AUTHORS: SANTINO HASSELL & MEGAN ERICKSON
TITLE: STRONG SIGNAL
PUBLICATION DATE: 15-Feb-2016
(ARC provided by the Authors in exchange for an honest review)
Two heads are better than one, as the phrase goes. I am a massive fan of co-writes. There have been many successful collaborations within the M/M genre. The Aleksandr Voinov-L.A. Witt, Abigail Roux-Madeleine Urban, Lisa Henry-J.A. Rock and, of course, Santino Hassell-Ais Lin writing teams, to name but a few, count as some of my favourites. Now the Santino Hassell & Megan Erickson duo can safely be included amongst those.
This time, the authors who allied their writing powers could not have been more different in style and delivery. The only thing they have in common, it seems, is the sense of humour and ability to write easy banter. Yet together they managed to create a new wholesome quality, or a new breed if you like – a cross between soft and bristle, sweet and gruff (*inserts a red panda/dog hybrid image here.*) What is undoubtedly fascinating is how Erickson appears to bring out the mellow in Hassell’s gravelly air.
Strong Signal is the first installment, and a promising introduction, to their new Cyberlove series. It involves a long-distance online courtship with an added bonus of sexting and erotic Skype action and, eventually, a non-virtual relationship. It’s all set around the world of Internet video gaming.
I am not much of a gamer myself, although I am able to appreciate the allure of a good fantasy game. Thankfully, an in-depth knowledge of gaming culture or technology is not required to fully enjoy the book, so don’t let that be an off-putting factor.
The highlight of the novel, the characters are compelling and written with flare. There’s also an unmissable chemistry between them. It looks as though the only traits they share is the inkling towards introversion and a fondness for gaming. I enjoyed the alternating POVs, which accentuate the pronounced differences between the two personalities. They also allow the reader glimpses into their internal motivations. Naturally, it becomes immediately obvious, which author was responsible for which character.
Kai, an ex-dancer and a talented “gaymer”, is witty, resourceful and lovable. He suffers from severe social phobia that cripples his ability to leave his apartment at will, and interact with others. The main thing I love about Kai, is the fact that despite the disruptive and disabling impact the illness has had on his life, he adapted and preserved. He managed to create a successful business and a valuable community online, which just goes to show the benefits of the Internet and the possibilities it allows.
Garrett, an army mechanic on his last deployment in Afghanistan, is overprotective, loyal and moody. To continue with the book’s dog analogy, it turns out that his bark is much worse than his bite. Garrett’s desire and aspiration to achieve something in his life is admirable, and the relationship he maintains with his sister and mother – endearing. He possesses emotional, rather than academic, intelligence, which allows him to be in tune with Kai’s specific needs and cater well for them.
However, it’s not all sweetness and light, thank God. There are flashes of serious topics, like long-term unemployment, homophobia, and what can only be described as general redneckism. As a person working in mental health related field, I must say that the description of social anxiety disorder, complete with panic attacks, mild self-harming and agoraphobia, is an apt and accurate one.
I have no complaints about the sexy times. Those are written in a hot and dirty manner. However charming and enticing when apart, the main characters get even more interesting when the relationship between them upgrades its status from “online” to “this shit is real.” It’s all about how the couple work through their respective problems and obstacles, which threaten to keep them separated.
In brief, Strong Signal is an adorable, funny and super sexy read. The ending might perhaps be slightly over-optimistic; it’s disarming and heart melting nonetheless. This is a perfect book for a long, cold winter’s evening. I sincerely recommend it and award it a 4 feet rating.
Upon finishing this novel, it occurred to me that qualities required in an exceptional gamer – empathy, strong communication skills, ability to work as a team and forge a fast, deep connection – are also ones that make a great romantic partner. Life is but a game, eh?