What happens when a sequel changes genres from its first installment? What does it mean when a novel series shifts from erotica to a more “classically defined” romance? I’m SO glad that you asked, as this week the Book Club reviews the second in a series from an author that started by visiting the Smut Vault in her last appearance. The air here is a little fresher, the sky is a little more blue, and maybe this time we’ll keep both hands holding the book for a change. Actually on second thought, I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep (cough). Let’s just dig in and enjoy a new expression of passion from new friend of TehBen.com, Marla Machado.
(Minor spoilers regarding Book 1 of the series are included below)
The Road to Forever by Marla Machado is the 2019 follow-up to the erotica novel The Road Back written in 2016. (Here’s our review of The Road Back). While the first novel dealt with the roller coaster relationship of the tragically widowed Karina and tech magnate alpha-male Sawyer, The Road to Forever introduces us to a fresh new character. Karina’s sister, Hannah Gomez is far less jaded to the world, but still shares her sister’s tough characteristics. Just getting out of the police academy, Hannah wants to make the world a little safer, and somehow make a difference in wake of the family’s hardship and tumultuous relationship with the criminal world. Hannah is also hopelessly in love with Ian Salerno, the police officer that was partnered with Karina’s late husband at the time of his death. While Ian may be a love interest in this book, he spent most of the first novel as an antagonist. Ian was a man blinded by responsibility for his late partner’s family. His blinders of personal grief and survivor’s guilt kept him from seeing how much of a cock he was being to Karina and Sawyer…and no doubt was ignoring goo-goo eyed sister Hannah in retrospect. Ian mended the errors of his ways and finished the first novel as a rekindled friend of the family. Our story today picks up just after the wedding of Karina and Sawyer, as Hannah wakes up hungover and feeling a mountain of regret. For years she’s wanted nothing more than to wake up next to Ian Salerno, but not like this! Losing her virginity to her first love on the night of her sister’s wedding sounds good on paper…but holy shit she’s got to get out of here. After an expert stealth move to get out of his hotel room, Hannah is forced to pretend like nothing happened. Well at least Ian won’t have to pretend, he can’t remember who he slept with last night at all. No matter, Ian has more important things to worry about, like Hannah’s new role working undercover with Ian Salerno as her handler. Oh…..crap.
In book one, ninety percent of the novel was from the perspective of the female lead. Every now and then we were supplied a reaction from the guy when situations were intense, but it was mostly pulled from Karina’s journal of love and lust. In The Road to Forever however, the author employs multiple points of view, with a regular back and forth between Hannah and Ian sprinkled with secondary characters during crucial moments as well. This format matches the author’s naturally improving writing style, finding a little more polish and greater focus on specific character tone. Each character has a distinct resonance that speaks to their role in the story. Sexual moments also apply to this metric, in both good ways and bad. Hannah is a passionate young woman, despite being new to the whole sexy-time thing. She gives herself to the alpha tendencies of Ian, and sparks fly throughout. Ian is equally captivated sexually, but his prospective yields him as an absolute maniac when feeling amorous. I appreciate the change in mood, but holy shit…
Despite Ian’s moments of…questionable verbosity, the story presented is realistic and exciting. The characters deal with real problems, and there are moments of genuine panic as Hannah is undercover as a college student to bust a human trafficking ring. Although far from a damsel in distress, Ian feels responsible for the young cop’s well being, and the lust/love from such a relationship blossoms. While not a dark romance, there are certainly dark elements throughout that will challenge the reader’s comfort to remind you that the world isn’t all sunshine and blowjobs, even when your sexual desires are regularly fulfilled.
Verdict: The Road to Forever by Marla Machado expands upon the ideas presented in the first novel by providing a more realistic story with more identifiable characters. While a little rough in content and characterization, the author takes some bold moves that have a good payoff, yielding a satisfying conclusion. Good romance shouldn’t be an unrealistic swing from lust to love, and this is an excellent example. There will always be a few bumps in the road, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.