. In his confidant's absence, Anthony turned to heroin. Now at rock bottom, he has an offer from Marc to help him get clean. Detox is hard and ugly, but not as hard as admitting the truth: he's in love with Marc. Always has been.

Marc swore he'd never date an addict, but he never dreamed the one in question would be the man he's always wanted to be with. As the two explore their feelings for each other, Marc faces a difficult choice. Say yes, and it could cost him his sobriety; say no, and it could cost him his heart.

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Book 2
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
Carina Press

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Second in the All Saints series and this book is about Marc and Anthony. Marc spends his nights at All Saints, his brainchild and dream come true, an LGBT teen shelter. He works and sleeps and doesn't do much else, just trudging through life.

Hearing from the sister of his old friend, Marc finds himself trying to locate her brother, Anthony. Marc hasn't seen or heard from Anthony, who was his best friend from the time he was five, since the day Marc was kicked out on the street for coming out to his parents. Anthony's sister comes to ask Marc for help, Anthony has fallen off his sobriety again and has been missing for months.

Finding Anthony in an abandoned warehouse, high on heroin is a bit close to home for Marc who is, himself, five years clean. He takes his best friend (and secret teenage crush) and helps him get clean and sober. Anthony ends up revealing that he is in love with Marc and losing him had made him seek numbness in drug use. Marc isn't sure he should take the chance on a newly sober boyfriend, especially being an ex-addict himself. Marc and Anthony have some old childhood history and chemistry that was sweet and endearing to read, and they also find new heat and attraction in adulthood. Both have had time on the streets and have to come to grips with what they did to survive. I truly enjoyed reading how their relationship starts, stalls, and then heats up the pages in a great first date romp. The story was a bit long in the tooth but easy enough to read, I like the cast of side characters and would love to hear more about them and the kids from the shelter.

This book was way more serious than the first book and kind of a downer for me because of the subject matter. I really liked the first book and the tone of this book was so different for me that it was hard to fall in love with the characters. I just didn’t feel a connection and at times I found myself skimming.

Characters: Well written
Sex: Yes
Religious: No
Would I recommend to others: Yes
More than one book in the series: Yes
Genre: M/M
Would I read more by this author: Yes

The causes and consequences of LGBTQI youth homelessness are important and timely issues that need to be explored and written about. This story draws attention to LGBT youth homelessness, as well as to the abuse and addictions too often experienced by street kids.

So while I’m keenly interested in the ideas and topics that this story address, I really struggled with the execution of the story itself. For me, there was too much going on in this story for the author to do any one character or issue justice. Both main characters are recovering heroin addicts. To this huge problem, the author adds domestic abuse, sexual abuse, gang rape, prostitution, the deaths of homeless kids, and a string of other, massive issues. The result is that every problem feels watered down and simplified. Only Anthony’s initial detox is given enough detail to feel real and honest, but even then he manages his subsequent recovery by attending a few meetings and having a new sense of purpose.

This isn’t the first book by this author where I’ve had reservations about the way very serious issues are treated with superficial quick-fixes. Previously, I was annoyed by a rape written off as a sexual assault and not reported. Here again, serious domestic abuse is written off and not reported to the police or other authorities. As someone who works closely with traumatised youth, I worry that books like this actually normalise serious criminal offenses, leaving victims who don’t bounce back to normal after a couple of conversations feeling weak. Adding sensational crime after sensational crime to a story without earnestly exploring the difficult road to recovery faced by victims feels irresponsible and in this case, almost salacious.

Enough ranting. The relationship between Anthony and Marc is sweet (except for one scene of domestic abuse, which obviously doesn’t count because he didn’t mean it). I enjoyed the way the childhood friends reconnect and make each other stronger. However, they meet at the start of the novel, they actually set a deadline for when their romantic relationship will start, and then readers must wait until the very end of the book for any relationship to begin. And while I would have loved to learn more about the kids at the shelter and Marc’s group of friends, we are instead treated to a diary-like record of Marc and Anthony’s day-to-day existences. I got bored. The pace picks up again near the end as Anthony starts working and develops his interests, but from 20% to 70%, I found this story to be a very slow, very mundane hard slog.

It may just be that too many of the issues in this author’s books hit too close to home for me right now, but I am going to be taking a break from her books for a while. I’m possibly reading too much into a romance story so prospective readers probably need to order a sample and make up their own minds about this book.

Say It Right shouldn't be read as a standalone, being that it is the second in the All Saints series. Yes, some series are easy to read as a standalone, but the connection to the past book is necessary in the overall enjoyment of the read. The same cast of characters are shown, and their presence keeps the reader rooted in the story.

A.M. Arthur is known for writing emotionally shattered characters with tortured backgrounds and back-stories, and the two main characters of this novel are no different.

Marc is one of the founders of an LGBTQ homeless shelter for youths, after being tossed out of his home at 16 by his abusive father and battered mother. As a recovering addict with dark and traumatic emotional wounds, he won't allow anything to jeopardize the life he's built.

Anthony is a drug addict, caught in its vicious web at the start of the novel. He'd spiraled out of control after his best friend was tossed out of his life, only to reconnect eight years later.

Say It Right is a journey through addiction and emotional trauma, done in a mature, compassionate manner.

I have to be truthful in my review, especially when it involves such hard-hitting subject matter. While well-written and accurate, the pacing was one of the slowest I've read, making it difficult for me to stay interested. I read Say It Right over the course of a few weeks, reading a chapter or so a day. I was never gripped by the story, never compelled to continue forth. After the third or so chapter, I knew how it would play out. How there would be a lull where the main characters got along well, then miscommunication or a breach of trust by using would break them apart, then they would come back together again. I was frustrated while reading, to the point I was able to put the book down and only the due date on my review looming had me picking it back up again.


