Blog Tour: Strong Enough: Melanie Harlow and David Romanov

Strong Enough
Melanie Harlow and David Romanov

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Released June 19, 2017 Buy Amazon | Amazon UK

I wasn’t looking for Derek Wolfe.

I wasn’t looking for anybody. All I wanted was to start a new life in America. But when I found myself stranded here with no place to go, he came to my rescue, offering me a place to stay.

He’s smart, successful, and sexy as hell—I can barely sleep knowing he’s right down the hall. And when the chemistry between us explodes one night with fierce, fiery passion, it’s hard to deny there’s something real between us.

But he does.

He says he was drunk. He says it was a one-time thing. He says he’s not into guys and what we did meant nothing.

He’s lying. Because it happened again, and again, and again. And it’s better every time.

I know we could be good together, and I want the chance to try, but I’m done hiding. If he’s not strong enough to admit the truth, I’ll have to be strong enough to walk away. 

Check Out the First THREE Chapters of Strong Enough HERE

This book captured my attention from the first page and I did not want to put it down. I will admit that I have several Melanie Harlow titles on my kindle, but this is the first one that I have read. And I obviously need to rectify that. Melanie and David Romanov have written a beautiful and emotional story as their first foray into M/M romance.

Maxim Matveev takes a risk and impulsively leaves Russia to follow his dreams to California. But his American welcome was not all that he hoped. Luckily he makes the acquaintance of a helpful woman named Ellen and she manages to find a place to stay for the night...with her older brother, Derek Wolfe,

Derek is fastidious, dependable, and all about order and control.  He is a planner and knows just what his future is supposed to look like. He is lonely and trying to rectify it, but he just does not really feel much and is stuck in a rut. He has always done what is expected, but there is a void in his life.

Maxim is genuine, optimistic, appreciative, and funny. He is ready to live his life as a gay man out in the open now that he is in the U.S.. He is younger, but mature. He is willing to work hard and wants to be independent, and does not like having to rely on Derek or Ellen for help. I adored Maxim from the beginning.

These two have an attraction that at first neither knows what to make of. Derek is used to living in denial and repressing his own needs. He was raised in a strict religious, intolerant home. So he has never really allowed himself to entertain his urges. But they begin to develop a rapport and trust, but also desire. Derek  runs hot and cold as he internally struggles and begins to lose his control. He cannot resist and  is plagued by guilt and fear. He wants to explore the short term with Maxim, but is not willing to derail his big picture goals. And as things get heated, their connection, intimacy, and intensity grows. But Derek is a man terrified of what truly coming out would mean. And Maxim does not want to be a dirty little secret, and he wants to be in it either all or nothing.

Will Derek find a way to be strong enough to fight his fears, instilled beliefs, and public scrutiny? If not, will Maxim be strong enough to walk away from him?

These guys broke my heart at times, but had me swooning at others. Their vulnerability, fears, confusion, sensitive feelings, jealousy, and conflicting ideas made them feel like well rounded characters. Their chemistry, need, and passion was hot, but also intimate. It was not only about them building a relationship, but it was also about each of their personal growth. Maxim literally started his life over in a new place with a new attitude about life. He wasn't expecting Derek, but was willing to take on a new relationship too.

Derek was now facing up to feelings that he had been avoiding for years. He needed to accept himself before he could demand acceptance from others. Derek was a man at a crossroads and so scared of both outcomes--losing Maxim or having to allow others to pass judgment on who he really wanted to be. But he felt hopelessness that he would ever be allowed to truly be happy. Maxim needed to feel equal, truly wanted, and for them to really mean something. And at times they had difficulty effectively communicating their needs or were afraid to be the first to admit what they wanted.

This book was so full of feels. It was engaging, funny, sweet, hot, intense, emotional, and heartfelt. My kindle may have even blurred a bit a few times as I was swept up in the emotions and swoons. I loved getting the dual points of view and felt that the authors did a good job making them individuals with two separate and distinct voices. The characters were well developed, complex, and likable. Their minds and hearts were totally exposed to us and I appreciated the depth of their feelings and their internal struggles. The story had enough conflict and issues to keep me interested, but not so much that I wanted to throw my kindle. I loved these guys and felt everything along with them. I was totally invested in their outcome. My reason for not giving it five stars was that there were a couple of things that I felt needed to be addressed more towards the end of the story. 

