by Jessie Walker
Series: Unlucky 13, #11, #11
Published by Amazon
Release Date: August 29, 2023
Genres: Adult, Dark Romance, LGBTQ+, M/M
Format Read: ARC
Buy on Amazon
Welcome to Black Diamond Resort and Spa…
…paradise for the banished, and my newest prison.
Growing up, I was the problem child teachers didn’t know what to do with.
The troubled teen whose parents wished was never born.
The system’s made of cracks, and I fell through each and every one, all in a futile effort to protect the family legacy.
They tried to fix me.
And they failed. Epically.
Now, eighteen, and fresh out of Hell, I’m thrown into the last place I ever expected.
Enter Nolan Dresden.
Newly divorced. A recovering alcoholic. Almost double my age.
He doesn’t think he needs to be here anymore than I do, and all he sees when he looks at me is a privileged little prince.
But when a team building exercise takes a deadly turn, stranding Nolan and I out in the wild for a night, not only do we find ourselves bonding over our shared trauma…
But surrendering to a current neither of us can escape.
That’s all we have together before we have to come up for air.
He’s worried I’ll grow attached.
I’m worried he’s right.
But like the storms that rage inside me…
There’s no stopping the inevitable.
And when all is said and done, it’ll be a miracle if either of us walk away unscathed.
“Close your eyes. I’ll close mine too.”
I received this book for free from Author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I really enjoy Jessie Walker’s books a lot.
They are always full of emotion and very steamy and over all very easy to become immersed in.
This one didn’t quite hit the mark that I was hoping it would.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it and the characters were insanely likable (as always) but something just didn’t click for me the way her past work has.
Exiled is an age gap “dark” romance (14 years). I say “dark” with quotations because while the sex was very sexy; the relationship between Nolan and Skyler was not inherently rooted in anything taboo or “dark”. The content was dark, I mean… the entire book takes place at a rehab facility for addiction.
So obviously there are some content warnings to be had. ie: Alcoholism, suicidal ideations and attempts, conversion therapy, child neglect, substance abuse, among others.
But the relationship was sweet, and gentle and kind. The “darkness” was purely circumstantial.
Here’s a brief synopsis for y’all.
Because I went in completely blind and didn’t really know what I was getting into. I just know I love Jessie and so I was in!
Here goes: Nolan slipped, he drank, he thought he had it under control but he didn’t. He is sent to rehab as a condition of custody for his young daughter. Skyler has always had issues, and no one in his entire life had ever helped him to understand what was going on with his body, his brain, his emotions. They left him to drown in his own storm. The two poor babies end up at this super exclusive rehab (one of them needs it, the other is there as a last resort), there’s a drowning incident, a very sexy sex scene in a cave and then some big feelings that weren’t supposed to happen. A big fast forward OF YEARS, a tragic misunderstanding and then a happily ever after. All along the way, there is acceptance, understanding, kindness, thoughtfulness, deep love, and found family. Over all its a sappy gooey sad plot and it was really solid.
I thought Skyler was a sweet little angel, who must be protected at all costs. He had truly been failed by everyone around him. His parents, his doctors, his teachers: his entire “support system” was in fact, the opposite of supportive.
The poor guy was not an addict, he was not troubled, he was autistic. And he never received any help, acknowledgment of it, diagnosis or acceptance. Not once. It was terribly sad. He was dealing with these big and terrifying feelings and very real physical reactions to things and he was completely alone.
That was his history. Skyler’s parents wrote him off, sent him away and still he never received any support.
(Now I have very little experience with the autism spectrum)
I don’t know what it means to be on it myself or to have a loved one who is either. While Skyler’s past was more over the time than most (for plot purposes of course), I felt like he was properly represented.
Skyler’s character was never weak and Nolan treated him with the utmost respect.
He had full autonomy and when he finally owned it, it was a really warm and fuzzy moment to experience as a reader.
