Book Reviews

How to Live (Lovestrong 7) by Susan Hawke

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Romance
Reviewed by ParisDude on 22-April-2021

Book Blurb

Take one clueless, spoiled guy with notoriously bad luck…

When Derek Leigh is diagnosed with breast cancer at twenty-four, it’s the final straw in a lifetime of bad luck. If he’s going to die, it’ll be on his terms… with one helluva party that packs a lifetime’s worth of fun into whatever time he has left. To make this happen, Derek blows up his life: dumps the long-term boyfriend in the worst way possible, borrows money he can’t repay from a loan shark, and heads to Atlantic City... where his luck unexpectedly changes, giving him fresh hope.

Add one easygoing tattoo artist with a big, open heart…

Asher Matthews has dealt with a lot in his thirty-five years: he and his twin were born addicted to heroin and abandoned at birth… until Mama Maisie added them to her brood of lost boys. ADHD and dyslexia didn’t keep him from following his dream of opening his own tattoo shop, especially with his family’s support. With all that he’s been given in life, Asher makes a point of giving back where he can.

To equal two men who instantly connect in all the best ways.

Derek is shocked to not only survive his cancer treatment, but to come to the end of it in great health. Too bad he’s blown through all his money, lost his car, and has nowhere to turn. On a whim, he goes for a free tattoo. Asher takes one look at the sexy twink who’s down on his luck and offers him a room, a job, and even better, a friend. If they have a little no-strings fun along the way, it’s fine. It’s not like anyone is looking to fall in love, right?

This 55k novel is the seventh book in the LOVESTRONG series about finding love and being yourself in a small town. Watch out for ridiculous amounts of money won and lost, a butler who takes everything in stride, and a scruffy dog you’ll want to cuddle. This is an mm romance full of all the fun, laughter, and sweet feels you’d want from a Susan Hawke book.

Possible trigger for anyone currently fighting cancer or closely related to a breast cancer patient. The book is low angst and the experience is gently handled, but the subject matter is present.


Book Review

Susan Hawke strikes again and takes me back to the little town of Rockford Bluff, where I’ve already encountered so many endearing and quirky characters as well as some not-too-angst-inducing drama. This time, the plot evolves around twenty-four-year-old Derek and Asher, the latter being one of the Matthews boys (for those who’ve read my previous reviews of this series, the name Rick Matthews, local cop and main character of one of the books, might ring a bell). The story starts with Derek being diagnosed with breast cancer—for those who didn’t know that was a thing, don’t be ashamed to admit it because I was one of those, too; so was Derek. He considers himself to be a guy with no luck whatsoever, so he immediately believes he is going to die. He accepts to schedule the necessary surgical intervention and after-surgery treatment, but doesn’t think that’ll change his own, dreary prognosis.


First of all, he ends his long-time relationship with his boyfriend Hunter, whom he doesn’t want to burden with his illness and supposedly certain passing away. Then he leaves for Atlantic City where he spends his last pre-surgery weekend with gambling, drinking, and spending money like there were no tomorrow. To his amazement, he has a never-ending streak of luck, however, and finishes the weekend almost a millionaire—he has won so much money that he can afford to buy a Lamborghini and doesn’t have to worry about his prospective medical bills (allow me a snide aside as a European: I’ll never understand how anyone living in such a rich country can accept a system where a diagnosed cancer might go untreated if the person concerned doesn’t have enough money, but that’s my personal opinion).


Yet—and this joins my previous snide aside—when Derek has survived surgery, chemotherapy, and subsequent radiotherapy at last, he finds himself with only 500 dollars left in his pockets. He has no home, no work, no family, no friends, and yet, he is in a better mood than he has been for a long time. As luck (or a helpful writer’s imagination) would have it, he stumbles upon mid-thirtyish Asher, a tattoo artist, who takes the younger man under his wings, offers him lodgings, a job, and the benefits of his friendship (yes, friendship as in “friends with benefits”—I always try to choose my words carefully).


Maybe I’ve already told too much. I have a feeling, though, that I haven’t even told half of what I’ve gone through together with the two main characters before reaching that point in the book. Now, what did I like, what did I like less in this seventh instalment? I never cared for trigger warnings as I consider readers of adult fiction are, well, adults and therefore supposed to be able to deal with divers things. That’s why I could have done without the introduction. The first part was pretty amazing, and even though I was trigger-warned that Derek might be an obnoxious character at the beginning, I understood what he was going through and didn’t find him that hateful. The whole winning streak in that extra-expensive hotel cum casino in Atlantic City beggared belief, of course, but it made me smile nonetheless at the same time that it made me fear the final crash (which didn’t come in crash-form, thank God).


I thought the whole medical process came across as a bit rushed; I didn’t get to see Derek struggle and fight and give his all (and grow as a character in the process), I was merely told. That’s a pity. Asher is virtually absent from these first chapters apart from some brief appearances. What follows is a classical example of insta-love, and those who know me are aware that I’m really not a big fan of that. I don’t like over-sharing from the go between two strangers either (excessive sharing always has that ring of too much—too soon—too not real life for me). Basically, Derek meets Asher, tells him he has had breast cancer and no future, Asher replies he has ADHD and wants to help him, and their next lines are about them yearning to go over each other’s body with hands and tongues and all. The whole scene in public, if you please, and I’m only slightly exaggerating here.


The rest of the book trickles toward the happy ending with no more drama or peak to speak of. The only persons unaware that the two men insta-fell in love with each other and are simply meant to spend the rest of their lives together are the two men concerned, Derek and Asher. Everyone else, reader included, is in the know. Yet theirs is a sweet story—something not to be scorned in these still rather unsweet times—and for me,that sweetness makes up for the missing courting, getting to know each other, and further development of their relationship. I was glad to see most of the dialogs felt a bit more “real” than in the last two books of the series (where the over-sharing and overanalyzing of each other was out of proportion), which “anchored” this story more and prevented me from rolling my eyes. As it is, I was even quite content when I had finished the book because I realized it was a pleasant read.




DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the author. This book has been provided by the author for the purpose of a review.


Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 189 pages/55000 words
Heat Level
Publication Date 27-February-2021
Price $3.99 ebook, $14.99 paperback
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