Hold On by Kristen Ashley

Hold onWhy I read it:  I had this one pre-ordered from Amazon. I bought the audiobook too and switched between them.  The audiobook is narrated, very well, by Erin Bennett.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Since she was young, Cher Rivers knew she was not the kind of girl who got what she wanted. A girl who could hope. A girl who could dream. She knew a happily ever after just wasn’t in the cards for her.

In love for years with the last bastion of the ‘burg’s eligible bachelors, Garrett Merrick, Cher worked hard at making him laugh. Being one of the guys. Having him in her life the only way she could. All this knowing he was in love with another woman.

The Merrick Family is known for loving deep. So when Cecelia Merrick was murdered, it marked the Merricks in a way none of them recovered. Both Cecelia’s children found love. Both turned their backs on it. But Garrett “Merry” Merrick knew in his soul the woman he divorced years ago was the one for him.

Until the night when Cher took Garrett’s back and things changed. The Merrick family loves deep. They also protect fiercely. And with his eyes finally open, Garrett sees the woman who truly is for him and he goes after her.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  It’s only fairly recently that I’ve listened (mostly) to the other books in this series so the characters and stories were fresh in my mind. I was really excited to see that Cher was getting a story and that Ms. Ashley flipped the “one true love” theme of the series for Merry. Apart from At Peace where Violet and Cal had not previously met, all the other couples in the series had history going back many years. And, throughout the series, it was Merry and Mia. They’d been married but because reasons, they’d also been divorced and Merry was pining. Or, at least that’s how it looked. This is actually dealt with pretty fast in Hold On. Merry imploded his marriage because his head was messed up over his mother’s violent death. That cast a pall over Colt and Feb as well, so readers of the series will understand how that can happen. He pushed Mia away and that was that. Except, the narrative is turned around now because people start saying, “hey, she didn’t stick, she knew you were messed up but she didn’t fight for you. She is therefore NOT ‘the one’. Get your head out of your butt and look around.”

It made sense and I could go with it but I wasn’t always comfortable with how, for the most part, the story became about Mia fucking up. I never forgot Merry pulled away first and even he acknowledges he treated her poorly. I’d have preferred the story around Mia to be less of her being/becoming the evil ex-wife. It turns out that Mia has been coming around to Merry for sex on a semi-regular basis since the divorce and that is why, most likely, he’s never really moved on. They haven’t cut the ties. But I don’t accept that it was up to Mia to press Merry to get his head out of his butt. He’s a grown man – he could have done that himself at any time. As much as I was happy for Merry and Cher to be together, I felt a bit sorry for Mia and I never truly bought that everything was her fault – because it just wasn’t. That’s actually my biggest criticism of the book.

In my mental scale, what balances it out, or tips the balance in the book’s favour is Cher. She is probably the “stripper with a heart of gold” but Ms. Ashley takes that and gives her flesh and bone. She’s fully realised and much more than a stereotype. I loved that none of her friends, not Merry, not Colt, not Feb or Vi, not anyone, ever judged her as lacking for her former profession. They all praised her for looking after her son the best way she can. Of course, the shortcut to identify the villains in the story was that they jumped to the conclusion Cher was a slut and a whore. Neither was true but she dresses a little trashy, has an amazing rack she shows off and everyone knows she used to give lap dances for money AND she fucked a serial killer. The ‘Burg crew have taken her in and she’s one of them. Not once in the series, did any of that group ever judge her for any of it. Merry doesn’t think twice about her past profession even though “the stripper and the cop” is straight out of a corny telemovie (something that’s actually acknowledged in the book).

At the beginning of Hold On, Merry is drowning his sorrows because Mia has gotten engaged and is, apparently, finally moving on. (Let’s just leave aside that if he was really that broken up about it there was plenty he could have done which was useful rather than getting drunk on expensive whiskey.) Cher has been in love with Merry for a long time but thinks he’s not for a girl like her. Nevertheless, when Merry is sad, she wants to help and so she drinks with him and is the first to expound the new theory that Mia should have stuck. (The first time I heard this, I took it that Mia had a part to play in the demise of their marriage too (fair point) but I think over the course of the book that changed to “it was Mia’s fault” which I thought was uncool.) Cher and Merry end up back at her place (her son is at a sleep over) and having magnificent drunken sex all night long.

