Broken (Broken and Home #1)

Title: Broken Broken (Broken and Home #1)
Author: Dawn Kimberly Johnson
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance.
Length: 228 pages
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5

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A guest review by Jenre

THE BLURB

Alec Sumner is fleeing yet another broken heart. By moving to London, he hopes to find peace and a fresh start. While shopping with a friend on a busy London street, he sees his chance, embodied in a mysterious young man with soulful blue eyes and a bad leg.

Eli Burke is broken in his own way, haunted by memories of his lover’s murder and physically scarred from the same fatal assault. He, too, plans to run away—to Africa and a new life working with children. But when he meets Alec, his choice isn’t so easy. He and Alec see the real possibility of new love and a brighter future, but they’ll both have to face their fears of past pain and find a way to heal.

Broken and Home Series

THE REVIEW

I was attracted to this book because one of the heroes, Eli, has a damaged leg and I thought it would be interesting to see how this would be handled. The book is also set in the UK and it’s very rare that I can pass up a m/m book with a British setting. In the end I was glad in the end to have taken a chance with this new author because Broken is a terrific book.

The book begins with a section heavy in emotion. Eli dreams of his lover Bennett, awakening to the realisation that, as Bennett was killed nearly two years previously, Eli will never again see his face or hear his voice. Eli has withdrawn from the world, caught up in an unending spiral of grief and self-hatred over the attack which left him seriously injured and his lover dead. This incident is shown to the reader through a graphic flashback quite near the beginning of the book. Eli lives in a shared house with Black American lesbian Ilsa, and two British gay men, Lyle and Tony. His housemates are concerned about him, non more so that Ilsa who arranges for a new man to move into the spare room. This man, Alec, is a fellow American and friend of Ilsa. He is also a psychologist and the author of a book about how to overcome trauma and grief. Ilsa asks Alec to befriend Eli and see whether he can help him move on from the grief and guilt he feels over Bennett. Alec agrees, but finds that, as he begins to fall in love with Eli, he is torn between admitting his feelings or trying to remain just friends.

Those of you who don’t really like a lot of angst with their romance may not like this book but I love stories like that so it was ideal for me.  There’s a lot of emotion simmering on the surface and not just from Eli. Many of the other characters have their own difficulties to face, especially the housemates as they cope with their own grief for Bennett as well as other troubles. Alec also has his own problems too, as he starts his new life in London. Despite this, the book is not depressing because a theme of hope runs through it. Alec brings a change in the household, especially with Eli, as his gentle friendship coaxes Eli out of his introspection. As Eli begins to emerge from the grief we see how oppressive those feelings have been for the whole household as they too seek to break free from their roles in the house and start something new. Lyle epitomises this as he initiates change in his life which then impacts on the other housemates. The whole impression is that the household is emerging from under a cloud, just by having someone new in the house, someone who didn’t know Bennett or was directly involved in the tragedy. It was subtle, but done very well.

The majority of the story is taken up with Alec and Eli. Alec likes Eli almost from the start and falls quickly in love with him. It’s difficult for Alec though as Eli rebuffs his attentions and in a heartbreaking scene tells Alec:

“I’m broken, mate. Not just my body,”— he indicated his leg —“but everything inside me.” He met Alec’s gaze. “I can’t give you anything you need or deserve.”

Fortunately for Eli – and for us – Alec doesn’t agree and through gentleness and patience he begins to draw Eli away from the pain and towards a life where he can become whole again. It was beautifully done and even the slight misunderstanding towards the end – which had been signposted clearly almost from the start – didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this engaging process. I was wholly immersed in seeing Eli recover and how that recovery affected the other people in his life. Eli’s physical injury was handled very well. In one sense it is a constant reminder of the death of Bennett, but also the way that Eli had adapted to his injury, fought and won against permanent disability served as an opposite to his mental state: His body had healed and although not perfect, was as well as it could get; his mind was unable to heal, to move on from the trauma.

There were a couple of little niggles: Firstly Bennett is an absolute paragon. He was handsome, liked by all, loving, caring, stood up for what was right and his death was devastating for everyone who knew him. Now, I know we see Bennett through the eyes of his friends, and that friends have a tendency to forget all the bad stuff when someone they love dies, but it did make Bennett a little unrealistic. The second niggle was to do with the point of view. Mostly the third person pov is with either Alec or Eli, but occasionally it shifted to Ilsa, Lyle or Tony. It wasn’t always clear whose point of view we were in when it shifted so I found myself thinking I was in one character’s head, but finding after a paragraph or so, that actually I was in the head of a different character. This meant that I had to go back and re-read from the change in viewpoint and it got a bit annoying after a while.

Overall, despite these very minor niggles, this was an excellent book. The characters were well drawn and sympathetic, the situation realistic and the writing flowed gently to a satisfying conclusion. I was so caught up in the lives and interactions of these characters that it wasn’t until I got to the end when I realised that there hadn’t been a sex scene. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of kissing and touching, but the book ends just as the physical relationship between Alec and Eli is about to begin, and I was quite happy to leave them to that. If you like strong, emotional stories; if you like realistic characterisation with good, but flawed people; if you want to be dragged into a story about recovery and how love and friendship can heal; then Broken is for you. Highly recommended.

12 comments

  • Thanks Jen. I have this at the top of my TBR file, and am eager to begin it. I’ll let you know if I agree with your review or not afterward. 😉

    Reply
  • Jen
    I’m with Tam. I just read another book which didn’t contain 1/3 of the angst that seems to be in this book and I had a hard time with it. I find that a lot of M/M writers seem to belabour the emo and angst in the men’s relationships.One of the reasons I love murder mysteries is that most of them concentrate on the actual mystery and don’t dwell too much on angst.

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    Having said that, this does seem like an excellent story and based on your review I will probably give it a whirl.

    Reply
    • Hi Wave
      Although there was a lot of angst in the book the characters don’t actually spend too much time feeling sorry for themselves. There is a bit at the beginning where Eli tries to shut himself away from everything – more in order to protect himself from his perceived pity from others – but once Alec arrives on the scene the story gradually becomes more upbeat with only the occasional backward slide. I didn’t ever feel impatient or annoyed with the characters – which is quite unusual for me because I’m an ‘oh for goodness sake, pull yourself together’ type of gal. They trod the right side of the line between realistic emotional trauma and too over the top and emo.
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      Give it a go, Wave. You won’t regret it :).

      Reply
  • My brain is screaming *angsty boys, angsty boys – RUN!” Despite all the the good things you note I have a feeling I would just let it languish in the TBR file and be unable to tackle it. Great review though and I’m sure it will be right up the alley of many.

    Reply
    • Hi Tam
      This just goes to show that we’re all different. To be honest I don’t often like stories which are too emotional but this one worked well for me. The characterisation and the quality of writing was enough to draw me into the story and although it was angsty, I didn’t feel that I had been put too much through the emotional wringer by the end.

      Reply

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