It had good messages about taking risks, fate, trust, conquering fears, acceptance, and being true to yourself.  This story flowed well and kept me captivated. I hated to have to put it down, and I was kind of sad when it was over. This is one of my favorite reads of the year, M/M or otherwise. I hope that these authors bring us more collaborations in the future.

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Yes, I realize right off the bat that I’m in the tiny minority by being divided about Melanie Harlow’s first foray into M/M romance, Strong Enough, co-authored with David Romanov. In spite of it being a well-written and quick-paced read, one which I did like, a couple of the plot decisions kept this from living up to the lofty expectations I had after noticing the overall sentiment of those who had read the book before me.

While the details forming Strong Enough’s plot are unique in my reading experience, the plot itself boils down to something simple. A young man named Maxim impulsively leaves his homeland of Russia to chase his version of the American dream, a dream that includes being able to live as an openly gay man. Circumstances force him to accept charity on his first day in America, including a place to stay with Derek, to whom Maxim feels a quick and undeniable attraction. But because he was raised in a religious home that vilified homosexuality, Derek’s dream doesn’t involve falling for a man, no matter what his darkest desires have always been. Maxim triggers that desire to the point of irresistibility, and the night of passion goes beyond anything either has felt for anyone in their lives, leaving Derek torn between what he wants and what he always thought he needed to do, and leaving Maxim forced to choose between his newfound need for Derek and his desire to be open.

While the story line follows a rather predictable path, the writing is the real star of Strong Enough. Right from the start, I was grabbed by the engaging prose and by the clearly distinguishable central characters. When I picked it up the first night, I kept telling myself “one more chapter” because there was literally nothing that kept me from enjoying the story. Derek’s character, in particular, resonated with me because I understand the struggle of growing up in a home where being anything other than straight was frowned upon. While circumstances pushed me out of the closet long before the midthirties age of Derek, I could easily picture myself facing the same sort of dilemmas he did upon meeting Maxim and yet wanting to be “normal.” It is worth noting that this is not a gay-for-you story. Derek is definitely in denial, but deep down, he knows and always has known that he’s not straight.

Eventually, I had to force myself to stop halfway through the book because I had to work the next day. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the book started to unravel not long after I picked it up again. The writing continues to shine, but a couple of tropes the book uses are things that can leave me displeased if they aren’t done in a believable way. The first of these is insta-love. Granted, these two didn’t fall in love anywhere in the first half of the book, though they started to develop feelings quickly. For a lot of readers, that means there’s no way this could be insta-love. The problem, though, is that the entirety of the feelings development in the book happens over the course of three days, followed by a little gap and a few more days, making the big conflict/break-up scene happen a grand total of two weeks after the start of the story. That’s insta-love in my book.

But insta-love wasn’t the real culprit here. Since it’s strongly suggested in the blurb, it’s not a spoiler to state that Maxim eventually gives Derek the ultimatum that ranks as the worst possible in my book that a character in a queer romance can do: come out of the closet and be public or there is no “us.” Depending on the circumstances, I can understand it. And the authors here try their best to make Maxim’s rationale legitimate. So what’s my problem? Maxim clearly states throughout the book that he’s not looking for a relationship, that he’s never had more than hookups in his life. And yet, after only two weeks in the presence of Derek, he not only falls in love but decides he has to be “strong enough” to walk away from Derek because he’s convinced in that very short two weeks of being with a closeted man, a man who is clearly questioning that decision and has made huge steps toward realizing how badly he wants to be what Maxim wants and needs, that Derek will never be able to be out with him. I’m sorry, but love is about being “strong enough” to support and help the person you love deal with their struggles. If it had been two years (or even a handful of months) of dealing with it, then maybe I could understand Maxim’s need to push, but two weeks? Why was it a deal-breaker after two weeks when it wasn't after the first few days, during which Derek's closeted status because apparent? As it stands, I just wasn't convinced with Maxim's motivation because the authors failed to provide a new and compelling reason for the sudden change, so all that did was paint Maxim as being selfish and petulant in my eyes.

