Arctic Restitution by Lynn Kelling
Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: Gay Erotic Romance
Tags: Angst, Psychological, Hurt/Comfort, Contemporary Setting, Series, Age Gap, Dark Themes **Warning Tags for Graphic Memories of Rape, Violence, Dub-Con, Emotional and Spousal Abuse
Length: 80,000 Words
Reviewer: Kazza K
As he approaches his twenty-second birthday, the three-year anniversary of the brutal attack in an alley that nearly cost him his life in a few different ways, Jaye Larson thinks he’s left behind the ghosts from his years spent incarcerated, but when he’s delivered a mysterious letter with terrifying implications, old monsters rear their ugly heads. His normal new life in remote Zus, Alaska, with his lover, Dixon Rowe, the heart of a found-family that supports Jaye in ways he’s never before dreamed possible, is threatened by old deals and ties he begins to fear may never be broken. While old alliances strive to draw Jaye backward, Dixon and the rest of their family are called to step up to keep him steady. When the letter turns out to be just the first clue in a chain leading both Jaye and Dixon back inside the walls of the Federal Corrections Institute of Sheridan, Oregon, all of them are left facing carefully-held secrets and terrible new truths that refuse to be ignored.
[M/M – See publisher’s website for content labels.]
PERHAPS DON’T READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU’RE PLANNING ON READING THE BOOKS PRIOR
Arctic Restitution starts just before Jaye Larson is released from FCI Sheridan in Oregon. Certain details that were between Caged Jaye and this book help bring readers into current time in Zus, Alaska, where Dixon and Jaye live together (post Arctic Absolution) in the cabin Jaye inherited and they’ve made their own. Jaye is working as an electrician now and Dix is still a State Trooper. Jaye’s just opened a letter he picked up from his PO Box. It’s addressed to Johnny Larson. It can’t be good because the only people who know him as Johnny are in prison and this is not on prison stationery. When is a letter not a letter but it sends a pretty clear message? When it’s a newspaper clipping about the brutal death of a prison guard – something that exactly parallels acts committed on Jaye in FCI Sheridan- along with a transcript from the scene. Jaye doesn’t know what to do – tell Dix or not. Run or stay. He opts to talk to Dix and stay.
It’s a year since Jay and Dixon met in a rather interesting way outside the Stop and Shop and they are very much in love and forging a life together. Brekken and Grant, Dixon’s sister and brother-in-law, are family to Jaye as well, having taken him gladly into their fold. They appreciate his strength and allegiance in regards to Marcus and they see how happy Dixon is now. The guys also Skype with Dixon’s parents in Florida, and Sesi, Dixon’s work colleague, is Brekken’s best friend and a good friend to both Dix and Jaye too. Jaye isn’t used to people who are there for him, supportive, supplying little kindnesses and reassurances. Birthdays have never been the best time for Jaye but after the attack in the alley outside his apartment three years ago, they’ve best been forgotten. When Brekken, Grant and Dixon throw a surprise party for his twenty second birthday it reinforces what a great life he’s found in Zus. How much he loves his new family. Especially how much he loves Dixon Rowe.
In the meantime, while Jaye knows the letter he received is a hook and he’s going to be reeled in somehow, he doesn’t know exactly what that will entail. What’s next. Dixon goes into protective mode and insists anything that happens will only happen with him there to protect Jaye. Jaye may be young but he’s been to Hell and back and he has the nightmares, internal voices and scars to bear witness to his ordeal. Hearing about Ecker’s death sets his mind back to his sentence and all that has come after. Jaye is lost about who he is – if he’s a good guy or bad guy. If he’s deserving of the help, support and love he’s found.
This book is very angsty. Lynn Kelling is the queen of real and pure angst. Jaye has a past that even Dixon doesn’t know everything about. Dix wanted to give Jaye more time to talk about the ghosts that haunt him. Now the letter has pushed that timeframe forward. Jaye doesn’t want to talk about everything because anyone who’s been through trauma knows some things can’t be talked about, they become too real and raw. He also knows that while Dix is an incredibly sympathetic man, strong and loving, those very things mean he becomes tormented about not being there somehow when Jaye was going through what he did. It’s not logical because he didn’t know Jaye then, but it’s a real feeling loved ones experience. Jaye opens up about certain details as the book progresses, sometimes it’s just the reader who knows everything. We understand it’s just as well because Dix is horrified and heartbroken at what he does know and wonders how Jaye has endured. He also appreciates the sheer tenacity of his lover to not only survive, but to remain such a kind person as well.
Put basically, the crux of the letter is Cash, leader of the Disciples in FCI Sheridan. Jaye was his ‘prison bitch’, aka Johnny, while he did his time. It’s not as clear-cut as is sounds but it’s also exactly as it sounds. Dixon does not want Jaye talking to or communicating with Cash. He sees just how much darkness is being regurgitated from Jaye’s mind because of the letter. He also thinks of Cash as a user and an abuser, someone who took advantage of a frightened teenager in jail.
