Chloe Liese

Books: Romance | Queer

Bergman Brothers: Only When It’s Us (2020), Always Only You (2020), Ever After Always (2021)

Bergman Brothers 

Only When It’s Us (2020) 

Only When It's UsTrigger Warnings: cancer, death, grief

I read Always Only You and liked it, but didn’t rush out to read other books in the series. Finally, I decided I might be in the mood to try another, and tore through the story, despite all the very hard things in it.

Then I read the author’s note and I liked it even more.

Growth also enabled me to pursue republishing this story when I learned the ways I could make this story so much stronger.

Since beginning my author journey, I have grown in my knowledge of how best to write authentic representation. Where I am as an author now is not where I began, and when I learned that aspects of the late-deafened representation in this book fell short of the standard for authenticity that I strive for, I wanted to correct that through critique and resolution of those inaccuracies.

All the kudos for that.

Ryder was ready to start his first year at UCLA when everything changed.

“Ry.” I hear it like I’m underwater, faint and warped. That’s what life sounds like with moderate and severe hearing loss, in the right and left ears, respectively. Bacterial meningitis came out of nowhere just a few cruel weeks before preseason at UCLA began.

Willa has goals, and she is not going to let anything stop her from achieving them–including her Business Mathematics professor who is seemingly trying to be a complete bastard to her–especially when he makes her partner with the lumberjack who has seemingly become the bane of her existence in that class.

Several things–I liked Ryder way more than I liked Willa. Eventually we discover why Willa tends to react rather than act, and why she doesn’t trust, but her reaction to discovering why Ryder was seemingly ignoring her felt really lacking in any empathy.

The two are seemingly the same age, but Ryder is far more mature, which made him seem significantly older than her.

I was frustrated by both characters refusing to open up and share with each other. Some of it is understandable.

I’m hiding it on purpose. Because if no one knows it’s there, there’s no pressure to talk, no expectation to hear perfectly. Maybe that seems to defeat the purpose of the hearing aid, but it doesn’t. The hearing aid is for me, not for others’ convenience.

Some of it far less so.

I didn’t lie to Ryder, but I didn’t exactly tell him the truth either. It’s just that talking about your sick-with-cancer mom is about as uncomfortable a conversation topic as I can think of, and as I’ve admitted, squidgy dialogues aren’t my speed.

One bit I especially liked was how the story dealt with grief.

“Let me start again. Willa, your grief is valid. Your pain is real.”

I stare at her. “But?”

“But nothing.” Rooney shifts in her chair, scooting closer. “And it’s threatening your well-being. I think it’s time to go talk to someone. Go to grief counseling. I don’t know if they’re suitable for this, but maybe also look into antidepressants. It’s been months, and you’re still struggling to function, Willa. There’s no shame in grief. You’ll grieve as long as you need to. There’s just room for caution when it’s compromising your well-being.”

That is a really fantastic summation of dealing with grief.

There were parts of the story I felt could have been tightened up a bit, places where things were a bit slow, but overall, I enjoyed it and I loved how important it is to the author to get the representation right.

Rating: 8/10

Always Only You (2020)

Always Only YouFrankie is a social media coordinator for the LA Kings hockey team, which (considering the nature of hockey) gives her plenty to do.

I also document informal charitable outings geared toward our most underrepresented fans. It’s not in my exact job description, but I’m a big believer in breaking down stigma around differences we tend to ostracize, so I wormed my way into the process. I don’t just want to make our hockey team more accessible to its fans, I want us to be a team that leads its fans in advancing accessibility itself.

That makes me sound sweet, doesn’t it? But the truth is nobody on the team would call me that. In fact, my reputation is quite the opposite: Frank the Crank.

She is also autistic with rheumatoid arthritis, which means she uses a cane, but isn’t hung up about it.

Perhaps because of my autistic brain and its analytical practicality, I didn’t have feelings about the cane. I simply saw its functional advantage. It helped. I was steadier with it. My leg didn’t give out. I didn’t fall on my face. What the hell was bad about that?

