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Book Review: Eric Arvin’s Greatest Hits

Eric Arvin's Greatest Hits

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From Urban Fantasy to Contemporary, enjoy these four romances from Eric Arvin in this exclusive bundle. In Simple Men, Chip is a football coach at a small college, but his personal life is in a bit of a rut. Then he meets the new school chaplain, Foster. Chip decides to go for it, but love is never simple, and sometimes it’s a downright mess! In Another Enchanted April, three men stay at a bed-and-breakfast with a breathtakingly beautiful garden that has an air of the supernatural. Jerry’s there for love, Doug’s there for sex, and Tony is practically dragged along. Three men clinging stubbornly to their self-destructive ways… can the magic of the garden prevent love’s labors from being lost? In Woke Up in a Strange Place, Joe wakes up in a barley field with no clothes, no memories, and no idea how he got there. He sets off through a fantastical changing landscape to confront his past. If he wants to find peace—and reunite with the Stranger he is so strongly drawn to—he must continue on until the end. In Galley Proof, fiction writer Logan is perfectly happy—until he meets the editor of his next book, Brock. Soon his life and his new manuscript are in a shambles. To take his mind off the mess, Logan goes on a trip, but he might have to admit there are some things you can’t run from.

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Book – Eric Arvin’s Greatest Hits

Author – Eric Arvin

Star rating – ★★★★☆

No. of Pages – 590

Movie Potential – ★★★★★

Ease of reading – very easy to read and follow

Would I read it again – Definitely.

** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **

Reviewed for Divine Magazine

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SIMPLE MEN

★★★★★

1-22% of the book, so approximately 130 pages

Contemporary Romance – College

This was one fantastic ride. As my first story by Eric Arvin (despite having had some of these on my TBR for ages) I was captivated. This was a perfect introduction to his writing, both in style and the warmth that somehow seeps through the words. There’s a slight Omnipresent vibe with the POV’s, but it’s very rare and never interferes with the story. It’s normally something I don’t like, but I barely noticed it and when I did, it was because it worked in a good way.

To begin with, I loved all the characters. The only one I wasn’t madly in love with was Lynn, who was a little too weird and selfish for my tastes. Foster, Chip, Jason and Brad – the four main characters – were those surprising chocolate chips you get inside an otherwise plain looking muffin. They jumped out of this story and made me love it even more than I already did. And I love Wendall, who is this big papa bear to everyone on campus.

Foster is funny, kind of quirky, but also a little like me in the “doormat” kind of way. We both accept and try to change that when we can. Chip was interesting in another way; this big, butch guy, with a soft core and a warm heart. Jason was that vulnerable little bundle of joy that came to life when he was with Brad, who is that tough nut kid in school that you were always afraid to approach, but who is actually a nice person. Every match was perfect without being obscene or unbelievable.

Katie was a total hoot! I loved her all the way through, but after that talk with Lynn, it’s official. She and the other characters had a real fun side that made this story funny as all Hell and with just enough sweet, heavy, heart-wrenching moments to make it a rollercoaster ride.

This isn’t your typical GFY story; it’s got passion, acceptance and enough angst to work that way, but there is something deeper at its core. Something unfathomable, more meaningful and undefinable in its foundations. Sure, I laughed so hard that I snorted more than a few times. I only reluctantly put it down out of starvation and a desperate need to pee that couldn’t be pushed aside anymore. But there a vulnerability to the characters, at their center, and to the story – especially between Jason and Brad, where it lingers all the way through their relationship – that tugs at my heart. Everyone is just a little off balance, because of the strange twist of fate their lives have taken and it’s heart-warming to see such real situations written with joy and tenderness, when required.

Beneath all the hilarity is a beautiful story about trust, friendship, taking risks and the danger of growing too comfortable with a life you didn’t know you were unhappy with.

I normally choose a favourite quote for my review, but this one has so many that it was really hard to decide. I swithered about the Gerard Butler thing (since Foster is a man after my own heart), but decided against it. So, I settled for the one that rattled me the most:

He shook the sack a bit, urging Chip to take it. “Can’t be mad with a muffin, right?”

