Every day Livia McHugh rides the train to the city to attend college, and every day she offers a sunny smile to her fellow riders on the platform. Her friendly offering even extends to the homeless man who always hovers in the shadows. She considers her gesture to be polite and courteous, not something special or out of the ordinary, and never in her wildest imaginings would she have guessed that another human being relied on her smiles to bring hope and light to his darkened world. The day that all changes is the day Livia witnesses the homeless man being harassed by a group of teenage bullies. Just as they are about to do him bodily harm, Livia steps in the breach to protect him, and then she learns just how special she and her smiles really are.
Blake Hartt lives in a world of dark, twisted memories of childhood abuse that have left him afraid to go out in the sun. Instead, he spends his days hovering in the shade of the train station platform, counting the smiles of the lovely young woman that have become as essential to life as the air he breathes. When she stands up to the bullies on his behalf, it becomes the beginning of a beautiful friendship that soon blossoms into much more. Blake can scarcely believe that this unique and precious woman actually sees him for the man he is and doesn't turn away. Slowly Livia draws him out of the shadows and into a world that's so much more special with her by his side. But Blake's brother walks on the wrong side of the law and has many enemies, while Livia's jealous, possessive ex-boyfriend refuses to let her go. Eventually, both converge to threaten Blake and Livia's fledgling love and newfound happiness before it's really had a chance grow. Will their love be enough to hold them together when bullets start to fly?
Wow! Poughkeepsie is without a doubt one of the most unique and incredibly well-written romances I've ever had the privilege of reading. For still being relatively new to her craft, Debra Anastasia is a masterful storyteller and solid writer who definitely has a bright future ahead of her. I was absolutely astounded by the depth of characterizations found in this story, as well as the tight plot. I had a hard time putting this book down and was always eager to pick it back up again. There was truly never a dull moment in this first installment of The Poughkeepsie Brotherhood.
Livia is a kind, sweet, caring person who always has a smile for everyone at the train station, even the homeless man who everyone else ignores. She can't stand to see anyone being mistreated, so one day, with barely a thought for her own safety, she steps in when a group of teenage ruffians start harassing the homeless man. Little did she know that her act of bravery would change her life forever by drawing her into his life and introducing her to a rough and dangerous world she never could have imagined. Livia is very thoughtful and gentle as she gradually gets to know Blake on a more personal basis, and the man she finds inside is utterly beautiful to her. She doesn't really care what the other people at the train station think of her spending time with a homeless guy. Livia is a psychology student and a very smart girl, who is so much more than her slimy jerk of a boyfriend ever gave her credit for. Livia's course of study gave her the resources she needed to help Blake begin his journey of overcoming his delusions, but she never saw him as just another patient or a pet project. She always treated him with the utmost respect and viewed him as an extraordinary human being who simply needed a little extra help and TLC. In fact, Livia was a very astute person to see beyond the outward trappings of Blake's delusions and homelessness that caused most people to turn away to find the beautiful person he was inside. She's also incredibly gentle and patient in her attempts to draw him out and help him finally heal the wounds of the past that have put him in this state. Livia was quite courageous on more than one occasion, doing whatever it took to keep Blake safe, even if it meant waltzing into the den of iniquity run by his brother or bravely fighting off a man with a gun. She was a true heroine in every sense of the word and the very best kind, because she was sweet and loving while still exhibiting a rare inner fortitude in her dealings with Blake and his brothers.
I believe Blake may be the most unusual romance hero I've ever read. I certainly can't think of any other heroes who are homeless and harbor a mental delusion. At least, he manages to stay clean and his delusion doesn't hurt anyone else. It just makes him afraid of what he is in the sun and therefore, keeps him trapped in the dark. He lives to see Livia and her smiles every day. They're the only thing that keeps him going. In the beginning, Blake is very mysterious and yet at the same time, incredibly romantic. He's a true gentleman in every sense of the word, feeling it's his duty to protect a lady and look out for her safety. He's also very intelligent and greatly values proper etiquette and precise grammar, leading Livia's sister to call him Old Timey Man. Blake is utterly sweet, gentle, and kind and wouldn't harm a fly. I love how he can see into Livia, sensing her moods and discerning the lovely person she is inside when others sometimes miss it. Blake is a very proud man who doesn't want to take handouts. He believes that everything he receives should be earned in some way, and is truly grateful for each and every thing he gets. He's even thankful for and observant of the beauty of nature. While he's truly sweet and lovable, Blake's obvious mental problems, not surprisingly, stem from horrific childhood abuse. He's a very broken and damaged hero who has to go on an emotional journey to find healing, but despite his flaws, he's an incredibly romantic and seductive man. Also buried deep within him is an extraordinary musical talent. He doesn't just play music; he feels it and creates it within his soul. Blake is one of the most wonderful beta heroes I've ever read, and he has more than earned a spot on my favorite heroes list.