Pacing – many scenes of everyday nothingness that didn't propel the story forward while waiting to the end of the book to offer a reward to the reader for sticking with the story. Since this was 100% character-driven, with no true threads of conflict besides addiction and relationship building, the reader needs a payoff earlier, or else it feels dragged on.

It's obvious from page one the main characters will get a happily ever after together, so waiting nearly 300 pages to give the reader a taste is the epitome of drawn out. But, for me, there was no tension, so I didn't care when they finally did. I understand more than most the aversion to touch, but I wish this would have been dealt with earlier in the book, as it's nearly 80% into a long book before a connection is made. I don't just mean sexual, but hugging, holding hands – altogether touching through connection. The main characters touching, working through Marc's reason for not enjoying it, would have anchored the reader to the couple, instead of creating a sense of disinterest.

Things needed to happen sooner in the novel, with a real resolution to their issues being found.

I worried it was my mood, but my mood would have changed over the course of many weeks. This is a shame, as the storyline is compelling, the subject matter is important, but the pacing dragged it down to the point I no longer cared about the characters or what was happening. Some of this may be because everyone is so wounded, everyone is so broken, to the point there aren't enough pages to make sure everyone gets help. Not truly. The only voice of reason was an 18-year-old high school senior wishing to study psychology in college. Why are there no therapists in sight?

There was a scene near the end of the book that I wish would have happened at the midway point, and then the events should have been fully explored instead of written away with an I love you. Real life angst, where real issues could have been worked through.

This scene also felt out of place, out-of-character, featuring many forms of abuse on Marc's part. Mental and emotional abuse by treating Anthony as lessor in their romantic partnership by calling their home, MY home, as if Anthony had no rights to it, as if he's a guest in Marc's life instead of forging a loving partnership together. Physical violence by touching Anthony with the intent to injure and harm. Even if Marc was in the throes of a fight-or-flight reflex, he should never be written away.

Both characters were wounded, but that doesn't erase their bad behavior. As a survivor of domestic violence, it gutted me to see Anthony write it away with compassion – while altruistic and selfless, this removes boundaries and any self-respect Anthony has for himself and any respect Marc had for Anthony, because Marc wasn't being held accountable for his actions. It bothered me during the entire novel how no one until the ending of the book cared about Marc's mother and siblings being abused by his father – even then no one stepped in, allowing nature to take its course. A simple phone call could have saved the mother from harm.

Victims of domestic violence suffer in silence, most not realizing they are being abused (like the abuse of being told your home is not yours, but only your partners – that IS abuse. Isolation, demoralizing). Those who love them should be their voice. This isn't written away with a hug and an I love you.

Whether it be a male/female couple, or a same sex couple featuring two men or two women, abuse happens. Men can abuse other men. Women can abuse women. Women can abuse men. Don't write this away with a, "he didn't mean it, so it's okay," or, "Mom doesn't want help, so we'll ignore it."

Marc didn't mean to hit Anthony... Marc isn't like his dad. But Dad became an abuser with the first hit.

Many readers look to books to find a path through their own struggles. When it comes to the domestic violence angle of this novel, Arthur missed the mark by a thousand miles.

After the first hit, the second is easier, and the third, because your victim excuses your actions – the abuser loses all respect for their victim because they didn't stand up for themselves (out of love). Boundaries and respect gone, the abuser knows they can take their emotional issues out on their partner, because their partner won't leave them for their heinous misbehavior. This is how an abuser and victim are born, not dealing with the issue from the first hit, the first insult, the first manipulation. There is no abuser without a victim.

Marc needed intense therapy that day, especially after growing up in an abusive household where it was commonplace to strike your partner if you were having a bad day, especially when you are a drug addict who thrives on negative emotions to give you license to do bad things. Full Stop. The minute he returned, Marc needed intense therapy.

While the drug addiction was portrayed accurately, there were many instances of things that were neglected. That is the issue when there are 10+ traumatized characters living and breathing on the pages – their traumas are written away instead of properly being dealt with, with only certain issues being addressed.

What wasn't accurately portrayed in regards to the addiction – you don't treat the addiction, you treat the problem. Anthony had NO problem, other than 'love', and Marc's issues were hidden. Neither was fully addressed.

I don't believe I will be continuing on with this series, and I'm on the fence with reading more by this author when I've read 90% of all of their works, simply because I find the same issues with every book. Too many traumas, where love fixes it, and never any real solutions. The characters always act out of character for the sake of drama, using miscommunication and running off (usually getting lost without a cellphone [when we lived in a world without cellphone until two decades ago and didn't die from a lack of it], where the rest of the cast of characters has to come to their rescue). Harsh words are said, pain is dealt to loved ones, but it's always written away as, "He can't help it because of what happened to him in the past." Victim mentality creating more victims, no matter how horrible of a backstory the author created.

I prefer reading about survivors, and no longer feel like being emotionally extorted by an author.

Also Available in the All Saints Series

Book 1
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
Carina  Press

For reviews & more info, check out our Come What May post.

A.M. Arthur was born and raised in the same kind of small town that she likes to write about, a stone's throw from both beach resorts and generational farmland. She's been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long in a losing battle to make the fictional voices stop. She credits an early fascination with male friendships (bromance hadn't been coined yet back then) with her later discovery of and subsequent love affair with m/m romance stories. A.M. Arthur's work is available from Samhain Publishing, Carina Press, Dreamspinner Press and SMP Swerve.

When not exorcising the voices in her head, she toils away in a retail job that tests her patience and gives her lots of story fodder. She can also be found in her kitchen, pretending she's an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments.

Connect with A.M.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Say It Right (All Saints #2) by A.M. Arthur to read and review.

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