Chip finally smiled and took the sack. He held it at his side. They hadn’t been this close to each other since Halloween. The masks were off now. There were no words for a few moments. They could feel one another’s breaths even before they touched foreheads and closed their eyes.

I’m sorry, so sorry, so sorry…” Foster was crying. “Forgive me?”

Chip doused his anger, and they kissed harder and deeper than the college grounds had seen in some time. There were obscenity laws against such kisses.”

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ANOTHER ENCHANTED APRIL

★★★★★

22-44% – approximately 130 pages

Contemporary Romance – 30’s

Honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to say about this one. This wasn’t the fun-loving or prank-ridden story that Simple Men was. Though I suspect the two stories exist in the same universe – because of Verona College – this story is more mature. It’s like the Papa Bear to the Pimply Teen.

The story started with Tony, who was a shocking portrayal of a self portrait for me. Though I’m not male and my medical condition is different to his, everything is the same. The stick (I use it occasionally, when not using my wheelchair) and the emotions of his character are just me. Not even relatable or real to me, but me. I’ve thought or done the same things so many times that it was a really sudden reflective moment I wasn’t emotionally prepared for. We’re both anti-social because of our conditions, on benefits and see the world outside our homes as something grey and frightening. It took me a long time and not so pleasant a journey to accept that truth. Tony’s journey is much nicer.

The characters – with the exception of the unsociable Tony – are all cheerful, hopeful and full of spice. They want this holiday to be the best ever, each harbouring their own secrets, their own plans and hopes for what it might bring to their lives. Tony is there grudgingly, at first, until the gardens and their gardener give him a reason to stay that is all his own. For himself.

Jerry is…he makes me sad. Just thinking about him makes me want to cry and I did, while reading his journey. More than once. I hadn’t expected that, when he first showed up in the story, but it became clear really quickly that I didn’t have to worry about Tony, because Jerry was the one with the broken heart and mind. He was the one that desperately needed happiness. He’s so insecure and willingly plays the doormat for Doug to step on. All of their interactions made me wish he could have a better life.

Doug is something else entirely. He’s vain, superficial and selfish, but deep down you can sense that he’s afraid of being thought of as anything other than a pretty face, because the expectations are too heavy for him to bear. He’s used to being in the spotlight and all he really wants is his parents approval, though he goes the wrong way about getting it. He’s the typical pretty boy, too afraid to be anything else, because it’s always worked for him until now. Until Sal, the gardener ignores him in favour of Tony.

This is a much more serious and not-so-hilarious story than Simple Men. The humour in this is more playful than outright hilarity and the characters and plot come across more sophisticated, in a way, and more mature. There’s a meaningful side to the story, if you overlook Doug’s behaviour, which ranges from playful to downright ignorant and slutty.

As a little shining light, the cook/caretaker Anna really gives it to Doug and gains my undivided devotion. She’s a great, fiery character that offered some meaningful insight. Just as Sal did, when he was with Tony. These two – Anna and Sal – were the wise words and smart thinking of the group of characters. The only people in the whole place who had their lives on track and knew what they wanted.

There were still some laugh-out-loud moments – which got really awkward when it was after midnight, in a house full of sleeping people. But the tender moments were what really got to me. The honesty and the emotion of the moments. Even when Doug turned childish and moody, there were still some really special moments to be had, with the other characters. These moments belong to Sal and Tony, for me. They’re the intimate, emotionally connected, tender couple that dreams are made of. They share things that made me melt and love them even more. The sad parts – the parts that ripped out my heart and had me crying, begging for a HEA – belonged to Jerry. That poor, tortured soul.

Of a million quotes that I loved, it was really hard to pick one that beat the rest. There are two quotes that I’d like to use: one is Amazon in-appropriate and the review wouldn’t be posted, so I’m reserving it for the Quotes pile on Goodreads. The other, however, would give too much away, so I’m harbouring that little secret close to my chest. But, these two made me cry, so I’m going with these two quotes:

Doug was in bliss at the happy, well-dressed, good-looking populace. Jerry was invisible. Even in the shop windows, he couldn’t see his own reflection for the gleaming muscle boy beside him.”

