Release Reviews: Steady Stroke: A.M. Arthur

Steady Stroke (Off Beat #2)
A.M. Arthur
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Released September 6, 2016
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After a tragic accident, Lincoln West’s dreams of making it big as a guitarist fell apart. Unable to play music, he’s battling a hopeless downward spiral, and takes his friend’s offer to stay at their beach house for the summer. While at an open mike night at local bar Off Beat, he locks eyes with a busboy who doesn’t make Linc feel so broken anymore.

Emmett Westmore lives for the anonymity of busing tables in his aunt’s quirky bar where no one pities him for the fire that killed everyone he loved. He blames himself for the fire, and he doesn’t want anyone to see him—except for Linc. Emmett’s walls drop when he’s around the gorgeous blue-eyed guitarist, but he has a secret that could destroy his budding relationship with Linc.

Both Linc and Emmett are looking for a way to live again…will they let their fears control them or take a chance on something real?

In spite of having some trouble feeling the connection between the main characters in Body Rocks very strongly, the secondary character the author set up to become the focus in its sequel, Steady Stroke, definitely piqued my interest. So I was looking forward to seeing if my issues were a one-time thing. It turns out that while I liked both of the main characters here and definitely felt their connection more, there were a couple of big things that kept this from being a fantastic read.

A year ago, Lincoln West’s chances to make more than a regional name for himself as a musician ended abruptly when his car was run off the road in the middle of the night on the way to the biggest performance of his band’s career. Now he suffers from the aftereffects of the head injury, with blinding migraines being the worst of it… unless, of course, you count being depressed from having nothing left to do and no prospects to do anything about it. Emmett Westmore carries a heavy guilt after the rest of his family perished in a house fire he blames himself for, so in spite of his anxiety to be around people, being a busboy at his aunt’s bar suits him: it’s the perfect hiding place where no one knows him and no one judges him for his past. But when Lincoln and Emmett share eye contact one night, both feel a connection that quickly blossoms into something more. But Emmett also carries another secret that could destroy the new relationship before it can really get going.

Individually, the issues Lincoln and Emmett have prior to the start of the novel make them compelling characters right from the start. They’re damaged from having important pieces of their lives taken from them, and both are drifting through life as a result. As the story reveals the aftereffects of Lincoln’s accident and the cause behind Emmett’s family’s death, it’s hard not to be pulled into their struggles. So once they’ve met and start to explore the attraction they have for one another, unlike in the previous book, I had no trouble feeling it between them. As a result, I was really enjoying the book, until…

It’s hard to discuss the problem I had with the book without giving something away, so I apologize for deliberately being vague. The trope used as the biggest conflict between Lincoln and Emmett surrounds the secret Emmett has that the blurb alludes to. It is one that I’ve seen used before, though usually it comes up toward the end as the set up for the final drama. Here, though, it is introduced before the halfway point. It’s something that not only surprises Emmett when he learns it, it’s something I didn’t expect either. On its surface, the trope isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but instead of then using it as the basis for the rest of the story line, the author lets it fester, pretty much completely without further mention, for another roughly 40% of the book. During this time, the plot focuses a good deal on some of the secondary characters and their issues rather than on Lincoln and Emmett. While these events work to expand the reader’s understanding of the main characters, the fact that these things happen after the reader learns the secret, and are totally unrelated to it, made it hard for me to stay interested in this section of the book. Instead, I was preoccupied with thoughts about how Lincoln would respond to the secret that had now been relegated to a back burner for so long.

There was enough character and relationship development taking place during this chunk of the book to keep me from being completely turned off by the story. By the time the resolution finally came about, I was underwhelmed, partly because it only took the last 10-15% of the book, partly because it felt a little unrealistic (even though, I guess, it fit in with the story line), and partly because it resulted in a rather abrupt happy-for-now (HFN) ending without some sort of epilogue to push it beyond to the happily-ever-after (HEA). Putting all this together, I wish the second half of the book had been focused almost completely on this big conflict, since I think the author missed the opportunity to turn this story and its emotionally traumatized characters into something truly memorable by doing so.

