Monday, April 16, 2018

Squared Away by Annabeth Albert

In the wake of tragedy, SEAL Mark Whitley rushed stateside to act as guardian to his sister’s three young children. But a conflicting will could give custody to someone else—someone Mark remembers as a too young, too hot, wild party boy. Even after six years, Mark can’t shake the memory of his close encounter with Isaiah James, or face up to what it says about his own sexuality.

Isaiah’s totally over the crush that made him proposition Mark all those years ago. In fact, he’s done with crushing on the wrong men altogether. For now, he’s throwing himself into proving he’s the best person to care for his cousin’s kids. But there’s no denying there’s something sexy about a big, tough military man with a baby in his arms.

As the legal details get sorted out, their long-buried attraction resurfaces, leading to intimate evenings after the kids are tucked in. A forever future is within reach for all of them, if only Mark can find the courage he needs to trust Isaiah with his secrets—and his heart.

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Book 5
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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

The deaths of family members that lead to Isaiah and Mark co-parenting three kids gave this book a pretty heavy emotional element for me. As a parent, it had me thinking about what would happen to my own child if anything happened to me.

Isaiah is a pretty amazing guy. Loving, giving, understanding, strong, and willing to change his entire life to take care of his nieces and nephew. I adored him. Mark, I struggled with. Not because he is a bad guy because he isn’t, but there were times I didn’t like the way he behaved at times towards Isaiah and the assumptions he was making about Isaiah. I think, in the end, I only liked Mark because he made Isaiah happy.

This is one of those stories where you can see the big event coming that is going to break your heart, make you cry, and I did cry out and it did. But I was surprised by an entirely different thread to the story that had the tears flowing even more.

Mark and Isaiah’s romance is beautiful and sweet, but they definitely have a tough time of it. I went through so many emotions from sadness and anger to hope and joy. Squared Away is a wonderful and emotional story and a great addition to the Out of Uniform series.

Oh. My. God. The angst! This is a more grown up and family focused addition to the series that follows SEAL medic Mark and perpetual student Isaiah as they suddenly find themselves caring for three children after the deaths of their parents. It’s a story that manages to avoid becoming too heavy or maudlin – mostly because of Isaiah’s charm and the chemistry between Mark and Isaiah.

I loved Isaiah from the start. He’s cocky, arrogant, and a bit of a slacker. And when things get tough, he copes better than the veteran SEAL. It took me longer to warm to Mark. He’s a bit of a privileged ass at the start and he doesn’t have much self-awareness. I loved that these two make each other better. I loved their commitment to the kids and I loved watching them grow into the people they needed to be.

As much as this is a story about grief, it is also a book about the practical realities after sudden death. Mark and Isaiah don’t have time for the grieving process because they need to keep the kids going. And because of this, the few moments when one of the characters allows himself to be overwhelmed by anger, sadness, or guilt are incredibly moving.

I have to admit that for me, there are too many kids in this book. I’m not a fan of kids in romance and I didn’t really enjoy the way that Mark and Isaiah fall too easily into heteronormative gender roles. There is less heat in this book than there has been in previous stories in the series and there is less time spent on romance and relationship development. But this is a beautifully written story about two very special men and I admit to weeping through whole chapters.

Avid Reader☆☆☆☆
M/M Romance
Triggers: Click HERE to see Avid Reader’s review on Goodreads for trigger warnings.

This is, at least for me, more of a family story than a romance. I really enjoyed watching the characters but felt that Isaiah was a little left out. You just catch a glimpse of him and how he arrives where he does for chapter one. I wish that we were given more of his story. However, given that he was your typical young person – sowing his wild oats and partying with friends – you also were able to discern that he was all about his family too. He was willing to babysit whenever his brother asked and despite knowing that his brother had some issues, he loved him without qualification.

Then you have Mark. He is a SEAL and a medic, and he is suited to working under pressure. However, I felt that his background, despite being in the military, presented itself as if he was constantly running. His parents died when he was younger and since then, he kind of picked up and left the remaining family for his military brothers instead.

