Monday, April 3, 2017

Loose Cannon by Sidney Bell

Don't miss this brand-new male/male romance series from Sidney Bell, author of Bad Judgment.

Released after five years in the system for assault, streetwise Edgar-Allen Church is ready to leave the past behind and finally look to his future. In need of a place to crash, he's leaning on Miller Quinn. A patient, solidly masculine pillar of strength and support, Miller has always been there for him—except in the one way Church has wanted the most.

With his staunchly conservative upbringing, Miller has been playing it straight his whole life. Now with Church so close again, it's getting harder to keep his denial intact. As they fumble their way back to friendship after so many years apart, Miller struggles to find the courage to accept who he really is. What he has with Church could be more than desire—it could be love. But it could also mean trouble.

Church's criminal connections are closing in on the both of them, and more than their hearts are at risk. This time, their very lives are on the line.

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Book 1
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Carina Press

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Church is just released from the minimum security facility where he spent the last 5 years rehabilitating. His violent nature hopefully behind him, he needs to find a stable place to stay to fulfill his parole requirements. Having to call the one person he had hoped not to after things went badly, Church decides he has to break down and call Miller. Miller thought he may never hear from Edgar-Allen Church again. The homeless boy who broke into Miller's house and proceeded to weave his way into Miller's heart all those years ago. Miller knows he can’t turn Church away, and Church knows Miller is the one man he can always count on to be there for him.

This story started out like most in the m/m genre and I thought I was reading just a run-of-the-mill romance novel. Well, that wasn't the case at all. Enter the Russian Mafia and you've got yourself some pretty big plot twists and turns. At first, I wasn't sure the Russians were a welcome addition to the book that I expected. But I found they had their place and certainly kept the storyline lively. I loved Church fighting to be the good man he longed to be, trying to overcome his past, and Miller trying to come to grips with who he's always been afraid to become. The novel's side characters keep things rolling right along. With Church's fellow Woodbury boys, Ghost and Tobias, these three boys had a really interesting dynamic that brought the characters right into my heart. Bell really made their backgrounds interesting and I found myself intrigued by them almost much as Miller and Church. The future installments are set up very nicely! Definitely on board for Ghost's book!!

Wow. I loved so many of the characters in this story! Church’s quiet, tentative attempts to right his mistakes and start fresh after prison are incredibly moving. Miller’s intuitive support of the young boy attempting to steal his TV made me smile and I love the relationship that develops between Church and Miller over the next decade.

Church and Miller’s story is told in short bursts and from various perspectives as we flip back and forth from past to present. From the truly awful to the merely awkward, their relationship is special. I enjoyed the complexity of their connection. Miller has his own baggage and there are many times when it is Church who supports Miller. Theirs is a gritty story, but there are some wonderfully tender moments and some very sexy scenes in this book.

Miller’s family and Church’s friends from prison add warmth and depth to this book. I loved Church’s relationship with Tobias and his more complex one with Ghost. Miller’s sister and niece made me smile.

I wasn’t as keen on the Russian Mafia storyline that develops later in this story. I understand that this storyline emphasised how difficult it was for Church to go straight after growing up in prison but by the end, this overpowered the gentle coming of age story and the sweet romance that ran beside it. I loved Ghost and I look forward to his story, but the mafia characters were too predictable and not terribly well developed. The later action scenes felt overblown and ultimately, the mafia storyline detracted from the carefully crafted central characters and the gritty realism of the rest of the book.

4 Stars on the plot
3 stars on the execution
3.5 stars overall

Sidney Bell is a new-to-me author.

Loose Cannon was a quick, entertaining read. Even though I didn't have a difficult time connecting and understanding, I didn't enjoy how the story was told – the flow and transition between scenes and time was beyond jarring and disconnecting.

