My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It takes a lot to turn around a homophobic character and make them into someone who you can find sympathy for but with Donny Canali, his journey was both heart-felt and hard fought.
From the moment he stood up for his younger brother Mike when he realised that keeping his sexuality a secret was taking such a toll on the trainee firefighter, Donny has been struggling with how his previous homophobic behaviour has hurt people.
When he’s knocked for six by what he thinks is hero worship for former Army pilot and now fire bomber Dell Murphy, it takes some time for him to realise what he’s also feeling is a powerful attraction to the self-described alpha male
And Donny fights it, he does his best to fight it because, like Mike, he’s been brought up in family of men’s men who serve either as cops or firefighters, who are strong-willed and opinionated – and also old-fashioned and ignorant – in their views about masculinity.
Dell, on the other hand, is out and proud and has never sought to hide his sexuality, instead going to the max to show that who he prefers in bed has nothing to do with how he either flew helicopter missions in Afghanistan or how he now uses those skills to rescue trapped firefighters.
He also has a complicated family life. After moving when he took up his new role, Dell’s strong willed but flighty mother is struggling to let his younger half-sister regain her independence after a bout with cancer and Dell’s having to take care of them too.
The more time the two men spend together as friends, the more complicated their feelings become and, eventually it becomes clear that Donny wants to submit to Dell’s powerful personality but is frightened of how it might change peoples’ perceptions of him.
I really felt for Donny throughout this. He’s 25 but sometimes comes across as younger, he’s in a high-pressure role as a firefighter where his dad Angelo’s not only in charge as a senior Fire Captain but as the role model who Donny’s always looked up to. He sees his dad struggling with Mike’s coming out and is afraid of what his feelings for Dell might do to their relationship.
There were many times when I wanted to just give Donny and shake and tell him that his happiness was the only thing worth worrying about but I also totally understood how his fears were overwhelming given the previous experience he’d seen with Mike.
When things reach a critical level, I totally understood why Donny got himself caught up in a web of lies and I was pleased Dell didn’t stand for it. My heart hurt for Dell, who had found himself falling for Donny despite the complications.
Donny’s journey is both confusing for him, as he realises not only is he bisexual but that he also doesn’t want to be the dominant partner in bed, it also has wider implications for his job and his relationship with his father.
I definitely preferred this to book one as I felt the distinction of what type of story was being told was much clearer. It’s not a romcom style of story, but there is humour which breaks up the more serious moments.
This narrative skirts a tight line between the light-hearted joking of the Canali family and their extended relatives and the harshness of a sexual awakening journey which is painful not only to the men going through it but also further complicated by the situation they’re in.
I am intrigued as to what comes next. A few obvious hints were given in this book which I won’t spoil but I know what I’d like to see next!
#ARC kindly received from the authors in return for an honest and unbiased review