Title: Living Promises (Promises #3)
Author: Amy Lane
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Living Promises
Genre: M/M contemporary romance
Length: 350 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
The third in the Promises series by Amy Lane tugs at the heartstrings again with a pair of likeable leads but lost me a little in the slightly heavy handed way the theme was portrayed.
Six years ago, Jeff Beachum comforted a frightened teenager outside an HIV treatment clinic, and Collin Waters has remembered his kindness ever since. Now, after six years of crushing on the kind, brown-eyed sweetheart of his dreams, Collin is feeling adult and together enough to make his move. Too bad fate, which has never been kind to Jeff, has something else in mind.
Jeff’s life had fallen completely apart before that long-ago day, and it isn’t much better now. Jeff has toughened up, become self-reliant, been the funny guy his friends turn to, the one who gives advice and comfort when needed. But every phantom from Jeff’s past is about to come out to haunt him, and the family Jeff has staked his future on isn’t in such great shape either. Collin is more than a starry-eyed kid, and it’s a good thing, because Jeff’s going to need all the help he can get. No one knows better than Jeff that life can be too short to turn your back on honest love, and that living happily is the best promise of all.
I’ve been really looking forward to this third instalment of the Promises series, mainly because I knew it was going to be Jeff’s turn to star and he was one of my favourite of the minor characters from Keeping Promise Rock. The story opens with a bit of back story for Jeff and for the other hero Collin, as through different means they discover that they are HIV positive. It’s an emotional time for both, especially for Jeff whose lover is killed just prior to the diagnosis. Despite his pain and destroyed dreams of a future as a doctor, Jeff takes the time to be kind to a teenage boy, Collin, reassuring him about his future. Fast forward six years and Collin still has a huge crush on Jeff, which he now feels it’s time to act upon. Unfortunately for Collin, Jeff’s life is just about to unravel leaving Jeff with two choices: allow Collin in to help deal with his mess, or shut him out.
There was much to like about this book, mainly in the very likeable and sympathetic heroes. Jeff is a darling, whose acerbic wit and fluttery mannerisms are used as a shield to hide his emotions from others. My heart ached for him as he found himself slowly going to pieces, unable to keep up the act in the face of emotional pressure and the kindness of his friends. I spent most of the book wanting to give him a big hug. Collin is one of those strong dependable people who are older than their years and his steady nature was a good complement to Jeff. I felt all his frustrations at being shut out by Jeff but his patience and gentleness paid off and I was happy for them as a couple.
Another aspect which worked well in the book was the interweaving of the HIV theme and its effects on Jeff, Collin and Jeff’s former lover, Kevin. It was sensitively done and looked at different aspects of the illness with a wry sense of humour. It was interesting to see how Jeff and Collin cope with the day to day task of living with the virus and yet the theme did not over-ride the romance or turn the book into a huge drama. In fact the HIV aspect of the book was dealt with in a rather matter of fact manner which suited the characters as by the time we meet them they’ve had 6 years to come to terms with things and adapt their lives accordingly.
Finally, another part I liked was getting to revist some of the characters from the previous books, especially Deacon and Crick who even get a bit of narrative. Amy Lane’s gentle humour shines through the sections where all the characters gather together, and if it sometimes felt that the secondary characters overwhelmed the romance and story of Collin and Jeff a little, well I could forgive that. The choreography of the group scenes was masterfully written, as each of the characters shift around one another effortlessly and I found myself smiling a number of times at the way the characters make allowances for each other, or give a hard word when needed.
My main niggle with the story related to the theme that over arches all the Promise books: That of family being what you make of it, not what you are born to. In the first two books, I felt that the author had done a good job in subtly weaving that into the narrative. With this book all subtlety seems to have been thrown out in favour of the sledgehammer approach. The story is structured into a series of interlinked episodes with a main piece of drama in each episode. This worked well and drove the narrative forward but each and every episode was also used to highlight the family theme, to the extent that by half way through the book I was beginning to get a little fed up with all the repetition. I didn’t need the characters in either the dialogue or in internal thoughts to tell me again and again that the family at The Pulpit was one where each person had chosen to be there and was therefore a strong and safe place. This repetition took a little of the shine off the book for me, but other readers may not be as bothered by it.
Despite that niggle this was still a very good book. It’s firmly based in strong characterisation with a storyline which may have some of you reaching for your hankies. I understand there is more to come with this series and so I shall look forward to book 4.