BOOK REVIEW ~ HERE WITH ME BY HEIDI MCLAUGHLIN

Ryley Clarke has grown up with the military in her blood, with both parents serving their country. Ryley knows the risks of being married to the military. But when the unthinkable happens, and her future husband is killed in action, Ryley can barely survive… until Evan’s twin brother, Nate, helps her pick up the pieces.

After serving on a special mission with the military for six years, Evan Archer returns home to find the unthinkable – the love of his life, Ryley Clarke – engaged to his brother, Nate. With Nate on deployment, Evan needs to figure out what happened in his absence, and more importantly, how to win Ryley back from the man he once considered his best friend, but now thinks of as his rival.

Mixed rating – 2 stars and 5 stars
(spoiler-free)
Well this is one of those times where I don’t know how to rate a book. I adored the writing – it was evocative, fluent, and brilliant. I highlighted like crazy and I had to pause a couple of times because it was painful to read. The military subject matter was also weaved nicely into the story, adding an edgy, suspenseful tone. However, the way the book is styled did a big injustice to one of the characters and as a result, it lead me to resent the other two later on (and I’m NOT talking about cheating here). Cheating is literally the least of my concerns with this book by the way.
I’m going to split the rest into 2 parts: a 5 star review and a 2 star review.
5 star part
Like I said in the beginning, the writing is beautiful. Exquisite. And extremely evocative. With a premise like this one that promises angst, tears, and heartbreak, terrific writing only adds to the strife and conflict.
“I’m here because six years ago I lost the love of my life but now he’s back from the dead, and in a few weeks I’m set to marry my best friend. His brother.”
Welp! For starters, I liked how the author laid out the first half of the book through therapy sessions that provided the background story and shed light on the relationship dynamic among the heroine Ryley and the twin brothers in love with her, Evan and Nate. I also appreciated that these characters were extremely honest about their feelings and where they stood with each other. No second guessing. No indecisiveness.
“It’s how he made me feel. The sun was brighter. The clouds were bigger. The birds even sang louder once I met him. I know not everyone has that experience, but I did. He was like my daily dose of life.”
Simply put, Ryley and Evan are it for each other. They have that soul mate love and had a life planned out but one military operation changes everything for them. With Evan presumably dead, Ryley painstakingly moves on with her life and though it was unexpected, she gradually fell in love with Nate, her best friend and Evan’s twin.
“Sometimes love has an odd way of working around pain.”
This is where the intriguing military aspect kicks in. Evan thought it’d be a quick, simple operation but as days, months, and eventually years pass by he’s given no leeway to return home even though he and the rest of his team accomplished the goal. On top of that, families and friends are told that they all died just months after they leave so their return 6 years later is met with confusion, denial, and bitterness.
“When he was there on my front porch, my [grocery] bags should’ve dropped. My eggs should’ve splattered all over my driveway and my gallon of milk should’ve exploded. Instead I stood there staring at the ghost who had taken the form of my former fiancé as he descended the stairs of our front porch. His smile was bright until he saw my face and then it died.”
And this is where the 2 star part comes in.
2 star part
I’m not going to outright tell you the guy who has Ryley’s heart but knowing how much this author loves her second chance romances and the way this book was written in alternating Evan and Ryley POVs, it will be very obvious. The first 50% of this book I was confident it’d be at least a 4.5 star read. The writing, the emotion, the love…it all spoke to me and squeezed my heart.
But one thing that’s neglected in the synopsis and most reviews is that Nate – the man Ryley’s engaged to – is physically ABSENT for 97% of the book. You see, both Evan and Nate are Navy SEALs and when Evan was thought dead, Nate still continued on his missions and such. Nate left Ryley thinking they were in love and getting married soon, which was blown out of the water when Evan returns.
I do want to preface that Ryley made it very clear who was her soul mate. She loved both men, but in very different ways. And as much as I believed that Ryley and Evan’s love was stronger than what she feels for Nate, Evan is the one who completely destroyed any sympathy I had for him.
“Her, I’m willing to forgive. Him, I’m not even willing to try.”
Evan thinks of their engagement as a betrayal. Which emotionally, maybe it was. But technically? Logically? NO. He was thought dead. They buried him. They were able to move on. A heartbroken girl with a presumably dead fiancé doesn’t need to stay heartbroken forever. A man who lost his twin doesn’t need to suffer forever. And if they could move on and find solace in each other, then there shouldn’t be a single reason to think that Nate and Ryley’s love was inappropriate or a betrayal as Evan would call it.
At this point, I was extremely frustrated with the author because there wasn’t a single Nate POV until the very last chapter. WHY? By excluding Nate’s POV and his insight to this entire situation, the love triangle, the blame, basically everything is one-sided and it all tips towards Evan’s side. It’s like condemning a man who wasn’t present at his own trial. The author did not give Nate a chance to explain his side, to fight for the girl he loves. And I FUCKING HATED THAT. Whether or not that was the author’s intention, this emotional manipulation made me resent and hate Evan in the second half of the book and made me question why Ryley didn’t defend Nate as she should’ve since he’s her fiancé now.
I know some are not going to care about this issue, but it’s big for me. I’m the kind of reader who will always sympathize and root for the underdog, the second place finisher, the runner up. And that is Nate in this book. He came in second in everything. Ryley noted several times that even his sister was closer to Evan and her dad favored Evan over Nate. And now the author doesn’t give us his POV until the very last chapter? That was a huge disservice to his character.
So with these feelings and thoughts warring in my head, I can’t rate this book like I normally would. At this very moment I am itching to slap a 2 star because the author – intentionally or unintentionally – wrote this book in a way that clearly favors one character over the other and screwed over the underdog. But at the same time, the depth of emotion evoked because of her beautiful writing and the military aspect of the story I can’t ignore either. A mixed rating is the only way that allows me to stay true to my honest feelings for this book but also acknowledges the author’s merits.
Here With Me is the first book in the Archer Brothers series and not a standalone. The story is not concluded and will continue on in book 2 Choose Me.