Reviews: Strong Signal: Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell

Strong Signal  (Cyberlove #1)
Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell
Released February 15, 2016
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I was counting down the months until the end of my deployment. My days were spent working on military vehicles, and I spent my nights playing video games that would distract me until I could leave Staff Sergeant Garrett Reid behind.

That was when I met him: Kai Bannon, a fellow gamer with a famous stream channel.

I never expected to become fixated on someone who'd initially been a rival. And I'd never expected someone who oozed charm to notice me—a guy known for his brutal honesty and scowl. I hadn't planned for our online friendship to turn into something that kept me up at night—hours of chatting evolving into filthy webcam sessions.

But it did. And now I can't stop thinking about him. In my mind, our real life meeting is perfect. We kiss, we fall into bed, and it's love at first sight.

Except, like most things in my life, it doesn't go as planned.

Strong Signal is a standalone, full-length novel with no cliffhanger.

As the first book in their Cyberlove series, Strong Signal is my first exposure to either of these authors, and based on how much I enjoyed this book, it won't be the last.

The book features a parasocial romance that develops between the main characters, Garrett Reid and Kai Bannon, after they meet online, or rather, after the characters they play in a fictitious MMORPG (à la World of Warcraft and the like) first cross paths while Garrett is serving in what will be his final Army tour of duty in Afghanistan. It turns out that Kai is more than your everyday casual gamer though. He's somewhat of an internet celebrity with thousands of followers who pay to watch a stream of him playing and demoing video games.

While my own endless hours of immersing myself in MMORPGs are a part of the past—I can actually admit to my first exposure to such things happening almost 25 years ago now, playing the text-based online role-playing games that were the precursors to today's online staples, long before such activities were considered cool... geeks rule!—this story brought back a lot of good memories for me just in that respect. And, yeah, it brought back some other kind of good memories too, involving hours of role-playing of a different sort… let’s just say that it’s probably a good thing for me there was no such thing as Skype back then, for who knows what sort of trouble I might have found myself in *smirk*. All kidding aside, books like this are a reminder for people of my age of just how much more mainstream the concept of being friends (or more) with someone you've never met face-to-face has become since the early '90s.

So with that setup, the main plot line progresses as you would expect. What starts as online rivals turns into an online friendship, even though that in itself is an unlikely thing based on their personalities and issues. Garrett is gruff, brutally honest, protective of those he cares about, and generally unafraid of what others think, except where it comes to his being gay and in the military. In spite of his outgoing, almost larger-than-life online persona, Kai’s real-life one is the exact opposite: he suffers from social anxiety that’s debilitating enough where he has become a hermit in his apartment, friends only with the kid who lives across the hallway. The online friendship between Garrett and Kai starts with some flirting that leads to online dirty talk (one of my weaknesses) and on to a scorching Skype scene. Eventually, Garrett's deployment ends, and they meet face-to-face for the first time, a scene that the authors handle beautifully given Kai's condition and the level of intensity their online relationship had grown to. The story shifts gears at this point, driving toward the real possibility of them being forced back into the realm of long-distance relationship in order for Garrett to get a good job that utilizes his Army-learned skill set, but how can they ever go back to 2D on a screen now that they know each other in three?

I enjoyed both of these characters and sympathized with their situation from start to finish. Though it’s nowhere as bad as Kai’s, my husband suffers from social anxiety as well, so I truly appreciated the way the authors handled this issue throughout the book. The alternating first-person perspectives they use are very clear, probably because Garrett and Kai are so different from one another, so it was easy to tell them apart just from being inside their heads. All aspects of their relationship, from the angry-turned-fun banter when they first connect through to the happily ever after, resonated well for me. Oh, and the sex was scorching hot, especially the long-distance stuff—those scenes have always been a weakness of mine, probably because I’m out on the road away from my lover so much *grin*.

The only complaint I have about the book is that I think the authors missed a couple of opportunities for extra plot development (or maybe just a gratuitous additional sex scene) based on a couple of the aspects of the characters. One in particular, the fact that Kai had been a dancer before his anxiety became so overwhelming, was mentioned several times, but it wasn’t really used for any sort of effect in the novel. Why put in the effort to develop something in a character to where it’s mentioned more than just once without then using it to further the plot in some way? But this sort of thing is just a small disappointment in an otherwise great read.

Overall, Strong Signal is an easy read with a good build and underlying angst to keep the story moving well and enough of the feels to make it tug at my heart strings. This is certainly one of my favorites so far in 2016. The sequel is due out this fall, so I’ve already added it to my to-be-read list, and I can’t wait! Viva the internet!

I originally borrowed a copy of Strong Signal from Kim, but I loved it so much, I bought a copy for myself to reread! Boo-yeah!

From online gaming antagonists to email/chat buddies to a real connection. Two gay men in opposite circumstances and differences in personality find a true connection that helps them both cope with the world around them.

I loved both Kai and Garrett. Kai is a popular gay online gamer with a large online following but with only one in real life friend. He suffers from anxiety and is a hermit. Garrett is a closeted gay soldier on his last tour overseas. He is also a gamer, but tends to isolate himself. He is cautious, gruff, protective, and worried about his future after his deployment. They both are able to share themselves online in a way they would never be able to do in person initially.They have flirty banter and serious conversations. They are so vulnerable and sincere. I loved how they gradually opened up and progressed. Kai helped bring the growly Garrett out of his shell while Garrett made Kai feel safe and protected. They did have some difficult issues to face and my heart hurt with their struggles and swooned with their successes. I enjoyed the dual points of view and grew attached to both characters and could really feel their intense bond and feelings. This story was relatable and current, and I think many of the situations could be considered true for many experiencing online dating and the differences between online personas and reality. This was engaging, sweet, funny, sexy, heartfelt MM love story that began in game mode and became so much more.

Megan Erickson
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Megan worked as a journalist covering real-life dramas before she decided she liked writing her own endings better and switched to fiction. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids and two cats. When she's not tapping away on her laptop, she's probably listening to the characters in her head who won't stop talking.

Santino Hassell
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Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.


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