Dana and Erryn review ‘How Not to Sin (Lovestrong #3)’ by Susan Hawke. The ebook was published February 19, 2019 and 228 pages. The audiobook version of this story was narrated by Michael Pauley, released on March 20, 2019, and is 6 hrs and 17 mins long. A copy was provided for an honest review.
Why Erryn read this book: I am loving this series!
Why Dana read this book: I love the LGBT community of Rockford Bluff. I was most interested in this book for it’s ties to religion and what faith means.
One regular guy who happens to be a preacher….
Reverend Dr. Gabe Samson doesn’t think he’s better than any of the people in his church, so please don’t put him on a pedestal. While he’s never hidden the fact that he identifies as bisexual, he’s never acted on it either. Gabe isn’t happy to learn that the sole reason he was hired to pastor the LGBT-friendly church was that the ruling elders wanted a safe poster child for inclusivity – in other words, they wanted the rainbow flag without letting it fly.
Plus one easygoing, new-age kinda guy….
Seth Thomas owns Holistic Healing, a metaphysical shop and yoga studio. He’s never really been a relationship kinda guy, but only because he hasn’t met the right man yet. Seth is laid back and goes with the flow. When fate drops a hot preacher in his lap, why wouldn’t he accept the gift?
Equals a pair of men who click from the start.
The two men find it almost too easy to get together, especially Gabe, who is fully embracing his bi side for the first time. Nothing in life is simple though. While Gabe and Seth are busy falling in love, they face an anti-gay hate group, a divided church, and a ruling elder who is hell-bent on sowing discord. Between Gabe’s patient wisdom and Seth’s snark, the pair fight the growing drama with the strongest weapons in their arsenal: love and humor.
The synopsis does summarize the book quite accurately but I want to expand on the humor in the book. Ms. Hawke brings snarkiness to a whole new level while keeping the adorableness of the characters. I’m thinking about the scene with an elderly woman, crystal phalluses, and enough humor to have me laughing out loud in a parking lot. Fortunately it was empty although I would have willingly put up with a few side looks. I’m not a new age person, but I find it fascinating that crystals vibrate at different frequencies. See, learning something new every day.
What I am familiar with is hate and there is plenty of that in this book. An elder in Pastor Gabe’s church played a major role in Book 1 of the series and he’s back again with a vengeance. Gabe is fighting to keep the church inclusive while this man is fighting to keep it exclusive, claiming God does not approve of homosexuality. The biblical arguments went a bit over my head as for years I’ve seen the book as a weapon to be wielded. The author’s liturgical knowledge was strong and deftly handled well. Did it change my position on religion? No. But I don’t think it was meant to. I adored Pastor Gabe who is walking a tightrope between the two factions of his church. I also adored his secretary Dottie who was the largest of tigers, protecting those she sees as her own.
I loved Seth’s easy acceptance of Gabe and his life. He embraces his role as boyfriend with great enthusiasm because although he’s had other relationships, none of them compare to what he’s found with Gabe. I’m not necessarily sold on new age stuff either, but I do believe in meditation and the benefits of yoga. So although there was lots of angst surrounding the church and the religious storyline, the relationship between the two men was fun and cute.
This is another great book in the Lovestrong series and I have to give a shout-out to Michael Pauley for his brilliant narration. His portrayal of Andy’s Gam Gam and the secretary Dottie was wonderful. He carries the voices from previous books and provides a stead performance. A great listen.
10/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 5/5 Stars
So, I was raised Catholic and even though I don’t go to church and I have ideas that might not be supported by my religion, I still consider myself a person of faith. Maybe I am guilty of picking and choosing what I want to believe about God, but I choose to pay attention to the parts of the Bible that talk about not judging and loving one another. I know that there are others like me, but I know there are people who use religion to hurt others. That theme is often used in LGBT+ books when parents kick their kids out, or like in this book, protesters crash events screaming about sin instead of love. So I always find it refreshing when a book features a God who loves instead of hates. (Though you will find both kinds of religious people in this book.)
Needless to say, I definitely relate to Gabe. He is a minister at a Presbyterian Church attended by some of the main characters in the previous books. In addition to his duties at the church he uses his minor in counseling to run the anger management group. I’d like to think his acceptance of others who don’t practice the same faith or any faith mirrors my own. When his car breaks down and Seth rescues him from the cold, he doesn’t try to preach or get him to go to church. He respects Seth and his yoga studio/holistic business. And Seth is a non believer who doesn’t feel the need to argue against religion. Both men are just good guys who want to help others, in whatever way they are called to do it, and without pushing an agenda. The rescue turns into an overnight visit and the development of feelings and carnal thoughts.
Of course, not everything can be sunshine and roses as these two find their way together. Some members of his church only wanted the bisexual preacher there as a token of their acceptance of LGBT people and never expected him to actually find interest in a member of the same sex. When the very annoying and hateful Harold Danvers, wants to pull their church out of the Presbyterian faith, and to rebuke homosexuality things really start to get crazy. Harold is the father of the boy who bullied Grayson in book one. Harold is the father of a possibly gay son who harasses others because he knows he won’t ever be accepted.
The town of Rockford Bluff has had it’s anti-lgbt members, like Harold, but up until this book, the bullying took place on the down low. They might have spewed hate from the comfort of their living room, but ultimately I felt like all the characters felt like they had a safe space in their town because in fact, there seems to be a decent amount of LGBT people and allies. Harold might have been pushed to the edge by worries about his own son, or seeing Gabe with Seth, but suddenly there is property damage and painted slurs. A Westboro-like group is suddenly protesting outside of the church. I feel like Gabe and Seth had the roughest start of all the couples because of the microscope they found themselves under.
I probably spent too long discussing the hate that Gabe and Seth had to face, but it is so hard for me to see what I believe in twisted. It is so hard to see humans treat other humans so horribly. And yes, that does play a part of this story, but the love that grows between the two men is stronger. The love they get from their friends, like Larry/Honey, Dottie, the icky boys, Shaw, and Grayson (to name a few) is also stronger than what some close-minded people think.
I love all the books in this series but I have to say that this one hit close to home with me. The narration by Michael Pauley was great as well. I definitely recommend this book and the whole series. Can’t wait to see what comes next.
10/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 5/5 Stars
Susan Hawke is more widely known for her mpreg writings as Susi Hawke; this new name is a departure from that. Whether written by Susan or Susi, the books are filled with that all-important love, laughter, and family; the only difference is that this name has no male pregnancy.