Catalysts (Book 1)
The structure of this book is unusual but makes sense once you realize that it originally consisted of two books and that the first book originally consisted of a series of even shorter interludes. This narrative style might make the story disjointed for some readers, especially those who are looking for a more traditional romance narrative between two (or three) people. Warning: That is not this book.
Nothing about these three men is traditional, which made me love them all the more. For Will and Hugh, especially, I even found that I cared about the characters and their growth more as individuals than as a couple. This element works out perfectly for the storyline, and even Truman grew on me once he entered the picture. The escapism here is how these three characters work together, not the fact that they happen to.
My biggest quibble occurred at the beginning. Will agrees to learn about submission from Hugh, and it almost immediately slips into a combination of submission and masochism as if the two are automatically related. That they are for this character is fine, but I would have preferred a bit more discussion about it, especially considering Hugh’s initial mentorship role.
Resisting the urge to binge the rest of this series, to learn more about Will, Hugh, and Truman immediately, and the others we meet in this particular story, will be very difficult. I already have the next queued up on the Kindle, and as usual, I cannot think of higher praise.
Unexpected Gifts (Book 2)
This at-turns sweet and sexy novella functions as both a sequel and epilogue to the first book in this series. As an epilogue, it ensures to the readers that Will always has a place with “the boyfriends” (Hugh and Truman), clarifying upon the unique happily ever after in the main book. As a sequel, however, it does an excellent job of moving the lives of every character forward, even those who are only bit players in the first book, because life isn’t a stagnant thing.
Will doesn’t deserve Mollie, but I want them to live happily ever anyway. Hugh and Truman don’t deserve Will, but I have the feeling that even two professional shrinks would have a difficult time discussing that particular aspect of their relationship (and I also want them to live happily ever after). Mollie is currently my favorite character in any book, and I want to hang out with her and talk about life (and Will and the boyfriends).
The title’s reference to “unexpected gifts” is both literal (in all the best sexy ways) and metaphorical. The gift to the reader is more stories featuring Ripper’s fascinating characters and intertwining relationships. As usual, best praise: I’ve already purchased the next book in the series.
Take Three Breaths (Book 3)
This poignant book takes a character in mental distress and doesn’t make them the narrative point of view. Which is good, because Hugh’s angst drips off the page even from an outside perspective. Instead, it focuses on the relationship in danger from the ennui and is a love story only in how much Truman fights for Hugh. An important distinction is that he is not trying to “fix” Hugh; he merely asks to be allowed to be an equal partner when things are rough.
(I can’t believe I just used the word “ennui” in a review with a straight face, but Hugh, of all the characters I’ve ever come across, lives up to the description.)
Of course, Hugh and Truman’s relationship does not exist in a vacuum, and this book also shows the importance of an external support network. Truman turns to others in Hugh’s life for aid, to various degrees of success.
The sexy bits in this book are rife with emotional angst but are still a meaningful way that these characters connect. Another set of outside events dashes the anticipated finale. Disappointing, on the surface, but essential in how the tables are turned on the characters. They show Hugh exactly what Truman has been trying to express, and the story and their relationship are the stronger for it.
Breaking Down (Book 4)
This short novel features two significant events within Will and Mollie’s relationship. The first does not cause the second, but it leads to it. It’s almost as if Ripper knew ze wanted to write about these two incidents in these characters’ lives, but couldn’t bear to spend too much time on them individually. So, Ripper shoved them into one book, ripped a few characters to shreds, and then moved on with the series.
I don’t write that like it’s necessarily a bad thing. For a series that already contains plenty of angst (looking at you, Hugh), spending two entire separate novels on the aftermath of Will learning about Mollie’s assault and then the break-up of the two characters would have made for some pretty dark and sad reading.
The underlying messages here are clear. Love alone cannot support a relationship – it has to be a true partnership with both immediate and long-term goals for the continual development of said relationship. Mollie and Will are still perfect for each other. They just weren’t in the same place in their lives. I will, of course, spend the rest of the series comparing any romantic interest of Will’s with Mollie because “reality” has no bearing on this reader’s desire for everyone to get a happily ever after.
Speaking of happily ever after, the other message is again the importance of support systems outside a romantic relationship. The boyfriends will still be there for Will (and Mollie). It’s not always pretty, but Ripper drops some crumbs that I’m anxious to follow to the next book in this excellent series.
Roller Coasters (Book 5)
I’m not going to lie; it was tempting to skip forward to the wedding book (no spoilers, it’s literally in the title). But I adore these characters, and even though I knew poor Will was headed for more pain, I dove into this story first.
