Buzz Reviews: In the Middle of Somewhere & Out of Nowhere: Roan Parrish

In the Middle of Somewhere
(Middle of Somewhere, #1)
Roan Parrish
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Released July 10, 2015
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Daniel Mulligan is tough, snarky, and tattooed, hiding his self-consciousness behind sarcasm. Daniel has never fit in—not at home in Philadelphia with his auto mechanic father and brothers, and not at school where his Ivy League classmates looked down on him. Now, Daniel’s relieved to have a job at a small college in Holiday, Northern Michigan, but he’s a city boy through and through, and it’s clear that this small town is one more place he won’t fit in.

Rex Vale clings to routine to keep loneliness at bay: honing his muscular body, perfecting his recipes, and making custom furniture. Rex has lived in Holiday for years, but his shyness and imposing size have kept him from connecting with people.

When the two men meet, their chemistry is explosive, but Rex fears Daniel will be another in a long line of people to leave him, and Daniel has learned that letting anyone in can be a fatal weakness. Just as they begin to break down the walls keeping them apart, Daniel is called home to Philadelphia, where he discovers a secret that changes the way he understands everything.

Back in March 2016, about the time the honeymoon period accompanying my starting to read M/M romances was coming to an end, I decided to join a Facebook group of an author I liked specifically to ask others for recommendations. Even though the book had been out for eight months by then, Roan Parrish’s debut novel, In the Middle of Somewhere, was still getting so much praise that I gave it a shot. I remember being wowed then, and when I picked it up for a reread the other day in order to write a review in anticipation of the release of the third book in the series, I was reminded again what makes this one of my favorite M/M books I’ve read to date.

Daniel Mulligan may be a tough, inked-up guy with a sharp tongue on the outside, but it’s a cover for his insecurities brought on by a lifetime of not fitting in, particularly with his family. When he lands a job as an English professor in a rural town in northern Michigan, a place where everyone knows everyone else, it’s just another place where he’ll be an outsider, especially since he has never been willing to hide the fact that he’s gay. But it’s most likely a stepping stone toward something bigger and better anyway. After interviewing for the position six months earlier, though, an accident that stranded him in the middle of nowhere introduced him to Rex Vale, a strapping flannel-clad man with a kind demeanor who took Daniel’s breath away. When their paths cross again, their chemistry is explosive, but if they’re ever going to be together, they both must let down their guard and take the chance.

During both readings, the thing that stood out most for me was the fact that the writing is amazing. It’s flawlessly smooth, sharp, poignant, and simply beautiful prose, the sort of thing I would expect from a well-seasoned author, regardless of the genre. So the fact that this is the author’s first release makes it all the more remarkable. When I read it the first time, I had not realized how much longer this book is compared to the average romance. It’s a testament to just how good the story and writing are.

The story is told completely in the first-person point of view of Daniel, so it isn’t long before the reader has a pretty good impression of how his past has turned him into the man he is now. After his mother died when he was a child, he was left with his auto-mechanic father and his three older brothers. It’s already a contentious situation by the time Daniel comes out to them, and of course that only creates more tension between him and his family. Despite the fact that he’s intelligent enough to have earned a doctoral degree in English, his insecurities and ingrained defensiveness color all of his interactions, including those with Rex.

As Daniel and Rex begin to forge a relationship, it doesn’t take long to feel the connection they share. Rex really is nearly perfect boyfriend material: he’s kind, attentive, caring, and physically sexy as hell, just to make a short list. He’s just the sort of character that’s easy to cast as your next book-boyfriend. But he too has some insecurity which results in him being a loner. What we learn of Rex comes slowly as the book progresses, and the timing for when these things are revealed amplifies the growing feelings they have for each other. Like so much of the writing in the book, their attraction leaps off the page.

While Daniel and Rex do have a couple of bumpy spots in their developing relationship, the biggest source of angst in the book accompanies the strife between Daniel and his family. The blurb for the book hints at a truth revealed back home that comes as a big shock to him. I’m not going to add any detail to that, but I will say that the family drama fits perfectly explains much about Daniel’s personality. The situation is far from resolved in this book, though. Having already read the second book, I can tell you that it is handled there too, so you have something to look forward to.

I can’t say enough good about In the Middle of Somewhere. Not only is the quality of the story a wonderful surprise to have come from a debut novel, but the quality of the storytelling is right up there among the best I’ve read. This is easily one of the best books I’ve read in the genre. I felt that way when I read it the first time, and I still feel that way now that I’ve read it again.

Out of Nowhere
Roan Parrish
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Released February 29, 2016
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The only thing in Colin Mulligan’s life that makes sense is taking cars apart and putting them back together. In the auto shop where he works with his father and brothers, he tries to get through the day without having a panic attack or flying into a rage. Drinking helps. So do running and lifting weights until he can hardly stand. But none of it can change the fact that he’s gay, a secret he has kept from everyone.

Rafael Guerrera has found ways to live with the past he’s ashamed of. He’s dedicated his life to social justice work and to helping youth who, like him, had very little growing up. He has no time for love. Hell, he barely has time for himself. Somehow, everything about miserable, self-destructive Colin cries out to him. But down that path lie the troubles Rafe has worked so hard to leave behind. And as their relationship intensifies, Rafe and Colin are forced to dredge up secrets that both men would prefer stay buried.

