Monday, August 26, 2019

Never a Hero by Marie Sexton

Owen Meade is in need of a hero. Sheltered, ashamed, and ridiculed by his own mother for his sexuality, his stutter, and his congenital arm amputation, Owen lives like a hermit, rarely leaving his apartment. He hardly dares to hope for more… until veterinarian Nick Reynolds moves in downstairs.

Charming, handsome Nick steals past Owen’s defenses and makes him feel almost normal. Meeting his fiery, determined little sister, June, who was born with a similar amputation, helps too. June always seems to get her way—she even convinces Owen to sign up for piano lessons with her. Suddenly the only thing standing between Owen and his perfect life is Nick. No matter how much he flirts, how attracted to Owen he seems to be, or how much time they spend together, Nick always pulls away.

Caught between his mother’s contempt and Nick’s stubbornness, Owen makes a decision. It’s time to be the hero of his own story, and that means going after what he wants: not just Nick, but the full life he deserves.

Second Edition
First Edition published by Riptide Publishing, May 2013.

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Book 5
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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Never a Hero is the fifth installment of the Tucker Springs series. I can attest to the fact that it is not confusing to read this novel as a standalone, independent of the series, as this is the first I've read in the series.

A super quick read, perfect for a lazy afternoon, I will admit I was mildly entertained but not totally hooked from the get-go. I enjoyed the characters, but at the same time, their storylines/behaviors turned me off slightly. While the novel is on the short side, both main characters are suffering from bitter self-loathing. So it's best to be in the right frame of mind when reading, as it might be slightly depressive to read.

Had I reviewed this novel just after reading, instead of letting the story marinate over the past few days, the review may have been a bit more positive. While I do believe the novel was a good one, hence the four-star rating, I wasn't as entertained as the rating suggests. There were plots that rubbed me wrong.

Owen has a birth defect, where he is missing his wrist and hand. After a lifetime of mental and emotional abuse at his mother's hand, Owen doesn't go out in public often. Self-shame.

Living upstairs in a split-level rental, the new downstairs neighbor draws Owen out of his shell. This is basically the only part of the storyline that entertained me, light and warm, without feeling as if I was being educated or reading the narrator emotionally lashing himself. Maybe if only one of the main characters had hated himself, it would have made for an easier read. I adore angst, darker emotions, but I need a bit more levity.

Nick is a veterinarian, carrying the burden of his own self-loathing. As this isn't an issue I've had to tackle, I can't say whether or not the emotions shown were factual. But I did feel Nick's reactions/actions/behaviors were more befitting two decades ago. As well as Owen's ignorance on this subject matter, especially when his profession is online in nature – computer literate, with the internet at his fingertips, yet he didn't consult the Google gods for weeks? That didn't ring true in any stretch of the imagination.

Owen's mother was another story entirely. While it was easy to see how the childhood abuse shaped Owen as an adult, the way the mother spoke to him as an adult, while realistic in small doses, was over-the-top in how everything out of her mouth was critical. I understand there are people on this planet who behave in such a manner. Where this rubbed me wrong is that Owen and Nick are both already dealing with adult issues, causing them self-loathing. The addition of a mother mentally and emotionally abusing her adult son from afar, just felt like the straw that broke the camel's back. One too many issues where the reader is supposed to pity the narrator, instead of feel empowered for him.

Another issue for me, and this isn't entirely on the author. I read two books back to back where women are represented poorly. Both mothers were shown as either desperate, bitter, or cruel, while the younger women were shown as flaky, unable to find a path in life, and all over the place irrational. As a female reader, who is interested in the male main characters, both of whom have plenty of strife without dragging female characters.

Then there is Regina – the old neighbor whom Owen made fantasies about the woman, as if that wasn't creepy. Regina who didn't know his name but was never told his actual name. She comes back for half a page, as if this is an empowering moment for Owen. This woman didn't know she was the subject of Owen's creepy fantasies. She didn't know his name. He told her to come back and get the piano should she want it, and she does, and he slams the door in her face as if it's an empowering moment for him, when she hadn't done a wrong thing/said a bad word to him. Entitled misogyny at its finest, and every word in the novel was erased with that. I decided Owen was a POS and I didn't care if he had a happily ever after in the few paragraphs after reading his maltreatment of that innocent woman.

3.5 stars

This is the fifth in the series, but I have to admit the first I have read. I am not sure how much this affected my reading of the book, but I didn't feel a loss.

Not a long book, but with a whole raft of issues being raised, and some examined in more detail than others. I had to suspend belief at times at how issues were dealt with – for example, how long it had taken Owen's father to take action... whilst Owen was a child, fine, but he is now 28! And how much did I wish that Nick's secret didn't feel like it was perceived as it would have been 20 years ago. I was surprised by the lack of understanding, but it was a clever juxtaposition to Owen's much more visible issue.

The conversations about how others behave when faced with someone who is missing an arm were well done, and I felt encapsulated the problem really well. It worked well as a vehicle for empowering Owen and making him rethink how he saw himself, and how he thought others saw him. It was gratifying that he developed confidence through his friendship with Nick's sister too.

I didn't really get the whole Regina storyline, which put me on the back foot at the beginning, and found it a shame that it ended involving her again, even if it brought us right back to where it all began.

Overall, the outcome is what any romance reader would want, and there is no doubt that there is personal growth for both Nick and Owen which gives one pause for thought.

3.5 stars

This is an angst filled read about the relationship that builds between two men with some serious baggage. Owen was born with one arm to a mother who wanted a perfect child. After years of emotional abuse from his mother, he developed a stutter and as an adult, he finds life easier if he hides himself away in his home. Nick initially bursts into Owen’s life as a ray of sunshine, challenging the negative messages Owen has internalised and helping him expand his world. But Nick has baggage of his own that he can’t move past.

I found this a difficult read. There are some lovely moments in this book – and some very cute dogs. Owen and Nick are both quite hard to like at various points in the story and honestly, Nick’s sister June is my favourite character. I like the way Nick and June pull Owen out of himself and I like the emotional changes in Owen throughout the story. Without spoilers, it is difficult to explain why I didn’t understand or relate to Nick’s storyline – but for several reasons, his reactions and behaviours just didn’t make sense to me, and they didn’t feel right for his character.

I really struggle with this story as a romance because there really isn’t much heat and I didn’t really feel any chemistry between Owen and Nick. Time moves too slowly for any sexual tension to build and Nick’s hang-ups don’t lend themselves to romance. I usually love Marie Sexton’s work, but this story didn’t quite work for me.

MARIE SEXTON lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Never a Hero (Tucker Springs #5) by Marie Sexton to read and review.

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