Author ~ Alexa Land
Published ~ 3rd December 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Nico Dombruso has learned to keep the world at arm’s length after being badly burned by his last relationship. Despite that, he decides to let himself enjoy a summer fling while on vacation in Italy. It’s just sex after all, so what’s the harm?
He gets so much more than he bargained for when he meets gorgeous, mysterious, art dealer Luca Caruso. The connection between them is undeniable, and for the first time in years, Nico starts to consider the possibility of trusting his tattered heart to someone again.
But when a secret is revealed that shakes him to his core and threatens to tear his family apart, Nico runs, so far and so fast that no one, not even the man who was making him believe he could love again, might ever be able to reach him.
I can’t believe it. This is Ms. Land’s 10th installment in her “Firsts and Forever” series. And “All I Believe” is just as new, just as fresh, just as funny and moving as the previous nine books. You would think that at least one of them would have been a dud. I mean there’s a law of averages right? But no, every single episode takes off from the previous one, even though the focus has shifted to another character. Perhaps that’s what makes this such a coherent series, it builds on the huge cast that’s been introduced in the previous books, but the camera angle changes to focus on a different character each time. We’ve grown to know each character before he becomes the center of his own tale, and we are assured of seeing how things spin out, over time, in the books that follow.
Ms. Land’s primary characters are mostly members of the widespread Dombruso clan, the former Mafioso family-gone-legit, and the men who love them. The insane matriarch, Nana Dambruso, is the glue that holds it all together. This no-nonsense octogenarian, the grand dame of unrestrained energy and great good humor, is like a magnet that draws some of the least appreciated gay citizens of San Francisco into her web, which is her family. Not only is she funny, over the top, often ridiculous, but she’s got a heart as big as San Francisco, a heart steeped not only in tolerance and acceptance, but a grand spirit that embraces the unique sensibilities, talents and attitudes of the gay community. She loves her “gay homosexuals” like she loves her own children, without reservation or conditions. It’s the love of this force-of-nature that grounds the stories and moves the reader so profoundly. Finding and celebrating love, especially for her “lost boys” is her mission in life, and she embraces it with gusto.
This particular story centers on Nico, the “serious” grandson who has spent the last two years recovering from a heartbreaking relationship with a cheating boyfriend – whom Nico caught in bed with his lifelong best friend. Distraught at the sudden sad ending to the only real relationship he’s ever had, heartbroken and fleeing from Los Angeles, he gave up his passion, working as an EMT, to go to Law School. Not that he wanted to go to Law School; he just desperately needed to change his life, all of it. He moves into Nana’s huge mansion while he does the “starving student” thing. Nico is a good boy. He’s smart, naïve (innocent might be a better word), beautiful, but has built a wall around his heart to ensure he will never be hurt again, betrayed by someone to whom he gave everything. Aha, here’s a boy who needs Nana Dombruso’s help, whether he wants it or not.
The book opens on an outrageous scene that sent me rolling on the floor. You just have to imagine Nana, her hot young gay assistant, Jessie, and Nico (the dour one determined to avoid fun under pain of death) trying to get through TSA security screening at the San Francisco airport. They’re about to board a plane to Nana’s family home in Sicily, for a vacation. An actual vacation! Will wonders never cease?
However, Nana has a big problem with the security screening. In fact, she has a problem with all authority, period. Not only does she refuse to have her “lady bits” photographed on the Xray (she’s sure it will end up on the Internet, everything does!), but they won’t let her board with the assortment of inappropriate fluids she packed in her carry-on. Lube, tons of lube, all kinds of flavored and scented lube, lube to encourage Nico to have a hot vacation fling. He’s been two years without any sex, he’s long overdue, and as Nana puts it, “you’ve got to slick it before you stick it!.” I never had a grandmother like that. My loss.
She engages in an intense session of “keep away” with the TSA agents, refusing to give up the lube, particularly the bacon-scented bottle. She argues with the TSA agents when she can’t bring it on board:
“Why the hell not? Do you think this is some terrorist plot to lubricate the plane and make it slip from the sky? That’s not how sh*t works, sister.”
