Review: Strong Signal by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

strong signalReviewed by Janell

This book melted me into a puddle of goo. Take one internet gaming celebrity, add an Afghanistan vet, show all the stages of sex and intimacy, and there you have it.

Garrett is on his third and last Afghan tour. He’s a mechanic, so his days are usually spent on base, away from the fighting. His life is routine enough that he brings a laptop to play an online role-playing game. He’s also got semi-private quarters, sharing a tent with only one other guy.

One evening, while earning experience points for his character, he gets killed by a much better player. Garrett is pissed that the other player was even in the beginner area, so he asks around online, in the mood to be a troll. He discovers Kai, a slim, blue-eyed, gorgeous guy, who has a gaming channel and thousands of fans. Garrett makes a few snarky comments, but mainly watches Kai’s live feed, slowly getting obsessed.

Kai is phenomenal. He makes a living through his gaming channel. “I stretched, careful to show off my shirtless chest because my audience expected it. I wasn’t a gym-rat or anything, but I knew part of my appeal was that I was moderately attractive.” He’s so confident in his world, even though he never leaves his apartment. Anxiety keeps him inside, and charisma keeps him in front of the camera.

Garrett sends Kai a private message, warning him about strangers on the internet (heh). Kai knows that since he killed Garrett’s character, Garrett has been watching him. Kai has his share of homophobic haters, so he’s suspicious of Garrett, but also curious. He flirts a little, to see if it scares Garrett away.

From there, this is a perfect example of a growing relationship. First email. Then pictures. Real-time chat. Video chat. The flirting leads to crushing, then fantasizing, and swapping sexy videos. Then there’s a Skype session that’s insanely hot for people who are half a world apart. That’s where I was really grateful that Garrett’s roommate didn’t walk in.

These guys each have their flaws that they readily admit to each other. Garrett is grouchy and hostile; Kai has anxiety. But the way they look past that is beautiful; they think the other is perfect. When they finally meet in person, well, that’s when you’d better have a long stretch of alone time because it is extra hot and you will need to fan yourself. Consider that a warning.

I’ll end with a couple of quotes. Kai goes out to the mall in search of a gift for Garrett. He’s with Shawn, the teenager from the next apartment (and by the way? Their friendship? Yes, it’s awesome). Kai overhears two people discussing games, and he speaks up, but his comments aren’t welcome.

“I shouldn’t have said anything to those guys. But they were wrong, Shawn. Like, really wrong. About video games.”

Shawn nodded solemnly. “They probably worship Satan too.”

And then, this text exchange:

Kai: “Why aren’t you just walking away and finding someone who won’t slam a door in your face?”

Garrett: “If you don’t know the answer to that, then you haven’t been paying attention.”

Ugh. Dying.

Rating: A

Click to purchase: Amazon

Strong Signal
by Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell
Release Date: February 15, 2016

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