Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Steady Stroke by A.M. Arthur

After a tragic accident, Lincoln West’s dreams of making it big as a guitarist fell apart. Unable to play music, he’s battling a hopeless downward spiral, and takes his friend’s offer to stay at their beach house for the summer. While at an open mike night at local bar Off Beat, he locks eyes with a busboy who doesn’t make Linc feel so broken anymore.

Emmett Westmore lives for the anonymity of busing tables in his aunt’s quirky bar where no one pities him for the fire that killed everyone he loved. He blames himself for the fire, and he doesn’t want anyone to see him—except for Linc. Emmett’s walls drop when he’s around the gorgeous blue-eyed guitarist, but he has a secret that could destroy his budding relationship with Linc.

Both Linc and Emmett are looking for a way to live again…will they let their fears control them or take a chance on something real?

Add to Goodreads

Book 2
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

This is the second book in the Off Beat series and this one focuses on Lincoln West. He was the bass player from the band XYZ. Lincoln was hurt in the car accident that caused XYZ to have to give up their spot on the Unbound festival. Which also ultimately lead to the demise of the band, as Lincoln could no longer even strum his guitar with severe vertigo and migraines due to the closed head injury he incurred as a result of the accident.

He's staying at the beach house that his best friend's boyfriend owned while they are both on tour as a duo. Pretty much wallowing in his self-pity, he's barely living. After finally getting fed up with himself and his own moping he heads to Off Beat, the local club to have a drink and check out the open mic night. Emmett is the bar back at Off Beat and, while he tries to remain unnoticed due to his severe anxiety, he piques the interest of Lincoln immediately.

Both boys having their own problems but find themselves drawn to each other. Lincoln finally feels a spark for someone other than Dominic, his old best friend and very taken ex-bandmate. Emmett has to admit to himself what he's been hiding since he was in high school, he's attracted to men. Especially one man, Lincoln! Their ups and downs and starts and stops are well worth the angsty read. There are some crazy plot twists that just about ruin the budding relationship between Linc and Em. Probably would ruin most couples’ but young love is strong! I really liked the new addition of more side characters, including hot bartender Van taking a bigger role in this edition. I enjoyed the story, especially the sweet ending and all the guys from Fading Daze and XYZ being back together.

This is a very angsty story full of very traumatised characters. As the story starts, main character Lincoln is recovering from a traumatic brain injury and mourning the loss of his music career. Lincoln quickly meets Emmett, a young man suffering from paralysing anxiety after losing his family.

My favourite part of this book is the music. At the start, Lincoln is alone, away from his friends, his bandmates, and his music. Gone is the confident musician, and in his place is a lonely man struggling with migraines. I loved watching Lincoln get his music back and begin playing again. This is not a standalone, it has to be read after Body Rocks because the characters from the first book reappear frequently and readers are expected to know the events of the previous book.

Emmett was far too damaged for me in parts of this story and there were times I wanted Lincoln to be with someone stronger, braver, or at least older. His personal trauma is never really worked through here, though it colours everything and leaves him scared and hiding. There were very sweet moments when Lincoln and Emmett fully connected, and I loved Emmett’s quiet support for Lincoln.

Despite the very appealing cover, there is very little heat between Lincoln and Emmett in this story. Both men find sexual relationships difficult, and while the romance between the two is sweet, something always happens to make the sex less than sexy.

For me, the combination of Lincoln and Emmett’s stories was a little much in one book. And the supporting characters face equally traumatic situations. The result is sticking plaster solutions for incredibly serious problems. At one point, a rape is downplayed as an assault and the resulting trauma is solved by a conversation with another character. No police, no hospital treatment, no psychiatric care, just a simple confession to a friend. A second sexual assault is dealt with even quicker. A first aid kit manages to solve that one. To me, this felt insensitive and disrespectful to real victims of sexual assault.

I think my biggest problem with this story is the cluttered plot. Too many story threads and too many character backstories makes it almost impossible for the author to fully work through any single story thread. There are some very sweet moments in this book, but I felt a little bit battered by the trauma each character experiences.

I didn’t read the first book in the series but I don’t think I missed too much, I was able to follow everything pretty well. I loved the chemistry and bond between Lincoln and Emmett, they are so perfect for each other. When the past starts to come to light I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and I am not sure if in real life that outcome would have been the same, but it was a beautiful story and I loved it. The secondary characters were just as wonderful and added so much to the story too. Couldn’t put it down.

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

This is the second in the series, and I would recommend that you read Body Rocks first, as it does make more sense of Lincoln's condition and musical aspirations.

This is quite a different book, with much less emphasis on music, and far more on angst and abuse. I read a lot of books, and recognise the benefit of a twist in the tale, a degree of drama, and even shock factors, but this did stretch my levels of credibility very thin. That said there are some lovely scenes, and some real signs of friendship – Ms. Arthur knows how to write, and write well, of that there is no doubt. Just maybe the plot was too much – and I am not sure it needed to be. Linc meeting Melody, and then Emmett, changes his life – that is already huge. I kept that at the forefront of my mind.

I hope that we get an update on them, and Trey and Dom, with another tale in the Off Beat series soon.

Steady Stroke is the second installment in A.M. Arthur's newest series, Off Beat. If you haven't read the previous book, I suggest you start there, as this series shouldn't be read out of order, and this book isn't suited for being read as a standalone.

