February 2, 2016

Blog Tour Book Review: Against the Wall by Jill Sorenson

at 2/02/2016 12:00:00 AM

Releasing on February 2, 2016

Fans of Katie McGarry, Simone Elkeles, and Tammara Webber will love Against the Wall! As teenagers, they fell for each other despite the odds. But now that Eric and Meghan are all grown up, they’re reunited by fierce passion and dangerous secrets.

Eric Hernandez is the bad boy of every schoolgirl’s fantasies—and every mother’s nightmares. But after serving time for manslaughter, he’s ready to turn his life around. He just needs a chance to prove himself as a professional tattoo artist. The one thing that keeps him going is the memory
of the innocent beauty he loved and left behind.

Meghan Young’s world isn’t as perfect as it looks. The preacher’s daughter is living a lie, especially now that Eric is back. Tougher, harder, and sexier than ever, he might be the only person she can trust. But there’s no telling what he’ll do to protect her if he learns the truth, and that’s a risk Meghan won’t let him take. And yet, back in the arms of the troubled boy with the artist’s soul, Meghan can’t help surrendering to the man he’s become.

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Noah exchanges a glance with April and takes Jenny into the kitchen. It’s awkward, being on his turf. I don’t belong here. I belong in Castle Park, the down-and-out neighborhood where I used to live with my grandma. Now she’s in Mexico with the rest of my family, and I have nowhere else to go. Nowhere safe, that is. I’m supposed to stay in a stable environment, and I can’t leave San Diego. It’s one of the conditions of my parole.
“Let’s get you settled,” April says brightly.
I grab my backpack and follow her. On the phone she told me I could sleep in the den. It looks sort of like an office with a small bed in the corner. I spot a vintage desk and an old-school record player I recognize as Meghan’s.
I’m struck by memories of the last day I spent with her. She had a room upstairs back then. When we first met, it was just Meghan and Noah living here. She put on some music and I laid her down on her bed. I took everything she had to offer and then some. I can’t even bring myself to regret it. That memory, more than any other, has sustained me on lonely nights in my cell. I’ve jerked off to a thousand variations of it.
I know that Meghan moved out a few months ago, but I imagine her lingering presence. The smell of her hair on the pillows.
“This was Meghan’s room?” I say, my voice hoarse.
April opens the closet, which is half-full of girl clothes. “I can ask her to move her stuff.”
“No,” I say. I don’t need the space; everything I own fits inside a backpack.
“Are you sure?”
I sit on the bed, nodding. This arrangement is temporary, anyway. “Which room are you going to use for the nursery?”
April waves her hand in the air. “I want the crib in my room. You can stay here as long as you like.”
I wonder if Noah is on board with this. He can’t be thrilled about having an ex-con under the same roof with his pregnant wife and stepdaughter. He got promoted to the homicide division, but money might be tight. I should cut out as soon as possible. I’m not a charity case, and even though Meghan’s not here, it doesn’t feel right to inhabit her space.
It feels . . . dangerous. Tempting.
I’ll never forget the look on her face when I told her I didn’t want her. She stared at me with soft blue eyes and trembling lips, pale from shock. Hardest fucking lie I ever told—and I’m an accomplished liar. But I couldn’t let her waste three years on me. I couldn’t let myself wish for something that far beyond my reach. I had to be cruel to be kind.
At least, that was how I justified my actions three years ago. Looking back, maybe I just wanted to be a dick. Getting locked up has that effect. It touches every raw nerve and stirs every violent tendency. It stokes prejudices and festers resentments. The only acceptable outlet for male prisoners is rage.
“When you’re ready, come out to the backyard. Noah’s grilling some carne asada.”
My stomach rumbles loud enough for her to hear. Smiling, she slips out the door and down the hall. She looks happy. That’s the difference in her, along with her rounded belly and fuller curves. She’s not exhausted anymore. Noah takes care of her. Or she takes care of him.
They take care of each other.
April hooked up with Noah around the same time I started seeing Meghan. He interviewed her about the murder of one of her coworkers, a waitress at Club Suave. Cops aren’t supposed to date anyone involved in their investigations, but apparently he couldn’t resist. They fell in love before I went to prison and got married shortly after. 
Noah has been good to April and Jenny. Much better than Raul was. Even so, my urge to leave grows stronger. I don’t want to cause problems or be a burden to anyone. I’ve never been part of a nice family. I don’t know how to act civilized anymore.
This isn’t my scene.
I glance around, wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans. There’s a nightstand by the bed. I open the first drawer and peer inside. Unlike the closet, it’s empty. I close it in mild disappointment. I’m not sure what I expected to find in there. Some random girl stuff, like makeup and perfume.
I remove the clothes from my backpack and toss them into the empty drawer. I have three shirts, an extra pair of pants, and some basketball shorts. Then I bring out my prized possession: my portfolio.
I like art. I can draw almost anything from memory. My favorite medium is spray paint on a fresh concrete wall, but in prison the materials are limited. Most of my drawings are ink on lined paper.
I also do ink on skin. It’s how I survived in the joint.
I was only twenty when I went in. I’m about five foot ten, not the biggest guy on the block. I’ve got muscles and I’m strong, but I’ll never be huge. I have a lean build and features they call handsome. To say that I needed protection is an understatement. Despite my unlucky size and face, I had three things going for me when I went in. First, I was down for CVL, my local clique. The Chula Vista Locos pay dues to the Mexican Mafia, also known as La Eme. So I was already connected to a powerful prison gang.
The second advantage I had was my best friend, Junior. We both got locked up at the same time and sent to the same prison. It’s not unusual for San Diego criminals to do sentences in Chino or San Quentin—they’re the two largest correctional facilities in the state. Junior wasn’t in my cellblock, but we saw each other in the yard. He became a captain for La Eme. If anyone fucked with me, Junior made them pay.
The third advantage was my talent for art. I can hold my own in a fight, but I didn’t want to earn my keep that way. I didn’t want to be anyone’s bitch, either. Instead of offering those services, I sold drawings and tattoos. I was the best in my block.

