A FAMILY OF THE HEART
James Bryant is an artist, an oils and acrylics painter, who is working as a graphics designer in order to be fiscally responsible. His faith in his talent as a painter, making his living by selling his art through galleries, has been literally beaten out of him by his previous domestic partner.
James Bryant is openly gay and has been the target of both physical and psychological abuse since his teens. His parents began the psychological abuse upon discovering his sexual orientation and his brother, along with several of the brother’s friends, initiated and perpetuated the physical abuse.
James also has a degenerative joint disease that made it impossible for him to defend himself physically from those attacks, which included being held down, beaten and raped. Even into his college years and beyond, the attacks were frequent and merciless, putting James into the hospital on several occasions.
As often occurs in abuse situations, James never reported any incidents that occurred after the first rape when he realized that his parents held him to blame for it all and would not help him press charges. And again, as often occurs in abuse situations, James did not extricate himself from the cycle of abuse until his domestic partner stepped over that final line and took away his ability to walk without crutches.
Enter Seth Burns, the openly gay CEO of Carrington Enterprises, a hotel and restaurant conglomerate, who has contracted with James’ firm for a branding design to be used with a new chain the firm is building. James is assigned as the designer for the project. Their attraction to each other is immediate and Seth takes James to the construction site to get design ideas. Unknown to Seth, one of the construction crews’ foremen is the man who put James on crutches. When James encounters Victor at the site, he goes into a full fledge panic attack and flees the scene, Seth hot on his hells.
At this point the two main story lines emerge. First is the relationship between James and Seth. Second is the psychological growth of the abused soul past and beyond the abuse.
Before our story reaches its most satisfying conclusion, O’Riley will have tested the patience and character of both James and Seth in several high-impact situations. She will use Seth to demonstrate the difference between a dominant and a bully, between being dominant and being domineering, and between consent and abuse. She will also use Seth to bring out the point that BDSM practices are about mutual pleasures and that practicing elements of that lifestyle does not imply or require pain or injury.
O’Riley will use James to illustrate the fact that everything in this world does not always revolve around oneself. Through James, O’Riley helps the other characters to learn that sometimes putting another’s problems ahead of one’s own and being selfless instead of selfish will yield results that are more truthful and satisfying than those achieved by pushing. And O’Riley will use James to advance one of the most important psychological principles in the book: the family of the one’s heart is just as real, and sometimes more cohesive and loving, as the family of one’s blood.
Two other elements of this book are just as impressive as the psychological import of the storyline. One is the writing of the sexual encounters and the other is the book’s cover. Today’s current phrasing for well-written sex scenes is “hot and steamy.” They are all of that and more. They show consideration and caring. They never feel gratuitously included, but are naturally placed within the story line. And they are written as coming from the heart as well as from desire. My only complaint here is that the author makes the prose of James’ internal monologues during the scenes too flowery and verbose.
As for the book’s cover, rarely do I comment on a cover in a review, but this cover merits an exception. It is, put simply, beautiful. Each element in the cover supports a major concept in the book – the brush representing James’ talent, the hand rings representing his illness, the side and facing profiles representing the relationship between James and Seth, and the soft batik coloration representing the blending of all into a cohesive unit.
Throughout the novel, it is apparent that, as a debut author, O’Riley is serious about her craft. The scenes seem to flow together effortlessly. That and the lack of significant errata indicate the presence of a good editor. It is also clear that O’Riley has done her research into the dynamics of physical and emotional abuse. Throughout the story, James’ responses to perceived and actual threats are right on the money. And O’Riley has left a door open to a second related book or even a trilogy, using the supporting characters of Chase and Rhys. For a debut novel, this is a finely written specimen.
Cover Art from Goodreads