She is not open about her ASD with her coworkers, but she is honest with herself about it.

I seemed like a typical kid— whatever the fuck that is— until depression and anxiety after my dad’s death threw me into a tailspin, obliterating the emotional reserves it took to fake normality.  ..  The psychologist said I’d have been diagnosed sooner if not for my fantastic ability to follow rules, copy behaviors, and pretend I was “normal.” Everyone hits a breaking point, the shrink said. It was only a matter of time before I’d have to stop pretending and get honest about my neurological difference.

I like my books. They’re one of the most vital tools in my arsenal for navigating human behavior, to explore my feelings about the parts of life that most confuse me. Books help me feel a bit more connected to a world that often is hard to make sense of. Books are patient with me. They don’t laugh at me instead of with me. They don’t ask why I’m “always” frowning, or why I can’t sit still. Books welcome me— weirdness and all— and take me exactly as I am.

And Ren is an absolute sunshine cinnamon roll.

“You’re usually so chill.”

I turn my coffee mug slowly, clockwise. “I’ve learned things go better for me when that’s what other people see.”

I mean…

I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not—

Carbuncles. I’m crying.

I’d ask whose idea it was for me to read Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You to a group of toddler and preschool-aged patients, but I have no doubt it was Frankie’s doing.

It’s possible Ren might be a little too perfect…but that’s ok. He has a loud, weird, crazy family, and was a geek in high school. He’s allowed to be.

Rating: 8/10

Ever After Always (2021)

Ever After AlwaysAiden and Freya have been married for almost a decade, but the last six months have not been good. They have, in fact, been bad.

But that’s when it all went downhill. That’s when it tripped something inside me that I haven’t been able to get under control. That’s when work became something I couldn’t stop fixating on, when preparing financially for a baby became consuming.

Although the chapters alternate between Freya and Aiden, the overwhelming number of my quotes were from Aiden’s point of view.

It took me a long time—and lots of therapy hours—to accept that my anxiety makes life harder, but it doesn’t make me wrong or damaged or…well, anything bad. It just…is.

My therapist has encouraged me to be compassionate with myself, instead of wanting to fix myself or change how I am. And listen, I like her. She’s good. Shit, I can even admit she’s right. But that doesn’t mean I like it. Acceptance is not a solution. And I want solutions. I want to be able to fix it.

He struggles with his anxiety, and tries to hide it, which–let me be blunt–never makes things any better.

Fuck. Fuck. I just keep replaying it, like many things I’ve screwed up throughout my life. Moments I made an ass of myself or felt embarrassed. When my clothes were worn out or too small.

That doesn’t mean I disliked Freya and didn’t emphasize with her.

“Where’s this coming from? You know I love your body. You love your body.”

“Not always,” I admit. “I tend to oversell the body love a bit.”

He frowns at me in bewilderment. “What? Why?”

“I don’t know how to explain it. It just feels like I can’t simply eat and exercise and look how I look. I have to love that I’m this way and make sure other people know, too. Otherwise, they think I’m trying to lose weight, that I’m not happy with how I am.”

But mostly it was Aiden who resonated deeply with me.

I stand quietly and sip my drink, more than ever a stranger to myself, to people who once felt like mine.

What is so marvelous about this book is it shows you just how hard marriage can be. That marriage is work.

“There’s a lie we’ve been told in our culture that our romantic partner’s attunement to our emotions and thoughts should be nearly psychic, and that is the barometer of our intimacy. If we feel like they aren’t ‘getting’ us, we reason that we’ve stopped having that magical intimate connection.

“But that’s not the case. The truth is that we change and grow significantly in our adult years, and to stay close with a committed partner, we have to keep learning them, examining if our growth is compatible or divergent.”

One of the things I particularly like about some of my favorite long-running fantasy series is that after the couple has gotten together, the authors continue to show the work of the relationship–that couples can still argue and bicker and disagree and that’s a normal part of a marraige / relationship.

This book focuses on just that part–and does a wonderful job of it.

Rating: 8.5/10