Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Off Base by Annabeth Albert

After trading the barracks for a fixer-upper rental, navy SEAL Zack Nelson wants peace, not a roommate—especially not Pike, who sees things about Zack he most wants to hide. Pike's flirting puts virgin Zack on edge. And the questions Pike's arrival would spark from Zack's teammates about his own sexuality? Nope. Not going there. But Zack can't refuse.

Pike Reynolds knows there won't be a warm welcome in his new home. What can he say? He's an acquired taste. But he needs this chance to get his life together. Also, teasing the uptight SEAL will be hella fun. Still, Pike has to tread carefully; he's had his fill of tourists in the past, and he can't risk his heart on another, not even one as hot, as built—and, okay, yeah, as adorable—as Zack

Living with Pike crumbles Zack's restraint and fuels his curiosity. He discovers how well they fit together in bed… in the shower… in the hallway… He needs Pike more than he could have imagined, yet he doesn't know how to be the man Pike deserves.

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Book 1
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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

4.5 Stars.

Annabeth Albert is not a new-to-me author. Having loved the #gaymers series, I quickly snatched this book up, going into it blindly. Other than the title hinting it involved a military man, I knew nothing of the premise. I was delighted to see a series crossover from the #gaymers series. If I remember correctly, Zack and Pike were introduced to readers at an LAN party.

Zack is a Navy SEAL, still in training yet ready to put down some roots before he's deployed. Between being in the military and his religious family, he's so deep in the closet, he can't even admit the word to himself. This is done with empathy and respect on the author's part, with a solid foundation for the denial. Many books have an in-the-closet character to add angst, but as the reader, I understood Zack's point of view.

Zack was bullied by his older brother all through childhood, allowed by his disillusioned parents who saw the siblings as the best of friends. This created the foundation for a man who allowed his SEAL teammate to bully and coerce him – allowed these events and people to dictate how he lived his life through the fear of disappointing his family and the fear of coming out.

Pike was raised by a free-spirit mother, never before putting down roots. At his core, he's a down-to-earth guy who seeks love and affection and the security of a solid relationship. But he wears a mask of the charming flirt.

Zack and Pike meet through mutual friends. Pike is infatuated with Zack, but the flirty routine comes off as desperate to Zack and it also terrifies him a bit, because Pike is a man Zack could forget about his hang-ups over.

The bullying forces Zack to live Off Base, and Pike moves to the area to take a teaching job at a local college. Zack needed help renovating his CO's house (in lieu of rent) and Pike, who is a master at renovation thanks to his house-flipping momma, needed a cheap place to live. This doesn't come off as cheesy. I felt the book had a lot of empathy for the situations both of the narrators were living through, showing both sides of the issues accurately from their points of view.

The sexual tension was thick, the romance was organic, both adding depth to the storyline instead of overpowering it. Zack's denial and the bullying were heartbreaking, as was the added strife this put on Pike.

The reason I didn't give out 5 stars was simply this: Zack's parents seemed one-note, hyper focused. The only interaction/conversation was repeating the same lines heard in too many books, making it not feel accurate. Not all religious people are bigots. Some are, sure. But, to me, the parents needed some depth to truly add the layer of angst Zack was feeling at disappointing them. If there is nothing to them as human beings, why would it matter if Zack disappointed them or not? They had no personality, other than the mother asking him to marry a complete stranger from church, as if this was her only goal in life, and the dad spouting religious rhetoric and patting Zack on the back for being a manly Navy SEAL. In this day and age, there aren't that many girls waiting around for a guy whose parents go to church with her – a guy she barely knows. Yes, there are girls and religious parents living under rocks somewhere, but not every parent in every book should follow this pattern.

The other reason – the conflict resolution seemed too easy, paved by everyone but Zack. They did it for him.

I highly recommend this book, and the previous #gaymers series, to MM Romance fans. This new series will surely please those who love the military subgenre. I cannot wait to get my greedy little hands on the next in the Out of Uniform series.

I just adored Pike, he made me laugh so hard at times. The chemistry between Zack and Pike is off the fricking charts! I loved how things progressed with these two. I loved how good Pike was with Zack, and taking things as they came. The fixer-upper rental was also something I enjoyed; I am glad I am not the only one that things go wrong when fixing stuff up. I really enjoyed this book and will read the next one in the series.

