Title: Head Above Water
Author: CE Ricci
Heat: 4 Flames
Rating: 5 Hearts
That’s the thing about hearts—
Like waves, they break too.
I’ve never battled with the raw, debilitating pain that comes with it.
Then a twist of fate hits me out of nowhere, and I can barely keep from drowning.
It’s like weights tied to my ankles in the middle of a raging ocean.
I’m helpless, with no way to swim back to the surface.
But fate is crueler still, bringing my stepbrother back for the first time in years.
Cannon never wanted this family. Especially me.
Still, he’s always been my greatest desire. And my biggest weakness.
Straight, engaged, and with a seemingly perfect life on the other side of the country.
It’s something I’d do well to remember, yet when he stays, it’s so easy to forget.
In finding solace together, we mend what once was broken.
This loss bonds us. Changes us.
He’s become more than a brother or a lover.
He’s my anchor.
So how am I supposed to keep my head above water when I’ll eventually lose him too?
Review: a standalone full length MM enemies-to-lovers stepbrother romance novel.
I just finished reading this one. I’ve been in a mood for the past few days where nothing I was reading seemed to fit. I wanted raw, angst and pain. And for a few days, I began re-reading Where There’s a Will in preparation for If There’s a Way’s release this week. (Which I am ridiculously excited about by the way.) Simply because that’s the mood I wanted, more or less. That level of pain and emotion. After a few recommendations, I took a chance on this one. It delivered.
I’m not going to outline this one. If you truly want to know, there are other reviews out there for that. There is something that happens that is a spoiler, and I don’t want to include it here, so I will talk generally about my reaction to the book. The event is central to the book, so including it could ruin it if you wish to go in blind. While it’s generally my preference, I can understand why it not be for others. Check trigger warnings if you wish to be prepared.
If you follow this blog at all, you’ll remember a few months ago, I read Don’t You Dare by this same author. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. For some reason, and it could’ve even been my mood, I did not connect with either character as much as I wanted to in that one. I wanted to try another book by this author because I have heard so many good things about the writing. They were right. I loved this one. Sadly, there was a lot in this one that resonated with me. There is a great loss in this book, which is where the pain comes from. I think anyone who has felt that type of pain would identify with it in this book too. The pain that Ricci writes is palpable. It grips you and makes you feel it. The overarching theme in this book is grief; gut-wrenching, soul-crushing grief. There is just enough levity to balance it out though. So while the book is heavy, it did not feel overwhelming to me.
Ricci just has this way with words. The biggest compliment I can give it is that it is likely up there with Where There’s a Will as my favorites of the year. I wasn’t sure if anything would ever come close to that one I loved it so much, but this one did. It’s very close. I was not prepared for the blender that this one put my heart through. Her writing in this one is very evocative, which gives me those visceral reactions that I crave when I read. There were tears, even ugly crying in one part. When a book can do that to me, it’s likely it’ll find a place on my favorites list because it doesn’t really happen often. I just happen to be finding a few of them lately. Before that? It’s been years.
The relationship between stepbrothers, Cannon and Easton is complex, and both characters are fully drawn. Like real people, they’re fallible. Their emotions, their love, the pain, their grief, the heat that sizzles between them, it just jumps off the page.
The character, Easton, feels like Ricci’s love letter to the ocean. You can feel it in every word, every reference to the waters. And there are many, but they are beautifully written. I love the ocean. It has that power over some people. That ability to calm and heal. I also feel most at peace when I am near water.
Cannon is the love and stability that keeps Easton from shattering beyond repair. Ever-present. He often sacrifices himself and his own peace to take care of Easton. Through a great deal of the story, their love is not all that healthy, but it’s the kind of love that you want to read about – powerful and all-consuming.
There are a ton of quotes that I highlighted in this one. If I had the paperback (which I did in fact buy about halfway through by the way) the edge would be littered with colorful flags as placeholders for yet another phrase or paragraph that moved me enough to mark it. I’ll leave you with one of my favorites.
No one can give us what the other can. No one can soothe the aching pain and the throbbing hurt lingering in our veins while we do our best to keep from shattering entirely. But the pieces of who we are have changed and warped, not fitting together the way they used to. And no matter how hard we try, forcing them back together only makes it worse. So somewhere during our efforts to put each fragment back in place, we decided to forget to whom each piece belonged. We just healed each other. And now my soul is not mine and mine alone. It’s also his. Just as his is now mine.
They’re just words, but they string together one of the most beautiful descriptions of love I’ve ever read.