While Poughkeepsie is technically Blake and Livia's story, it has an ensemble cast with multiple POVs, the most important of which are arguably Blake's two foster brothers, Beckett and Cole. Beckett is a complex, larger-than-life character whose personality kind of overwhelms the story but in a good way. Beckett is the ultimate alpha male and a very, very bad boy, yet somewhere deep inside him is a seed of goodness and decency. He loves his brothers unconditionally and from the moment they met in foster care, he has viewed it as his responsibility to look out for them. Unfortunately, his brand of looking out for them includes being involved in pretty much every illegal activity known to man. The fact that Beckett would literally do anything for his brothers can be very touching, but at the same time, he often takes that self-imposed charge to extremes. Normally, someone as bad as Blake would not be my type in the least, but there's something about him that really gets to me. His vulnerabilities are quite genuine, and he knows how bad he is. He doesn't really think he's worth saving and believes his days on Earth are numbered. One person who would argue against that assertion is his love interest, Eve, who is a very complicated woman herself. Beckett unintentionally wronged her in the worst possible way when she became collateral damage in one of his crimes. She has every reason in the world to hate him, yet finds that she can't and instead makes it her mission in life to look out for him instead. Beckett's sincere apology for the pain he caused Eve along with his willingness to allow her to kill him without a fight was very touching. These two have a long road ahead of them to find an HEA together, and it looks like they're going to have the next two books to accomplish that.
Blake's other brother, Cole, is a man of God, who is considering entering the priesthood until he meets Livia's sister, Kyle. These two have an immediate, magical connection, which typically wouldn't work well for me, but their relationship is imbued with so much tenderness and emotion, I couldn't help believing in their love. I loved how Cole could see the real Kyle under all the bluster and sarcasm. Kyle is an emotionally damaged woman with very low self-esteem, and as a result, she's very promiscuous. Just by being near him, Cole is able to give Kyle the sense of specialness that she was previously only able to achieve by sleeping with other men. What Cole did for Kyle when she first tried to seduce him was incredibly romantic. He didn't want her in that way unless he could have the real her, the complete her, in his arms, and once he did, it was utterly beautiful. Normally, I don't find violence sexy, but there's something oddly compelling about a man who is willing to kill to protect his woman, which Cole was. Since there are three books in the series, I originally thought that each brother was going to be the focus of each book, but considering the track that Cole and Kyle's romance took in this story, I have a feeling that's not going to be the case. Still, I'll enjoy seeing them in the next two books. Cole views it as his mission to save Beckett's soul from the blackness that has permeated it for so long, so I'm sure he'll have a key role to play.
Blake, Beckett, and Cole couldn't be more different if they tried, and yet despite the lack of blood ties, they're true brothers in every sense of the word and the only real family each of them has until they meet the loves of their lives. In this respect, as well as the dark, gritty nature of the story and the irreverent humor, The Poughkeepsie Brotherhood almost eerily reminds me of The Black Dagger Brotherhood except in a contemporary setting, so fans of one may enjoy the other. Debra Anastasia has created an intricate world populated with complex and compelling characters who are far more than what they seem at first glance. I loved the way many of the secondary characters ended up being connected to the main characters. If this story had any weakness, I'd say it was in the love scenes, which are an odd mixture of sweet, tender sensuality that is quite beautiful and raw intensity that borders on the erotic. Yet, regardless of how they play out, these scenes aren't particularly long or descriptive, which I found a little unusual for a book that otherwise pretty much lives on the edge (by contrast The Black Dagger Brotherhood is known for its incredibly hot love scenes). Also, there are only five in the entire story, spread out over three couples, which isn't very many for a book of this length. However, I'm more than willing to overlook this one small foible, because Poughkeepsie was otherwise sheer perfection. I'm dying to continue the series to find out just how the author manages to believably redeem two cold-blooded killers like Beckett and Eve and how they find their HEA.
Note: This book contains a significant amount of strong language that includes a lot of crude slang as well as profanities. Also, there is a pretty high body count, although the actual descriptions of the violence, blood, and gore are relatively moderate.
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