Characters: Well written and connected with them.
Sex: Yes
Religious: It is brought up
Would I recommend to others: Yes
More than one book in the series: Not sure
Genre: M/M
Would I read more by this author: Yes

Avid Reader☆☆☆
M/M Romance
Triggers: Bullying

Zack is not my favorite character – in fact, he gets on my nerves very easily throughout this book. While I can understand with his family background how he might be unwilling to face some truths, his "hiding in the closet" routine gets old very quickly. Even with Cobb making his life a living hell, some other teammates who are uncomfortable with a gay member of their team, Zack has ample opportunity to deal with his issues and just chooses to be an ostrich with his head in the sand.

Pike is a great character. A little flamboyant, a lot flirty and he, for some reason, likes Zack. Pike has been down the road before where he was with someone who was unwilling to have a public relationship. He comes from a past where someone he thought was going to be next to him no matter what, bolted at the first sign of trouble. That kind of hurt, the deep scars that were left, took a toll on Pike, but despite that, he's putting himself out there.

The relationship between Pike and Zack was fairly organic – friends who turn in to more, but the fact that Zack fought so hard for 75% of this book to not acknowledge the relationship was hard to take.

There was hardly a resolution for Cobb or the other teammate who was having issues and I really wished that we had been able to see the friendships that developed with Zack's new friends. I also wish that we could have seen more of the relationship after Zack was able to come to terms with his feelings. I just felt that this book had so much potential, but didn't really live up to it. I hope more is resolved in future stories.

4.5 stars of Openness Wins Out

This is the first book in a new series, but any Ms. Albert fan will recognise some of the characters from the #gaymers series, and they are very welcome!

Zack has a lot of family pressure to be perfect, and now he is a SEAL, he has achieved some approval – but he is now expected to take a wife. However, as much as he denies it, even to himself, that is not what he sees in his future. He cannot risk being honest about his nature at work, or with his family – so when his friends persuade him to allow Pike to stay with him, he is stressed. However, soon Pike is the colour in his world, someone who will share his day and brighten up his life.

Watching these two men deal with the realities of their situation – enabling Zack to find a degree of peace at home at least – all makes for engrossing reading. Ms. Albert has a real talent for making characters who are worthy of our care and sympathy. She sets up situations which are so simple, and yet have far reaching impact.

I definitely recommend this story to you – and if you haven't read the #gaymers books yet, then do give those a try too.

This is a great first book in a new spinoff from the #gaymers series. I loved Zack, the closeted Marine running from both his parents’ religious beliefs and bullying within the Marine Corps. His uncertainty, his lack of self-confidence, and complete lack of self-awareness makes him a fascinating character. Pike is a bit simpler. He is cerebral where Zack is physical and he is confident and secure.

Zack and Pike’s very ordinary life together as roommates works well. I enjoyed Zack’s slow acceptance of the domestic comforts Pike brings to his life and I loved the easy companionship between these two.

My only reservation about this story is the lack of subtlety that the ‘bad guys’ and ‘good guys’ were drawn with. The military bullies were obvious and their motivations too simple. Zack’s family came across as ignorant religious bigots. The LGBTQ friendly military personnel were too good to be true. I expect more shades of grey from this author and the black and white in this story reduced its emotional impact for me.

But this is a sweet, sexy romp and I enjoyed watching Zack come to a more honest understanding of himself, his relationships, and what he wanted to prioritise in his life.

Zack grew up in a religious family, being bullied by his big brother. He is now a Navy SEAL being bullied by a fellow team members about being a "fag." Zack is gay but refusing to admit. To escape dealing with his workplace bullying, Zack moves off base and ends up living with Pike, a friend of a friend who is out and proud.

In spite of Pike saying he won't get involved with a guy who isn't out and Zack saying he isn't gay, a relationship develops. Zack and Pike made a fun pair. They are different and they complement each other well. They also made a very hot couple. Zack insistence that their relationship be kept secret causes trouble, some that is easy to see coming and some that isn't.

This is an angst story at times and quite emotional. The homophobia, workplace bullying, and Zack's refusal to be honest with himself infuriated me. I was happy with the way the story pans out but I wondered if the resolutions of the workplace issues was a realistic depiction of what would actually happen.

Off Base is a good m/m romance and a nice start to the Out of Uniform series by Annabeth Albert and I look forward to reading more books as they are released.

Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter.  In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two toddlers.

Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Off Base (Out of Uniform #1) by Annabeth Albert to read and review.

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