A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
Sean Bielecki has built a new life, leaving an infamous identity and painful past behind. Now Sommelier Wines is Sean’s dream. And after taking in Bobby, a homeless teenager who was attacked in the alley behind his store, parental instincts wake in him that didn’t know he had, giving him new courage and direction.
Officer Sam Davis has been watching Sean for a while—not because of his past—but because Sam wants to be a part of his life now. Sam finally asks Sean out, and they seem to click, but Sean is haunted by his memories.
It all comes to a head when the man who attacked Bobby returns, awakening Sean’s buried fears, which are compounded by a hateful ex and a new lover who puts his life on the line for others. Can Sean come to terms with his past and present to move into the future? Or will his dream of love end before it starts?
Bottles Up Stories
Bottled Up is the third book in a series set in Milwaukee, WI, and continues the world built in The Best Revenge (reviewed by me here). Characters from that book — Tyler and Mark (the protags), Tom and Bill and Steve (secondary cast) — make numerous appearances here, and there is a cross-over scene. I hadn’t realized there was a series or that there was a first book — Master of Revels — that tells the story of Tom and Bill, but I can say in both books two and three, you needn’t read the others in the series to appreciate them.
The story opens with Sean, the owner of a wine store, rushing into his back alley to save a young man from being attacked and raped by a larger man. Discovering that the young man is really a homeless teen, Bobby, Sean offers him a place to stay. Bobby soon becomes part in both Sean’s store staff and life, bringing out parental instincts that he never knew he had. At the same time, police officer Sam comes forward to make his attraction to Sean known in hopes of also becoming part of Sean’s life. It is not all easy, however; Sean has a problem ex, Bobby’s attacker makes repeated attempts, Sam’s job has dangers of its own, the fight to have Bobby become a permanent part of his life has some barriers, and Sean’s own traumatic past creates issues in his present.
I have mixed feelings about this story. On one hand, I believe the story had a lot of potential and overall I enjoyed it better than I have the previous offerings of his I’ve read. I am a sucker for stories with kids in them and taking in a homeless teen pushes my buttons in a warm and fuzzy way. On the other, I think the author tried to stuff too much plot into the story. I easily could have seen the Sean/Sam romantic and Sean/Bobby/Sam family dynamics explored only and it would have been fine, but add on the mob, serial killers, incest, rape, attempted kidnapping and assult time and again, and police drama (just to name a few), it just seemed gratuitous and difficult to swallow all as one story.
I thought Sean was a generally sympathetic character, but not without issues for me. I loves me a tortured, vulnerable hero, but Sean’s traumatic past, I felt, was almost glossed over. He had a terrible experience. It dictated how he was in sexual relationships for years, yet two times with Sam seemed to cure him. It’s as if Sam had the magic touch and the decade-long aftermath that has prevented him from allowing anyone to come close to him — emotionally and physically — suddenly disappears. It didn’t seem realistic to me.
A complaint I had in The Best Revenge is that this author penned Gary-Sue-ish characters, and I felt the same things happened here with Sam, Sean’s cop love interest. Sam seems to have no faults; he’s handsome and built, he is kind, he’s gentle with Sean and his issues around his past, he’s totally accepting in Bobby and what Sean is doing with him.
Bobby just didn’t ring true for a kid who has gone through the foster care system and was living on and off the streets for six months. Seemingly completely well-adjusted, he adapts fully within days of being with Sean, calling Sean “Dad” awfully quickly. He’s almost “aw, shucks” kind of cute, the perfect son who I would have thought hadn’t a care or trouble in the world. And just about everyone accepted him almost without question — like Sean’s parents, all of the store regulars, Sean’s friends — which also seemed odd. But mixed in with this perfectness are displays of wide emotional swings: literally one para grinning and happy, the next sad or embarrassed, then again back and forth. My head was spinning trying to keep up.
There were some other things that bothered me, too. Sam’s overuse of the endearment “baby” wore on my nerves. Bobby stayed with Big Mike (the guy who kept trying to attack him) at one point for a bit, yet this was never mentioned to the cops so they could go and get him (Bobby would know where he lives, yes?). Additionally, it was mentioned many, many times that the police wish they had a picture of Big Mike, but it was days later before Bobby was discovered to have this amazing art talent and could draw a picture of the man. Why didn’t he say he could draw before then as it seemed to be the obvious answer to him when he finally did it? Editing-wise, there was a glaring error where “Sean” was written “Shawn,” which drew me right out of the story.
Fans of this author will probably really like this story and those who like contemporary romances with kids thrown in may also, but it wasn’t a complete success for me.