““Do you trust me?”

I want to, but…”

Just trust me. Ripple for me.”

And it was almost a literal thing, the rippling. Tony felt it run through him, touching everything inside. It was warm and comfortable. He took Sal’s outstretched hand and let the cane fall to the ground.”

I can’t finish that quote, because it would ruin the story for you. But, suffice it to say that this last line was what really hit me and it came later, but directly related to this event.

And the world is yours again,” said Sal.”

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WOKE UP IN A STRANGE PLACE

★★★★☆

44-77 %

Contemporary Fantasy Romance

This one is a 4.5 for me. It would have been a 5, because I cried so many times, but it was really long, perhaps unnecessarily so, and there were a few incredulous moments that sort of spoiled it for me.

This story was an ugly-cry one quite a few times. I mean, mostly when Lou showed up, but also during the flashbacks, I think I cried for about a solid 30% of the story.

Joe is lovely, if a little too promiscuous for my liking. Lou grabs me, even when he’s not really in the story. I just keep thinking about him and wanting what is best for him. Baker and the Plainsmen are funny, while 3P is hilarious and the child that lives within us all. Declan makes me sad, but in a real deep, regret-filled way, because of the reason for his appearance in the story. Lou’s sadness is more heartbreaking.

I like that the flashbacks give us an insight into who Joe is, because he doesn’t know who he is for most of the book. Which is kind of the point of the entire story. We learn who he is in the same way he does.

There’s a lot of death and secrets in this story, which I’ll admit, I saw a few of them coming. Baker and Grandpa I knew, while some more were a big surprise. Still, there’s a lot of loss, since this is a world that is beyond life itself. Sometimes the deaths were well earned and happy affairs, like for Grandpa, and sometimes it was an ugly-cry, snot running, deep pain in the heart death like Declan.

The few instances that didn’t gel well with me were the centaur, Melva, and the whole talking, gay horses thing. Oh, and a human being from Joe’s past becoming a bear, in this world. :/ It got a little odd and fantastical at times, which was okay in certain circumstances, but in others it just a bit too much. These moments were what made it really feel long winded and extravagant, kind of cheesy in places.

Overall, I liked it, but it would have been better shorter and without the big flouncy parts.

My absolute favourite quote comes from the first few pages and was the first time I cried at this story:

““Would you wait for me?” Joe asked quietly, his head resting again on Lou’s strong chest.

Where?”

In heave. Beyond the clouds and the stars. Would you wait for me?”

It wouldn’t be heaven without you. Of course I’d wait. I’ll always wait for you, Joseph. Waiting for you, the anticipation, it’s what drives me. You’re my life-force.”

Joe sighed, tears in his eyes. “Smooth talker. You always know just what clichés to use.”

Go to sleep, baby,” Lou whispered. “I’ll be here in the morning.””

~

GALLEY PROOF

★★★★☆

77-99%

(1% is the author’s bio)

Contemporary Romance – 30’s

This is a story about Logan, a writer who, by way of meeting his new editor Brock, comes to an epiphany about life and himself: that he can do better, that he’s become stuck in a rut and that he’s never really known himself before. It’s also, I noticed, another short that is within the same world – Verona College – as Simple Men and Another Enchanted April.

I normally hate first person POV’s (rather like Logan) but this one appealed to me, because it wasn’t overbearing. Plus, Logan is a great character. Like a lot of Arvin’s characters, he’s a real hoot at times and sad, lonely and desperate at others. I’m not saying it’s a theme, just that most people generally are and Arvin’s characters are nothing if not real.

Logan is a good kind of weird; every bit the loner, routine-loving writer than I am myself. That I’m sure most of us are. Brock is the opposite; a little wounded deep down, he tries hard to live life to the fullest and be free. As a couple, they have a lot of teach each other and sometimes the lessons aren’t always successful.

