Release Reviews: Goodbye Paradise: Sarina Bowen

Goodbye Paradise (Hello Goodbye #1)
Sarina Bowen
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Release Date March 21, 2017
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Most people called it a cult. But for twenty years, Josh and Caleb called it home.

In Paradise, there is no television. No fast food. Just long hours of farm work and prayer on a dusty Wyoming ranch, and nights in a crowded bunkhouse. The boys of the Compound are kept far from the sinners’ world.

But Joshua doesn’t need temptation to sin. His whole life, he’s wanted his best friend, Caleb. By day they work side by side. Only when Josh closes his eyes at night can they be together the way he craves.

It can never be. And his survival depends on keeping his terrible desires secret.

Caleb has always protected Josh against the worst of the bullying at the Compound. But he has secrets of his own, and a plan to get away — until it all backfires.

Josh finds himself homeless in a world that doesn’t want him. Can Caleb find him in time? And will they find a place of safety, where he can admit to Josh how he really feels?

Warning: Contains a hot male/male romance, copious instances of taking the Lord's name in vain, and love against the kitchen counter. This book was previously released under the title: In Front of God & Everyone.

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Josh and his best friend, Caleb have spent their lives in Paradise--a place the modern world would call a controlling polygamist cult. They had very limited freedom, exposure to the real world, or support, and were used mostly for labor. Josh was seen as mediocre and expendable. So when he was cast out, his friend, Caleb follows.

Josh has kept a secret for years--that he has impure thoughts and love for Caleb, which is a punishable sin in their old world. But he could never imagine that Caleb could feel the same. But even though they spent every day together, it seemed that their oppression and fear had them both hiding things from each other, as well as the others in the Compound in order to keep each other safe.

This is a best-friends-to-lovers story about two men experiencing the real word and sharing real feelings for the first time. They are bonded by history, friendship, and love that they had been afraid to admit. It is also an adventure and coming of age story for these guys just trying to find happiness and be themselves. They have enemies, but also allies. I really liked Washington, Maggie, Daniel and Miriam.

I loved Josh and Caleb together. Caleb is definitely the leader and more confident. Josh is anxious and more unsure. But their connection and feelings are tender, passionate, and unbreakable despite what they've  been through. They are thrust into a whole new complicated world, but at least they have each other and new freedom.

They both have opportunities for growth. Caleb is used to trying to control things and taking responsibility for situations that are not his fault. Josh is more of a nurturer and sometimes is afraid to stand up for himself or what he needs. They will need to trust, find empowerment, and be able to let go of the guilt of the past before they can have a chance at building their future. They are truly seeking acceptance, purpose, and unconditional love and support. I loved the progression of their relationship from admitting feelings, to firsts, to trying to build something real in a different and sometimes intolerant world. And for two virgins, they are pretty hot and passionate together.

It has good messages about being yourself and paying it forward. And illustrates how you can make your own family and how important a true home is. It is told in long chunks in Josh's point of view, then Caleb's, and then repeated. It pulled me in from the first page and kept me captivated with their heartfelt story. The characters were likable and had depth. The story line had challenges, surprises, and layers of unresolved feelings that had to be dealt with. There was some drama. There were so many feels and swoons.

I am glad that Sarina Bowen re-released this book giving more of us an opportunity to fall in love with Josh and Caleb. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, Hello Forever, which is supposed to be a stand alone but promises that we might see Josh and Caleb again too.

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 
Those who follow my reviews know that my first experience reading Sarina Bowen’s novels came shortly after I began to read M/M romances, and I have read many of her works since then, including several of her M/F romances. Of course, since I prefer M/M, I was thrilled to find out she would be releasing two of them this year. It turns out Goodbye Paradise is a book I read just over a year ago while it was released under a different pen name. So while this and its follow-up aren’t new stories to me, I’m excited to see that they will now likely get the attention they deserve, as they are both wonderful heartfelt stories.

Joshua and Caleb grew up together on a ranch called Paradise in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming. Born into a polygamist cult, every aspect of their lives was controlled, carefully sheltering them from the outside world of sinners. Josh knows he’s not very valuable to Paradise, and it results in him being bullied by many of the others there. It’s a difficult situation made worse by the fact that he wants Caleb in a way that he knows would get him thrown out of Paradise if anyone found out, thrown out into a world where he’s unequipped to survive. While Caleb has worked hard to protect Josh from being targeted, he knows it’s only a matter of time before something terrible happens. Even without being told, Caleb knows how Josh feels about him, and he knows they can’t be together in Paradise, so he intends for them to escape, but you know what they say about hell and good intentions. Homeless and separated, Caleb first needs to find Josh before they can have any hope of surviving together.

It would be hard for me to review Goodbye Paradise without going a little further in the story, but I promise I won’t reveal more than is obvious, like the fact that Caleb and Josh are reunited not long into the story (because it wouldn’t be much of a romance if they weren’t, right?) Anyway, with the help of a kind stranger who drives a tractor-trailer (I’m a trucker! Yay! Truckers for the win!), they are able to make use of Caleb’s original escape plan and get to a place where they can try to adjust to a world they are mostly unfamiliar with and build lives for themselves individually and together.

