23 January 2015

Broken Mercies by Lucy Marker

 Musician Daniel Gilchrist has decided he’s broken.

He doesn’t deserve Jeremy Evans, a sensible, sweet artist who insists they belong together. Bad choices after a hellish childhood make Dan more suited to guys like his ex-lover, a toxic mega-star who wants to resume their affair.

But Jeremy is irresistible, and he’s survived a few nightmares of his own. He challenges Dan to get rid of the false shame imposed by his mentally ill mother. Her twisted zealotry had influenced his choices, and it’s time to stop blaming himself for inadequately protecting his little sisters from her cruelty.

While Dan wrestles with old guilt, his former lover persuades him to collaborate on a song that protests religious bigotry. Dan grows suspicious of the star’s odd behavior, and then law enforcement shows up.

That clinches it—Dan really isn’t good enough for Jeremy. Somehow he’s managed to drag the poor guy into danger.
I have never really considered myself to be a reader with a trigger. I may have read a few books in my time that made me uncomfortable initially or that I had to stop reading because I couldn’t stomach the content, but it’s been years since a book has elicited such a response. That said, I was not prepared for the subject matter that Broken Mercies covered because there was nothing in the blurb that indicated that the main characters were in rehab for addictions. The combination of their time in rehab and the level of abuse that Dan’s mother inflicted on her children actually caused me to put the book down and read another book before returning to it. While I don’t consider the subject matter a trigger for me per se, they are topics which require me to be in a certain mindset to read them. And now having finished the book, I am glad that I stopped reading it (instead of powering through), cleared my mind with another book, and had the chance to get myself in the right frame of mind to read it before I started it over because Broken Mercies is a wonderfully written book with a powerful message.

Daniel and Jeremy are indeed broken and the reader learns via their discussions in group therapy that they have very similar stories – an abusive childhood at the hands of a mentally ill parent. Daniel’s lapse that caused him to return to rehab actually was not his fault. A jealous acquaintance spiked his drink and by the time Daniel realized it, it was too late to stop the spiral that it caused. But Daniel is intent on making this his last time in rehab, so much so that he is willing to cut himself off from his family in an effort to avoid the painful memories of his childhood their presence causes. Daniel’s departure from rehab is only the start of a long, hard road back to recovery as his ex keeps trying to reinsert himself into Daniel’s life. With Jeremy and the Sobriety Squad’s help, he is intent on staying sober and living a life with fewer triggers. His and Jeremy’s struggles to build a relationship that is supportive without being controlling, while learning to avoid one another’s triggers is actually inspiring. Jeremy has a seemingly endless supply of patience and understanding, which Daniel really needs, but it is Jeremy’s guidance to forgiveness and acceptance that is the key to Daniel’s recovery.

Ms. Marker has written a very moving story that I ultimately enjoyed. The conflicts that Daniel faced – both internal and external – will make this a difficult read for some people, but one well worth it. Typically I do not enjoy books with a strong religious theme, but because Daniel’s faith is a fundamental part of who he is and part of the story focuses on the role it plays in his life I had no issue with it. On the contrary, I liked the way in which Daniel explained how he was able to maintain his faith despite its condemnation of his homosexuality. It also helps that the religious themes are not preachy. Broken Mercies is a beautiful story full of bigotry, acceptance, and love that gives a realistic view into the human condition and I am so glad I had the opportunity to read it.
This was a tough book for me to rate because it was an inconsistent read. Some parts were so well written and beautifully polished it would lead me into the next part with high hopes, only to have that section change tone and feel half done or thrown together. Another difficulty I had is that one of the main characters, Jeremy, is beautifully drawn and I fell madly in love with him right away. The problem? The other main character, Dan, is the one who has the POV of the entire story and he seemed very inconsistent, sometimes I’d start to really gel with him then he’d have an inner thought or do something that jarred me out of who I thought he was.

Then there’s the subject matter. It’s very serious and intense – or at least it should be. The story centers around two men who irrespectively have gone through their own struggles with substance abuse brought on by abusive childhoods. There’s both physical and emotional abuse that went unchecked for years. There’s mental illness, guilt, betrayal and lives lost to addiction. Some of the themes are ones I’ve dealt with in my life, so when I picked up this book, I was ready for an angsty, honest portrayal of some very difficult subject matters between a washed up artist and washed up musician.

Instead, I got a lighter romance with some commitment issues. I never felt the deep agony these characters were supposedly enduring. I was told that they were suffering, that they had ruined their lives so I was waiting for a hurt/comfort, or how their love for one another created a new life filled with hope, etc. I sorta got that, but it was kind of a meh. It just didn’t pack that punch. There were also some odd side characters who never really added anything – they were more annoying than anything. I was a little lost on Mac, Dan’s abusive ex – he was a cardboard cutout character and he kept reappearing like a rash that couldn’t be gotten rid of . He seemed like more of a device to prove something about Dan’s character than a real person.

I’m going to mention one thing that really annoyed me. It has nothing to do with the storyline or the author’s writing, it was just one of those odd things that kept yanking me out of the story. The characters would use the word ‘yeah’ a lot in their dialogue. Nothing wrong with that – rather typical, natural sounding. However, the author spelled it ‘ya’ most of the time. It kept translating in my head as ‘yaw’. Then I thought maybe it was colloquial, but the story is set in California. Then – ‘yeah’ spelled correctly popped up a few times and I got really confused. Again – a small thing that may not bother anyone else, but it drove me crazy.

Overall, I think with the seriousness of the subject matter, the tone of this story was off. The opening scene when Dan is a young boy hooked me right in. It was perfectly written with a perfect tone of drama and I was right on board with what I was sure would be a gut wrenching story where true love changed the characters and their lives. That sort of happened - but the lapses into corny dialogue, odd side characters who didn’t contribute to advancing the story and ‘romance light’ interactions between the MC’s didn’t seal the deal for me. I think if this was rewritten and maybe beta’d with a few different people, it could turn into a serious, five star read. I’m going to have to give it 3 Lizard Claws for now.
I don’t have a lot to say about this book. I’m honest about the fact I truly don’t like angst – Drama is needed BUT when a character is all about angst, it drives me up a wall. Even if they have a reason, which Dan has. But this book is one long angst-fest. Dan has been through abuse – between his church and his abusive mother, he turned to alcohol to make things right. Now, thirty years after he started drinking, he is once again in rehab to get past the monster.
Only he finds Jeremy while there. And he is incredibly attracted to the artist. And thus the angst begins…
Dan doesn’t believe he deserves to be loved – and considering his background, it makes sense. But it’s not my kind of book. Constant angst makes me want to rip my hair out – and in this book I was continually growling even as I forced myself through. I gave it 3 stars because it is well-written. And if you love angst and M/M books, you’ll probably love this. I, however, did not.


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