Building ArcadiaCover-Building Arcadia
By Ryan Loveless
Novel length
Five Stars

Description: A dark alley, an unprovoked attack. For two best friends, an evening out gone horribly wrong. As they struggle to find the truth of that fateful night, Connor, his wife Kelly and best friend Sam realize their long friendship is growing into love. But how can they get around the circumstances of forced separation and their reluctance to show their true feelings to find a way back to each other?

Disclaimer: Ryan is a friend of mine, someone whose writing I have admired for a long time. So, yeah, I’m biased, and happy to be so. Either way, my opinion here is not just ego fapping for Ryan, but an honest reaction to what I feel is a great book.

Short, unspoilery review: The night that changes everything is more than just a typical gay bashing gone awry, and it profoundly, tragically alters the lives of everyone involved. Connor and Sam are very close friends, and it is clear that Connor has a major crush on Sam. What is slowly revealed in the aftermath is how much Sam loves Connor, and how closely tied to both men Kelly is emotionally. Sam is nearly 100% gay, and his relationship with Kelly is not very sexual, so this story doesn’t fit neatly into M/M/F or M/F/M boxes; what it does beautifully is show three close friends reacting to the changes in their circumstances and relationships in an honest and loving way. Jealousy is at a minimum in this story, which personally I really like about it. In the end, the three friends and lovers have to decide if the changes that have happened between them are sustainable, and whether the psychological trauma Connor lives through can be survived without it destroying all of them. A touching and poignant story about difficult, complex issues and how important friendship is to love. This is an excellent book that I highly recommend!

Longer, spoilery review behind the cut: 

The shooting that Connor is accused of sends him to prison, which is the tipping point for change between all of them. Sam, a pop star who is nonetheless very committed to his friends, recovers from his injuries after “The Incident” to find the lives of his closest friends utterly in ruins due to Connor’s sentence for murder. Sam rushes to Kelly’s side and stays there, while Connor befriends an unlikely likeable cellmate in order to survive the brutal prison environment that he is truly unprepared to take on.

Connor is in prison for over three years until a surprise turn of events results in his exoneration of the crime. The whole time, he is haunted by his amnesia concerning the event, and begins to doubt his own innocence. Sam and Kelly move in together to be near the prison and visit him, although nothing goes well for either of them and they both feel shut out of Connor’s life. Even when Connor is released, the tension of the changes between them remains; there is no turning back the clock, despite their best efforts. The romance here is about people finding solace and healing with each other, and more importantly, allowing themselves to heal.

One aspect of the book I really appreciated was the realistic and believable way Loveless handles the sexual relations of the characters. Connor ends up having sex with his cellmate, Sam and Kelly try to have awkward mutual-pity sex, and for a while after Connor’s release Sam returns to his previous boyfriend Terran in hopes of “getting over” his feelings for Connor and Kelly. Fans of mutual abstinence in their romance stories probably will not like that aspect of the characters’ lives, but I found it refreshingly honest, especially since the characters themselves are so accepting of it. They actually act like adults! I know, I’m shocked myself.

In the end, there are still hurdles to overcome (Connor and Kelly live in rural Missouri, an anathema to the L.A. born and raised Sam; Connor remembers his role in the murder and almost can’t handle the memory) but there is a sense of hope and joy to the three of them planning to be together. I did get annoyed with Connor in the final scenes, feeling that Sam’s anger with him was justified and that Connor really was about to sacrifice the lives of the people he loved for the sake of two worthless strangers (I know, cryptic much? Just read the book!). I hope Loveless does some more exploration on that theme in the sequel, because I think it is clear that for all the hell Connor lived through, he still doesn’t quite understand the impact his imprisonment had on Sam and Kelly.

Yes! I said SEQUEL! I’m very excited about that, even if there is a strong possibility that it might include children (I’m curmudgeonly that way). I’m excited because this is a great book full of wonderful characters, and I can’t wait to revisit them.




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