Review: Only Love by Garrett Leigh

The diagnosis of a chronic stomach condition leaves thirty-two-year-old Sergeant Jed Cooper with little choice but to call time on his Army career. Then on the dusty streets of Kirkuk, an ambush gone tragically wrong decimates his team, and he returns to the US with a shattered leg and the memory of his best friend dying in his arms.

Life in his sleepy hometown proves intolerable until he finds solace in a lakeside cabin with vivacious young carpenter, Max O’Dair. In the shadow of the epilepsy that periodically plagues Max, he and Jed form an unspoken bond. After a late night episode, Jed realizes how much Max means to him, and life has taught him not to waste time.

But the lines between contentment and complacency are blurred. Things left hidden resurface to tear through their world, and before they can repair the damage, death comes to call again. Faces, past and present, rally around them to weather the storm, but before long, they are left with only love.
So, another overnight marathon read of a Garrett Leigh book for me. Happens every time one comes out and I regret nothing. This is an amazing story and I loved it, the characters, the hurt, the hope, I loved it all. I also read every Garrett Leigh book with a dear friend over at GR, Isaac. I met him through the short story Gypsy Rain and we've read them all together since. Since Garrett's stories are known to break your heart it's always nice to have a hand to hold while reading, even if it is virtual and across the world. There was so much we both wanted to say and I know I didn't cover everything so Isaac's review is right after mine. I think between the two of us we managed to say everything we needed to. Oh, who am I kidding? We didn't but at least you'll get two reader's thoughts and hopefully it will motivate you to read this amazing book.


Only Love is about Max and Jed. They are two men who come together out of circumstances that neither chose, but try to make the best out of and unexpectedly find something in each other. Both men are physically damaged, one by war and one by genetics, but they have to live with their illnesses for the rest of their lives. It’s something that weighs on each of them and they both ask themselves, how do I take care of the man I’m falling in love with when I can barely take care of myself? Add to the mix they are very proud men who hate that they need help. I really appreciated the subtlety the author used to show the very thing that kept them at arms’ length from each other, their pride, was the thing they truly understood and respected in each other. The reticence that each man had about their insecurities was not overdone at all, so I could completely appreciate and empathize with how they felt without getting frustrated at their stubbornness.

A running theme for Jed throughout the book is his overwhelming feeling of apathy that both plagued and confused him. Honestly, there were so many moments in Jed’s life that were heartbreaking, but this was the worst for me. His army career is over due to his illness and he’s finishing out his last days of service.

“His crew had three weeks left of their marathon tour of Iraq, and it felt like fate. His military career was over, and he didn’t much care. The depth of his apathy surprised him. He’d given the Army more than a decade of his life, and with his days numbered, he’d expected to feel more. Instead he felt nothing . . .nothing but a flat sense of impending doom. War had sucked the life from him, but without it, what was he?”

For the first time in forever he is without direction and dealing with the chronic pain leaves him floating through his days. He doesn’t sleep and he can’t eat but he still carries the world on his shoulders and it isn’t until he meets Max that he sees a little light. Max recognizes the apathy in Jed and quietly begins caretaking him. Max really is a caregiver by nature who doesn’t trust his ability to take care of someone else. Jed really is the perfect person for Max to look after. Max knew that
“he (Jed) was perfectly capable of looking after himself. His worry, he supposed, was that Jed wouldn’t bother.”

Some of the sweetest moments are the little things that Max does. Jed is trained to notice everything and he sees and appreciates all the little things so much. For every little thing that Max does, Jed does things for Max in kind and it’s a quiet courtship that I enjoyed reading immensely.

The secondary characters are very strong and there isn’t one who doesn’t add to getting to know Max and Jed. Jed’s army team is met in flashbacks and in one case, the most heart wrenching letter ever written. Towards the end we get introduced to the remaining members and throughout, there was no doubt of the connection these men shared. The flashbacks were heartbreaking and hard to read, but they explained so much about Jed, his relationship with Glenn and Paul especially. Paul, the closest person to Jed in his entire life, who we only know through flashbacks and that damn letter is central to who Jed is and while their relationship was obviously complex and too undefined to explain, they kept each other sane through the insanity of their missions. Max’s family is great, as is Carla, Dan and their whole clan. The most important secondary character has to be Flo, Max’s helper dog. I fell in love with Flo as fast as she fell for Jed. Now Nick, Jed’s brother, I still want to punch, that never changed.

At one point Max summed up Jed perfectly with “He said exactly what he thought or nothing at all”. It’s so simple but really profound and really summed up what always impresses me about Garrett’s writing. In Only Love, Jed and Max, well Jed especially, are very private and quiet people. Max needs the calm and quiet to keep his brain in line and Jed needs it to keep his demons at bay. The quiet cabin at the lake is the perfect place for them and considering how little they say, it’s amazing how much I felt like I knew them. All their deeds had purpose and I was shown how they felt throughout, I didn’t have to be told every change in mood. I felt that I could read them as well as if I was in the same room with them.

