House of Cards, by Garrett Leigh
Series: Porthkennack, Book Four
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: July 17, 2017
Calum Hardy’s life has unravelled. Reeling from the betrayal of a man he once loved, he boards a train heading south, with no real idea where he’s going except a world away from London.
Brix Lusmoore can hardly believe his eyes when he spots one of his oldest friends outside Truro station. He hasn’t seen Calum since he fled the capital himself four years ago, harbouring a life-changing secret. But despite the years of silence, their old bond remains, warm and true—and layered with simmering heat they’ve never forgotten.
Calum takes refuge with Brix and a job at his Porthkennack tattoo shop. Bit by bit, he rebuilds his life, but both men carry the ghosts of the past, and it will take more than a rekindled friendship and the magic of the Cornish coast to chase them away.
Friends to Lovers
Chronic Illness (highlight line below for spoiler)
Character with HIV
Content Warning for:
Emotional Abuse and Biphobia (see review)
Past Suicide Attempt (non-descriptive)
Content warning: The prologue contains a brief but intense scene involving emotional abuse and biphobic bashing during a breakup. It gives insight to Calum’s story but if you’d prefer to avoid this scene, stop at approximately 3% and continue at 6% (Kindle format).
House of Cards was my first foray into the Porthkennack universe and it won’t be my last. The story is about second chances – at love, and most definitely at life. It’s a broody and beautifully atmospheric romance between close friends who are reunited by chance on the Cornish coast.
Calum has hit rock bottom. Beat down and down on his luck, he is taken in by Brix, an old friend and mentor in the tattoo business. Brix, who had returned to his roots in the small village of Porthkennack some years back is living a quiet life far removed from his heydays in London. Watching Brix coax Calum to stay and start afresh at his tattoo studio was a bit like watching Brix tend to his rescue chickens. He was instinctively gentle and patient but knew when a firm hand was needed to help prevent Calum from sliding deeper into his depressive funk. Even as they slowly established a semblance of domesticity and reconnected over shared memories and their love for their craft, it was obvious they were both holding significant pieces of themselves back. It was both lovely and frustrating to see how so in tune they were with each other despite the many secrets between them.
One of the things I appreciated most about this book was its focus on healing. The Hurt/Comfort trope is very far from my jam because it so easily spirals into angst, or worse, the accompanying trauma is overcome in an unrealistic manner. In this story, it should be noted that both heroes suffer from depression – Calum’s being more recent and raw, and Brix’s as something he’d always lived with and now compounded by his illness. Being familiar with the author’s works, it was no surprise to me that she approached these heavy topics with care and a satisfying degree of realism. I really appreciated the way the heroes grew to be a comfort to each other by virtue of their presence and proximity, and the rekindling of old attractions felt very much like a natural progression in their relationship. The romance between the two men ultimately blossoms beautifully and meaningfully, and most importantly not at the expense of their mental or physical health.
I also loved the way the author captured Porthkennack in winter. The cruel winter wind along with the turbulent sea was an ever-present backdrop that very much felt like a character all its own. I also loved how the sea was portrayed as both a balm to one’s soul and a bane to those who didn’t respect its awesome power. The Cornish accents and quirks, the smuggling runs and the local lore, all these things just added to the overall picture and made the sleepy little town come to life in magical ways.
It should be noted that chickens (and Calum) weren’t the only strays in Brix’s life. His studio was filled with intriguing side characters that I really hope to see more of, whether in or out of the Porthkennack universe. If you’ve been meaning to check out this series of standalones, I can vouch for House of Cards as a solid bet.
Garrett Leigh is an award-winning British writer and book designer, currently working for Dreamspinner Press, Loose Id, Riptide Publishing, and Fox Love Press.
Garrett’s debut novel, Slide, won Best Bisexual Debut at the 2014 Rainbow Book Awards, and her polyamorous novel, Misfits was a finalist in the 2016 LAMBDA awards.
When not writing, Garrett can generally be found procrastinating on Twitter, cooking up a storm, or sitting on her behind doing as little as possible, all the while shouting at her menagerie of children and animals and attempting to tame her unruly and wonderful FOX.
Garrett is also an award winning cover artist, taking the silver medal at the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards in 2016. She designs for various publishing houses and independent authors at blackjazzdesign.com, and co-owns the specialist stock site moonstockphotography.com with photographer Dan Burgess.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.