Book Reviews

How Not to Break (Lovestrong 4) by Susan Hawke

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Military/Former Military / Age Gap / Romance
Reviewed by ParisDude on 12-June-2020

Book Blurb

Take one former SEAL with a healthy dose of regret…  

Nick St. Cloud is living with shame from the one time he let his lust override his sense of honor. He’s haunted by the memory of when he made love to his best friend’s eighteen-year-old son. The tragic accident that happened that same night has only compounded his guilt. A decade later, he’s doing his best to be there for Charlie’s son, but anything more than that just wouldn’t be right… would it?

Plus the younger guy who he’s tried to forget…

It’s been ten years. Ten long years. Does Shaw Michaelson feel bad about having seduced his dad’s best friend? Umm, maybe? Although he could’ve done things differently, Shaw can’t find it within himself to be sorry for the hottest night of his life with the one man he’s never been able to forget. The man he’s patterned every subsequent relationship after… yeah, Shaw totally has a type.

Equals a pair of men who deserve a second chance at a first time. 

The two men are living in an uneasy peace within the same small town and circle of friends, being careful not to let the other get close enough to open old wounds. All their walls fall when a stalker begins terrorizing Shaw, sending him running to the one man he knows will keep him safe.

Book Review

A fortyish ex-Navy SEAL and a not-yet-thirty redhead trying to come to terms with a shared past that is part painful part shameful part lustful—that is, in a nutshell, the primary plot of this last novel of Susan Hawke’s ‘Lovestrong’ bundle (for the readers’ information, it is not the last book of the series, however, as the author has released a fifth novel, ‘How to Heal’, in April 2019; it is not included in the four-plus-one-bundle I have been reading). I have already met these two guys several times throughout the series: Nick St. Cloud is the owner of the small town’s gay bar where, on Thursdays, the local drag queens perform. He is a somewhat taciturn Fighting Single Sugar Daddy with a rare smile, bulging muscles, and testosterone aplenty. Shaw Michaelson is his late best friends’ son—the couple has died in a car accident some years ago—with whom he has had a previous, sizzling-hot encounter the author has recounted in her short prequel ‘How Not to Wait’. Although the chemistry and mutual attraction between them were obvious at once, Nick has been ashamed of his actions ever since, and his relationship with several-years-younger Shaw has been jeopardized in the process.


Shaw has inherited his parents’ toy store Timeless Treasures, which he has been managing ever since the couple’s untimely death. He has had some off-and-on affairs, namely with police officer Rick Matthews, a hot alpha male who has become his best friend, but unfortunately, Shaw is the living proof that the old saying is true: you shall always remember your first time… which means in his case that his heart is still beating for a certain sexy bar owner, despite the latter’s apparent disinterest. Things change, however, when a threatening stalker bursts into Shaw’s life. At first, he receives flowers and bossy messages, but soon, he realizes he is not even safe in his house despite its state-of-the-art security systems; the stalker has somehow managed to enter and take photos of the young man during his sleep. Rick and Nick persuade Shaw that he had better live with the latter for the time being until the police can find out who is behind the increasingly creepy messages and the stalking. Of course, being together in such close quarters can only mean one thing for the two men: that the old flame might be rekindled faster than they can say ‘Hello’… But maybe now is the right moment…


Unsurprisingly I have ached for Nick and Shaw to become an item ever since their mutual attraction was first mentioned in one of the previous installments; that hope has become stronger while I was reading the prequel ‘How Not to Wait’, so I was eager to see how things would work out. Cleverly, the author has added the secondary stalker plot, which gave this novel the necessary oomph and a certain sense of urgency, not to mention a lot of suspense. I will not disclose how that storyline ends; suffice it to say that I suspected the culprit quite quickly (reading crime fiction does something to one’s gray cells, I gather), but still rushed through the pages with bated breath. The ending was satisfactory both in the romantic as and in the criminal departments, which is certainly due to Hawke’s good sense of rythm, her effortless, engaging writing, and the nice familiarity I already had with most of the secondary characters, who, being Shaw’s best friends, show up and support the young man throughout his ordeal. Special mention for Dana, Nick’s sister-in-law, who has already helped Corbin and Andy in book one of the series. She is a lovely character, a loyal and loving friend, the best shoulder to lean on when problems arise, with loads of intuitive and clever insight, a woman everybody would love to have in their lives.


I confess I felt closer to Shaw, to whose thoughts and emotions I could better relate. He is a young man who seems to be vulnerable, almost helpless, but who shows a lot of determination when needed. In his strange relationship with Nick he is also the first to try to understand the other man’s motivations whereas the older man seems to relish keeping himself imprisoned—a tad too long for my taste—in his self-loathing for actions that have occurred in the past. Nick needs quite a while to overcome the demons of those years, procrastinating and going around in sackcloth and ashes, so to say, as if he were responsible for his best friends’ death. I didn’t dislike Nick, but I often felt the urge to shake him (in real life I wouldn’t have dared, for I might be crazy, but not that crazy—the man has got those muscles!) and tell him to look forward and get on with his life. Luckily Dana did what I wanted to do and talked some sense into the stubborn man. When the romance started to blossom, I surprised myself sporting a huge smile, so I guess Susan Hawke has done yet another good job in providing an engaging read. I think I have no choice now—I have to read book number five as well.





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


Additional Information

Format ebook, print and audio
Length Novel, 239 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 09-March-2019
Price $3.99 ebook, $14.99 paperback, $17.99 audiobook
Buy Link