There was a lot of talk about his needs, and accommodations for him, but it was never in a negative manner. It was always spoken about with only love and respect for him as a person and not as a disability.
Which was very cool.
Nolan, also tragic, was a recovering alcoholic who slipped. But all it ever takes is once right? So alas, he was at the same rehab center that Skyler’s P.O.S. parents sent him to (BECAUSE THEY SUCK). He was full of self loathing over his mistakes, he was so up in his head and full of hatred of his past actions. He was just so ashamed of himself and it was really heartbreaking to see him so unforgiving and hateful towards himself.
Nolan was really goin through it. He stopped trusting himself, his family stopped trusting him, and he just couldn’t reconcile the changes he was working towards with the mistakes he had made.
I felt super bad for Nolan, he beat himself up for literally the entire book. It was just really sad to see him give up and punish himself for something that was so purely an accident (a terrible awful accident but an accident nonetheless). He made up for it in spades, be he just continued to deprive himself of everything good because he felt that he did not deserve it. I loved the story of addiction that Jessie Walker wrote, it was honest and heartfelt and didn’t shy away from the ugly bits. She never does, but it was still refreshing to not have Nolan’s alcoholism be written through rose colored glasses. The process of recovery, ongoing addiction, the forgiveness and the support needed to begin getting better from what is a disease was done really well. I loved that him and his family realized that they went about supporting him incorrectly the first go around, and then they course corrected. LOVED IT.
So while there was just so, so much to love about this book. Something did sort of fall flat for me. I’m not sure if it was because Skyler was in fact so much younger than Nolan, or if it was the fact that Nolan was so incredibly fixated on their age difference, but sometimes it felt a little yucky.
Age gaps never bother me, but I think the reason I couldn’t fully vibe with this novel was because there was an age difference, but also a maturity difference.
Skyler had an innocence to him that felt almost corrupted by some of the things Nolan was doing, the huge focus on the age difference definitely didn’t help me to be invested in the relationship either. Skyler had just so so many hurdles to work through that I felt like the relationship Nolan and him pursued together was just awful timing and I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that even years later they were still carrying a torch for each other.
I think while this wasn’t my favorite of Jessie Walkers, it was still a really good book and I can definitely see the appeal it will have to dark romance, neurodivergent and LGBTQIA readers.
Especially as all three were handled so delicately.
HUGE SPOILER WARNING!!
READ AT YOUR OWN RISK:
I did not love the ending. (see blow for why)
It was happy. Don’t get me wrong. It was very sweet. But Skyler was 26 years old with an 11 year old step daughter and a two year old son via surrogacy. Which is just… TOO YOUNG (IMO).
I also thought it was incredibly unrealistic that someone who has such a visceral reaction to stimuli and can’t handle change well, would go ahead and have a full on baby. Not to mention, he was in school full time, working, moving into a new home, adjusting to step parenting, getting on new medication, entering therapy and still learning what being on the autism spectrum really meant. I think it’s wonderful to showcase a neurodivergent character living a fulfilling life where the diagnosis isn’t looming over their heads. But at the same time; so much emphasis was put on Skyler’s inability to cope and how he could get violent at times that this ending didn’t make sense to me.
It’s the hill I will die on, but, a happy ending a baby does not make.
Emily is a coffee loving, cat snuggling, hairstylist and book-a-holic.
Having always been a voracious reader and devouring books at a breakneck speed, joining the bookish and blogging community seemed like a natural next step. She loves giving recommendations to friends and family and then very gently (and not forcefully at all) asking for their opinions after they complete each chapter.
Her reviews tend to be goofy, a little sweary, on the more impassioned side and maybe sometimes a little self deprecating.
Emily typically enjoys reading almost every genre, including (but not limited to) monster romance, literary fiction, rom-com, contemporary, LGBTQ+, low/urban fantasy, paranormal, dystopian, sci-fi, gothic romance or basically any book that will make her cry.