Release Reviews: Overexposed: Megan Erickson

Overexposed (In Focus #4)
Megan Erickson
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Released September 20, 2016

Love runs wild on the Appalachian Trail in the latest from the author of Out of Frame and Focus on Me...

Levi Grainger needs a break. As a reality show star, he’s had enough of the spotlight and being edited into a walking stereotype. When he returns home after the last season of Trip League, he expects to spend time with his family, only to learn his sister is coming back from her deployment in a flag-draped casket. Devastated, Levi decides the best way to grieve will be to go off grid and hike the Appalachian Trail—a trip he'd planned to do with his sister.

His solitary existence on the trail is interrupted when he meets Thad, a quiet man with a hard body and intense eyes. Their connection is stronger than anything Levi has ever experienced. But when Levi discovers the truth about what Thad is hiking to escape, their future together looks uncertain, and uncertainty is the last thing Levi needs...

After reading and very much enjoying two of Megan Erickson’s collaborations with Santino Hassell, I was looking forward to having the opportunity to read one of her solo works. Overexposed is the fourth book in the In Focus series, and I thought it was also very good as a whole. So good that it wouldn’t have taken much to be different about it for it to be in that rare category of books that I rate a full five stars.

After leaving the cast of the reality show Trip League, Levi Grainger was hit with the devastating news that his sister was killed during her military deployment. Prior to her death, they had planned to hike the Appalachian Trail together, so he decides to do it alone as a way both to honor his sister and to grieve her loss. In the middle of the night only a handful of days into his trek, he meets Thad Connors, a mysterious and quiet hiker whom Levi finds himself drawn to. When their paths cross again a few days later, they decide to travel together, and the attraction and connection between them is powerful. When Levi discovers a hard truth about Thad, though, everything is thrown into disarray, making Levi question whether he will ever be okay again.

It didn’t take long for me to be totally engrossed by the story and characters in Overexposed. I admit to being a junkie when it comes to the strong, silent, tortured type, and Thad fits that mold perfectly. This is, of course, mostly the opposite of Levi’s gregarious and high-maintenance personality. Because Levi does most of the talking, he reveals much about himself, including the pain of losing his sister, while Thad is clearly reluctant to share his burden. The story is told almost completely from Levi’s point of view, so almost everything the reader learns about Thad happens at the same time Levi learns it, and I found myself craving these nuggets as much as Levi did, though mine came from wanting to find out what was so awful for Thad to be so closed off.

While the trek is the background for the journeys of personal growth each makes over the course of the story, the best part is the relationship that develops between them. It’s the most magnetic chemistry I’ve read recently, so whenever something happens that alters their understanding of one another, it’s not only powerful or explosive, but it’s also incredibly emotional. The nature of their meeting ensured that they were seeing and learning about each other through a lens that wasn’t shaded by the things most people judged them for without even knowing them. Thad did not recognize Levi as a celebrity, let alone the exaggerated and stereotypical persona the producers of the reality show portrayed him to be, and not being a part of Thad’s past kept Levi from passing judgment on Thad either, at least for a while. Even though I suspected what the big strife between them was going to be before it happened, it didn’t make it any less heartrending when it was revealed. And the emotional roller coaster that followed developed all the feels I want out of a story like this.

There was nothing wrong with the writing to keep me from enjoying the story thoroughly. The style is smooth and engaging, and at no time was I confused about who was talking or who was doing what. Three-quarters of the way through, I was convinced this was going to make a run for a five-star rating, which would have been only my second of the year. And even though I was satisfied when I was finished, there were a couple of things that bothered me about the telling of this last chunk of the story. It felt rushed, like maybe there was a hard word-count limit or something, and while the last dramatic scene obviously tied to earlier events in the book, it came across a little overdramatized to be fully believable, which was too bad, because everything else clicked the rest of the way.

The only other issue I had was with the epilogue. I mentioned that this is the fourth book of the series, but I read it as a standalone, and the story stood on its own completely until this point. But while the epilogue successfully established Levi and Thad as being on their way to a happily-ever-after, it’s here that the author brings in who I assume are the pairings from the previous three books. An assumption made because there is no introduction to these characters nor is there an explanation that would indicate some sort of significance about the scene that would have made me appreciate it more. But even if there had been something like this, there is no real purpose for the others to be in the scene except as a hat-tip for loyal readers of the series. Throw-away scenes like that bother me, especially when they’re at the end, as that’s the final impression I’m left with about the book.

It’s too bad the last quarter of the book let me down, as the story and the way it was told really did have the potential to earn a five-star rating. Fortunately, the fact that I want someday to reread Overexposed, even for only the first 80% or so, kept the rating from suffering much. I admit to being a little fussy as a reader, and since I know this to be the case, I’m perfectly comfortable giving this book a strong recommendation, and I know I will be seeking out more of Megan Erickson’s books in the future.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Overexposed in exchange for this fair and honest review.

We met Levi Grainger in Out of Frame as a reality show contestant on Trip League. He was presented as a sassy, over-the-top, gay man. But once the show ended, his life was already in transition and then was rocked by the loss of his sister. He is now lost and angry. They had plans to hike the Appalachian Trail together so he has decided to do it alone in her memory. So he takes off alone and as prepared as he can be for a man not used to vigorous outdoor activity.

