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How Not to Break

LOVESTRONG, Book 4
Written by: Susan Hawke
Narrated by: Michael Pauley
Length: 6 hrs and 32 mins
Categories: LGBT
5 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Publisher's Summary

Take one former SEAL with a healthy dose of regret....

Nick St. Cloud is living with shame from the one time he let his lust override his sense of honor. He’s haunted by the memory of when he made love to his best friend’s 18-year-old son. The tragic accident that happened that same night has only compounded his guilt. A decade later, he’s doing his best to be there for Charlie’s son, but anything more than that just wouldn’t be right...would it?

Plus, the younger guy who he’s tried to forget....

It’s been 10 years. Ten long years. Does Shaw Michaelson feel bad about having seduced his dad’s best friend? Umm, maybe? Although he could’ve done things differently, Shaw can’t find it within himself to be sorry for the hottest night of his life with the one man he’s never been able to forget. The man he’s patterned every subsequent relationship after...yeah, Shaw totally has a type.

Equals a pair of men who deserve a second chance at a first time.

The two men are living in an uneasy peace within the same small town and circle of friends, being careful not to let the other get close enough to open old wounds. All their walls fall when a stalker begins terrorizing Shaw, sending him running to the one man he knows will keep him safe.

©2019 Susan Hawke (P)2019 Susan Hawke

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Cranky Reader
  • 2019-06-20

Pretty good but mixed feelings

Summary:
Nick & Shaw are nice guys who have good friends & run businesses that do well enough they can be philanthropic. They are characters a reader would want to spend time with, even if they zip from kitchen disasters to community volunteering and never look back. It’s an enjoyable story, scaled to one’s tolerance for the creepy actions of the stalker. (I do not watch horror, I will sleep fine. Probably.) It’s just not terribly well thought out or well constructed outside the mystery plot and it sets up readers’ expectations incorrectly. As another installment of the series, Shaw & Nick’s romance works. Read it and have some fun while some creepy stalker does horrible things. (warnings for home invasion & animal death) Despite my guessing the stalker’s ID pretty early, it was still a pretty good tale. If you like the author, you will probably like this well enough. If you like MP’s narration, go ahead and listen.

Details:
However, there are flaws. Because I ultimately liked Nick & Shaw’s journey these were not fatal flaws for me but they were numerous.

Most of the story is set in Shaw’s toy store (did it get named?) or his home. He’s a nice guy and he’s little so all the big guys want him for their little pet boy and he is not interested in that, he just wants to be a man. He does want an older man, but that’s mostly because he’s been crushing on Nick for For Ever.

The author’s choices for main characters and setting are weird because there is no part of the plot that requires Nick to have been a SEAL, despite this being a whodunit & Shaw needing some protection. Nick’s… athletic. Ok. But even when we see scenes from his POV, there is nothing about his SEAL training that enters his thoughts beyond keeping fit. He has no mil buddies we see, he has no connection to law enforcement beyond a dating rival, he has no thoughts of weapons or professional risk assessment or contingency planning. Even his buddy system “plan” is just what a decent, buff, friend would do. A job as personal trainer or a regular Navy stint would have been just as good for impact on this book. But if you’re trying to draw in SEAL fans… your character needs to do *something* related to that background. Nick doesn’t.

Nick also runs a gay bar with drag nights. Scenes are set there but it’s mostly routine bar stuff. It could have been set it any bar. So I come into a mystery/thriller romance where one protag is a gay bar owning former SEAL - and I got a nice story but no fabulous drag scenes and no action hero. Which would have been fine except why set the scene for fabulous action then move it all to a toy store and a chamber of commerce banquet? Larry/Honey gets a small role but - eh. The story doesn’t capitalize enough on its assets.

The other lack of payoff is Shaw’s cooking disasters. They feature heavily in the front half and pretty much disappear from the back half. Again - why spend a third of the setup on something that doesn’t arc through? Instead we get a surprise Little Brother whose scene is one & done. That program is a BIG commitment. My friends who do it talk about their kids ALL THE TIME. They check in. They think about them. Even in Shaw’s PoV, we don’t see him think about his role outside the one time.

It’s great that these gay guys are being sold as “solid, upstanding members of the local business community” that can rely on the police when they have criminals targeting them. That is solid social progress and a public good. It’s just not the story a reader would expect from the setup.

It turns out to be a “friend of the parents falls for friends’ kid” romance. Not a plot I see often and handled mostly ok. There was no/low creepiness factor for me - that aspect was handled well. But for someone supposedly keeping tabs on Shaw, Nick knows too little about Shaw’s life after 10 years of pining and tab keeping. At least the story wasn’t *about* the 10 years of pining, although it did take a while, even here, to get them together.

