Review Summary: A well written story with complicated, flawed protagonists, each of whom had major personal issues. Fortunately the story didn’t become an angst fest.
Discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, former Marine major Cole Hammond is struggling to find a new identity. But PTSD casts a pall on everything, and his hard-nosed, homophobic father can’t even bear to look him in the eye. To top it all off, he’s pretty sure he’s flunking out of law school.
Marc Sullivan is a kind, sensitive romance author-slash-waiter with a thing for men in uniform. Cole’s not wearing his anymore, but there’s no mistaking the warrior Marc meets in the diner one rainy afternoon. Cole’s sexy smile and Carolina drawl prove irresistible, but Marc’s played this game before, and he always loses. Once a Marine, always a Marine, and if there’s one thing Marc knows about such men, it’s that they all leave him in the end. It doesn’t help that Cole’s practically closeted in public, or that he refuses to seek treatment for his PTSD.
But like any good Marine, Cole’s willing to fight for what matters. And like the characters in Marc’s stories, he’s certain that if they try just hard enough, together they can find their own happily ever after.
Once A Marine takes place over the period of a year so I got to know the characters, unlike many M/M romances where the story spans a day, a weekend or a week at most. I really liked the MCs Marc and Cole and I think that Cat Grant did a fine job of giving them fully realized lives. However I did have a problem which I’ll come to later.
Marc used to be a college professor at Berkeley but lost his job due to the recession and was now busing tables at a diner while writing gay fiction on the side. He had already published a few stories over the past two years and hoped eventually to make writing his full time career. Although Marc’s last two lovers who had served in the Armed Forces had dumped him, when Cole walked into the diner Marc was immediately attracted to him probably because he realized he was “military.” It turned out that Cole had been a Major in the Marines for 12 years and had served 5 tours in Iraq before he was discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He wasn’t currently working but was studying towards a law degree. Unfortunately he was still in the closet.
When Cole left the diner that day he forgot his phone and Marc decided to return it to him since his name and address were on it. One thing led to another and they had a quick hookup, but Cole was not interested in taking things further and rejected Marc. However Cole showed up a few days later, they managed to mend fences and started seeing each other on a regular basis. But Cole had major problems, PTSD being one of them, and he wasn’t comfortable about being affectionate to Marc in public. To make matters worse he wasn’t doing well at university. Marc had his own issues and in between writing and working a full shift at the diner almost every day, time was at a premium. Also, because his previous lovers had not treated him well he was suspicious that Cole might do the same. Obviously this couple had quite a few difficult situations to work through while getting to know each other and the author let their problems play out without a big misunderstanding.
Both MCs were complex and flawed. Cole’s issues included his determination to live with PTSD without resorting to meds, the possibility of DADT being repealed and what this would mean to his future, the difficulties with his father about his sexual orientation, and a major crisis in his family. In terms of Marc he had self confidence issues that affected the relationship. Establishing his writing career would take a lot of time and dedication, together with dealing with Cole and being apprehensive about making another mistake after being burned twice. For Marc getting to know Cole took some time because he was closed in and created barriers between himself and Marc, but the author did a good job of ensuring that their relationship problems were resolved in a realistic way.
Although I liked this book I had a major concern with the points of view. There were two POVs and normally this would not be a problem but in this case one was Marc’s first person POV and the other Cole’s third person POV. Whenever this POV switch took place it pulled me out of the story – because the change seemed to be abrupt and it occurred on an irregular basis at different points in the story without any apparent strategy, timing or rationale. I have no idea whether this was an experiment for Cat Grant, but it didn’t work for me.
The MCs had a lot to deal with in this book and at times I wondered how the author would wrap up the story without leaving any threads hanging. In the end the major difficulty hindering the guys’ HEA was resolved very quickly and this diminished my enjoyment of the book somewhat. Since Once a Marine is almost 200 pages I felt that the pacing could have been handled much better. However romance fans will be happy because the protagonists went off into the sunset together. As is typical of this author her characters were well rounded and the secondary plot provided another layer of complexity to Marc’s and Cole’s story.
I think you will enjoy this book despite my issues because it’s well written, and although this is not my favourite book by this author I thought that the story was credible and the characters were three dimensional. I should also say that so far Riptide is making good on its promise of well edited manuscripts even though the copy I read was not the final version.