Tuesday, March 10, 2015

ARC Review: Falling (Fall or Break 1) by Barbara Elsborg


Falling is easy. Landing without breaking your heart? Impossible.

Harper is no longer behind bars, but it doesn’t feel like it. Ten years serving time for a crime he didn’t commit have left him shut down, numb, and a frozen wreck over the simplest of choices.

He’s acutely aware of the dark-haired young man checking him out in the supermarket, but he’s too deep in panic mode to even meet the guy’s gaze. Afraid the slightest move will trigger a fall that will never stop.

Fresh off a long-term relationship with a controlling man, Malachi is stuck living with relatives who think he’s a waste of oxygen. The tall guy in the long, gray coat is the first bright spot he’s glimpsed in a long time…though the man’s unblinking stare at a bottle of shower gel is a touch alarming.

Hard experience tells both of them to turn away before lust turns to hopeless attraction, and inevitably to disaster. But once their sparks connect, the arc of electricity is too strong to deny. Even if the cost is too much to bear.

Dani's rating:

Dark and angsty, Falling sets a somber, broody atmosphere from the first word.

Desperate to find a job, Malachi, 24, struggles by on canned beans and constant rejection. Even as he's forced to live in the cramped storage room of his sister and hateful brother-in-law's house, Malachi knows he can't go back to his controlling ex-boyfriend.

Then one day Malachi sees a man with dark hair and pale skin in the shower gel aisle, a man he can't get out of his mind. When they meet again, they don't let go.

If Malachi has it rough, Harper, 34, has it rougher. Freshly out of prison following a ten-year sentence, Harper is depressed and angry. Anyone would be if they were locked up for an atrocious crime they didn't commit.

Harper was set up and is still paying the price. The daily indignities he has to endure are heartbreaking. They would have been just had Harper been guilty of the crime, but he is an innocent man.

"I didn't let myself miss the touch of another person, the promise of a kiss, the caress of my cock by a hand other than my own, conversation that made me laugh, a face that made me smile, a body that drove me crazy with desire. If I'd know you before I went inside, I'd have gone mad with longing."

Elsborg can write, and the suspense builds from the very first page as we're seeped in Malachi and Harper's stories.

Malachi's mysterious ex, Conrad, is a very real presence in this book, even though he's not on page until the end. Conrad isn't a monster, just a deeply damaged man who doesn't know how to feel. He moves from villain to quiet hero to something else. I hope we get his story in the next book.

The mystery surrounding Harper's imprisonment was well done. As Malachi, who used to be a journalist, digs deeper into the circumstances of Harper's trial, he uncovers lies, half-truths, jealousies, obsession, and greed.

We meet Harper's former colleagues (he was a teacher at an at-risk secondary school), his distant, vaguely cruel father who now suffers from early-onset Alzheimer, and his needy ex-boyfriend Brady.

Harper and Malachi are complex characters with multiple layers; the more I learned about them, the less I felt I knew.

Malachi uses humor to deal with uncomfortable situations, and his snark went a long way toward diffusing the tension of the story. Harper is melancholy and withdrawn, but he loves Malachi and doesn't want to lose him.

"You are what's most important in my life. Freedom tastes like you."

The steam level in this book is high. The men make desperate, passionate love; nothing is off limits. But the sex is an instrument of their emotions; it's not gratuitous, and it doesn't overwhelm the story.

I would have given this book 5 stars, except I think Elsborg inserted at least one angsty incident too many into the plot. Between Malachi's childhood, his promise to Conrad, the vandalism, homophobia, petty cruelty, and fire, I felt like I was drowning.

But the ending makes the angst worthwhile.

In the last chapter, I unclenched; in the epilogue, I exhaled.

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