Release Day Review: Rhys Ford – Absinthe of Malice

30055795Author: Rhys Ford
Reviewer: Barb
Publisher:DreamSpinner Press
Genre:m/m contemporary
ISBN: 9781634773263

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

We’re getting the band back together.

Those five words send a chill down Miki St. John’s spine, especially when they’re spoken with a nearly religious fervor by his brother-in-all-but-blood, Damien Mitchell. However, those words were nothing compared to what Damien says next.

And we’re going on tour.

When Crossroads Gin hits the road, Damien hopes it will draw them closer together. There’s something magical about being on tour, especially when traveling in a van with no roadies, managers, or lovers to act as a buffer. The band is already close, but Damien knows they can be more—brothers of sorts, bound not only by familial ties but by their intense love for music.

As they travel from gig to gig, the band is haunted by past mistakes and personal demons, but they forge on. For Miki, Damie, Forest, and Rafe, the stage is where they all truly come alive, and the music they play is as important to them as the air they breathe.

But those demons and troubles won’t leave them alone, and with every mile under their belts, the band faces its greatest challenge—overcoming their deepest flaws and not killing one another along the way.

When Damien convinced the men in his new band, Crossroads Gin, to hit the road in a nationwide tour, he did it because he wanted them to find a greater cohesiveness, a strength that wasn’t quite there yet, even after months of practicing together. They were already all talented musicians and had been playing together informally for a while. After all, they were each the life partner of a Morgan man, with the exception of Rafe, whose life partner was, at least, a Morgan cousin. Close enough to be in the embrace of the clan headed by Brigid and Donal Morgan.

What Damien didn’t tell them, until after they agreed to go, was that he expected them to travel in a van rather than a tour bus. Once they get started, the hours on the road in that van start to take a toll on them. For Miki the toll comes in the form of flashbacks to the accident in which most of his original band members were killed (Sinners Gin). After a particularly harrowing near collision, he loses the tight control he’s maintained over his emotions and lashes out at Damien for arranging the tour and the van. He’s also angry at Damien for apparently dying during the first accident (Whiskey and Wry), leaving him alone with his demons for two years before Damien surfaced from the mental hospital where his parents had consigned him.

Throughout the story a series of incidents, including an attack during their first show in Boston, cause pain and anxiety, not only for the boys in the band, but also for the men they left behind. After the first, Kane shows up to comfort an injured Miki, but Miki truly finds out about family when Brigid, the mother of his heart, shows up as well. Later, after the van accident, when he’s hospitalized for the bump he suffered to his head, he opens his eyes to find Donal. Worried that a car accident could shake Miki up so badly, Donal says, “It’s why I came up. It sounded like ye needed a da.” And, of course, like a sap, I bawled my eyes out right along with Miki.

I really enjoyed each of the vignettes of the individual couples the author included in the story. These little flashes of one man taking care of another, whether with a hug or a kiss or just by listening and helping to drive away their demons, were precious and special and much appreciated. After yet more wearying issues and stress, and Rafe’s behavior becoming intolerable to the point of making them all crazy, all the Morgan men come out to meet their guys at a hotel in Las Vegas. A surprise visit arranged by Miki, their healing strength is very necessary to each of their men.

But, as much as I enjoyed seeing each of these MCs and the growth between them and their partners, to be honest I felt the story didn’t flow smoothly—it felt somehow disjointed or disconnected. I was looking for a dangerous subplot throughout the book, as there was in the others in the series. So initially I thought the guy Miki saw before the first concert would be found responsible for what happened or would show up later in the story as a stalker, but he was never mentioned again. And then when other accidents or oddities occurred, I expected a further development along those lines, but none came. I also expected more about Rafe and his struggle to stay drug free after Quinn came to him in Las Vegas, but there wasn’t even a scene with the members of his band, his brothers, in which he would share and apologize for what was going on—what had been making him so miserable. And then I thought that the subplot that focused on Forest and Connor would lead to some conflict with Connor’s parents, but each possibility faded into the whirlpool of the other couples’ events.

On a positive note, there is a cliffhanger of sorts, or at least a new crumb trail to follow, so I know there will be more stories in this series. And as much as I can see the purpose of this story in examining the relationship dynamics of the whole group, with close attention on the relationship between Damien and Miki, the sections of the story I enjoyed most were those which featured each man with his partner, even if they were only a minor part of the whole.

Though I had issues, and I have to admit it may have just been my own personal take on the story, I do recommend this book. It wasn’t the five I often give this author’s stories, but it certainly ranked a four.

Fans of the series should enjoy revisits with the Morgan clan as much as I did. And it is a love story—of the love of one man for another as much as of the love of a parent and child and the love of one brother for the other. Also, Rhys Ford is by far the author who can make the best use of descriptive adjectives of any author I’ve read—and I read a lot. Reading something she writes is like watching a video. The words she uses to paint a picture always convey the perfect scene. So don’t miss out on a chance to grab this one, and if you haven’t read the series, by all means, start now.




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