Immediately after finishing In the Middle of Somewhere back in March, I picked up the second book of the series, Out of Nowhere. As with the first novel, Roan Parrish’s writing is a thing of beauty in this story. In contrast to its predecessor, though, this story is quite a bit grittier and has much more angst than the first. It also has a big challenge to overcome, justifying why those of us who read book one should even remotely care about the point-of-view (POV) character of this story.

Before I get further, it’s important to understand something about the structure of the story being told in the first two books of this series. In theory, Out of Nowhere could be read and enjoyed as a standalone, but I strongly recommend reading In the Middle of Somewhere first. The stories being told in the two books run parallel to one another, though for the vast majority, they are told from some 800 miles apart. When the individual stories cross geographically, this novel gives us an alternate perspective, so I think having the view from the first book is beneficial prior to reading this story, mainly because I think this context is important in order to have a proper appreciation—or, more likely, a proper revulsion—for the POV character in the second story.

Because the two stories overlap so much, I’m going to try my best not to spoil important details from either book, though one surprise from the first book is impossible not to mention here. So if this bothers you, trust me and go read the first book, then come back to this one. I’ll also mention here that if active cutting scenes are a trigger for you, you have been warned.

The character to whom I’ve been referring with disdain is Colin Mulligan, one of the older brothers of the narrator of the first book, Daniel. To say that Colin treated him badly for much of their lives is an understatement. Much of Daniel’s anxiety and insecurity, as revealed in the first book, has been caused by how his family treated him after the death of his mother, but the worst of it comes from Colin, especially after he discovers Daniel on his knees in front of one of Colin’s high-school friends. Colin’s behavior would be bad enough on its own, but toward the end of Daniel’s book, he discovers that Colin is gay also, a fact that makes Colin’s awful behavior all the more inexcusable. Of course, there is an explanation. Daniel represents everything that Colin feels like he can’t have. Instead, he’s deeply buried in the closet, he’s stuck in a cycle of self-loathing and resentment, and his coping mechanisms are largely self-destructive behaviors. One of these is hooking up in dark alleys with strangers he picks up in bars. But when one of these hook-ups turns into a vicious beating, he is rescued by Rafael Guerrera.

Rafe, too, has secrets from his troubled past that he would rather keep hidden, but now his life has a purpose. He volunteers with several organizations and works for a nonprofit group that offers a safe place for LGBTQ youth, and he’s got a positive, supportive family. All of this keeps him so busy that he doesn’t have time to date, but something about Colin, even when he’s at rock bottom, makes Rafe want to explore the attraction and to try to help Colin through his troubles. As their relationship develops, we learn that Colin isn’t just an asshole. He’s got good in him, but whenever his family is a part of his thought process, especially Daniel, the attitude and resentment rush to the forefront.

This story has much more angst than the first novel, not just because of Colin’s struggle but also because events reveal Rafe’s past as well, things that result in both of their lives spiraling down a painful path. Naturally, Colin’s self-destructive tendencies spoil things between them at the worst possible time. And to top it all off, it happens just before the event that causes Daniel to come home to Philadelphia for the scenes told in the first book. This time, we get to hear Colin’s thoughts during the shared scenes of familial strife, things that perhaps make his behavior more understandable if no less despicable. We also get to see the ramifications of these scenes on Colin’s relationships with his brothers, since unlike Daniel, Colin still lives and works with his family. It’s definitely not a pretty course of events, but out of everything in the book, the way the author handled this family issue was my favorite part of the book, and the lessons Colin and Rafe take from their ordeals set them back on the path to a happy future.

I had a lot of difficulty getting past my hatred of Colin as a character, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say he redeemed himself by the end of the Out of Nowhere, the story did make him tolerable at least. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as its predecessor, mainly for that reason, I think having my initial negative mindset about Colin made for a unique reading experience. In all, this book once again indicates a promising future in the genre for Roan Parrish. I will definitely be looking for more good work from her in the future.

I purchased copies of both In the Middle of Somewhere and Out of Nowhere prior to starting my tenure reviewing at this site.

Where We Left Off (Middle of Somewhere, #3)
Roan Parrish
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Expected September 26, 2016

Leo Ware may be young, but he knows what he wants. And what he wants is Will Highland. Snarky, sophisticated, fiercely opinionated Will Highland, who burst into Leo’s unremarkable life like a supernova… and then was gone just as quickly.

For the past miserable year, Leo hasn’t been able to stop thinking about the powerful connection he and Will shared. So, when Leo moves to New York for college, he sweeps back into Will’s life, hopeful that they can pick up where they left off. What begins as a unique friendship soon burns with chemistry they can’t deny… though Will certainly tries.

But Leo longs for more than friendship and hot sex. A romantic to his core, Leo wants passion, love, commitment—everything Will isn’t interested in giving. Will thinks romance is a cheesy fairytale and love is overrated. He likes his space and he’s happy with things just the way they are, thank you very much. Or is he? Because as he and Leo get more and more tangled up in each other’s lives, Will begins to act like maybe love is something he could feel after all.

Roan Parrish

Roan Parrish is currently wandering between Philadelphia and New Orleans, drowning out her cat's complaints at riding int he car by singing along to the radio at ever-increasing volumes. A former academic, she's used to writing things that no one reads. She still loves to geek out about books, movies, TV, and music—now, though, she's excited to be writing the kind of romantic, angsty stories that she loves to escape into.

When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends' hair, meandering through whatever city she's in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing.

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