Despite the fact that Steady Stroke started very strongly for me and was written in a style that was easy to follow and never felt choppy, the direction the author took the plot kept me from enjoying the book as much as I hoped I would. Sure, there was plenty of drama, and it still turned out to be a decent read, but the fact that it focused a good bit on the secondary characters when the key conflict held such potential to become an emotionally powerful story instead of just a good one left me wishing for something more.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Steady Stroke in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I have been looking forward to Linc's story since we saw him struggling toward the end of Body Rocks.  He is still dealing with aftereffects of an accident with migraines and dizziness, and it has prohibited him playing guitar and being on stage.

He's lost, lonely, depressed, and without much hope. And then he goes through another situation that compounds his issues. But things start looking up when he meets Beatrice's nephew, Emmett, at the club Off Beat and begins to make a few new friends. Emmett especially becomes a bright spot. He is understanding and caring, but also reserved and has his own walls. Emmett has significant anxiety issues and fears and is hiding much of his past and who he really is.

They gradually build a relationship based on understanding, compassion, and mutual need. But they both have problems and demons they need to deal with. They help calm each other's anxiety, fill a void, and encourage each other to grow and adapt. They make each other feel alive and not damaged after their pasts have beat them down.

But there are secrets buried and one especially has the potential to ruin it all. 

Emmett has been hiding so much about who he really is due to fear and guilt. But as the layers are peeled back, Linc is accepting and tries to help him get more comfortable in his own skin and with others. But Emmett's biggest secret  leaves him guilt stricken and worried that it will be the one thing Linc cannot handle.

Linc begins to find an anchor again with Emmett and discovers new possibilities to revive his ability to play music and perform. He is finally hopeful about a future. They begin to trust, share their burdens, and find passion.

But can these two scarred survivors make it through the biggest reveal of them all unscathed?

I liked the characters and that they had unique issues and back stories. I enjoyed more with the characters from Body Rocks especially Dom, Trey, Benji, Van, Roxy, and the Bounds family. A new character named Melody was an interesting addition. 

I liked getting both points of view and seeing them work to try to overcome fears, obstacles, and move forward. But I did have some issues with this installment. I felt like it dragged at times, and sometimes I just felt disconnected. It seemed like perhaps the author tried to do too much. Sometimes all the negative stuff, opposition, and multiple personal and social issues with both the main characters and side characters was a bit overwhelming and distracting. It touched on so many hot button topics, but putting them here would cause spoilers. There were also situations in this one that were a bit similar to things in the first book. I found it to be a bit predictable at times, although there were some interesting plot twists too. The big secret seemed to be handled a bit too easily, and I felt the ending was rushed so I was left wanting a bit more. 

Ultimately this is a story about being yourself, connecting, finding acceptance, healing, and following your passions. There are plenty of side characters that are interesting enough to warrant more stories especially Benji, Van, Tyson, and Melody. 

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 
Body Rocks (Off Beat #1)
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Released June 28, 2016
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Our 3.5- and 4-star reviews

Everything is finally falling into place for Trey Cooper: his band has been accepted into one of the biggest music competitions in the country…too bad their drummer just quit to play with XYZ, their biggest rival. When Trey has a mind-blowingly hot hookup with a mysterious violinist, Trey definitely plans to see him again – just not on stage as a member XYZ.

Dominic Bounds’ time to make his musical dreams come true is running out. If something doesn’t happen fast, he has to head home to find a real job. This competition is his last chance, and Dom needs to come out on top – but he never expected to fall for his rival. As Dom and Trey risk everything to begin a secret affair, there’s no denying their chemistry is off the charts – but could their band rivalry turn their romance into a one-hit wonder?

Hot Licks (Off Beat #3)
Expected February 2017

A.M. Arthur

No stranger to the writing world, A.M. Arthur has been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long. She credits an early fascination with male friendships and "bromance" (and "The Young Riders") with her later discovery of and subsequent affair with m/m romance stories. When not writing, she can be found in her kitchen, pretending she's an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments. You can contact her at AM_Arthur@yahoo.com


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