Michael Levine is backed into a corner. He started tearing apart cars for the local mob with the best of intentions—to save up money to pay for his mechanic certifications and impress his crush and mentor, Ben. But Michael soon finds himself in way over his head. He knows stealing is wrong, but it’s only cars, and the insurance will pay to replace them, right? What started out as a small job to make some extra bucks soon turns into a nightmare he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to find his way out of.
Ben Jelen isn’t sure where his life is going. On the surface everything looks fine. He has a successful business, he’s raising his niece into a strong person, and he has a boyfriend most guys only dream of—sexy and rich. But nothing feels right. The only things that really keep Ben’s attention anymore are his classic Road Runner, his niece, and Michael—his Meeko. Ben took him under his wing forever ago, and their love of old cars and fast driving has forged a strong bond. Ben’s days don’t feel right if he doesn’t get to see Meeko at least once. But something seems drastically wrong in Meeko’s life, and Ben hopes he can put the pieces together to help him before it’s too late.
Title: Love It Like You Stole It
Author: Ki Brightly
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: July 9, 2018
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, blue-collar, mechanic, classic car love, age-gap, mobsters, crime, family drama
Ninestar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/love-it-like-you-stole-it/
Review by Elaine White
Love It Like You Stole It is an action packed adventure surrounding twenty year old Meeko, and his unfortunate ability to get into trouble. Being socially awkward and showing signs of autism, he’s easily taken advantage of by those who claim to be his friends. His story is one of life lessons learned the hard way, and unrequited love. Just as his entire life is about to come together to give him everything he wants, it goes to hell in a handbasket.
Series: A Gem City Grit Book
Let’s start with the simple stuff:
POV: 1stperson, dual POV
Would I read it again?: Yes
Genre: LGBT, Contemporary, Mafia/Crime, May/Dec
Pairings: MM (plus non-graphic teenage MF romance)
Heat Level: ★★★★☆
Content Warning: contains violence, history of bullying
Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty:
I really enjoyed this book. I’ve come to find that Ki Brightly is a solid writer and storyteller and, while there may be a niggle here or there, I can usually always end one of their books feeling content and satisfied with the journey the story and the characters took me on.
This is a confusing topic for me. It says nowhere – on the entire internet, from Goodreads, Google, the publisher’s website, Amazon, not even the author’s website – that this is part of a series. Except on the title page of the book.
Honestly, this really confused me. I haven’t read anything of the Gem City Grit series, but I tracked it down and found that the book labeled as book 1 in that series is “Trust Trade”. After finishing this book, I’ve honestly found nothing to indicate that this is part of an existing series. Perhaps it’s a side-story that takes place in the same world (e.g. the cops, the authority figures are mentioned throughout) or it’s one of those “standalone” series that never really end up being standalone. If so, this one is.
You can trust me on that because I do not read series books out of order and I am unforgiving about “standalone” books in a so-called series, where there’s a backstory or a side character you’re supposed to know about but don’t because you didn’t read the other books. There is none of that here.
Major thanks to the author for that.
What can I say? I loved Meeko right from the start. He’s a strong character, with a kind heart, a desire to be loved, but without the ability to go after what he wants without some help. He’s easily manipulated because he’s trusting and sometimes a little naive, but I love that the author shows both sides – that he’s bullied for those qualities by small-minded people, while also loved for them by Ben.
Nowhere in the book does it say he has a disability – as a disabled person, I want to add that because I saw a lot of reviews demanding to know what his disability is. 1) he doesn’t necessarily need to have a disability to be uncomfortable looking people in the eye, talking to strangers, or finding comfort in movement, 2) his natural behaviours to rock when scared, to avoid eye contact, and to shy away from touch or conversation are well explored, in a natural and logical way; there is NO need for a label to be placed on him. 3) as someone with autistic cousins, I can say that *some* of his behaviors imply autism, which would likely have been missed or ignored due to his family situation and would have remained undiagnosed. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be a big flashing sign for us to understand his situation.
Ben himself is a really good character. Older, a bit more gruff, he’s seen the good and the bad in people, but he also had a lot of responsibility. We see him in the Prologue, not only watching Meeko get bullied and hoping he’ll defend himself, but protecting Meeko when he realizes he won’t, as well as running a struggling garage. Five years later, in Chapter 1, that garage is thriving, but he’s also got a lot more responsibility because his brother died and left him as the sole carer to his niece. He’s strong, dependable, and I love how he manages to teach and guide Meeko without being patronising or overpowering, that he treats him like any other person, while also showing him that it’s okay for a man to need someone, that it doesn’t make him less of a man to need help. I loved that!
While I thought Grant was a douche at times, I actually grew to love him the more I saw of him. He was this big ball of hurt and pain and loneliness, who began to realize that he deserved more than to be jerked around by an asshat. He was a great character, brilliant at his job, and I’d love to see more of him, perhaps with a book of his own?
Strangely, I could say the same for Teagan. He was the same level of obsessive, the same needy, lonely guy and totally in over his head. I actually wouldn’t mind if he got his own story either. Maybe with Grant? Maybe a prison love story, considering where he’s heading. Lol. He’s a pyro but he’s also a little bit damaged and he could use a good lawyer. Hint hint. Nudge nudge. Pretty please?