Having known each other their entire lives and being long-time best friends, Josh and Caleb discovering and satisfying their desires for one another is one of the most beautiful, sweet, and intimate pairings to be found in M/M romance. Caleb knows more about the world than Josh, but he struggles with his desire to be in control of what happens to them and his taking responsibility for things that really are outside his control. Josh is a gentler, more naïve soul whose past in Paradise leads him to be unsure of himself, in spite of the fact that he has more skills than he realizes. But together, they are the perfect match for each other. Every moment they are together in the book feels special, like they’ve found their own paradise to replace the terrible namesake where they were raised.

Of course, the value of paradise is nothing without having first to fight through adversity, so when they are confronted with a piece of their past, it leads to one of the most spectacular and, in my opinion, most appropriate fight scenes I’ve read in quite some time. I always expect well-composed and well-crafted stories any time I pick up one of Sarina’s books, and this sequence is definitely among the best of hers I’ve read. When it’s handled in such a way that it meshes perfectly with the underlying meaning that connects the story from start to finish, it makes the eventual resolution all the better. And trust me when I tell you these guys get one of the best happily-ever-afters you could imagine.

Even though I have read it before, Goodbye Paradise will likely be one of my most memorable reads of this year. Not only is it a unique set-up, and not only is it another perfect example of why Sarina Bowen will always have full line-bucking privileges when it comes to my to-be-read list, but the entirely believable world she has built along with the sweet innocence and purely loving interactions of the characters she has developed create my favorite backdrop for the sort of real romance that never fails to make my heart sing. Keep doing what you’re doing, Sarina, and I will stay happy.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Goodbye Paradise in exchange for this fair and honest review.

Josh and Caleb grew up in Paradise, a compound in Wyoming that to the outside world would be considered a cult. Polygamist, closed off from the outside world, Josh and Caleb grew up in a strict, sheltered setting where rules were rigid and consequences stiff. While Caleb has some standing in the community based on his family, Josh has little and is seen as a mediocre worker. But Josh also carries a secret that threatens his safety in the community. At night, he lusts after his best friend.

When Josh finds himself homeless and stranded, will Caleb find him in time? Will they find a safe place to live? And will Josh be able to admit his true feelings for his best friend?

The setup of the cult like compound Josh and Caleb grew up in was detailed and provided the perfect setting for their background. In just a few short scenes, the culture of their childhood is thoroughly fleshed out. Though they were raised in the same culture, the effects of their childhoods are different and take each a differing amount of time to sort through, especially as they struggle to come to terms with the attraction between them.

There is so much packed into this one book. Their time on the ranch, their journey to safety, and their education on the outside world acted as markers along the path of the overall plot. Each piece was as important as the others, and the combination of everything they faced proved a challenge even to Caleb who had a slightly more worldly experience.

I love the character of Washington and the connection he forms with the boys. This story would have gone a completely different direction without his influence, and even though he was relatively quiet and was only present for a short part of their overall journey, he was a pivotal character.

This is so much more than I was expecting. Josh and Caleb learning to live in the outside world, to love openly, to trust, to let go of the past was full of challenges, especially because of the way they were raised. I was worried they wouldn't be able to sort out the challenges they faced, especially when their struggles only seemed to grow. Even though Caleb seems to have his head on straight, he has some underlying thing to face as well. While Josh and Caleb were new characters to me, I loved the loose ties to Sarina’s True North series. Knowing Josh and Caleb were from the same place as Zach was the initial pull to find out more about Paradise and the people who survived that upbringing.
I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Q. How can readers be sure they didn’t read these books before?

A. The previous edition of Goodbye Paradise was titled In Front of God & Everyone. I had to change the title because the religious overtones of the old title led a few readers to believe that this was a religious book. (Spoiler: it’s not!) To prevent confusion, I've made the book’s description almost identical to the old one. The setting is rather unique, and I doubt that many readers will forget they've read an LGBTQ romance that begins in a cult...

Q. This plot reminds me of Zach’s upbringing in Keepsake. Did Josh & Caleb leave the same cult as Zach?

A. Yes! Same setting, different characters, different story. Zach didn’t trust that he was lovable. Caleb and Josh, on the other hand, are afraid to admit their love. Same origin, different journeys.

Q. And what about Goodreads?

A. The book will be listed at Goodreads. But it’s entirely possible that the fervent Goodreads librarians will lump the new title in with the old one. Or not? Authors can’t really control much of what happens on that platform. But we shall persevere! 
Hello Forever

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Sarina Bowen
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Sarina Bowen is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and New Adult fiction from the wilds of Vermont.

Her Ivy Years and Brooklyn Bruisers books are hockey romance novels. These two connected series began breaking hearts in 2014 with The Year We Fell Down. See http://www.sarinabowen.com for updates.

HIM and US are the bestselling, hockey LGBT novels co-written with Elle KennedyHIM is also a finalist for the Romance Writers of America's RITA® Award.

For lovers of angsty snowboarders, Sarina also writes the Gravity series, featuring snow sports heroes.

Sarina enjoys skiing, coffee products and a nice glass of wine. She lives with her family, six chickens and more ski gear and hockey equipment than seems necessary.


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