REVIEW: Signs of Life by Melanie Hansen
Dear Melanie Hansen,
I saw this book come through the Dear Author submissions and the description interested me enough to download and read it. The beginning section is (as Mandi from Smexy Books says) “pretty brutal” and I was a bit of a mess reading it. Trigger Warning: The bereavements Jeremy suffers might be triggering to some readers.
Jeremy Speer is a successful lawyer, with a husband, Brent, coming out of a major depressive episode. Things are looking up now though and they have a bright future to look forward to – their son, carried by a surrogate, is due in a few weeks. Then Brent is killed in a car accident and Jeremy’s life is turned upside down. That’s not the only tragedy awaiting him either,
I thought this part of the story was strong in part because Jeremy said some awful things to people who didn’t deserve it and acted in ways which, on the face of it, seem harsh and not very heroic. However, he had his reasons and his responses felt authentic. Grief does not always bring out the best in us after all. These aspects added an extra layer of rawness and realness to the story.
The book (fortunately) picks up two years later. Jeremy lives in Bend, Oregon now, in an isolated cabin, doing occasional legal work remotely for his old firm. He is from a wealthy family and doesn’t need to actually work for a living. He has taken up long distance running; he finds a measure of peace in this activity. He has been in a kind of stasis and is starting to “wake up”. He begins to challenge himself to take more notice of his surroundings and to put himself in different spaces, to take the bar exam for Oregon and generally, start living again. He doesn’t think he will ever have happiness but he is no longer content to be always alone. He takes a trip to Portland and ends up at a gay bar, where he meets Kai Daniels, a teacher at an alternative high school for kids on probation and who have been kicked out of other schools for one reason or another. They have a hot encounter but a sudden attack of the guilts means that Jeremy leaves abruptly.
Kai has had a rough life. He was orphaned early and he and his brother joined a gang to survive. He got into trouble and spent some time in juvenile detention (where awful things happened to him) before he met a teacher who helped him get his life on track. Now, Kai tries to be that teacher for other disadvantaged youth. He realises he won’t get through to most of his students but in every class there are one or two students interested and willing and for whom he can make a difference.
Kai’s work with youth on probation intersects with Jeremy’s life back in Bend a few months later and this puts the men back into each other’s orbit. What begins as a mutual friends with benefits but going nowhere kind of thing, over time, becomes a real relationship, as Jeremy continues to come “back to life”.
The sex is hot – although if I never see “fluttering hole” again it will be too soon and I really didn’t need to be told every time that Jeremy had an “enormous erection”. Still, the connection between the two men is intense and passionate and entertaining to read about. They connect in other ways too and I liked watching their relationship unfold. Unfortunately, there was a lack of conflict in this section because, apart from the judicial application of time, which most (if not all) good relationships need to grow and be strong, there wasn’t much keeping these men apart. In the end, it was a little too sugar-sweet for me, with Jeremy being nice to youths on probation and Kai supporting Jeremy’s obsessive need to know Kai is safe and Kai’s friend, Loren (a former fuck-buddy but mostly now a BFF) giving Kai all the right advice. It became a kind of slower domestic type romance, which is a fine thing when one is in the right reading mood. I did expect a little conflict over money (Jeremy has much more of it than Kai) but it was a thing which never came up.
For all that I talk about sweetness, there were things which were not perfect however. Kai doesn’t always succeed in helping the kids he wants to reach and which want his help in return, for example. And there were some unresolved threads which niggled at me. I wondered if Jeremy ever contacted the surrogate he and Brent used for example? It seemed to me that was a thing left undone. Alternatively, it might just be my own sense of order at play here.
I enjoyed the book while I was reading it but toward the end it lacked momentum and some of that real/rawness at the start was missing at the end. That said, Jeremy really had had enough grief (Kai too actually) and I was happy for them to get their HEA without too much drama. (I am nothing if not contrary.)
All in all, I’d count the book a positive and I’d definitely read your work again.