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REVIEW: All or Nothing by James Buchanan

All or Nothing by James Buchanan***WARNING: There will be spoilers in this review for the two previous books in the series. I will also discuss (with author’s permission) a plot point in this book that may or may not be considered a spoiler. I will mark the potential spoiler for THIS book more clearly.***

Dear James.

I immersed myself in All or Nothing the past two days and wow, was that an intense experience. This is a very dark book, very emotional, almost depressing — although you reward that emotional intensity with the closest I’ve ever seen you get to a real HEA (as opposed to your normal HFNs).

We’ve met Brandon and Nick before, in Cheating Chance (CC), where they get together, and in Inland Empire (IE), where they try to figure out how to make their relationship work. At the end of CC, Brandon is out to his partner but hasn’t actually said those three big words to Nicky (your trademark HFN). By the end of IE, he’s said the words *and* freaked out over Nick’s safety in public in the way only a romantic partner could, so that closet door is open a little bit wider than ever before.

This was one issue I had with All or Nothing (AON): NOT coming out, staying in that closet, is such a huge freaking deal to Brandon in IE that it’s the cause of all the relationship tension in the book. He then outs himself to at least five other cops at the end of IE, but the repercussions of that are barely mentioned in AON. This might be a lesson, right? Brandon had built it into such a huge deal but then it…just wasn’t. But that’s not made explicit in AON — it’s mentioned, but not explored. And while AON is on Nicky’s turf in Vegas, rather than Brandon’s turf in Riverside, I still expected more than just a few mentions of the effects of Brandon’s inadvertent outing.

Anyway…Brandon comes to Las Vegas from Riverside to visit Nicky for Christmas and New Year, but this time he brings his daughter with him. This increased contact with his daughter is partly Nick’s doing — he’s been pushing Brandon to man up and be a real father. Shayna is nine (boy, is she ever), she calls Brandon by his name rather than “Daddy” because that’s her step-father, she’s annoying and very much a tween (is 9yo a tween?), and I found it difficult to relate to her beyond the basic human compassion one has for most kids. Don’t get me wrong, she was REAL — I know kids like this — but I don’t deal well with other people’s kids (which has an acronym, Twitter has told me: OPK), especially not the bratty ones. Although I love that she’s bratty about keeping kosher.

So Brandon and Nick and Shayna struggle to both untangle and strengthen their relationships, while Brandon and Nick find time to get busy every now and then (hot, well-written bondage sex). And then Shayna is taken. She disappears and it’s obviously foul play and everyone falls apart. This is, obviously, where things get dark and intense.

What I adore about your writing is the emotional honesty of your characters. You let them be REAL. You let them experience all the shit that something like this would bring up: hate and anger and despair. They’re not brave, they’re not stoic, they’re not strong and understanding. They’re furious and despairing and guilty, oh so guilty. Brandon, not the most stable of people to begin with (as a cop says later, he’s a bottler), just implodes with guilt and fear and hate and inactivity. He can’t DO anything: it’s not his turf, he’s the victim, not the cop, but he KNOWS the odds, he knows the statistics on stranger snatches of kids, and he, literally, goes out of his mind trying to deal with it. You show his chaos, his mess, his insanity beautifully.

***SPOILER WARNING***
And when Brandon becomes suicidal, you show that brilliantly too. His suicidal “logic” is beautifully rendered and I felt everything along with him, which is why this book is so intense. And I LOVE how you let Nicky be pissed and scared and hating Brandon after his attempt. Yes, he loves Brandon, and that shows, but he’s got every right to be furious at Brandon too and I love that you don’t sugarcoat anything.
***SPOILER WARNING***

Some of the emotional intensity that I think is non-spoilerific:

Nick gripped the lip of the old wooden workbench at the back of his garage. Everything he knew about the world spun out beyond his grasp. It felt like he stood on a piece of cork floating in the ocean. Nick only moved in reaction to waves created by events he couldn't control. A sea of dark thoughts threatened to drown him, kill him, swamp his emotions under a deep, black abyss.

Bending over, Nick rested his forehead against his toolbox. Cold and tangible, the metal gave him an exterior focus. The past half-hour, the past few days, seeped into his pores like acid. As if someone pulled his nerves like wires, his face, neck and shoulders tightened up until it felt like the tendons might snap. "Stupid, fucking son-of-a-bitch," Nick hissed through clenched teeth. He slammed the butt of his palm against the bench. Almost a release, pain shot up his arm. "Goddamn selfish bastard!"

All the tension and fear he'd suppressed erupted at once, shredding his control. Bellowing an incomprehensible mishmash of expletives, Nick jerked upright. He spun and lashed out with his boot. The blow struck an old bucket full of stripped bolts and cast off car parts. The container slammed against Querida's fender, spewing metal bits as it spun off into a corner. Nick's blood sputtered with the rattles.

"Fucking bastard!" He roared and kicked again. This time his target was the front tire of the hearse. Slamming his fists against the hood, kicking the tires and fender, Nick yelled, "Asshole, fucking asshole," over and over. With each repeat the blows got wilder and his voice broke just a little more.

Fear mixed with anger and poisoned Nick's thoughts. "Why? Why didn't you say something?" Right then and there he hated Brandon. Hated him more than he ever thought possible. And he wasn't certain he could ever go back from that point. "You stupid son-of-a-bitch!" Nick pounded the car, taking his rage out on unyielding metal when he really wanted to slam his fists into Brandon’s face.

