Jody's Reviews > Can't Hold Back

Can't Hold Back by Serena Bell
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it was amazing

With current events surrounding the plight of returning veterans readers will find this second installment in the Returning Home series a timely addition to the discussion. From start to finish this story will captivate readers as it touches on the pain of returning veterans, feelings of survivor's guilt, and the lengths people will go to in the name of love. With two strong protagonists readers will find themselves cheering them on towards HEA one moment while shedding a tear over their misguided choices the next moment.

Because of issues surrounding her parents Alia has always felt more like a parent than a child, especially when interacting with her learning disabled sister Becca. Seeing how her disability has shattered her self-esteem Alia's main concern in life has been putting a smile on Becca's face, often to the exclusion of her own happiness. That becomes very apparent when the sexy and self-assured Nate meets Alia and makes an instant connection but inexorably finds himself with Becca through Alia's machinations. Alia's matchmaking takes an unexpected turn as the letters she writes on her sister's behalf start reflecting her own feelings and has her wanting things she's long denied herself which leaves Nate feeling disillusioned and alone. After hurting Nate earlier though she doesn't want to hurt him again even though she's the only one who can help heal the chronic pain a tragic wartime explosion has left him with. Being in such close quarters reignites the feelings she tried to bury but their plans for the future, and fears of holding each other back, leaves their HEA in doubt once again unless they finally claim their heart's desires. Alia's immensely likable with her kind heart and selfless nature. She enjoys being needed, craves it as it gives her life purpose, but being around Nate shows her that her needs are just as important. She helps heal Nate, but he heals her too as she finally goes after what she wants, letting others help her for a change, which was empowering to see and left me cheering for her.

Nate was once self-assured and outgoing with his meeting Alia a moment that changed his life completely. He felt a connection to her but ended up with her sister with Alia's blessing. After the truth came out he was left emotionally confused and feeling a bit betrayed, but the explosion that killed his teammate shortly after left him even more bruised and battered. Chronic pain that he refuses to admit is more than physical has him leaning on Alia, and her unconventional treatments, and resurrects their combustible connection. When we meet Nate again he's clearly in pain with shadows marring his soul. He's much quieter with his pain palpable which had me aching with him. He feels as though his life is lacking so to find purpose he focuses on a promise made to a dying teammate which is admirable but misguided as it keeps him from living for himself. As his physical pain dissipates Nate becomes the flirty and boyishly playful man he once was which made his interactions with Alia fun to watch with their witty banter teeming with sexual tension. Nate's survivor's guilt is more than apparent in his choice of aiding JJ's family, and though this choice was the impetus to getting clean and seeking help, it ultimately left me sad for him but happy it opened his eyes to the truth of his own life having worth.

This was an intensely emotional read with compelling characters, both primary and secondary, and a good flow with no big misunderstandings. Alia and Nate are both kind hearted and long to help others, often forgetting about their own desires until their buttons are pushed. Their connection crackles with sexual tension resulting in numerous steamy scenes that brought out some truly profound and romantic insights from Nate. Along with two such strong main characters comes a cast of equally engaging secondary ones that have me wanting to learn more about them. Becca's as kind as her sister, popular for being pretty, but shamed for being learning disabled. She's unlucky in love due to low self-esteem that leaves her too hard on herself. The other injured soldiers at the retreat (particularly Griff) also have self-esteem issues with their painful pasts, and returns home, that brought a tear to my eye. They all deserve a HEA and I hope Ms. Bell doesn't leave me hanging too long where they're concerned. On a whole this was a read full of emotional highs and lows telling the story of two people just trying to do right in a world full of wrongs and I was captivated from the first page to the last.
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Reading Progress

December 11, 2015 – Started Reading
December 11, 2015 – Shelved
December 15, 2015 – Finished Reading

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