Vandi, the niece, is a little spitfire. At sixteen, she does things that I would never in a million years have gotten away with. She loves motorbikes, acting out, bad boys, and gets into a lot of trouble too much for her young age to handle. But, she’s also in a way the glue that holds Ben together.
I’ll admit that I can’t say too much about the plot without giving things away. This is one intricate plot, but it doesn’t really feel that way until you try to describe it. Like asking an author what their book is about and getting an Um as an answer. It’s a whole lot of little things that come together to make a whole, and it doesn’t feel confusing at any point throughout.
Where to start? Well, the action was good. There was enough for a book of this length, but it wasn’t overly done, either. It wasn’t like there was something utterly disastrous and soul destroying in every chapter, but it was paced well enough to allow for sexy or comfortable moments in between while reminding us that danger lurked around every corner.
I find it a bit unrealistic to imagine the cops giving any suspect so much leeway that they’re not forced into protective custody when they’re the only lynchpin to a case. I also don’t buy that they would offer him a job in the motor pool because he refused protective custody. That just doesn’t ring true. The police don’t have time to babysit a suspect in that way, nor do they have the manpower, the authority, or would it be legally viable. It stinks of being way too attached to the suspect.
However…saying that, I understand that it was a pivotal part of the plot. Without that, Meeko could never have escaped for his night with Ben, he wouldn’t have been there when they got the call about Vandi, and he would never have been in the back of the police car when Teagan showed up. So, while it’s unrealistic, I understand the necessity of it for the plot. And, honestly, in a book about the mafia or mafia wannabe criminals, I tend to allow a little leeway in my belief suspension anyway. Criminals do crazy things, sometimes, and I accept that. It’s not often you see the cops being a little crazy too, though.
I do, however, love how often Meeko and Ben’s emotions were related to cars. How they got hot when together in the Road Runner, how they thought in garage and car terms. How everything they thought and felt revolved around this mutual love for cars, grease, dirt and each other. It was a pivotal part of the plot and it felt like it. There was never a time when I questioned what they had in common, how they managed to find each other or stay interested in each other. Their chemistry was constant, sometimes a slow burn, sometimes a raging fire, but tumultuous at all times.
As before, I loved the writing style. I’m not normally a fan of 1stperson stories, but I’m growing to appreciate them when they’re written well. This one fits that bill. There was a nice balance between scene setting and logic – not everything in sight needed to be described in detail, so it wasn’t, which left the word count to be used logically for other, more important things.
I had a few niggles, as I sometimes do. I wasn’t always fond of the word choices. The use of “cherry” began to grate on my nerves as it was used so often. I had never heard of any of Vandi’s “latest slang” words, like “salty” instead of “grouchy”. I didn’t understand all this constant hand clapping that Ben did, either. It was like it was a nervous tick, but one I’ve never experienced before and that was usually so out of place or inappropriate at the moment that it was jarring. And, I don’t find it at all sexy for a guy to say “Gonna rip you up” when they’re having sex. *shudders* Nope. But, they’re all personal pet peeves and, other than the frequency of how often “cherry” and the hand clapping were used, I wouldn’t see any of them being a recurring problem with readers. It’s all personal taste.
I did find it weird that we never knew Vandi’s real name was Lavender though. It came up first at 22% when Ben went nuts about her being with Loyal. We’d had no indication that was her name before that. Then not again until 48% when her great aunt came to pick her up. It might have been nice to have that warning beforehand, in that way parents have of using your full name when you piss them off. Because, I genuinely wondered if the use of Lavender, the first time it appeared, was a mistake.
I did feel that the book was HUGE. I mean, there were a few times when I stopped, thinking it was about to come to a conclusion that would have worked for me, only to find that I wasn’t even at the halfway mark yet. Then, after that, a few other times it could have ended without being unexpected or feeling like it was too short.
Yet, at the same time, I can completely see WHY it was so long. It makes sense. And I actually like that it was so long. Although I had the expectation that it might stop, what came after made logical sense to the plot. It worked, and it gave a well-rounded feeling to the plot and the characters. It was nice to have all my questions answered before The End, to feel like everything had been dealt with and, although it lacked the pretty red bow that said things would be beautiful forever, it was a happy ending and I believed that it would be okay.
In fact, I want Grant to get his own story. And, I’ll be going off to read book 1 in the Gem City Grit series soon.
Overall, I smiled, I cried, and I rooted for the characters to get their happily ever after, and that’s all I ever really want from a book.
“Meeko deserve the sun. The Stars. The whole universe. All I had to give him was me, the garage, and a busted old car.”
About the Author
Ki grew up in small town nowhere pretending that meteor showers were aliens invading, turning wildflowers into magic potions, and reading more than was probably healthy. Ki had one amazing best friend, one endlessly out of grasp “true love”, and a personal vendetta against normalcy.
Now, as an adult, living in Erie, Pennsylvania, Ki enjoys the sandy beaches, frigid winters, and a wonderful fancy water addiction. Seriously, fancy waters…who knew there were so many different kinds? It’s just water…and yet…
Ki shares this life with a Muse, a Sugar Plum, and two wonderful children.
Gravidam Series Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/Gravidam-232939700609364/