To me, this is another huge win for Roan Parrish-- one of my 3 favorite m/m authors. I can always count on an RP book not taking the easy way out; dealing with truly difficult situations and imperfect characters; including more character development; and just plain ol' beautiful writing of a quality levels above what you (unfortunately) usually find in this genre.
So thoughts on specifics?
-- When I looked at Goodreads reviews, I could see that Felix was something of a polarizing character because of his neediness. I loved his neediness. I know a lot of people who are needy like that. It reads to me as very authentic. Does it make Felix less than a perfect person? Yep. That's what makes Roan Parrish books so good: She deals in real, imperfect people. Indeed, I find it strange that many reviewers seem to have more of a problem with the flaw of neediness than with the flaws of severe mental illness or severe addiction from which RP's characters often suffer. Yes, neediness could be an annoying trait in a character if it were never mentioned or acknowledged by the author or any of the characters (indeed, this is true of too many romance novels I read), but so would passing out stone-cold drunk every night if nobody in a book seemed to look askance at that and the character had no interest in changing. The point is that Felix's neediness -- when it takes the form of not believing enough in his ability to stand on his own or not believing he can be loved -- is his particular bete noire, what he needs to overcome to be happy and successful in life, and much of the book focuses on that struggle-- to beautiful effect.
-- I loved Huey's struggle too: Having to understand the trauma of his addiction and how it led him to control every facet of his life for fear of losing all control again; having to let go of the control to live the life he deserved. Everybody I know who has had a problem with addiction -- whether it's to drugs or to food or anything else -- really has gone through that. The fear that if they somehow step over the line, it will all come crumbling down. The fear that lack-of-control might be right around the corner ready to pounce on them again. The way this manifested for Huey was both universal in that way and unique to him as a person, which is the hallmark of a believable character. I just wanted to hug him and Felix all the time.
-- One reviewer I read was highly critical of the fact that Roan Parrish wouldn't say what kind of music Riven plays because RP wanted readers to imagine it in whatever way they wanted. This reviewer seemed to think that this made her characters generic. I totally disagree with this. There's nothing generic about RP's characters. Each one is totally unique, just like real people are. They like different things, and have different issues. In fact, sometimes they're annoying particularly because they're unique, because I know their politics and disagree, or because they really like a TV show that I think is beneath them, or they believe in things that I find stupidly unscientific, or the like. If they were just cardboard cut-outs on which readers could cast whatever preferences they held, there'd never be that desire to yell at them about their bad taste in ethical theories.
-- This book doesn't have as much sex in it as most of RP's books. Some won't miss it, some will be glad, but I missed it. I don't like when books substitute a lot sex scenes for character development, but that's never a problem in an RP book. And her sex scenes are some of the most enjoyable and creative in the genre. For me, therefore, I think the high-water point in this regard is still Jude and Faron in Invitation to the Blues, and I'd like to see more in RP's next outing. Relatedly, I also thought that the sex scenes in this one often arose weirdly-- usually, the characters would be talking about something really serious and the mood wouldn't seem at all sexy and in the next second with very little segue they'd be tearing off each others clothes. But, honestly, these are just small niggles-- I thought the characters were still incredibly hot together. :)
-- Finally, it seems popular to rank the books in the series. I've loved them all. Many folks seem to love Riven best, but it was actually my least favorite. It has nothing to do with the quality of the book, just with my own interests (really not music), preferences, kinds of characters I relate to, etc. This one and Rend probably tie for me as favorites. I love Matty and Rhys in Rend-- again, having nothing to do with better quality, just because we all have people or struggles that we particularly relate to or respond to; in Rend, my heart goes out to Matty so much, and Rhys breaks my heart with his desire to "fix things" for the person he loves. And I feel so much like I know Felix in Raze -- that I've been that person -- and love the gentle giant he ends up with. But all of the books in the series are amazing-- I've read both Riven and Rend more than a dozen times, and will be doing the same with Raze as well. It's that good and worthy of being read.