Title: Living Out Loud
Author: Christina Lee and Nyrae Dawn
Release Date: September 8, 2017
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance
Heat Level: 4 flames out of 5
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Ben Emerson has lived by his minister father’s rules most of his life. Born into an ultra-conservative church community, he’s finally brave enough to break free and move to San Francisco. Distancing himself certainly helps create a new mindset, but living as an openly gay man takes some getting used to. When he reaches out to Xavier, a childhood friend who lives in the city, Ben isn’t sure how he’ll respond given their thorny history. Ben hopes the familiar connection will help him right some wrongs as well as provide the solace he’s been craving.
Xavier Ramos is who he is, and he doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks. Whether it’s eyeliner, nail polish, tattoos or his love of hooking up, he uses his body as a form of self-expression but doesn’t let anyone get too close. When Ben reenters his life, Xavier helps him experience the city and feel comfortable in his own skin. Seeing the world through Ben’s eyes, he begins to wonder if he’s also not living as freely as he thought.
When Xavier challenges Ben’s beliefs about sex, it becomes explosive—for both of them. Xavier breaks apart Ben’s sheltered world and shows him what it’s like to live out loud. The more time they spend together, the more Xavier begins to long for Ben in a different way—one that both surprises and scares him. But real life doesn’t fade into the background, so when Ben’s past comes knocking, old habits are hard to break. Testing the foundation of their deepening connection will take a trust that will either bind them…or tear them apart.
This was a story, for one of the MCs, about self-discovery and sexual discovery. Ben escaped his fanatically religious family for the second time and moved to San Francisco where he looked up his ‘living out loud’ gay childhood best friend—and first kiss—Xavier. And. It. Was. ON!
From nude beaches to gay bars, Muir woods to small-town USA, Ben learned about life, and eventually love, with Xavier, who is out and proud but has his own baggage. Friends-with-benefits gradually turned into something more, though I get the feeling they were both in that head space long before they actually realized it.
This book was well-written, the heat factor was smokin’, and the relationship-development was sensible and well done. The conflicts were real and possible in real life. I will say that I want to start a crusade to put an end to anything resembling conversion therapy. Ben’s parents should be in jail. That shit is just wrong.
Characters from prior titles by these authors also made cameo appearances, so if you liked Toby and Levi, Dae and Ezra, etc. you get to see them again. I can already hear the Negative Nellies saying this book had too much sex and not enough story. On the face of it, I can agree. I had a couple, “Hmm … this is kinda porn-y,” moments myself. HOWEVER, the book began with Ben asking Xavier to help him get past his sexual hangups. There were things he wanted to do and explore without shame derailing everything and he trusted Xavier to show him. Sooo.
The sex was germane to the plot, and while plentiful, the characters had enough history and enough of a connection already that I don’t feel it took too much away from the romance. I’m not overly invested in Ben-ier? Xavi-en? after reading this though, so while I believed in the couple on-page, I think the sex might have robbed readers of falling in love with these guys. I needed more feels.
I wasn’t blown away by this title, but it was one of the best books I’ve read this week. It was a solid 4-star read, simply because I enjoyed it, I liked the characters, and the plot was believable. Would I read it again? Probably not. Would I read a sequel with these characters in it? Maybe. Am I going to backtrack and read about the other couples? Well, I already read Touch the Sky and Chase the Sun, so maybe I’ll go back for Free Fall #3, who knows? What’s important here is: would I recommend Living Out Loud? The answer to that is, absolutely YES!