There are some explicit dreams which nearly push the plot into the paranormal genre (ghosts/predictions). They are heartwarming and might be my favorite element of the story.

Steam: There was on page m/m sex. It was fine - explicit but not boundary pushing imho. In most scenes, however, it felt disconnected from the plot or character growth so instead of paying attention, I wandered off to make tea.

Trigger Warnings/Spoiler:
If you want to avoid the dead animal details, skip the scene after Nick & Shaw drive back to Shaw’s house after Nick tells Shaw not to look on the porch. Tune back in after they get the envelope (or slightly later? sorry, audio pitfall is reviewing details). It might not be possible to avoid the creepy home invasion scene as it is a major plot point, but it is revealed after the fact and there are no injuries. It starts when Shaw can’t see his taser on the nightstand. If someone creeping around a bedroom without permission while someone else sleeps is anathema to you, be warned it happens twice - once as benign & once as scary.
(/end warning/spoiler)

Audio: I almost always enjoy Michal Pauley’s well acted narrations and this is no exception. Voices from earlier books are consistent. Audio production quality is also solid & consistent.

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  • Leezard_Love
  • 2019-06-12

favorite in the series

Loved this book! It's my favorite in the series so far. I'm a big fan of May/December romances, so I loved that even though it doesn't have the same feel as others do. Once they get over the past, they are more of equals. The suspense made this book all the better.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Anne-Marie Mogensen
  • 2019-04-18

Enjoyable

I very much enjoy reading this series and Michael Pauley does an excellent job with narrating.
A book that I will listen to again.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Samantha Cato
  • 2019-04-10

Really enjoying this series!

I think Susan Hawke has done a wonderful job with this series...they continue to build on each other though they are standalones. Nick and Shaw's story is probably my favorite of the bunch! I adore May/December stories and this one was excellent. Michael Pauley did a great job narrating this one!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Bookobessed
  • 2019-04-10

Perfect ending for Shaw and Nick

Nick feels guilty over his feelings towards Shaw, the son of his best friend. As these two keep circling each other for years, it would seem that nothing will force them together. Then, Nick finds out Shaw is getting stalked and all bets are off. As they are forced to confront their past and their feelings, these two men realize that they are truly perfect for each other. As the stalker gets closer, they must work together to free Shaw from the stalker.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Dana Piazzi
  • 2019-04-09

Love this series.

So there seem to be a lot of best friend's dad books in the market and while I enjoy those, I wanted to see the complicated relationship between a son and his dad's best friend. I feel like it might be more of a risk. For the older character, how would his best friend feel knowing that he had a relationship with his kid? How does it resolve? I love emotional and tense situations. And while this book does involve one mc seducing his parent's friend into bed one night, the conflict that I wanted to see occur didn't happen. Finding out the same night they slept together that Shaw's parents (and Nick's best friends) died in a crash put a halt to it all and left Nick feeling doubly guilty.

A few years later and all that exists between Shaw and Nick is Nick's protective attitude and a bunch of awkward tension. For some reason, Shaw seems to inspire the protective instinct in the men around him. Nick is just one of the "icky boys" watching over Shaw. Rick is an ex of Shaw's and he does play a fairly large part of this story. He and Nick sort of have a rivalry over Shaw. Rick was looking for a bit more of a submissive in his life than Shaw is capable of, so they didn't last, but he gets involved when Shaw starts getting scary letters and flowers delivered to his shop.

Shaw is a sweet character. He holds a candle for Nick, though part of him resents how easily Nick walked away. I feel like it is hard for him to have Nick in his life in any way, if it's not all the way. Still he maintains a friendly attitude, and he cares about everyone in his life. Nick and Rick are sweet, but it's time to stop listing them together, only one can ever have Shaw's heart. I do appreciate the friendship all three men later have and hope that Rick will get a story of his own. When Nick discovers all that is happening to Shaw, he lets down his walls in order to be close to the younger man to keep him safe. It is a scary time, but slowly trust forms again, and Shaw even gains a little bit of understanding of why Nick closed himself off.

