Saturday, February 20, 2016

ARC Review: Carry Me Home by Sterling Rivers

Carry Me HomeBlurb:

After his mom dies, Aiden Price returns to Texas to deal with the aftermath. Amidst disapproving family and painful memories, Aiden finds solace in love letters he discovers in his mom’s attic. Needing a change when his sexual orientation is unexpectedly revealed and his dad rejects him, Aiden sets out on a journey to Montana to find the mysterious author of the letters. There he meets Cody Bannar, who volunteers to be his guide.

Cody had a rough start in life but after being adopted into a huge, loving family, he lives out and proud, unafraid of what others think about his sexuality.

Aiden and Cody hit it off and Aiden is welcomed into Cody’s family with open arms. As they continue on their quest, they begin to fall in love, but Aiden isn’t ready to commit to Cody, or to embrace who he is.
Not until after the truth behind the love letters is revealed does Aiden realize his mom would have wanted him to follow his heart. And home is where the heart is—firmly in Cody’s hands.

My rating:

We first meet Aiden upon his mother's unexpected death as he is arriving at her (now his) house and has to begin the task of cleaning out her belongings, her life. We immediately feel the immense grief and pain Aiden carries, as he struggles to get through each day, through the funeral, through having to deal with his asshole father, somewhat estranged for years, his bitchy sister and stoic brother-in-law, who only care about themselves, and figure out his next steps. Plagued by guilt, Aiden moves from room to room, trying to find the strength it will take to move forward.

See, Aiden has a secret that he's kept from his mother - he's gay. Afraid how his mother would react to coming out, he has kept that part of himself hidden, and now he's missed the chance to tell her. Compounding his guilt is more guilt that he hasn't spent much time at home with her since leaving for college 11 years prior. NYC is a long way from Texas, and not just in miles.

In the attic, in a box hidden among a menagerie of things, Aiden finds love letters written to his uncle George, who died in the war, from someone named Alice Barrington, who signs off as Bibby. Fascinated, he reads the first couple of letter, but has to stop because what he finds inside is contributing to his own grief.

When his ex-boyfriend shows up at the house to show his support, the two men end up in Aiden's bedroom, where they are discovered by Aiden's father. Daddy Dearest doesn't react well, and the homophobia being thrown at Aiden made me ball my fists in rage. Thankfully, Aiden has sufficient backbone and too little care for his father, and while the words hurt him immensely, he stands up for himself.

At this point, I'm crying hot and heavy tears, because already the author has overwhelmed me with the words and emotions on the page. The grief feels real and raw, and new pain falls on old pain, and Aiden's anger burns as well. His sister joins in the homophobia, and Aiden ignores his cell phone for the time being.

He returns to the letters, and as he reads more of them, he eventually figures out that Bibby is in fact a man. Aiden's uncle George was gay too. Impulsively, Aiden decides to drive all the way to Valley Forge, Montana, to see if Bibby is still around.

As soon as he arrives in town, he meets Cody. Quirky, sweet, kind and loving Cody, who volunteer to be the guide on Aiden's quest. Cody who's got a YouTube channel and vlogs about his life.

I adored Cody. While I hurt and cried for Aiden, Cody was at first a breath of fresh air - unassuming, but oh so open-hearted, out and proud, and not pretending, just being himself. Always smiling. Always seeming to be so happy, and taking a shine to Aiden.

As this story is told entirely in Aiden's first person POV, we don't get a whole lot of insight into Cody as such, but there's plenty between the lines, as we get to know him better through Aiden's eyes, as he introduces Aiden to his just as quirky and loving family, and as he talks about being adopted (as are his other siblings), and dealing with PICA (a medical condition I'd heard of but never seen used for a character in a book).

Aiden doesn't see Cody for the gem he is at first. Initially, Aiden sees him as a possible fuck buddy, but soon sees that there's much more to Cody than first meets the eye. He's caught in the whirlwind of this young man, pulled into the eye of the storm, and can't help but fall. Cody has hidden depths that aren't immediately visible to Aiden (and thus the reader), but over the course of the book, it becomes clear that Cody understands much more than he lets on.

There are some really tender moments between the two men in this book, and they warmed my cynical heart. As their quest continues, and they grow closer in mind and in body, Aiden finds that he doesn't really want to leave, even though he must leave at some point.

Of course, this being a romance, I hoped for that HEA because the two men were so well suited to each other, Aiden bringing calm to Cody, and Cody rewarding him by breathing fresh air into Aiden's stale life.

And Aiden finds, while not exactly what he came to Montana for, exactly what he needs. There is personal growth in Aiden throughout this book, and he learns that family is important, and worth holding on to, at least to the ones that stand with you and support you. And that the safety of your closet doesn't have to outweigh your fear of changing your path. And home is where your heart is.

This was my first foray into the writings of Sterling Rivers, but it likely won't be my last. Yes, there's much heartache inside, and I shed some tears, but there's also fun, and humor, and so, so much love.

Absolutely worth your time.

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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