Dear Ms. Wren.
There are so many things wrong with this book, so many points at which I could have gone “Huh?” in complete confusion — if I hadn’t totally and utterly bought into it because of the characters. I’ve read this book three times. It’s only been out about a month. It’s entered my “Unfailing Comfort Rereads” pile (UCR is not as catchy as TBR, but it’s a pile I go to as often as my TBR pile). This is going to be a completely disjointed review, because, OMG, so much wrong, but, OMG, so much brilliantly right. (This was an October Recommended Read. Sorry, all, for the delay in reviewing.)
David arrives at the exclusive resort where he is supposed to take a month’s vacation only to discover it’s not exactly an exclusive resort. Instead of a desk clerk to check him in, he is confronted with Ethan, his former college roommate. He runs away — literally runs to try to catch the helicopter that dropped him off. When he comes back, Ethan reveals that they’re not at a resort. Rather, it’s Ethan’s own private island and he’s lured David there in order to deal with the issues between them. Ethan is a billionaire, having made his fortune in three years with an unspecified internet start-up that he and David had planned together. Three years ago, something happened to make David run just before he and Ethan were to meet with venture capitalists to fund the business. David abdicated all claim to the company that was obviously such a success, but whatever made him run has left him with nightmares, insomnia, and general anxiety.
The thing that made him run is, of course, sexual (and part of the suspense, so I won’t spoil it). So, starting the list of things wrong with this book: David’s response to the Event — cutting off all contact with Ethan — seemed…unreasonably violent and final for the act itself. His blindness to its effects on himself seems slightly contrived — although if one were running from one’s own emotional responses, then I guess one wouldn’t be able to deal with those emotions in any reasonable way. So you make it work.
Ethan has lured David to the island to fix things. He’s not only going to fix their friendship and the unconsummated sexual relationship, but he’s going to show David that he (David) is submissive to him (Ethan). How Ethan knows that David is secretly a submissive is…unexplored. He just instinctively knows, which is usually a trope that bugs the hell out of me, but you make it work. And it’s not really ever dealt with in detail, but both men seem to be Gay For You, a trope that I hate that I love. This is totally a “We’re not gay, we just love each other” book without the typical angst that goes along with that particular issue (but lots and LOTS of angst about other things, don’t worry!). But…by ignoring it, you somehow make it work. So, even most of the problems with this book are things that you make work in the long run.
What made this book REALLY work for me, however, is the melodrama. That word is usually used pejoratively, but really? most of what we all love about our evening TV dramas or shows like Glee or (for me) Queer As Folk is the pure melodrama of them. This book is a total angst-fest. We see everything from David’s perpective and he’s pretty fucked up about…everything. I’m a slut for melodrama and angst and this book serves it up in many large dump trucks, so I was in heaven. So readers, be warned: if you DON’T like melodrama, this book is not for you, because this book is nothing but lovely lovely melodrama. Nom nom nom.
The hints of Ethan’s feelings too were brilliantly done, especially since you had to show them through David who was desperately trying not to interpret them, or interpret them incorrectly. The one thing that TRULY bugged me, that DIDN’T work for me was after the first time they have sex, David willfully misinterprets Ethan’s motivations yet again — “he’s just doing it for revenge, he doesn’t really feel anything lasting and positive for me.” That seemed a bit too much, too forced.
David also has an incredibly annoying habit of having voices in his head, urging him toward or away from Ethan. It’s something that I find annoying in most books but easy to fall into when writing fiction myself (long long ago in a galaxy far far away). So I understand the attraction. David just had too many warring voices. Sounded crowded in his head.
David blinked. Inside, he could feel panic rearing like a wild horse, rolling its eyes and getting ready to bolt in any direction. Every nerve ending felt suddenly raw and exposed, ready to telegraph the signal that would spark a flat-out gallop: Danger! Danger!
But there was another message too, burbling gently beneath those flailing hooves like a brook hugging the earth. And instead of giving free rein to his thrashing, rearing fear, David surprised himself by crouching down a little and holding himself still, the better to hear that other, quieter sound.
Pleasure, it burbled happily. Ethan. Pleasure. Ethan.
Three days. Thirty-six hours.
Could he do it? He suddenly realized he could see Ethan's face in the bathroom mirror through the slightly open door, and he studied it for any clue to his intent. What would he ask me to do?
Part of him was terrified to find out.
Part of him was desperate to.
And incidentally: three days =/= 36 hours. I mean, really?! How many levels of writer, editors, copy-editors, and line-editors did that get through?
However, this is utterly a character-driven book and the characters are extremely well-written. Problems with the book aside, Ethan and David are incredibly distinct characters who BOTH grow and change and mature through the book. David most obviously, but Ethan does too. And the ending is just…genius. The ending of books is always what I go back and reread the most with romances — that’s where the emotional power of the book is for me. And I’ve read this ending 7 or 8 times already. All three chapters of it, because it’s a long one. Angst and emotions and groveling, oh my. So wonderfully done.
And the sex? The sex is smoking hot. You make foodplay which I despise (ew, sticky), something that I want to try. You make sex on the beach which I despise (ew, sand), something I want to try…well, maybe not that. But you make it sound really hot and sexy. Everything you write is steeped in intensity and emotion, but especially the sex:
"I'm going to touch you," said Ethan softly, when David could breathe again. "With my fingers and my mouth, until you think you'll die from the sheer pleasure of it. That you'll explode from it-until you do explode from it. Onto my tongue, or your belly, or my cock, or into my hands, or wherever I choose. And Davo?" Hazel eyes caressed green. "You're going to let me do it. You're going to ask me to do it."
And before David could think of a single thing to say, or even try to remember how to form words, Ethan was standing and tugging off his remaining shoe, letting it fall to the sand beside his abandoned beer. Then he walked toward the beach, clapping his hands and whistling for Bella.
David stared after him, his beer forgotten.
What planet was Ethan on to think David would let him do something like that, much less ask for it?
He tried to push away the image Ethan's words had created, but it was burned into his mind's eye. Ethan, kneeling between his legs, his dark eyes finding David's and holding them, gold flecks flashing, as he took David's throbbing cock slowly, deeply into his mouth- Ethan, sucking and tonguing him, driving him to the very edge of control-‘and then forcing him beyond it. Ethan, holding his hips in two strong hands, his fingers curved firmly around his bare ass cheeks as David shuddered and jerked and spurted deep into his throat, crying out from the intensity and intimacy of the act.
David took several determined swallows from the can in his hand. It might as well have been water.
Readers, if that excerpt works for you, then this book is for you. If you’re just rolling your eyes at the…well, the melodrama, this book is not for you. But personally, despite the obvious problems, I adored this book and these characters and I can’t WAIT to see more stories from Ms. Wren.