Merry treats her nicely the next morning and, despite of all the lessons life has taught her, dares to believe this could be the beginning of something. However, when she overhears Merry talking to Colt about how he plans to have “the conversation” (about how it was a one-time thing and they will always be friends *gags*) she adds another layer to her shields and toughens up further. Her brand of tough is understandable and well explained. She’s had to be tough to survive. That doesn’t make her any less deserving of love or happiness or any other good thing.

Merry is her friend first and that, it turns out, is a great basis for a relationship. When Merry finds out that Cher is getting grief from Ethan’s (her son) biological father, he turns on a pin and decides that they should explore a relationship. (It makes more sense in the story – well, a bit. I was prepared to go with it anyway).

I loved how Merry and Cher were together. I loved the humour and the consistent (and funny) descriptions of Cher’s boho decoration style.

He was not surprised that she lived in a house that looked like it was decorated by Janis Joplin’s slightly more together sister.

Merry is an alpha male (of course) but Cher is definitely no pushover. She gives it just as good as he does.

I said, “Then, considering the screens pop out, the storms pop in, and the doors only require little ole me to be able to turn a screwdriver, I’d rather just do it instead of calling him, waiting for him to come over, suffer a stroke while winterizing my house, thus scarring me mentally for life.”

His eyes narrowed. “You this much of a smartass before I made you come for me five times?”

I waited for my head to swivel around on my shoulders while fire shot out of my eye sockets.

When that didn’t happen, I snapped, “Uh… yeah.”

I also enjoyed the way Merry bonded with Ethan even more strongly than their prior friendship and, more generally, the easy love demonstrated for non-biological children in this series.

There is plenty of swoonworthy romance too.  Like many Kristen Ashley books, she ensures their HEA chapter and verse and they go through and tackle any potential threat or conflict. So, by the end of the story there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the HEA is SOLID.

“Wanna kiss you, honey.”

“Then kiss me, Merry.”

“No.” I felt my head give a slight twitch.

“No?” I asked.

“No,” he repeated. “Need you to get this, Cher. I wanna kiss you. But right now, I wanna kiss you because you’re standin’ in my arms, lookin’ up at me the way you’re lookin’ up at me. I definitely wanna kiss the girl who loves to make me laugh. And I wanna kiss the girl who put that dress on for me. I also wanna kiss you because after I kiss you, I’m gonna take you to my bed and I’m gonna fuck you. But you need to know, in this instant, I wanna kiss you because you’re the girl you are right now, the way you are right now, lookin’ up at me.”

It’s very possible Cher’s history with Denny Lowe was given insufficient air time in the book. There were some powerful scenes later on which showed Cher still carried painful baggage about that period in her life and I’d have liked a little more than what was on the page to feel it had been resolved appropriately. It was a good start but lacked a little in the finish I think.

What else? Hold On is the final in the ‘Burg series and so the marathon epilogue (common for Ms. Ashley – I’m not complaining) features all the previous couples in one vignette or another, including snapshots of Kate’s wedding and Kiera’s wedding and even Ethan’s wedding (I’m still really curious about who was his bride though!). It’s a series wrap epilogue but it starts and finished with Cher and Merry and I thought it fit the book and the series well. And I cracked up at Cher’s and Merry’s wedding song.

I started off listening to the book but became impatient to find out what was next so I listened during the day when I could and I read the book at night. That’s a first for me for a number of reasons but it was a really fun way of taking in the story. The narration by Erin Bennett was very good. I liked her characterisations very much and, as I read the book in the evenings, it was her voice in my head. I think Hold On is a winner in either format.

There were a few niggles I had with the story but overall, I just sat back and enjoyed the hell out of it. It pushed a lot of my good book buttons and I loved the familiar Kristen Ashley style. I found it engrossing and relaxing at the same time and it was precisely what my reading (and listening) mood was after.

Grade: B+

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Hold On audiobook

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