I’ve read a couple other reviews and I know there have been a few comments from other readers about the amount of sex in this one. I think just because, if you’ve read Garrett’s other works, you know that sex was how those characters connected and communicated. This was different though and I can completely respect that difference because it made sense. Anything else I would have questioned. It wasn’t like Max and Jed didn’t have sex and didn’t connect, because believe me, they did, and how. But, Jed is suffering from a chronic illness, for them to fuck like bunnies would not have made sense to me. What did make sense was how much Jed loved to kiss Max and those moments were so very special. Considering how he had lived and loved up until that point, it was no wonder simple kissing could be so incredibly intimate.

I do have to tell you about one of my favorite things in the book, it was very subtle and I absolutely loved it. There were two separate moments where one man filed away something about the other that they discovered. Things they wanted to remember because making the other happy was becoming more and more important. So, Max has a “Jed” part of his brain and Jed has a “Max” part of his brain.

When you read Only Love, plan on reading Awake and Alive immediately after. Only Love is about the meat and potatoes while Awake and Alive is dessert and it cannot be missed. The few little things I thought were missing in Only Love were provided in Awake and Alive, it really does complete Max and Jed’s story.


FINALLY. I wrote my review...and some jabbering too...

Because lemme tell you, I'm in bits. Again. As ever with Garrett Leigh, I've had to take a day or so to get myself together. Only Love is perfectly titled. I'm a mess.

Okay, okay... Now to be coherent...

I'm not going to summarize the plot and I'll try my best not to spoil, but read with caution. If you haven't read the book, all I can say is you freakin have to. Go get it now!

Right: the MCs...

I was always going to love Jed. Wounded, grouchy war vet. Tattooed. Well read. LINGUISTIC. I was gone from the blurb.

Max crept up on me. Epileptic, sweet and kind, it took me a while to see the layers Garrett Leigh cleverly wrote into him.

And Flo. That dog gave me my first major drop kick of feelz. I've read service dogs in books before and always smiled fondly, but the way this dog became integral to the plot, and the military dog from Jed's past too....major, major feelz.

Family plays a strong part in this novel, and yet again, the author has taken a very different slant on the usual nuclear family. There are blood ties here, but the two MCs are both deeply bonded to outsiders, the Valesco siblings and parents, Jed to his surviving men and their families. I liked this very much. In a book filled with much tragedy, it was a beacon of hope and warmth.

Of the secondary characters I particularly loved Carla and Dan. Dan kinda reminded me of Joe from Roads, that fraternal love he had for Jed felt like an old friend and reminded me that though Jed was often stubborn and closed off, he was a man loved dearly by so many.

And don't get me started on Paul. The dude was dead from the first chapter but his letter slayed me. I know we all say we're weeping over a book in our reviews time and time again, but that letter was a masterpiece in emotive writing.

From the military boys, I loved Glenn and I wished there had been more of him. I kinda feel he was dangled in front of me, only to disappear at the end of the book. Yeah, yeah, the book was about Jed and Max, not some straight army doctor, but I felt a click for the dude.

Sue me.

My minor gripes... One thing I picked up on, both reading and from another reviewer, was the lack of the traditional 'I love you' dialogue between the two MC's. I noticed this in Garrett Leigh's other books too, so i'm assuming it's a kinda signature for her, but in this particular book, though I never doubted the depth of feeling between Jed and Max, I felt that maybe Max especially needed to be TOLD that Jed loved him, by Jed, maybe more than once, given what they go through.

So yeah, not a big quibble, and like Heather the Dentist said in her excellent review, in this book actions do indeed speak louder than words. The emotions are palpable on every page and though this book broke my heart in many ways, I couldn't put it down.

What else, what else...

Sex. There isn't much of it, which surprised me given the intensity of the Roads series and the dirty pleasure of the authors porn star novella, Bullet. The passion between Jed and Max is there, but it very much takes a backseat to the plot and until I read the missing moment (Awake and Alive) it almost felt like an afterthought.

I say afterthought, because now, after scanning over the book again and taking some time to consider the characters and the plot, I'm not altogether sure the book needed more sex than it had. The plot of this book is a story of real enduring love and I didn't feel like I needed a bunch of on page blow jobs to make it better.

Need and like are different things though, and not gonna lie, even broken, Jed was smokin hot and more of him nekkid and dominating Max woulda made my already blown away perfect day.

So, to sum up, this book is amazing. Beautifully crafted, it's a sweet, slow burning, heartbreaking ride that still aches even now. Jed and Max both have tragic stories and ongoing hardships they will have to live with for the rest of their lives, but out of heartache comes hope and the ending of this book is just beautiful.

This is the ultimate hurt/comfort book. The ultimate wounded war vet book. The ultimate man and his dog book.

But above all, an enduring love story that left a scar on me. Bravo, Garrett Leigh. You never fail to surprise me.

A copy of this book was provided for an honest review

No comments:

Post a Comment