Will’s relationship with Molly was the stuff of legend, so it’s no surprise that things fizzled with Davey. A major missing component of this book is a discussion of polyamory regarding Will’s relationship with the boyfriends. He’s been with them for years at this point; dropping the physical component of that relationship just because he’s dating someone new was never going to be as easy as Will seemed to think. Reading that as an outside perspective was difficult, and the closest I’ve come to wanting to smack any of these characters upside the head for being dumb (my general litmus test for character development issues).
However, I do appreciate that Will being with the boyfriends was not the real reason for the breakup. Nor was, it is essential to mention, Davey’s representation as gender queer. This relationship hurdle was another integral path in Will’s journey of life, and I’m glad I took the time to appreciate it.
But I’m a sucker for weddings, and Hugh and Truman are inevitable. Luckily, the boyfriends are mature and smart enough to know Will needs to come along for the ride, even if Will hasn’t accepted that fact himself.
The Boyfriends Tie the Knot (Book 6)
I’m a sucker for weddings, so it would have taken a lot wrong with it for me to dislike this book. Spoiler alert: I loved it. This book concludes plot threads woven through this series for multiple character arcs. But this isn’t a “happily ever after” story. It’s the beginning of the new chapter in a journey.
This story is also chock-full of the secondary series characters I’ve come to know and love. I appreciate that their relationships have evolved off-screen because the rest of the world does not exist in a vacuum. Even better: Molly is back, and maybe she and Will are finally at an appropriate point in their lives to give a relationship another shot.
The majority of the “drama” in this book is wedding-related, which might not be up every reader’s alley. Luckily, Truman’s Midwestern family is on hand to provide an excellent collection of villains. It could all be boringly cliché, but Ripper gives them each just enough personality to make them recognizable in every reader’s life.
And finally, the integral role of Will in Hugh and Truman’s relationship is acknowledged and verified, which is both as sweet and sexy as it sounds.
The Honeymoon (Book 7)
Exactly what it says on the tin; not sure whether anyone would expect anything different. Boundaries are pushed on the BDSM front, but there are no significant developments in relationship status.
Utterly self-indulgent, probably for both the author and readers. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with that this far in a series.
Worth reading if you’re already invested in these books and these characters. Not a great place to start if you’re a new reader considering whether to check out the series.
Extremes (Book 8)
A wedding (and honeymoon) doesn’t mean that the story is over. For these characters, life is just beginning. I’m glad that Ripper takes us on a journey into that future, even though it’s not easy. All relationships evolve, and all relationships take constant work to maintain. We get a glimpse of how important both are for the adorable trio of Hugh, Truman, and Will in this novella.
For a couple of therapists, Hugh and Truman are astoundingly dense sometimes. I didn’t quite want to smack anyone upside the head in this one, but I came pretty close.
The “subplot” of Will’s desire with Molly and how he decides to address it with the boyfriends left me with a slight sense of disconnect in how they related. Again, even the care and feeding of this relationship takes work, especially when things go a bit off the rails for everyone involved.
I missed Molly in this story. However, I do recognize that shuffling her off to Europe allows Ripper to mess with zir characters’ heads in a way that leaves them no easy way out.
Untrue (Book 9)
On the one hand, this story was a heart-wrenching ending to such a fabulous series. I think I was just as heartbroken by Truman’s actions as Hugh and Will, mainly because they seemed so meaningless in the face of his existing relationships. However, problems existed within those relationships that sorely needed to be addressed, and Truman’s actions, though difficult, were undoubtedly the wake-up call everyone required.
I adored Ian as a voice of reason when dealing with these three semi-emotionally stunted men. Without him, I might have wanted to smack them all upside the head—a lot. Fortunately, Ian’s open-mindedness and compassion led my favorite trio out of the darkness. Truman, Hugh, and Will had plenty of work to do on their own, as well, which was shown on-page to the extent necessary without devolving into Ripper making us experience too much of his characters’ self-flagellation.
The over-lapping points of view at scene shifts were perhaps used too often during this book. I don’t think each one was necessary, and therefore the genuinely impactful moments of revelation might have been lost later in the book as I skimmed forward to get to the “new” material.
In the end, though, these three amazing men finally realize that they’re stronger as three than as two plus one. I’m not sure that adding additional layers of commitment to their relationship so closely on the heels of a breach in trust was necessarily the best idea, but it was definitely romantic. I’m crossing my fingers for their ultimate happily ever after, and I’m glad that so many additional works exist in this universe so that I’ll get to check in with these guys often.