At the end of Body Rocks, Lincoln was majorly suffering from the car crash, and I was happy to learn Steady Stroke was his book. I felt Lincoln's condition was written well, accurately, especially where the migraines were involved. A little bit more emotion from him would have been nice, but maybe it was just me, and my mood wasn't allowing me to pick up on Lincoln's devastation.

With everyone touring the country, Lincoln feels down on himself and lonely, is still suffering from the lifelong side-effects of his accident, and is unable to play music. He goes to Off Beat to find friends, and the first night there he makes a mistake – a mistake that gutted me to read from the realism. But, he did make a new friend, probably a lifelong friend, as well as meeting Emmett.

Emmett Westmore's aunt is the woman who runs and owns the club, Off Beat. He busses tables and goes to school online, both because of his anxiety. His aunt wants him to get out and be around people. He's hiding many secrets. But a major one is fear because of his Muslim roots, but he's on the outs with his god.

Truthfully, while I liked this facet of the storyline, I'm unsure about the name-change from Emilio to Emmett in order to sound more Americanized. I kept tripping over this part of the storyline, at least where the first name was concerned. Emilio is Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin in origin, most of which is predominantly Catholic. Emilio is a very common name in the United States, and no one would take issue with it. So I'm unsure how changing Emilio to Emmett was to erase fear of being known for being Muslim when it's not associated in that manner. (I'm not saying there aren't any first-generation American Muslims with the name Emilio, just how that is NOT a conclusion anyone in the United States would jump to.) I understood changing his last name, but felt the author giving Westmore, when his love interest's last name was West, was a bit much.

I apologize for getting off-track, but that kept tripping me up. Emilio/West.

I can't dive too deeply into the storyline, as there are many twisty storylines that I'd spoil something major. If you've read one single A.M. Arthur book, you know the author loves to emotionally, physically, and mentally harm the characters.

Every character in every book has a horrid backstory worth telling. Every main character has not only a bad backstory, but bad things happen to him multiple times during his narration. When I first started reading this author, I was emotional. But now, after so many books with this formula, I'm numb. Desensitized. Simply waiting for the next shoe to drop, and it keeps me from fully connecting with the characters. Some books it's done well, and I 'feel' what the character should be feeling. Other books, it's over-the-top, to the point the characters show no ill-effects in the aftermath, so I'm unsure why the event occurred in the first place.

Steady Stroke is a mix of this for me. Some threads made me ache for the character, and it was fully explored by the author. While others were so out there, I felt nothing, and there was no aftermath. I'd list what occurred in this book alone, and it would be a LONG list, but I don't want to spoil anything.

My point, one or two traumatic events, fully explored and worked through, with realistic emotions, would evoke a gut-wrenching sensation in the reader. Like a pet owner, if you have one or two pets, you can truly connect with them. But if you have twenty cats, you don't have enough time to give them each adequate attention. Hoarder. The author is a hoarder of traumatized characters, with nary a therapist in sight, and sometimes not adequate research on the trauma, to the point the character's mental well-being is not taken care of.

I know I sound as if I don't enjoy this author's writing, and that's far, very far from the truth. I've read pretty much all of Arthur's works. Some are a major hit for me, some okay, and a few misses. This book would be in the miss category for me, sadly, while the first in the series was a hit.

A few threads came from recent issues plaguing our world. I'm sure it was to bring awareness to the problem, but these threads were never fully expanded. If you are Muslim, having suffered a hate-crime, changed your non-sounding Muslim name out of fear, even changed your appearance, were in the closet because of fear and your religion, I'd think religion would play a large role in the characterization of Emmett/Emilio, but it was just glossed over. In fact, I just wrote more about it in this review than was in the story itself, and it was the major driving force for Emmett's characterization.

That, in a nutshell, is why I didn't enjoy Steady Stroke. So much was going on, and most of it was just glossed over. I appreciated the use of the Muslim storyline to bring awareness to the problem, and to educate, but neither happened. With the traumatic events, so many opportunities presented themselves to not only make a poignant read, but to show the reader how to react in a similar situation. Ethics when it comes to harming someone. Standing up for yourself. Reporting assaults so more innocent people don't get harmed. Justice. Therapy and working through your issues instead of just ignoring the problem.

Love does NOT erase past and present trauma, even in a romance novel.

Also, the resolution of this novel was exactly the same as the previous one, taking the stage. I appreciate this in a music book, especially one that was too light on music to be in the music genre. But it was the same resolution. The couple not speaking, and instead of working through the issues, it's written away as one plays an instrument and the other sings, and they live happily ever after.

I apologize for going on a rant, not truly reviewing the book (I feared I'd spoil it), but reviewing the author's writing style instead. If this is what you're looking for, then you know you'll love the book. If it's not...

Many new threads were opened, featuring characters who will no doubt grace the pages of a future novel as the narrator. I look forward to reading those books, even if this book was a miss for me.

Recommended to Arthur fans, fans of MM Romance, and a hurt-comfort, trauma-driven storyline.

Also Available in the Off Beat Series

Book 1
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca

For reviews & more info, check out our Body Rocks 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 Steady Stroke (Off Beat #2) by A.M. Arthur to read and review.

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