The mystery, though, felt a little off to me. The journal insets from the villain were just…strange. I know that was the point — this person is completely deranged — but I’m not sure that it did anything to explain the villain’s motivations.

***SPOILER WARNING***
Also, I guess I don’t understand why the villain would NOT have killed Shayna. While we can’t kill kids in romance, Brandon’s statistics are much more realistic than what actually happened. And after the buildup around the whole situation in which you show the police taking everything seriously, having Brandon and Nick go off half-cocked to check out the villain’s house because Brandon thinks that the police won’t believe him, won’t take the situation seriously, seemed a little unrealistic to me.
***SPOILER WARNING***

However, I bought it all while I read it, because I was so pulled in by the characters. This is stuff I’ve thought of since finishing.

The ending was perfect, a satisfying conclusion to the emotional darkness of the rest of the book. Our boys walking off, almost literally, into the sunset. They deserve their happy ending. And I’m so glad I got to follow them on their journey.

My issues with the mystery would normally knock this grade down to a B at least, but the emotional honesty and intensity of this book is too good for anything other than a B+. That’s the power of this series as a whole, but of this book specifically. Thank you for that honesty.

Grade: B+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

P.S. For those who can’t get enough of Nicky and Brandon, there are three free shorts at James’ website.

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook can’t find a nook link | BN | Borders

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

14 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention REVIEW: All or Nothing by James Buchanan | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    May 27, 2010 @ 13:05:31

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  2. cs
    May 27, 2010 @ 13:45:05

    I couldn’t remember if I had read this series, and I have just a long time ago. I haven’t read this one, but I adore Nicky and Brandon. They’re fantastic characters, and mixing in his daughter will make for a good read. Not a fan of kids in my stories, but I think this will add some more dynamics to their relationship. I obviously didn’t read all of your review…I’m a spoiler-phobe.

  3. Laura Vivanco
    May 27, 2010 @ 14:34:00

    I suspect that the sentence that begins “Also, I guess I don't understand why the villain would” also contains a big spoiler, but it isn’t marked as one.

  4. Joan/SarahF
    May 27, 2010 @ 15:33:29

    @Laura Vivanco: Thanks, Laura. Fixed.

  5. jayhjay
    May 27, 2010 @ 17:40:42

    I am a newbie to this site but can you tell me what HFN and HEA mean? I couldn’t find a list of acronyms anywhere on the site. Thanks!

    BTW, I have been following the reviews of this series and I am really intrigued. Added the first book to my TBR list.

  6. Pamela L
    May 27, 2010 @ 17:43:04

    @jayhjay:

    Hope no one minds. :-)

    HFN (Happily For Now)
    HEA (Happily Ever After)

  7. Joan/SarahF
    May 27, 2010 @ 18:01:24

    @Pamela L: Thanks! Of course no one minds. :)

    @jayhjay: Hope you enjoy them!

  8. Kaetrin
    May 28, 2010 @ 04:02:11

    I’m in the middle of Cheating Chance so I haven’t read the review. I’ll check back when I’ve read all 3 I think!

  9. Dear Author Recommends for June | Dear Author
    May 28, 2010 @ 18:32:51

    […] All or Nothing by James Buchanana.  Recommended by Joan/Dr. Sarah F. […]

  10. Sarah
    May 29, 2010 @ 13:35:05

    Is there no ebook link outside of the Kindle? I’m going to buy the first two in ebook and don’t want a hardcopy o fthe third.

  11. James Buchanan
    May 29, 2010 @ 14:10:02

    @Sarah:
    You can get the eBook direct from MLR Press

    http://www.mlrbooks.com/Bookstore.php?bookid=TODONADA

  12. jayhjay
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 12:25:44

    @Pamela L:

    Thanks!

  13. Kaetrin
    Jun 08, 2010 @ 23:24:47

    I finished the trilogy about a week ago and I just remembered to come back and read the review etc. I thought the 3 stories worked very well as one book in three acts and in my own grading, I marked them as one, a B+ FWIW.

    I, too, thought it a bit unrealistic that Brandon thought the police would not take his concerns about who the villain might be a bit unrealistic. That is not how the police had been portrayed and I thought that the police would at least go and talk to the person. As soon as they got to speak to the person they’re crazy alarm bells would be going WHOOP WHOOP which would have resulted in a search and finding Shayna. Less dramatic but more real and up til then, I thought the police action had been mostly, real. (Although in the first book I thought Nicky’s “investigation” was a little thin and thought he should have gone to the police at the start and they could then have utilised him and his skills in the investigation – that would have made more sense to me). I’m glad, also that Shayna made it alive but I’m not sure I understand why that was from a plot point of view – I mean, why did the villain spare her? I didn’t quite follow.

    Nevertheless, I read the story as being the unfolding relationship between Nicky and Brandon with the various investigations being backdrop for it and it worked very well for me that way. I really liked Brandon’s struggle and I thought his fears were realistic and his growth and eventual decision to be fully out and with Nicky (I don’t think it’s giving anything away that it has a HEA!) were well paced – I even understood Brandon’s desire/need to hand control over to Nicky – that is something that I have struggled with in other novels so I noticed that I didn’t here.

    I really enjoyed the writing style and Nicky & Brandon and will be looking for more books from this author for sure. thx for the rec Sarah – as usual, spot on!

  14. Sarah Frantz
    Jun 09, 2010 @ 06:39:01

    @Kaetrin: Thanks so much for the feedback! Always good to see. And yes, I loved how this showed the FULL growth of their relationship.

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