There is a lot of angst in this story and the relationship between Mark and Isaiah is somewhat juvenile. I liked that there was talk about different roles and sexuality – there was no typical in this story. However, it fell short when the family roles were portrayed as "typical." And, when you throw in the fact that both Isaiah and Mark are having to cope with losing someone and having a family thrust at them, there was very little time for true "typical" romance.

Given all of that, however, this was a very successful story about surviving tragedy and making sure that you use all of the people around you who love you and support you.

This is the fifth book in the series and a really different story, which I found to be a very good read. I don't think you need to have read the previous books to enjoy this one, but they are also very enjoyable, so I would suggest you seek them out too.

There are two quiet threads to this book, and whilst they do inevitably interlink very closely, their foundations are very different. On the one hand is the most pressing task of looking after the three orphaned children. Both Mark and Isaiah have a reason to claim them as their responsibility, even though there are a lot of practical and financial issues which need to be resolved. On the other hand, Isaiah had a huge crush for Mark from when they worked together to set up the wedding for the now deceased children's parents. Mark then felt Isaiah too young (just 18) and anyway, was busy forging his career as a SEAL.

This second thread is, to me, the more interesting – there is a lot of story relating to the children, the issues that the lack of cohesive wills causes, and the family money ties. It is emotional at times, and I think probably portrays very well how close relatives thrown into looking after young orphaned children have to adapt and learn. The help of their friends and family enable the story to run as one would hope.

Mark and Isaiah thrown together, with some unresolved tensions from the wedding incident and having avoided the issue, are now living under the same roof. Isaiah is the younger, flightier man, and he is by turns delighted and unhappy to be with his erstwhile crush. Mark has another issue entirely – he has, over time, recognised that he is not wired the same way when it comes to sex and has had a few less than enjoyable relationships because of it. Somehow, he manages to explain this to Isaiah, and I felt it was written really well. As time moves on and they get closer, Isaiah (to my mind) behaves in a really calm and sensitive way, caring for Mark and his needs and limits rather than his own usual desires. Add in Mark's uncertainty at making public his feelings, and Isaiah is very patient.

For me, the uncertainty and softness of Mark's emotional nature contrasted strongly with Isaiah's easy experienced comfort with his sexuality. And it was the direct opposite when it came to the children – where Isaiah took the softer caring role, whilst Mark lacked experience and confidence. That evened out their positions and gave Mark a chance to learn to be a parent and a lover.

Do expect to need a tissue or two, but overall there is much to enjoy and admire in this new story. Thank you, Ms. Albert, for making me think and smile!

Book five in the series but you don't need to read prior books to enjoy. However, characters from previous books do pop up in this book. This book was pulling me in a few directions. I was loving it one minute and ready to stop another. I loved Isaiah and how he was bound and determined to keep the kids and make a go of things. I liked Mark, but man, he drove me crazy at times; he was so wishy washy in his personal life, but so awesome as a SEAL. Once it was told what Mark's sexual orientation was, I almost stopped reading the book and not why you think... I almost stopped because I thought that Isaiah wouldn't get his happily ever after and I loved him so much and wanted him happy. This turned out to be a great love story and I am so happy I finished.

Also Available in the Out of Uniform Series

Book 1
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
B&N  ~  Google Play  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo

For reviews & more info, check out our Off Base post.

Book 2
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
B&N  ~  Google Play  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo

For reviews & more info, check out our At Attention post.

Book 3
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
B&N  ~  Google Play  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo

For reviews & more info, check out our On Point post.

Book 4
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
B&N  ~  Google Play  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo

For reviews & more info, check out our Wheels Up post.

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

Connect with Annabeth

Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  Website  ~  Goodreads
Google+  ~  Instagram
Annabeth's Angels Facebook Fan Group

Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Squared Away (Out of Uniform #5) by Annabeth Albert to read and review.

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