JOINT REVIEW: Secrets of Neverwood by G.B.Lindsey, Diana Copland, and Libby Drew
Three foster brothers are called home to Neverwood, the stately Pacific Northwest mansion of their youth. They have nothing in common but a promise to Audrey, the woman they all called mother—that upon her death, they would restore the house and preserve it as a home for troubled boys.
But going home is never easy.
Cal struggles to recover from past heartbreak, while Danny fears his mistakes are too big to overcome. Devon believes he may never break down the barriers that separate him from honest emotion.
On the path to brotherhood, they discover the old mansion holds more than dusty furniture and secret passageways. Audrey’s spirit still walks its halls, intent on guiding “her boys” toward true love, and an old mystery stirs up a new danger—one that could cost the men far more than just the house.
Sunita and I were both intrigued with the plot and the trilogy-in-a-volume format, so we decided to do a joint review.
Sirius: I am not sure what to call this book. I skimmed the Aamazon reviews and some reviewers called it a series. I guess it can be called a series, because it contains three novellas, and each telling thes a story of a different foster brother falling in love with other guys playing supporting roles, but it also has an overarching theme of three brothers trying to save Neverwood and turn it into a foster home again.
After coming home, Cal, Danny, and Devon become involved in saving the house that their foster mother left them, because due to economic and other issues other parties may try to get the house. The guys have to learn about each other, and they first become friends and eventually become as close as true brothers would. I am tempted to call this book a single story told in three chapters, but of course the decision will ultimately be up to the reader. I do not think anybody will be confused if they choose to read the stories separately because each writer lets you know about what is happening with Neverwood and the conditions that are common across all three. I do however think that it makes more sense to read all of them together.
Sunita: I agree. I read them back-to-back and I think the reader would lose aspects of the overall story arc if she started out of order. If someone really wants to read only one author, each romance is self-contained, but the larger Neverwood story spans all three installments.
One Door Closes by G.B. Lindsey
Sirius: This installment features Cal as the main character and is basically the story of how he reconnects with his childhood love Will. It was a confusing story for me – not because confusing events happen (although I wondered about something that happened in his past), but because the writing is a little tense. I guess it makes sense, because three main characters of the book are tense and confused around each other, they are all pretty much strangers to each other at this point and uncertainty makes sense. What did not make sense to me was my inability to connect to Cal emotionally as strongly as I connected to other guys. I think the writing style was partially a reason for that. This story actually confused me and I had to break my rule and go read some Amazon reviews. I thought the reviewer who claimed that the reader has to read some things between the lines in this novella was spot on. I think my issue was that I did not expect that I had to work hard to figure Cal out and I am still not sure if I did. I liked him, do not get me wrong, I just did not love him.
Some part of him still stretched between the house, listening for footsteps he could not account for, the whine of the wind through the corridors. But that was all gone. Something fundamental had shifted, the house again the home he recognized. Instead of soothing however the change only ticked at his composure anew, quickening the place of his hands and his breathing.
I think I also just was not convinced by Cal’s love story – or I should say the rekindling of old teenage flame with Will. I am wary of the guys reuniting many years after childhood as a rule – I need to be convinced that what they had was so special that nobody else came close and in this story, in Cal’s circumstances I just was not sure if I was convinced.
As a first chapter of the saga, I think it worked well enough – the same villain in all three stories wants the house for himself. Actually I think I liked what villain did in this story the most. I mean I did not LIKE what he did, I just found his motivations to be the most understandable. While I liked the other two parts more overall, the villain’s actions and motivations became a bit too much and over the top for me. But maybe I should not complain about over the top given that the ghost of Audrey plays such a significant part in all three stories.
Sunita: I mostly agree with you. I didn’t have that much trouble connecting to Cal, but I found the romance too rooted in the past and I didn’t get a sense of what connected them to each other in the present. I also found Cal’s issues a little hard to believe, not that he couldn’t feel that way, but that he would have such a sense of shame about something that is fairly commonplace now. I felt as if his feelings were as much about creating a conflict for the storyline as they were organic to his character. Maybe that’s just because I have a different take on his problem, but it made it harder for me to buy the angst and the ramifications of the big revelation. I also felt as if I were being lectured to about LGBT teen issues, not in a bad way, but in a pedantic way. It’s important, but it sat oddly with the lust-and-then-love aspect of the book.
I also agree that the villain was the most convincing in terms of his motivations in this story. We got the sense that there was more going on, that his interest in the house wasn’t just financial, but the financial part dominated in a way that seemed plausible. I also liked the treatment of Audrey in this installment the best. She became increasingly intrusive in the next two stories and it didn’t work for me.
