Title: Where the Allegheny Meets the Monongahela
Author: Felicia Watson
Buy Link Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 296 pages
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: An impressive first effort from a new author, a romantic tale in the midst of the topic of domestic abuse.
Logan Crane’s life changed dramatically the day a blind fit of temper resulted in him accidentally injuring his wife. Although he’s now in an abuser counseling program, Logan cannot face the real source of his unhappiness: he’s always been attracted to men but has refused to accept it since witnessing an act of violence.
During his therapy, Logan meets Nick Zales, a counselor at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Nick is understandably suspicious of Logan despite an immediate attraction to him. Logan feels the same attraction and faces a critical internal struggle as he finds himself falling in love with this enigmatic man.
Both men are haunted by unacknowledged ghosts and abuse in their pasts. How can they help each other heal if they continue to ignore their own wounds?
I may live in Berkeley, but my heart belongs to Pittsburgh, the city where I was born, raised and lived for the first thirty-five years of my life. As a native ‘Burgher, I of course could not pass up a title with the names of two of the three rivers Pittsburgh is known for, the two, of course, that are pretty much unpronounceable by many (let’s say them together —
Al-lah-GAIN-ee and Mah-non-gah-HAIL-ah, or the Mon). In fact, I didn’t even read the blurb; I just picked it up for the title alone. 🙂 And I am glad I did. Felicia Watson’s first published work packs a wallop in good way; it’s a complex, very detailed, emotional, well-written novel that has me looking forward to what she’ll put out next.
The story opens with thirty-two-year-old Logan having a really bad day, culminating with him in yet another argument with his wife. He seems to be unhappy for many reasons — job, money, neighbors, nosey relatives, those buff, young, sweaty guys at work — and her harping on him again is not making things better. Snapping, he lashes out and accidentally hurts her, landing her in the hospital. We then meet Nick as he waits on his mother’s caretaker, who is late and will make him late for work at the domestic crisis/abuse center where he is a counselor. When he finally arrives at the center, he learns that a new auto maintenance/repair class has been added to a program he runs that teaches domestic abuse clients basic skills, and that it will be taught by volunteer Logan, a mechanic who is now on probation from an altercation with his wife and in counseling with Nick’s boss, Trudy. Nick is very wary of having a “wife-beater” — especially one who apparently has anger management issues — teaching the class and is determined to supervise in case Logan gets out of line. When he meets Logan, he is surprised by the quiet, brooding man, and as time goes on and they become friendly, Nick must adjust his pre-conceived assumptions of what makes an abuser. For closeted Logan, he must come to terms with his feelings, not just for what happened with his wife and his ever-present anger, but also for his attraction to men in general, and Nick specifically.
Where the Allegheny Meets the Monongahela carries themes of blame, taking responsibility, self-realization, forgiveness, healing and happiness. It’s an emotional, angsty read, though in my opinion, it never dives so deeply in to the angst end of the pool that it is overwhelming. The subject of domestic abuse — its impact and the healing — is at the central here, and as I was reading, I found that I was getting an education that never felt preachy to me. Watson covers the uncomfortable subject — for both the reader and Logan — with skill and sensitivity, but at the same time not sugar-coating it.
Featuring complex, three-dimensional, flawed characters, both in the protags Nick and Logan and the secondary cast as well, I found these characters to be real and very sympathetic, a real mix of Pittsburgh and the surrounding region’s diverse make-up. I expected Logan to be difficult to understand and forgive, but I figured out pretty early on how it is with him. Boy, he’s one screwed up guy, so full of anger and fear with seemingly no way to easily articulate it — even to himself. I just wanted to give him a hug, tell him it was all going to be okay, then smack him one for being so…him.
I thought Nick was really interesting, with his own scars as a secondary victim of abuse and the need to heal in order to move forward. I liked that it took him a while to “get” Logan, was able to see past his experience and education to realize that people can and do make mistakes and those people can avoid repeating those mistakes.
Pittsburgh is a protag in itself, with such wonderful details that only someone intimate with the city could possibly bring forth on the page. I felt like I was home again, especially since Nick had opportunity to venture into Penn Hills, my section of town (go Indians!). The streets and the landscape came alive for me. And can I just say how jealous I was of these guys, getting to eat Potato Patch fries from Kennywood and Primanti’s during the course of the story? Yum.
One thing to note: while there is absolutely a believable romantic element here, it at times takes the back seat to the rest of the story, much of which is devoted to the two men as individuals and their journeys to recovery. There is a slow build-up to the romance, though the attraction is there from the beginning, and high smexual tension leads to pretty hot smexxin, which that is a good thing.
If you’re in the mood for a well-written, angsty, hopeful tale, I highly recommend this one. I am eager to see what this new author will give us next.