Release Reviews: Hello Forever: Sarina Bowen

by - Friday, July 14, 2017

Hello Forever  (Hello Goodbye #2)
Sarina Bowen
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Release Date July 14, 2017
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When they were only teenagers, Axel and Caxton were caught making out in the woods at church camp. And afterward, Cax had disappeared from all the youth group activities.

Six years later, Axel is astonished to spot his first love’s face in the crowd of a college basketball game he’s watching on TV—at a school which has just offered him a job. It’s a thousand miles away, in a tiny rural town. But suddenly, he can’t wait to get there.

Cax can’t believe his eyes when Axel appears in the same Massachusetts town where he now lives. And he’s still just as drawn to Axel as ever. But he can’t let himself go there again, because loving Axel will mean giving up everything else he holds dear.

Both men have so much to lose. But as far as their love is concerned, it's Hello Forever.

Hello Forever is a stand-alone novel with no cliffhangers. Readers of Goodbye Paradise will get to check in on Caleb and Josh and their clan.
Hello Forever is Sarina Bowen’s second rereleased book (originally called It’s Never Over) that she originally published in 2015 under her pen name, Nealy Wagner. As was the case with the previous rerelease in the series, Goodbye Paradise, I first read this book in its original release, so it was not new to me when I read the new version—from what I could tell, there are no substantive changes here, so if you read the original, you’re up to speed already. While this wasn’t as good as the previous book in the series, it is still an enjoyable and well-crafted romance that has a similar feel to this author’s other novels.

As teenagers in Ohio, youth-group besties Axel and Caxton discovered that their feelings for each other went beyond those of just friends, but after getting caught kissing each other during a summer church camp, Axel neither saw nor heard from Cax again. Six years later, when Axel receives a job offer in the athletic department of a small private college halfway across the country, he recognizes Cax’s face in the crowd while watching a live steam of the college’s basketball team. But after arriving in the small Massachusetts town, Axel learns exactly why he lost touch with Cax, and even though it’s clear to both that their feelings for each other remain, Axel also learns exactly why they shouldn’t even spend time together, let alone be lovers.

I mentioned earlier that Hello Forever has a similar feel to some of Sarina Bowen’s previous releases. In fact, I think it’s worth noting that there are several bits and pieces of the characters in this novel that are reminiscent of characters found in two of her other M/M novels, and the plot is also tangentially similar to The Understatement of the Year, which I must admit is one of my favorite M/M novels of all time. I was reticent to bring up that point because I don’t want to give potential readers the wrong idea. This is definitely not a rehashed story. Nonetheless, there are shades of similarities.

While I certainly enjoyed this novel enough to give it four stars, I had a little difficulty in pinpointing exactly why it was that I didn’t have strong feelings about the book after finishing it either time. I think it’s largely due to the fact that instead of the emotional impact of the novel peaking toward the end of the story, it happens in the middle, when Axel finally gets a full understanding of just how difficult a proposition being in a homosexual relationship would be for Cax, followed by the events that happen as a result of Cax’s bigoted father discovering that Axel is in town. While the story does have an element toward the end to try to spark the reader’s emotional investment back where it was earlier in the story, it isn’t quite as compelling as it needed to be in order to accomplish this. As a result, without the emotional punch, the ending seemed perhaps a little too easy to be as satisfying as the endings I’m used to getting in Sarina’s novels.

That being said, the emotional connection and chemistry between Cax and Axel is beautifully rendered throughout the book. While this is a second-chance romance, they were each other’s first love, and that sweetness of first love permeates their intimate interactions. And it’s not only because all they had done in the past was kiss but also because Cax’s life situation has prevented him from acting upon his desires prior to Axel coming back into his life. The emotional struggle, both from Cax’s reason for being reluctant to be with Axel and from Axel’s frustration caused first by not knowing the truth followed by his discovering it, was heartrending in its authenticity.

