Review: One Step Further (The Memories #2) - Felice Stevens

One Step Further by Felice Stevens
Book 2 of Memories
Categories: M/M, contemporary, friends-to-lovers

Rating: 4.5 stars

This book is more than just a great story. In fact, it's my favorite kind of book: one that is completely character driven, and does it stupendously. For me, the theme of this book is perceptions (those we have of ourselves and others) and the walls we build to keep ourselves safe while keeping people at a distance, sometimes without even realizing it. All the characters felt like real, vivid people, and it's been a long time since I’ve read a book where the 2 men dragged me along so fully for a wonderful, emotional ride.

On the surface, Alex & Rafe are polar opposites: outgoing vs. reserved, everyone’s pal vs. few friends, sexy and confident vs. crippling shy and average looking. But we slowly learn looks can be deceiving.

As I mentioned, for me this book is about perceptions, and Alex and Rafe’s past hurts and the way it shape their perceptions of themselves and others are like extra characters, driving the story and steering their actions. Alex is aware he has walls, but has become so adept at them that the moment he realizes they're preventing him from getting closer to someone he finds attractive, he has no idea how to break through them. For Rafe, his walls have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, keeping him from making meaningful connections with people, always on the outside looking in, always anticipating rejection. It takes these two men, who seem like opposites and incompatible on the surface, to peel back the layers and realize that they are so much more alike than they thought.  It was a beautiful journey to witness this process, and the author did it magnificently.

I have a soft spot for "rejects", people who went through extreme rejection especially during their childhood, and Rafe has had a rough time that left him scarred into adulthood. It takes Alex the better part of the book to convince Rafe that he's worthy of love and to bring out his confidence. I loved seeing that growth happen, the way Alex is drawn to Rafe's calm and steady nature, at first because Alex is lonely and he's attracted to Rafe without knowing why, but later because Rafe is such a good man and he deserves to be loved for who he is (and don't we all? *sigh*). That was one of my favorite things in the book, Alex’s inner shift from shallow, “I only do sex, no strings” to gradually allowing Rafe access to his heart until, in a moment that is so unexpected and therefore that much more precious (no spoilers, so go read it if you're curious) he suddenly realizes he loves Rafe. Oh man, I still get mushy thinking about it.

In the same way Rafe has also been attracted to Alex from the moment he met him (in book 1), but at first that's mainly because Alex is everything Rafe wishes he could be and have but knows he never could. Rafe has very low self esteem, but the author never spells it out like that, which makes his inner journey that much more powerful and relatable. It takes a lot of stupid assumptions and wrong turns for Rafe to get past his own hurts and biases to see how deep Alex's pain goes and who the real person is behind the easygoing, life-of-the-party mask Alex wears in public, and to ultimately comes to terms with the fact that Alex really could like him, and then love him.

The author did an incredible job with these two men's emotional and mental growth in this book, and I can recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who enjoys a touching, MM romance. I haven't read Memories Of The Heart (book 1) before reading One Step Further (book 2) and although this book stands completely on its own and I thoroughly enjoyed it without needing book 1’s backstory, the dynamics of Alex's friendship with Micah (whose story gets told in book 1), and the author's skill at writing layered, complex characters, make me desperate and supremely curious to read Micah and Josh's story in Memories Of The Heart. So guess what I'm doing after this? ;)

Finally, as amazing as this book was, it wasn't all moonlight and roses for me. Rafe is a sweet man who sees the best in people, yet time and time again he'd assume Alex would do things that would hurt him, which is understandable the first few times, but by the third time I just wanted to slap him silly, and not in a good, “I'm invested in the story” kind of way. I suppose one could argue Rafe’s hurt and rejection runs deep, and that his prejudice can be explained away, but seriously? It felt just a bit too deliberately stupid to me, and Rafe is not a stupid man. At least the author never used those as major plot points to drive them apart. If she did, I would not have felt as good about this book as I do. 

Another thing that bothered me was the winding down part of the story, where the author is tying up loose ends. The part with Alex’s mom in the hospital felt rushed and the dialogue "rehearsed". And the Epilogue, as nice as it was, was downright syrupy and almost gave me toothache. Luckily by that time I had already decided I loved this book, so I waded through the molasses of predictable events just to get emotional closure for the characters I became so invested in.

Book blurb:

Alex Stern has it all; good looks, charm, a job he loves and everyone calls him a friend. He lives life to the fullest at a breakneck pace, in the city that never sleeps. But Alex is also a master pretender; not even his best friend sees the pain that Alex hides so well. Alex himself isn’t sure who he is or what he’s searching for, he only knows that he hasn’t found it yet.

As a veterinarian, Rafe Hazelton loves each animal that crosses his path; they don’t care if he stutters a bit or that he prefers men. Their love is unconditional, but his life is still empty; they can only give him so much. New friendships convince him it’s time to break the wall of loneliness he’s hidden behind since childhood and discover what he's been missing.

Alex and Rafe forge a friendship that turns physical, and they both swear that the relationship will last only as long as the fun does. But when old heartaches come to light and secrets hidden for years are revealed, Alex and Rafe discover if they accept what’s in their hearts and take it one step further, the greatest reward is waiting for them in the end.

Find One Step Further on Amazon

My review on Amazon and Goodreads

Please note that this review contains affiliate links. My opinion is 100% my own, and I will never recommend a book I haven't read or enjoyed.


No comments:

Post a Comment