The side characters, of which there are a lot, are brilliant. Grace, Lucille, Vera, Cassie and Janey are all a little insane, very much mischievous and dangerously charming. The women are a group of gaggling mischief-makers, who liven things up from time to time.

The men – Curtis, the stuffed shirt; Roberto, the inarticulate muscle man; Marco, the Italian stud and a few more minor characters – are all varied in their greatness, attitude and ego. It’s great to see the way that one character – Logan – is affected and can affect such a vast array of characters. It’s a wonderful journey and learning curve, at the same time. The only character I didn’t like was Bo, someone that Logan also didn’t like. Though, I will admit that he wasn’t really utilised appropriately; I would have liked to understand why he and Brock were such good friends all their life, when he was the way he was.

The story was at a great pace, with brilliant characters and an intriguing storyline. However, it fell short, just a little. There was something “off” about it that I can’t put my finger on. Something that asked for depth or something that all the other stories in his Greatest Hits have given me, but that this one didn’t. And, no, it’s not the crying. It’s something…deeper…with a little more substance. But, something I can’t find the words to describe, so maybe it’s just me?

I would have liked for Logan to open up about his talk with Brock’s father, for Logan not to have turned into a total slut the minute he entered Europe on his grand rediscovery of himself and for Brock to maybe question him on that thoughtless search for mindless action. But, overall, it was a great adventure and a great new set of characters to bond with and love.

My favourite quote has to be the fun and silly:

He was Henry Higgins. I wasn’t even Eliza Doolittle. I was Neill, still choking up bits of chicken.”

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OVERALL

★★★★☆

Having read all four stories and loved each one in its own way, I will happily admit that I have my favourites:

In 1st place: Another Enchanted April. This one tore my heart out, in a good way.

2nd place goes to: Simple Men, which gave me playful Jason&Brad, with emotional Foster&Chip

3rd would be: Woke Up in A Strange Place. Lou won this spot, for me, with his heart-warming sincerity.

And, lastly, in 4th place: Galley Proof. Just because I can’t define just what it is that didn’t sit well with me. That’s going to bug me for days, until I can put it into words. And that’s never a good thing.

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I was a little confused by the addition of “Woke Up in A Strange Place”, because it’s the only story that doesn’t take place within the Verona College world (that we’re told of) and it’s the only fantasy story in the lot. I’d also say the stories are out of order – I’d have placed it as: Simple Men (about the students and the coach of Verona College), then Galley Proof (featuring Lenny, Katie from SM and the actual college), Another Enchanted April (featuring previous Verona College students) and end with Woke Up in A Strange Place, which is outside the universe and should have been placed as such.

No two characters are the same, in any of the stories or across the board. And, what I love about Arvin’s writing is that the women aren’t merely Fag-Hags as in some gay novels, but they’re real entities, with lives, loves and dramas of their own. They are all over the place, the same way the men are. There are no living up to stereotypes with this author.

Most of these stories made me cry, most of them touched me in a way I wasn’t expecting and all were unique in their own way. No plots, characters or phrases are ever repeated or lazily linked between all four of these stories; they are completely separate entities in every way.

There is one thing I noticed, that I’m not a particular fan of – when there’s a moment of existential crisis for a character, they tend to turn towards reckless, unbridled sex orgies with anyone and everyone in the close proximity, to solve it. Example: Chip sleeping with a team player’s mother in Simple Men; Doug’s actions (varied and too many to recount) in Another Enchanted April; Joe’s foray into wild abandon with an entire frat house of horny boys in Woke Up in A Strange Place and, finally, Logan’s adventures with Marco and Roberto in Galley Proof.

Each time, possibly with the exception of Doug’s thoughtless selfishness, the actions and need for wild orgies seemed entirely out of character. Plus, I don’t really like a lot of sharing or cheating in my romance novels. On an individual basis, I could overlook it, but it did become the one link between all the stories.

For me, this Greatest Hits is a roaring success. It’s at a healthy 4.5 stars, because of my small issues with the final two stories, but has made Eric Arvin a definite favourite author of mine, from here on out.

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