As with every book I’ve read of Sarina Bowen’s—I think I’m up to 13 now—Hello Forever contains a well-crafted, well-written, and engaging story with characters whose conflicts were realistic and easily understood. While this assessment is what I’ve come to expect when I pick up one of this author’s books, it’s something so fundamental to my enjoyment of a novel that even when I’m less impressed with the end result, as I was in this case, it’s still enough to make a book worth reading, or worth re-reading in this case. And it’s why I eagerly anticipate her books.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Hello Forever in exchange for this fair and honest review.
Axel Armitage is changing up his life and moving out of state to a small town to use his marketing degree for their college sports team. The deciding factor on taking the job was the fact that he saw his "one that got away" sitting in the stands in a basketball game video and found out he was a student and TA there.

Axel and Cax Williams spent every summer together at church camp from the ages of 8 to 16. And that last summer, they explored more than just the scenery, and got caught in a compromising position. And Axel never saw Cax again...until now...

Cax is closeted for his own protection and that of his younger brothers. He has been raised by a homophobic parent so he has sacrificed his own wants and needs just to keep the peace. But Axel showing up in his life brings all of the old feelings and needs back to the forefront and tempts him despite his repression and inexperience. He is anxious, paranoid, and terrified of being found out. His life is complicated and full of obligations.

Axel is out and is becoming comfortable sharing his true self with he new friend group in town including his landlords, Caleb and Josh. He is outgoing, caring, understanding, and dependable. He knows what he wants but understands Cax's dilemma and is as patient as possible. 

They both still have strong feelings. But due to the challenges surrounding Cax, they struggle to be able to see each other. They are friends, but will be judged if seen. They are still trying to sneak around and explore their attraction and that just tempts them more. And they have history and a present, but missed six years in between. 

I liked them together and in a perfect world their relationship would be easy as it was pretty insta-love already left over from feelings from their youth that they never really got over. I would have liked to see them get to spend more time together in the present, 
and get more relationship development. But this one had a lot of external drama driving the story and affecting the character's choices. Cax's father was easy to hate, but at times seemed a bit over-the-top. And some of the situations towards the end seemed to be resolved fairly easily. 

This is an emotional and at times dramatic second-chance and forbidden love story with just enough humor and tenderness to balance it out. It is told in dual points of view. I liked both Axel and Cax even though Cax was really limited at times by his situation. I enjoyed getting more with Caleb and Josh (Goodbye Paradise) and with the other notable side characters Jason, Boz, Amy, and Cax's brothers Scotty, Jared, and Mark. I hope that she writes a book for Jason as she teased a story for him a bit.

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 
Axel and Cax were friends who only saw each other at church camp during the summer, until the year they were caught making out in the woods, and were forced to sever ties completely. Now, Axel is looking for a new career after finishing his marketing degree. A sighting of Cax on TV has Axel confirming a job offer he wasn’t set on taking until sighting his first love.

While Axel is out and comfortable with his sexuality, Cax is closeted and keeps a low profile for his own protection as well as to continue seeing his younger brothers. He does a lot in order to protect his brothers, and as he faces his own first love once again, he must decide how to be friends with Axel without jeopardizing his relationships with his siblings.

I loved that even though they hadn’t seen each other since they were kids, and weren’t expecting to see the other, they immediately recognized the other and remembered the importance of their friendship from so long ago. The depth of their feelings in the past carry over to the present as they work to find a new balance and new relationship in the present.

I could not have predicted the direction this story took, but loved watching them rediscover each other and the learning and confidence that was gained throughout the course of the book. This was a journey, with so many emotional changes happening within the characters. I loved the resolution and found myself pulled into the chemistry of these two.

I was completely pulled into this second chance, forbidden love story. For two people with such strong feelings about each other, they had a lot of obstacles to overcome, even as adults. I loved the Caleb and Josh cameos, and loved watching two favorite characters build a world for themselves and to welcome new members. 
I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Goodbye Paradise (Hello Goodbye #1)
Sarina Bowen
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Our 4.5 star reviews

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.

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 for updates.

With Elle Kennedy, Sarina is the author of the RITA® award-winning Him, and its sequel, Us, as well as the WAGs novels.

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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