Title: The Way Back (Kansas #1)
Author: Carter Quinn
Cover Artist: Catt Ford
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novel/200 pages/62 K words
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Review Summary: Three dimensional characters, lots of emotion and a well crafted plot made this book a fun read.
In freshman year, Riley Evans met the best friends he ever thought he’d have, Jason and Eric. But then his friendship with Eric turned into something much more. That relationship ended almost as soon as it began, and Riley hasn’t let anyone near his heart since. Until now.
When Riley needed him most, Jason helped pick up the pieces. Six years later, he’s once again part of Riley’s life. Riley is slowly letting Jason past his defenses and is starting to see how good they are together. They’re even planning a romantic weekend getaway. Then, out of the blue, Eric calls, claiming he wants Riley back.
Riley has been dreaming about Eric for six years, but suddenly he can’t he stop thinking of Jason. Jason, who has always been there when Riley needs him—who puts Riley’s happiness above his own, even if that means his own heart will suffer. Jason insists Riley face his old feelings for Eric to make sure they’re really gone. But are they? If Riley can’t learn from his mistakes, he may be destined to repeat them—and Jason won’t wait forever.
Riley was still trying to get over Eric six years after he had cruelly dumped him for a woman, but he wasn’t having much success. He had made some progress after he finally accepted that Eric wasn’t coming back and had recently started dating Jason, his best friend in college, when they met again a few weeks ago but he was Eric’s brother which made things a bit complicated. They had known each other for a long time but their romantic relationship was still brand new and was just starting to jell when out of the blue Riley received a call from Eric who told him that he loved him and wanted him back. This was a bombshell he was not expecting and it was definitely not something that he wanted to hear because he was confused enough about his feelings for both men.
During the time they dated all those years ago (although calling it dating would be a stretch), Eric never stayed over at Riley’s apartment after they had sex – he couldn’t get away fast enough. On the other hand Riley’s relationship with Jason was completely different; they didn’t just have sex – they made love and Jason couldn’t seem to get enough of him and never wanted to leave. He was everything Eric was not, honest and kind and made no bones about wanting Riley in his life permanently. Riley had two choices. Behind door no. 1 was Jason who was in love with him and wanted him forever, but behind door no. 2 was Eric who still had him in his thrall and seemed determined to woo him back into his arms. When Jason found out about Eric’s call he made it clear that Riley should decide which brother he wanted and he proposed that Riley date Eric to either get him out of his system or see if the love he once had for him was still alive. How could this end well?
As this scenario played out what struck me was that despite wanting to hate Eric’s character, I understood the conflicts that were plaguing him which were typical of many gay men who were still in the closet. He hated being gay but he loved Riley and couldn’t stay away from him no matter how much he tried. Since he didn’t want to be “out” he decided to remove himself from temptation, i.e. Riley, by marrying a woman he had been dating all along, but like most gay men he couldn’t get what he needed in the marriage and became increasingly miserable and depressed, until a divorce became the only solution.
As for Riley, he still loved the “college” version of Eric who had stomped all over his heart, but he also loved Jason, the man he now knew and he cared about him much more than before. Both Riley and Eric were immature at 21 and they had a lot of growing up to do, however Jason who was a year older always wanted Riley in his life but he needed to know that he was the man Riley really loved and that he was not a substitute for his brother.
Of course such a complicated story was not without angst but I thought it was kept at a reasonable level, although at one point it appeared to be headed toward the Big Misunderstanding, but the author was astute enough to avoid this disaster by pulling it back from the brink while it was teetering. 🙂 The issue of honesty kept smacking the protagonists in the face as Riley tried to stick to his commitment to Jason while exploring his feelings for Eric at the same time. There were quite a few unexpected hurdles to be overcome as a result of Jason’s gesture to free Riley to date Eric. His previous relationship had ended because his partner cheated on him so the issue of what he considered cheating was coloured by the past. Some readers who only see the world in black and white and can’t deal with gray scale might have some difficulty with Riley’s actions before he decided who he wanted.
To summarize: I liked this book a lot although I thought that the latter chapters had some crazy shenanigans, but Carter Quinn did manage to pull it all together in the end. The strength of the story was the characterizations and the writing which was fresh and didn’t depend on old tropes. The MC’s were well drawn and they shone despite a few side trips that I personally thought were not necessary to prove whether you loved someone, but I’m not a writer and I realize that the world of fiction does require an element of fantasy to make it exciting, and The Way Back was definitely exciting. The emotions between the guys were palpable and I loved that they weren’t shy about showing that they cared. The secondary characters were also three dimensional and lots of fun especially Melissa, Riley’s friend, confidante and partner in crime. I would love to have a friend like Melissa. 🙂 Another aspect I liked was the detailed world building.
I’m really impressed by Carter Quinn who is a new M/M author and I thought that The Way Back was a great first effort. I can’t wait for his next book.