The mystery of the book does get solved, but there are several suspicious characters in this book. I honestly didn't know who the stalker was. I loved the supporting characters in this book, especially Rick. (Did I mention him enough?) I love the other residents of Rockford Bluff. Nick's ex sister-in-law Dana and her daughter Becca are good characters and they help break up the mostly male cast. And as for the narration, Michael Pauley did an excellent job as usual.  I can't wait for more of this series and I definitely recommend it.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jen Valencia
  • 2019-04-09

This series just keeps getting better and better

If it were possible for me to give How Not to Break more than five stars I would because the combination of Susan Hawke's writing and Michael Pauley's narration was made for ears like mine. I loved this second-chance romance with a heavy dose of suspense and mystery to it. Inasmuch as I had figured out who was behind the stalking, I wanted to see how everything would be revealed, and goodness, but how I sat up straighter when the story got to that point. That being said, the rest of the tale involving forty-two-year-old former Navy SEAL turned bar owner Nick St. Cloud and twenty-eight-year-old toy store owner Shaw Michaelson was nothing to sneeze at either. Theirs was a happily-ever-after a decade in the making, and I sighed happily by the end of it all. If I had my way, I wish that their prequel story, How Not to Wait, was included in the audiobook, but you can still fully enjoy How Not to Break even without having listened to the prequel. I'm giving this five-plus stars and have my fingers and toes crossed that we've got more audiobooks to look forward to in the Lovestrong series (especially if the next one is about Ranger Rick, hint, hint!). Hawke and Pauley have easily become one of my favorite audiobook tandems. ♥

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • SarahH
  • 2019-04-09

My favourite in the series so far!!

This is such a great series! We first met Nick and Shaw in the novella How Not to Wait and I’ve been hanging out for their story ever since. That book was set 10 years ago when they had one night of passion together but for a number of reasons nothing more came of it. In this book they find each other again and I just loved watching their story unfold. It was such a sweet, sexy, funny slow burn and I loved every minute of it.

As always Michael Pauley’s narration was excellent and I love how he gave Nick and Shaw voices and brought the story to life.

Even though I read the book when it first came out and then listened to the audiobook I still couldn’t stop listening as I was so absorbed in the story and ended up listening to it in one session! It grabbed me and didn’t let go. I love this series and all the characters but this is my favourite book so far!

I received an arc of this book and am voluntarily leaving an honest and unbiased review

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Celest F.
  • 2019-04-09

Such a great story

There is a little novella, How Not to Wait, that comes before this story but was only available for a short time. Reading that book first enhances this story but this can definitely be enjoyed without it.

In this story, Shaw has been in love with his parent's best friend Nick since he was a teen. After losing his parents, Nick started treating Shaw as a responsibility. When Shaw picks up a stalker, Nick is finally forced to face his feelings for Shaw and decide if he can get past his feelings of responsibility instead.

I really loved this story, probably more than a couple of the others, because despite the tragic history Nick and Shaw have, they are able to work past it and get to their true feelings.

Michael Pauley has done another excellent job and I look forward to his future works as well.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Erryn Barratt
  • 2019-04-08

Favorite of the series

Of all the Lovestrong books, I think this was my favourite. Although there are times when I’m just looking for a bit of fluff, there are times when I’m looking for a bit of angst. Add in a good dash of snarky dialogue. With great secondary characters and cameos from the main characters in previous books, this story had everything I could’ve asked for in a good story.

There’s Shaw. He became orphaned ten years ago and that, coupled with making love to his parents’ best friend at the same time, has left him conflicted. He’d seen Nick St. Cloud as a safe bet for someone who’d take care of him while having sex for the first time, but he hadn’t bargained on the morning after regrets Nick would feel. So for ten years Nick has watched from afar, leaving Shaw unsettled and unsatisfied. He’s dated other men and even been serious with one or two of them, but the relationships never amounted to anything because the other men weren’t Nick. The other men couldn’t compare to a compassionate and frankly sexy as hell ex-Navy SEAL.

I loved Shaw. His ineptitude at certain things (cooking) mixed with his aptitude with others (running a business) leant him a sweet disposition that made me want to wrap him up and take care of him. In some ways he’s a mature twenty-eight and in others he’s still naïve in the ways of the world. I understood Nick standing by, ready to step in when things go sideways, but otherwise keeping his hands literally to himself.

The stalking elements of the story were creepy and well done. I felt Shaw’s anguish at having his whole life upended and no longer feeling safe. That Nick was there to save him felt good, but I liked that Shaw insisted on maintaining some autonomy. He was willing to accept help and protection from Nick, but he still kept some agency. I also liked the little glimpses into his life and all the good things he was quietly doing for the community around him. He understands how lucky he is and wants to give back.

I want to take a quick moment to shout out to the secondary characters. I loved how they all rallied around Shaw, especially Becca. I loved her sassy attitude and great friendship with Shaw. I also liked how it was Dana, Nick’s former sister-in-law, who was such a champion of the men getting together.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this book and hope there are still more to come. Ranger Rick deserves his own happy ending, right?

Finally, Michael Pauley. He’s narrated the entire series and has done a brilliant job. He keeps a separate voice for each character and given the sheer volume of hot men, that’s quite a feat. He also has fantastic voices for the female characters, which I always appreciate. Overall, a great listen.