At the start of the novel, the story is 5 years in the past for a few chapters, before continuing on at the present time. This portion of the storyline was intriguing, filled with a ton of potential that isn't quite met. Church and Miller's past is glossed over, Church's situation in the institution is paragraphs of connected inner monologue spanning 5 years, all holding the potential for an amazing read. As I read the novel, I found myself wishing I had more of this time period and less in the current time, or at least developed more. It was jarring in the flow of things how the reader is only given paragraphs of storytelling, then thrust into the present time.

There were many things I wished Loose Cannon had, but I rated it on what it was. My major issue is that the important and everyday scenes weren't tied together in a fluid fashion. It was jarring how from one paragraph to the next, or chapter to the next, months passed without a smooth transition. However, I was thankful that the author denoted the transition with a paragraph break and symbol.

Church is a good, young man who was raised by a wife-beating alcoholic father and an abused, enabler mother. He found himself on the streets, befriended by Miller, and then back on the streets where he made a horrific mistake that cost him 5 years of his life, but the consequences changed his life for the better. Church's story is one of redemption, where you learn from your mistakes and change your life. Church is a Loose Cannon when it comes to his simmering rage, but he's learning to contain it and channel it positively.

Miller is a giver and caregiver. He'd give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. He gave up his hopes and dreams for his family. His personality to please his deceased father even affected his sexuality. There is an innocence in Miller, a sweetness, that Church lacks when he's so much younger. The age-gap isn't noticeable because of their personalities, creating a balance in strength and weakness until the pair are equals.

The main focus is on Church and Miller's friendship and budding relationship. Without spoilers, their relationship had an interesting, original start. Their friendship hit the skids in an even more innovated way. Their coming back together showed the author had talent at propelling the characters together without forcing the plot.

Church's past has consequences, and it was a refreshing take on how he met with his victim. In a way (this is where I say what I wish was and wasn't in Loose Cannon) I wish that half of the plot, which was the bumbling mafia angle, wasn't included at all. I think it detracted from what could have been a poignant read. Bell was able to inject realism and emotion into the character building, and the book had its conflict where it came to Church's victim's family. The mafia plot felt out of focus and over-the-top, and sometimes beyond eye-roll-worthy, and it lessened the emotional impact. Members of organized crime are highly intelligent, especially the heads of the organization, as shown from Mama's point of view, yet everything written was so bad it was comedic, even though it wasn't meant to be.

Where the author shined is in developing Miller and Church's relationship. The emotions involved. It flowed smoothly, and kept me hooked through the other 'offness' in the novel. The heart-tugging, slow-burn romance, the banter, and the scorching between-the-sheets action showed the author's talent. Added to that, the strong connections Church has with Tobias and Ghost, and Miller had with his sister and niece.

The character development shined, so I felt the book was lessened with the bumbling cast of Russian mafia, even though I realize it ties in with Ghost's story (I assume he's getting a book). Mama having narration was out of place, yet I didn't mind her cold, efficient voice. Which was the reason the rest of her 'crew' didn't fit. Mama and her right-hand man were well written, but the rest... There is no way a woman such as Lana had that many idiot sons – the whole lot of them didn't seem to share a single brain cell. That is what made it hard to swallow, not overall – their stupidity. Her organization couldn't run just on her brains alone, or they'd all be in prison and not functioning at all, judging by the actions of her sons.

Overall, I was thoroughly entertained, even if I felt threads needed to be fully fleshed out. There were things an editor could have/should have reeled the author in to meet the potential. The bones were solid, the author had amazing promise with the characters, but not so much with the organized crime.

I do highly recommend Loose Cannon to MM Romance readers. While things didn't work for me, much more did, and I'm looking forward to more by this author and in this series.

Sidney Bell lives in the drizzly Pacific Northwest with her amazingly supportive husband. She received her MFA degree in creative writing in 2010, considered aiming for the Great American Novel, and then promptly started writing fanfiction instead. More realistic grown-ups eventually convinced her to try writing something more fiscally responsible, though, which is how she ended up here. When she’s not writing, she’s playing violent video games, yelling at the television during hockey games or supporting her local library by turning books in late.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Loose Cannon (The Woodbury Boys #1) by Sidney Bell to read and review.

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