Tattooing has been the only bright spot in my life. Without my art, and my best friend, I’d probably be dead.
If you have read the previous book, The Edge of Night, you will know who some of the background characters are. I did not know about the first book (this is the sequel), but it was written well enough that I didn't have to read the first book to know enough about the characters to distinguish who's who. This book features Eric Hernandez, a young man who was recently finished a three year sentence in prison for murder. The setting is Chula Vista, in the gangster-influenced sections. Despite being a resident of California since I was born and live in an area with Latin influences, I know nothing about Latin gangsters and what areas are their territories.  Back to the story, Eric's former "sister-in-law" April and her new cop hubby Noah, throw him a homecoming party. For those of you who read The Edge of Night, April and Noah were the main characters. They make an appearance among the cast of Against the Wall. Now this is where things get a little complicated. Eric's deceased brother, Raul, was April's abusive partner. After his death, April and Noah got married and raise Jenny (April and Raul's daughter). Eric's ex-girlfriend and first love, Meghan, happens to be Noah's younger sister. Eric and Meghan got together around the same time that April and Noah did, but unfortunately Eric was sent to prison soon after. After a three year absence, Meghan has moved on with her life and with someone else. First speed bump here, let's talk about Chip. Chip is a misogynistic stereotypical jock; all brawn and no brains. It was no hardship disliking this character; not because I knew the endgame was Eric, but because of his ego and obliviousness to Meghan's needs and wants (though Meghan should have said something) I just found him too unlikeable.

Let's address the elephant in the room. Before Chip knew about Eric, Chip's behavior as a boyfriend gave me the impression that Chip saw Meghan (tall, leggy, busty blond) as a status symbol, especially among the other jocks at school. From Meghan's accounts, it seemed like he could care less about her pleasures and was selfish in bed. Not to mention the high-handed behavior when they were in public. When Chip met Eric, his actions toward Meghan could be passed off as possessive, but I thought they were the signs of a potentially abusive partner. When their relationship finally came to the first physical strike, I did feel a bit sympathetic towards Chip (it didn't last long). I think he personally believed that he was everything Meghan could want in a boyfriend and that he genuinely loved and wanted her, but his self-doubt and anger towards Meghan and her inability to love him, warped him into someone capable of hitting a woman. After he hit Meghan, he took out his anger on the apartment they shared together and ultimately ashamed at his actions to the point of sobbing (mourning his former self?). I am not saying that Meghan did not play a part in the destruction of their relationship, but she let their relationship carry on for way longer than she should have. Now before the comments about me "victim blaming" Meghan start flowing in, just remember it takes two to tango. Meghan herself said that she wasn't even invested in her relationship with Chip and just went along with what he wanted because it was easier to go with the flow than to fight against it. Their relationship was doomed from the start, but Chip seemed to be way more invested in the relationship than Meghan.

The moment Eric is back on the scene, Meghan and Chip's relationship deteriorated even faster. Not that Eric encouraged Meghan into torching her relationship. He actually thought it was best if they didn't get back together. He has a lot going on. Readjusting to life outside a cell is hard, from what I've heard. Finding a job and a place to stay is paramount. He's temporarily staying with April and Noah; Noah does not approve of Eric as a potential partner for Meghan. On top of everything, his old gang affiliations are sniffing around to settle out scores. Eric is trying is best to stay on the straight and narrow, but you know what they say about best laid plans. Eric is a complex character. While in prison, Eric honed his skills as an artist, trading tattoos in exchange for a leave off. While he wants Meghan (a lot), he feels that he might taint her with the darkness he feels that is still inside him. He's realistic about his life and the options he currently has. As an ex-con, you are disqualified from certain government programs and have to admit to serving jail time on job applications. 

Life can be hard inside prison, but it can be even harder on the outside. Unlike most ex-cons, Eric has a safety net on the outside. He has his sister-in-law to provide a roof over his head and his sister-in-law's new husband who lined up a job and vouched for him. The few highlights of this book were the scenes between Eric and Meghan near the end of the book. Overall the book was a good read, but I thought Eric and Meghan's characters could have been more developed, but considering they are still in their 20s and have more maturing to do, everything was okay. I did appreciate that the author used (authentic?) Spanish slang in the book to make the characters more real, but despite growing up in California and surrounded by lots of Spanish speakers, I did not know any of it. There are still things in the book that were left hanging, but it's not that important. 
3.5 stars

Jill Sorenson is the RITA-nominated author of more than a dozen romantic-suspense novels. She has a degree in literature and writing from California State University. Her books have been selected as Red-Hot Reads by Cosmopolitan magazine, and have received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. Sorenson currently lives in the San Diego area with her family. She’s a soccer mom who loves nature, coffee, reading, Twitter, and reality TV.

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