Perhaps it is part of my being from the generation I am, when it was much more difficult to gain acceptance upon coming out than it is now some twenty-odd years later. Regardless, I was ultimately disappointed with Strong Enough because of that plot element. There are also a couple of smaller issues with the way some things were tied up (or weren’t tied up) at the end, but talking about them would be spoilery, and neither of them were as troublesome for me as the problem I had with Maxim’s character. In any case, I still liked the book enough to be able to recommend it, as I know my problem leans toward the it’s-me-not-you variety. And I do look forward to reading more of either of these authors’ M/M novels if they choose to write more either individually or collaboratively because their writing is so good that all it would take is a story without a trope that bothers me and they would likely have something in contention for best-of-year honors from me.

The authors and/or publisher generously provided me a complimentary copy of Strong Enough in exchange for this fair and honest review.

Figuring I’d had enough booze to blunt his effect on me, I rolled up the sleeves of my black button-down shirt and moved next to him. “I’ll help you.”“Okay.”
I caught him trying to not to look at my wrists and forearms, and it made me smile. How does it feel to want someone and have to hide it? “You wash, I’ll dry?”
“Sounds good.”
We worked in silence, shoulder to shoulder, and I found myself increasingly—and disturbingly—pleased at the thought of him being attracted to me and being forced to conceal it. It was fucking horrible of me to take pleasure in his discomfort, but I liked being secretly wanted. Being illicitly desired. Being the object of his covert glances and maybe even his darkest, dirtiest thoughts. I let our arms touch more than necessary, as thrilled by the physical contact as I was by the thought of what it might be doing to him.
For there is no man who does not sin.
My dick started to get hard, clearly unbothered by the whiskey that was breaking down my inhibitions, pushing past all my defenses, and letting my imagination run wild.
What’s in that gorgeous head of yours, Maxim? What’s behind those cobalt eyes? What would you do to me, if I let you? What would you let me do to you?
“Carolyn is so nice,” he said, handing me the last serving dish left to be dried.
What? He was thinking about Carolyn right now? He wasn’t supposed to be thinking about Carolyn—I was, goddammit!
But I wasn’t. “Yeah.”
He turned off the water. Rested his wet hands on the edge of the sink. “I didn’t realize you had a girlfriend.”
And I heard it in his voice—the slightest edge of jealousy, so faint I might never have noticed it had I not been so hyperaware of everything about him right now. I fucking loved it.
“She’s not my girlfriend.”
“Oh.” Now there was confusion. “I guess I misunderstood.”
“She wants to be my girlfriend.”
Of course there was silence. Maxim would never ask what the problem was. But I wanted to tell him. I wanted him to know. I wanted to share the impossible longing I felt with one person who might understand it.
“The problem is me.”
He was completely still. Before I could stop myself, I covered his right hand with my left. “Sometimes I don’t know what I want.”
He yanked his hand from beneath mine and we faced each other.
For the first time tonight, I looked him right in the eye. Nothing around us existed for me anymore. I heard only his breath. Smelled only his skin. Saw only his guarded expression. 
I had to have him.
Melanie Harlow 
Melanie Harlow writes sexy, emotional romance about strong, stubborn characters who can’t help falling in love. She’s addicted to bacon, gin martinis, and summer reading on the screened-in porch. If she’s not buried in a book or binging on Netflix, you might find her running, putting a bun in someone’s hair, or driving to and from the dance studio. She lives outside Detroit with her husband and two daughters.

Melanie is the USA Today bestselling author of the Happy Crazy Love series, the Frenched series, Man Candy, After We Fall, If You Were Mine, and the sexy historical Speak Easy duet, set in the 1920s. 

David Romanov 

For David Romanov, Strong Enough is to a great extent autobiographical. Born in Russia and raised in Europe, he landed in the United States at the age of 24, where he learned a lot about cultural differences between East and West. David firmly believes in ‘The One’ and learning through love. When he isn’t traveling or educating Melanie in Russian culture, he enjoys books and the company of his husband and dog in Los Angeles.


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