Nico tries to wrest it out of his grandmother’s hand before they miss their flight. The cap pops off and he’s drenched, from head to toe, in bacon-scented lube. He is not only slippery, he smells like breakfast. Upon arrival at their hotel, the first thing he does is shower every bit of bacon scent off his body and change his clothes. Apparently, he didn’t quite succeed in showering off all the lube. When he walks outside to sit by the beautiful fountain in the piazza, his laptop in hand, he’s set upon by a pack of out-of-control dogs, which rip his clothes off, in full view of every passerby, to get at all that yummy bacon.
Cue the tall, dark, gorgeous stranger who bangs some pots together to scare them off, leaving Nico in a public square in a pair of red bikini briefs Nana had bought him when his luggage went astray. His face glows just as red as his revealing briefs at his unintended exposure. The helpful stranger can’t help but stare at the impressive package no longer hidden by either modesty or propriety. Nico should have known travelling with Nana would be like this. Actually, he did know, and almost takes it in stride. He’s very rarely surprised by Nana’s endearing craziness. He’s used to it, though he’s sure his beautiful stranger doesn’t have a clue, and probably thinks he’s a mentally-unbalanced American slut. Actually, he gets quite the opposite reaction, with Luca, tall dark and wet-dream, escorting him back to the hotel to protect him from marauding hounds, and inviting him out for drinks.
Who is this stranger? Or perhaps, is it possible, he’s not actually a stranger? After all there’s this immediate attraction and connection that just jumps up out of nowhere, as though they’d had the hots for each other for years. Sorry, I’m not going to tell. That’s one of Alexa Land’s most moving themes in “All I Believe”, and I’ll leave you the pleasure of discovering that one on your own.
Ms. Land should have subtitled this one “Romeo and Luca”, because the young couple’s burning passion and burgeoning love is set amidst a family feud that’s been raging for more than a hundred years. Like the Montagues and Capulets, there are those who are determined to keep them apart, no matter what. It gets really hairy at points, involving gunshot wounds, fleeing ahead of a hit, and shocking family surprises within the Dombruso clan, including the revelation of the true vocation of both Nico’s brother and father.
The conflict and danger draws in a fair number of the favorite characters of previous books in the series, including Dante, the retired head of the family crime business; the two stars of the previous installment, Gianni and his world-famous rock-star husband, Zan; Chance and Finn, plus a few lesser luminaries. It’s both familiar and new, like every book in the “Firsts and Forever” series, the comfort of familiar and beloved characters, with enough new stuff to keep you riveted to your seat.
By the way, Nana Dombruso doesn’t cook in this book. That’s a big departure, because her ad-hoc cooking show and the disasters it generates are normally the high points of any book in this series. But she’s on vacation, which is hardly the time to slave over a hot stove. However, Ms. Land doesn’t let us down. There are two hilarious scenes in which Nana indulges her newest interest, concocting flaming punch. The first one explodes and the contents go flying over the balcony to coat a pedestrian below, a Monsignor passing by. The second one makes an even bigger bang, which sets off the sprinkler system with the whole zany crew doing a rain dance in the aftermath, while getting smashed on the alcohol which, thank heavens, didn’t all burn off.
Oh, and you don’t want to miss Nana’s impromptu gay festival in the middle of St. Peter’s Square, designed to send a message of acceptance and love to the Holy Father, himself. The message probably got to him. The newspapers had great fun reporting on the 78-year-old skydiver with his rainbow parachute and the dildo on top of his crash helmet.
In other words, another perfect Alexa Land novel - filled with love, colorful characters with idiosyncrasies galore, heart-stopping danger, and, of course, a happy ending. As usual, it’s exquisitely written – not a word out of place, not a line of dialogue that beggars belief (even when Nana is at her over-the-top best). If there’s anything to quibble about, one might take exception to the sappy love bits, but even that’s mitigated each time her characters complain about how sappy they’ve become. And, when all is said and done, one must not quibble about too much love. There’s no such thing as “too much love”. Especially for Alexa Land.
Want to laugh, cry, sit around reading with an ear-to-ear smile, spend a few hours transported to a world in which the bad all ultimately works out, and (if you’re like me) at the edge of your seat waiting for the next book in the series? Then read “All I Believe”. It’s great fun and a great read.
Alexa Land has done it again.