** Visit our Interview from 5/19 with Con Riley for a chance to win a copy of Salvage or Recovery: Here**
Author: Con Riley
Rating: 5/5 Smooches
Salvage Stories: Book Two
San Diego is a city of second chances for Jamie Carlson. His new career as a photographer is taking off, and with the support of a loving surrogate family, he’s finally putting his party years behind him. The Bailey family helped him solve his drinking problem, but there’s no easy solution to staying sober now that Belle Bailey’s dying. Her last wish is a challenge Jamie can't overcome without help.
Solving problems is Daniel Priest’s specialty. More than twenty years older than Jamie, he’s successful and experienced. He makes his living resolving corporate crises—but his personal life has been far from perfect. Now that his marriage is over, Daniel’s determined to make up for lost time. One night with Jamie isn’t nearly enough for him.
Daniel’s honest offer of help is more than Jamie expects from a one-time hookup. Even so, fulfilling Belle’s last wish is a tall order. Repairing her damaged family as she requests proves difficult when Jamie has to face his own past as well. Jamie could risk his hard-won recovery by admitting why he hit rock bottom in the first place. If he wants a future with Daniel, he'll have to address those reasons head-on.
Recovery – the regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away; restoration or return to health from sickness; restoration or return to any former and better state or condition.
J.D. Salinger once said, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.” Salinger was right. It does not happen that often, but it does happen when the author is Con Riley. Once again, Riley has taken a complex idea and created an intense and emotional rollercoaster of a story, and the only thing the reader can do is grab on tight and hang on for the ride.
This book is not just about two men falling in love, and it is not just about an alcoholic struggling with addiction and facing the inevitable death of his surrogate mother. Jamie Carlson is struggling with recovery and life.
Jamie’s character was introduced in Salvage, where the reader learns about Jamie and his past through the eyes of his former best friend, Gabe Cooper. It is not a flattering profile, and it is not until inside the pages of Recovery, that we learn who Jamie really is and what is beneath the surface. Jamie has spent the majority of his life hiding who is he and what he feels inside bottles of alcohol and meaningless one-night stands. Not surprisingly, when Recovery opens, Jamie is at a party and in hiding.
Jamie Carlson wasn’t hiding. Not intentionally, anyhow. If the spot he’d found behind a row of tall plants shielded him from other partygoers, it was purely coincidental. His heart wasn’t hammering either, at least not quite as hard now as when his mentor, Alec, had left the rooftop bar so abruptly. This glamorous party, held at a high-class hotel to mark the launch of Alec’s new lifestyle magazine, should be fun rather than anxiety inducing. Especially since the magazine showcased photographs Jamie was so proud to have taken. He should be celebrating his big break instead of taking cover like this.
Into Jamie’s space walks Daniel Priest, the fixer. Daniel has recently ended a decades long marriage with a woman, and he is attracted to Jamie. Daniel is quite a bit older than Jamie; as a matter of fact, he has a daughter who is older than Jamie is.
At first, Daniel is shy and unsure of how to approach Jamie, but that hesitation does not last for long. Daniel is looking for a relationship. Jamie sees Daniel as a quick way to “get off”.
The minor characters in this story – Alec, Owen, Grace and Belle – provide the crux of the story, as does the road trip that changes all of their lives. Alec, Belle, Grace and Owen have become Jamie’s family without Jamie even realizing it. Despite his animosity with Owen, all three of them have been with Jamie’s during his beginning stages of recovery, and despite, the impending tragedy and Owen’s seemingly irrational behavior, they are the ones who help him retain his sobriety and sanity.
Owen had spent a lot of time there after college, supposedly illustrating a series of kid’s books. That hadn’t seemed anywhere near a good enough excuse for the man to stay away, especially when Alec had struggled so hard with his wife’s rapid decline. But Jamie had risen to the challenge of reversing roles with his first AA sponsor. He and Alec had gotten through some seriously scary shit that Owen hadn’t been there to witness. Shit that would have looked so much better softly blurred by a few beers. They’d kept each other sane and sober when the rest of the world seemed blind drunk and crazy. Jamie had found a new sponsor when Alec had insisted, but he was still the first person Jamie would call when life got overwhelming.
Jamie would do pretty much anything for the man now. Even support his waste-of-space son if he had to. Belle recently asking him to do the same left him even more obligated. Owen had only been home for three weeks, and already Jamie wished he’d never come back.
Riley’s characters are well-developed, troubled, credible and wonderful in their own ways. These characters will cling to your thoughts long after the last page is read. There is a tragic note of realism that permeates this story, and Riley clearly writes from personal knowledge.
Jamie sat next to Belle, as he had done so often over the past week, watching the slow rise and fall of her chest. She dozed as Dr. Hernandez leaned over the bed, checking the readout on a monitor. He’d seen the doctor a whole lot over the last seven days, both alone and with her students, who she tasked to think of new solutions.
The students acted as if all cancers were textbook, coming up with ideas the doctor shot down one after another. Belle wasn’t going to get any better, no matter what they suggested, but Dr. Hernandez’s relentless questioning made Jamie rethink some of his assumptions. Before all this, he’d thought doctors had it made. Now he thought they had the worst job in the whole world getting families to face altered futures that would soon have gaping holes.
He’d watched that realization dawn for her students over the course of a very tough week. She’d been stern with them, and demanding, but now in the peace of Belle’s room she was quiet and patient.
Recovery is not a light hearted romance. Jamie is far too damaged to allow a lighthearted courting scenario. This story teems with angst, turmoil and emotional drama. As with her other books, Riley composes beautifully descriptive prose. The settings in the book are developed as important characters: the hospital, the hotel, Daniel’s apartment, the lake, both Owen’s and Jamie’s art.
The dialogue is intense, especially as Jamie’s motivations and background are revealed throughout the story.
“Your dad was in the right place at the right time to stop me going under. Then your mom….” Suddenly it was so hard to swallow. “I guess your mom taught me how to swim on my own. This….” He pointed to the room on the other side of the glass. Belle and Alec now had their hands laced together. “This was a chance to do the right thing for once. There will be other jobs, but there won’t be another….”
He couldn’t find the right words to explain how he felt. How he’d felt from the moment Belle welcomed him into her home and showed him he was wanted when he was at rock bottom. “I ran away once. I ran away from something difficult, and it was the biggest mistake of my life. This time I’m not going anywhere.” His thoughts flashed briefly to Daniel. “I don’t turn down second chances.”
Riley is marvelous storyteller. It is difficult to put down this book, unless the reader needs to grab some tissues. Although this book can be read without having read Salvage first, knowing Jamie’s background from that first book makes this second book more intense. The dialogue and sex scenes are intimate and help the reader better understand the characters’ motivations.
Thank you to Con Riley for providing an Advanced Review Copy of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.