Title & Link: Stripped Clean
Author: Ellis Carrington
Cover Artist: Pickyme
Buy Link: Buy Link Stripped Clean (The Escapade)
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Rating: 4 stars
A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: When trust is an elusive thing, can love ever be lasting and real?
Blurb: Carlos O’Shea is stuck. He knocked up a girl in college after a night of too much drinking and then married her to be honorable. With little money, fewer options, and no degree, he winds up cleaning the floors in a small town gentlemen’s club and thinking desperate thoughts about the handsome owner that’ll lead to nothing but trouble.
Greg Moorehouse only invested in a nudie bar to help his best buddy out of a financial crisis. Now his drug-dealing ex-boyfriend, his reverend father, and a parade of surgically-enhanced DDs are driving him insane. But what’s really stripped him of all good sense is his growing obsession with his married employee, Carlos.
They circle each other in a push-pull of misunderstandings and growing attraction. Carlos needs to get his boss out of his head, and Greg can’t abide cheaters and married men. So what are a strip club owner and the guy who cleans going to do with their undeniable desires?
Review: To give you more of the plot of this story beyond the blurb is actually rather difficult. Not because there is not more to the story but, rather, because what remains to tell is the very real desperation that both Carlos and Greg were experiencing throughout most of this novel. Stripped Clean is more than just an angsty romance between two very lonely and, in their own way, downtrodden men. Ellis Carrington’s novel is truly a really fine example of in-depth characterization that is earmarked by her ability to get inside the head of her creations and allow them to tell their story. She keeps her plot simple in that every detail focuses on her two men, there are no subplots or side dramas to waylay the reader or water down the intensity of the conflict that rages inside both Greg and Carlos.
For Carlos, the problem is three fold, escape from the sham of a loveless marriage that fell to pieces after his wife’s miscarriage, find work that can allow him to somehow off load the albatross of a decaying house that keeps him chained to a marriage he despises, and somehow escape the memories that surround the death of the first and only boy he ever loved and the role his abusive father played in shaping Carlos into the self-loathing man he is today. It is understating things to say that Carlos comes with a fair amount of mental baggage. So when he meets Greg and feels that instant longing to stay by him, understand him, and explore how to love him, needless to say Carlos is scared that he will never be good enough for the man.
Greg, of course, carries his own distinct issues around that threaten to pull him under every day. Having just rid himself of an abusive relationship with his best friend’s drug addicted brother, Greg is adrift, living with his mother, working in a part time job he dislikes, and chasing a father who keeps him hidden from his other family like the dirty secret Greg and his mother seem to be. On top of all that, Greg’s fear of committing to any other man after the disastrous relationship with Sammy leaves him emotionally stunted to say the least.
And so we have two men who are both desperate to connect and feel love yet are unable to even begin to understand how to reach beyond the wounds they have deep within themselves and learn to trust their hearts to the safekeeping of another. Stripped Clean stands heads and shoulders above many novels in this genre for its stunning ability to breathe life into imaginary story characters. By novel’s end, I swear to you that you will feel as though there is no area of Carlos and Greg’s minds that has not been stripped bare for you to see. No emotion is left unchecked and no thought left unfinished. These men are written in such a way as to allow you to creep inside and understand every nuance of their pain and every fear that holds them back from loving each other. The shifting point of view gives you repeated glimpses of the self-loathing that both men battle and you feel your heart just bleed at their desperation to have just one moment where their fathers looked at them with pride rather than loathing. Ellis Carrington gives her characters the “realness” they need to make this story a believable one.
The story itself was a good one but in a way suffered from the very thing that made its characters strong. Often I felt a sense of choppiness to the flow as we were pulled from one point of view into another. This push me pull me sensation left me with the feeling that some of the emotional moments in this story were never fully resolved and, instead, were glossed over to move on to the next plot point needing to be discussed. A good example of this is actually near the end of the story where the two men are finally in a place emotionally to begin trusting that they will both be there for each other tomorrow and the next day and so on. We are taken from a scene in which they mull over how their future might look directly into that future where Greg begins to systematically get closure over his ex-boyfriends cheating and his own father’s death. It took me a moment to realize that we had once more shifted into the next important scenario and had abandoned the journey that would get us there. For me, this happened once too often in the story and the overall flow suffered as a result.
All in all, Stripped Clean by Ellis Carrington gave us solid characters who grew exponentially throughout the course of the novel. Even though their lives seemed to be one disaster after another, their love took root amidst the ruins and grew stronger. Despite the disjointed feeling that the novel sometimes had, the story was solid and the journey these two men take in building the trust needed to love each other was compelling.