Review: Northwest of Normal by Laura Gomez

On a solo road trip home from college, Ben wakes up to find his car stolen, with him still lying in the backseat. Driving his car are two redneck brothers on the run from the police; Randall - a terrifying thug with a gun, and his little brother Murphy--a sinfully beautiful man with the bluest eyes Ben's ever seen.

Being captured by a killer wasn't part of Ben's plan. Nor was falling for Murphy. His tough exterior hides someone sweet, vulnerable, and dangerously sexy. But this redneck can't be gay, can he?

Tied to Murphy with his wrists bound, forced to share a motel room and even a bed night after night, Ben's not sure he wants to escape anymore. He and Murphy slowly turn from enemies to secret lovers. Secret being the operative word. If Randall finds out he'll kill them both.

But it's hard for Ben to keep quiet when he's having the most amazing sex of his life with the man who might just be his one true love.

Being a city girl and raised in a family filled with females, this premise is like a deepest nightmare wrapped in horror filled kisses - being kidnapped at gunpoint in your vehicle. I know this is fiction because Ben would have failed my family's tests of traveling alone 101 - lock the fucking car doors especially at night.  He made a lot of questionable decisions throughout "Northwest of Normal".

Then again he shouldn't have parked where he parked in the first place. *sigh*

Imagine you're a college aged young man running away from responsibilities, and decides to take an impromptu road trip. And on said road trip, you're tired and instead of parking somewhere like a rest stop, you park on the side of the road with your doors unlocked at night. Just leave an invitation why don't you?

Ben wakes up to "redneck" criminal brother pair Randall and Murphy driving his jeep out of Georgia. The author makes a point to stress Randall is the mean, ignorant one (warning: he uses offensive terms) and Murphy is the thoughtful, gentle one from the very beginning. Murphy is scarred, lived a sad life of abuse, follows his older brother since Randall is the only one to stick up for him.

But...deep down Murphy hides who he is which is a gay man. And he's resigned himself to a sad lonely life of crime even though he has a conscience and it shows itself a lot in the debut novel. Murphy seems drawn to Ben and vice versa. During the road trip/kidnap themed romance, the two come together and have a weird adventure.

There are pros and cons with "Northwest of Normal".

One pro being it most certainly not predictable. It also works against it at times.

I had to remind myself to turn off the brain while read more than once because I did not understand Ben's reaction to being kidnapped. He was so okay with it. His fear was barely there even after being punched. He's making googly eyes at Murphy. The author does try to explain it away with Ben being the type to fall immediately but I question his lack of self preservation. It had to have kicked in during his week of being kidnapped. But he was more worried about Murphy. I can't even say it was Stockholm Syndrome because it was just too soon.

Another thing, the kidnapping. Um...Randall kept leaving? I get he was in the way for giving Murphy & Ben page time. But it also made the kidnapping kind of shoddy. Why would you: 1) keep dead weight on the road for so long? 2) leave him alone? Plus, he had trust issues with Murphy being alone with Ben. So why? All left unexplored. Randall's portrayed as homophobic so I get why Murphy kept his mouth shut. But there were missed opportunities.

Some chapters ended oddly, there were plots points left unresolved like the change of heart and there is something about Ben's character that was off. Or like them walking into a dead gay man's hotel room. (random as hell; also could have been a decent parallel for Murphy's closeted life if explored differently)

The stronger points? Murphy was the best character out of the entire book. Murphy's odd hot and cold, 'I'm not gay but let me kiss you' nature was a little frustrating to read in the beginning but after a while I sort of got used to it. I did like that Ben was a Korean MC. And I liked his family

The sex was hot (surprisingly not abundant). I pouted when there was a gun play tease and nothing came of it. But a certain someone's penchant for rough sex, big guy butt virgin bottoming was nice way to make up for it. Almost. There were tender moments interspersed the odd bits and it ends with a HEA. But I was surprised that's how it came to be. We start with criminals and we end with...that?

Northwest of Normal is supposed to not only be a romance, but also plead a case-if you will- as to why the characters ended up the way they did. It's slightly suspenseful so I won't give away plot twists. I wished for something a little more concrete for the brothers. It wasn't bad overall. But I think I expected a different outcome.

And lastly can I talk about the cover? It's no bueno from the neck up and so not how either main characters are described especially Murphy (other than having broad shoulders and being blond). Unfortunate.

Recommended? I'd read a sample first. The plot is interesting. I wouldn't reread this again but I would probably read something else from this author. There was an ease to the story since I zipped through it in less than a day.

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