If you like virgin heroes and separated lovers, you’ll like this story more than I did, I think. But there was a lot of tension between Will and Cal and I wanted them to just talk a little more. And putting two really long, detailed sex scenes at the end of the story didn’t make up for the absence of communication for me. Also, there was a lot of detail about the house and its renovations. Some readers enjoy this kind of detail, but it was more than I wanted to read. Overall, though, this installment provides a good setup for the overarching stories and the context.
The Growing Season by Diana Copland
Sirius: This story features the youngest brother, Danny and of course continues the story of saving Neverwood. Danny’s issues were also connected to his past, but they were much easier to understand (not much of mental work needed here and I was happy about it). I thought the angst made sense and worked well enough, but pretty much almost nothing happened. It was a quiet, gentle character study and love story. Falling in love seemed to happen fast, but I liked how careful Sam was with Danny and they worked for me more or less.
Sunita: I thought there was a fair amount going on. There was Danny’s history and adjustment to his new life, Sam and Danny getting to know each other, Sam’s family issues and how they intruded into the Neverwood situation, and the ongoing story of the teen group that we were introduced to in the first section. I liked both Sam and Danny and I felt as if I had a better sense of them as individuals than I had of Will and Cal. There were some nice scenes between them before they were fully a couple, which I appreciated it, and Copland does a good job of mixing angst, sorrow, and physical attraction.
If the previous installment was about the inside of the house, this one is about the grounds. Danny and Sam are working on the garden and yard renovations, and that takes up a fair amount of space. By this installment I was starting to feel as if I were in a Nora Roberts trilogy about fixing up a house or an inn or something. The ghost factor also ratchets up in this story, as Audrey plays a bigger role both in terms of her interactions with the flesh and blood characters and in terms of her plot importance.
I do want to note that there is a fairly explicit sexual assault scene (it’s a flashback) that may be difficult for some readers. There are also loving, warm sex scenes between Danny and Sam, although again, the level of anatomical detail is pretty high.
The Lost Year by Libby Drew
Sirius: This story was probably my favorite in the anthology. It deals with the oldest brother, Devon and it actually makes him deal with his issues (he thinks he has a problem feeling real emotions) by doing something. Devon ends up trying to help someone who is practically a stranger to find his son, who run away from home. This situation echoes with Devon because of his past and because of his work (he is a photographer who made documentaries about runaway kids and accidentally this runaway boy ended up in one of his pictures, where the father saw him and then contacted Devon).
Devon is just such a good guy, and his struggle with himself is real and touching because he is convinced that he was always putting a barrier between himself and emotions, trying not to feel after what he experienced as a child. It was nice to see how his barriers crumbled when he met Nicholas and I did not even mind them falling for each other pretty fast as well – this was actually very convincing to me. Attraction was fast, yes, but no declarations of forever love right away.
As I said before, I thought villain got a bit weird in this story, but I was still glad to see a very happy ending.
Sunita: I didn’t like this one as much as you did, mostly because I didn’t really understand Devon’s transformation and his instantaneous attraction to Nicholas. Devon was so opaque and mysterious in the first two books that I wanted more on-page evidence of the change. I also had trouble with the insta-lust between him and Nicholas while they were searching for Nicholas’s runaway son. I know it’s a common trope in romantic suspense that the main characters are physically drawn together when they’re in danger, but here the juxtaposition of searching the bad parts of Seattle and interrogating runaways with hot-and-heavy physical scenes didn’t work for me. I also felt that I was being told they were falling in love rather than being shown it, perhaps because the runaway storyline and the addition of a third character took up so much page time, and then on top of that there was the Neverwood story arc to complete. I think it was also that I didn’t really warm to Nicholas that much; I appreciated that he was devoted to looking for his son, but I felt as if the mother got pretty short shrift and I didn’t understand where she had been for the “lost year.”
Like you, I found the villain over the top in this installment. We had a sense from the middle story that he had personal motives, and they really come to fruition here, but he went from one type of villainy to another without much explanation. And the expansion of Audrey’s role didn’t work for me. I had one idea of her from the first story, then she amped up her ghostly intrusions in the next, but here she was basically a puppeteer, and that is too much for me.
Overall, I enjoyed these stories. The overarching story was intriguing, and the interactions between the brothers and their partners was fun to follow across the installments. I could have done with less exposition on house renovations and teen issues, but that’s a personal preference and not about the quality of the work. I think that readers who like ensemble stories and connected romances are likely to enjoy them too. Overall grade for the trilogy: B-/C+
Sirius: I think I completely agree with you about the overall grade. B-/C+