In Dixon’s mind, Cash was nothing but a meathead thug using a vulnerable young kid, breaking him down, and taking advantage in ways that might not ever completely heal for Jaye.
Dixon wants Jaye to tear the letter up and ignore it. He tries to let Jaye know that Cash holds no power over him anymore, but Jaye needs to know exactly what it is that Cash wants. There’s also something that can be used against Jaye and he needs to know if it’s going to be a wildcard. Primarily, he feels a deep sense of obligation to a man who kept him alive in jail when he hit the psychological brick wall. As much as Dixon doesn’t want Jaye being haunted by his past anymore than he already is, he facilitates being the conduit between Cash and Jaye. He hates it but he agrees to help Jaye find out exactly what Cash wants and how best to deal with it. But Cash has other ideas and is strong willed with prison-honed smarts.
I don’t want to go into the plot any further so I’ll add some thoughts and what I liked/loved about Arctic Restitution.
The writing is strong. The same men who started my journey in Alaska (kind of via Oregon) and found a special place in my heart were still alive and kicking in this book. Their voices remained uniquely them – readers know that doesn’t always happen with characters in a series or a trilogy. I loved seeing how well Jaye and Dixon communicate about critical points. How much they’re in love, and what that means for two men who have both had demons. Irrespective of pressure being bought to bear, they remain solid as a couple. They tell each other and show each other how much they’re love for one another means.
Cash is who Cash is, enigmatic, complex, grey, and Lynn Kelling developed his character well. I’m not sure even Cash allows himself the luxury of knowing who he truly is.
The psychology is good. I can see the thoughts and ideas behind everything and I can’t fault it. Dark places are revisited in this book, be aware. These books are edgy and I have **warning tags above for a reason. Parts of Caged Jaye are remembered vividly and that book is pretty harrowing. Parts of Dixon’s life with his abusive ex are remembered as well.
There is a lot of sex in this book which fits the series and the characters. Lynn Kelling writes hot sex, erotic and kinky sex, very well. There’s some further role play that picks up from Arctic Absolution – yum! Not going to lie, I like a bit of kinky role play in my reading – Yes, Trooper Rowe.
The romance is beautiful. I love their love and I love that it is unconventional and desperate and intense at times but they also compliment one another. When Jaye needs strength, Dix is there. When it’s all a bit much for Dix and his tender side is on display, Jaye is there.
Once again the backdrop of Alaska is a strong part of the overall book – it is cold, it seems bleak at times but it has a beauty all of its own and reminds me of Australia in many ways. I can see how Zus would give men a go.
If you want to you can read Arctic Restitution as a standalone. Lynn Kelling catches you up on both Caged Jaye and Arctic Absolution as best she can within this book. She ties them together expertly. Personally, I’m glad I’ve read both, it gave me that extra emotional connection knowing them inside and out, but you can still read this on its own.
There is hope in this book. Lots of hope. These characters pay it forward but I can’t say anymore without spoilers. I appreciate the fact that Lynn Kelling knows you can go through a great deal of emotional pain in your life, that it makes up part of who you are, but it doesn’t need to define you. Jaye is the ultimate survivor and his transition is amazing. Encouraging. Inspiring. Dixon has also been through the wars too. He’s a caring, kind man in spite of his kindness being used against him. Dix is supportive, even in the face of fear of losing his partner to darkness. Maybe loss through a sense of overwhelming obligation to another man, a ghost. Although it goes against the grain for him personally and vocationally, he does everything with love and dignity and maturity. I can’t write this review without mentioning that Dix took my breath away in Arctic Restitution. Everyone needs the love of a Dixon Rowe in their life
I was beyond nervous going into this book, I would have hated to have seen two of my favourite guys flail about. I’ll be frank, I would have hated to see miscommunication ruin a good relationship. It can happen and is one of the reasons I usually stay away from series, along with frustrating MC personality transplants. I needn’t have worried, they were in safe hands – well, as safe as Lynn Kelling can be. She makes her guys and her readers work for it. I honestly did not know what the situation was going to be with Cash, as intriguing as he was in Caged Jaye, I had reservations about him and his motives in this book. I despaired of him messing with Dix and Jaye. Yet these three men intertwined and converged and it worked brilliantly. All three needed to have voices given to them because they hadn’t finished what they’d started. However, I’d be very willing to read something with Cash in it if Lynn Kelling was ever thinking about going there because he’s being vociferous.
Arctic Restitution is compelling, dark, angsty, sexy, romantic, hopeful, and it brought my guys, yes, they’re mine, closure. I feel like if there isn’t another word written on Jaye and Dixon as primary characters that’s okay. I’m at peace with their amazing growth and where they’re at. I can’t – daren’t – ask for anything more. Crank up some angst-driven Halsey and/or Ali Barter while you read this book. Arctic Restitution is heart pounding and emotional reading. 5 Stars!
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ARC supplied in return for an honest review. However, I have pre-ordered a copy.