It is not long before he meets an interesting man on the trail. Thad is quiet, broody, stoic, and mysterious. He is a man of few words, and appears closed off. But he latches onto Levi and they begin to travel together. Levi seems like his opposite as he is talkative, sarcastic, and high maintenance. But Thad is content to let Levi do the talking while they do the walking.

The trail is a journey for each of them personally, but also serves as as a time for them to build a friendship, a bond, and more. They begin to slowly reveal their issues, secrets, and fears and build a strong connection.

I was completely entranced by the unraveling of these characters, especially Thad. I was so touched by their intensity and passion, and was excited each time one of them shared something more. I was full of tension wondering what Thad was hiding. Along the way I fell so hard both of these guys. I loved their dynamic and how they understood each other without even knowing all of the details. They complemented each other well. Their physical chemistry was as intense as their growing emotional attachment. But they have demons to deal with and there are secrets that have the potential to rock their fragile foundation. 

It was told mostly in Levi's point of view, but even though Thad was an enigma at times, I became just as attached to him. We got small glimpses into Thad's former life via text messages. And finally we got to get into Thad's head at the end. He was a quiet, caring, loyal man whose emotions ran deep, but did not freely express them.

Their journey makes them realize they have the capacity to still care. And they each are being exposed to a version of the other that not many know. The journey itself is a catalyst for change and the final destination is still unknown. There are secrets, conflict, drama, and underlying issues between them. There is a dichotomy between their solitary life on the trail with nature and the real world at home. They are impacted by emotions that run high, fear of loss and rejection, and the need to protect the other. They both have to really look to the end of the destination and figure out where they plan to end up and if they are worth fighting for in order to arrive together.

This was so much more emotional and heartfelt than I expected. My heart broke for these guys. I felt everything they did: the fear, pain, sadness, passion, and hope, I was captivated and enthralled during their journey. Seeing them open up and start to calm and heal each other was heartwarming. They saved each other in a lot of ways. It was so important for them to find a safe harbor and someone who appreciated the real person underneath. But they also struggled with some conflicts and differences in how to handle certain situations. And I just had to keep flipping pages to see how this situation was going to play out.

Several times I found myself tearing up. I was just so emotionally invested in these guys. But they would make me laugh too--Levi with his sarcasm or awkwardness in nature, and Thad with his one word utterances or slips into humor. 

This can be read as a stand-alone even though Levi was introduced before, but fans of the series  will appreciate brief cameos of other couples. I would love to see Matty get a book now. He seems like a guy with some issues that need resolving. And it would be a good way to give us a bit more with Levi and Thad...

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Trust the Focus (In Focus #1)
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Released March 17, 2015
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With his college graduation gown expertly pitched into the trash, Justin Akron is ready for the road trip he planned with his best friend Landry— and ready for one last summer of escape from his mother’s controlling grip. Climbing into the Winnebago his father left him, they set out across America in search of the sites his father had captured through the lens of his Nikon.

As an aspiring photographer, Justin can think of no better way to honor his father’s memory than to scatter his ashes at the sites he held sacred. And there’s no one Justin would rather share the experience with more than Landry.

But Justin knows he can’t escape forever. Eventually he’ll have to return home and join his mother’s Senate campaign. Nor can he escape the truth of who he is, and the fact that he’s in love with his out-and-proud travel companion.

Admitting what he wants could hurt his mother’s conservative political career. But with every click of his shutter and every sprinkle of ash, Justin can’t resist Landry’s pull. And when the truth comes into focus, neither is prepared for the secrets the other is hiding.

Focus on Me (In Focus #2)
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Released July 21, 2015
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Colin Hartman can now add college to his list of failures. On the coast-to-coast trek home from California, Colin stops at a gas station in the Nevada desert, and can’t help noticing the guy in tight jeans looking like he just stepped off a catwalk. When he realizes Catwalk is stranded, Colin offers a ride.

Riley only intended to take a short ride in Colin’s Jeep to the Grand Canyon. But one detour leads to another until they finally find themselves tumbling into bed together. However there are shadows in Riley’s eyes that hide a troubled past. And when those shadows threaten to bury the man whom Colin has fallen in love with, he vows to get Riley the help he needs. For once in his life, quitting isn’t an option.

Out of Frame (In Focus #3)
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Released March 15, 2016
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Perpetually shy, Quinn Mathers is content to remain in the shadow of his brash best friend Jess Hartman. But before their college graduation, he and Jess have planned one last hurrah: a spring break Caribbean cruise.

And it won’t be just any cruise. On board are members of the reality show Trip League, which follows young twenty-somethings on adventures around the world. Since the show’s beginning, Quinn has been fascinated by J. R. Butler, with his amazing body, warm eyes, and killer grin. Unfortunately, he’s straight—or so the world thinks.

At nineteen, J. R. signed a contract to play straight for the show, and there’s no way to get out of it now. Yet with each passing day, Quinn and J. R. find it harder to keep their hands off each other and to keep out of the camera’s frame. But when the lens finally focuses on them, J. R. must decide if he’s willing to risk his career by admitting his bisexuality, and Quinn must determine if he's bold enough to stand in the spotlight with the man of his dreams.

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.


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