strong signalStrong Signal by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

Published by: Megtino Press

Format: Kindle ARC

Genre: Contemporary Romance, LGBTQIA

Order from: Amazon

Reviewed by: Erin

What kind of awesome can you expect inside: A sexy soldier, an internet famous gamer, gorgeous writing, a compelling story, and long-distance hotness.

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Plot: 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.

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Review: I sat down to read Strong Signal and I didn’t get up until I was done. I was thirsty, I had to pee, and I lost a whole afternoon. I regret nothing. This book is absorbing, stunningly written, and absolutely addictive.

Staff Sergeant Garrett Reid is finishing his last tour in Afghanistan. He’s just counting down time until he’s done; he spends his days working on the base vehicles, working out, and playing a Warcraft-type RPG online. He’s gay and he has a few friends-with-benefits relationships on the side, but he’s not too openly out on the base. He’s not a talker, he’s not a joiner, and he’s not great with people.

Kai Bannon, on the other hand? He’s terrific with people, as long as they’re online. He’s a gamer with a stream channel and he’s internet famous. Kai is openly gay, bubbly, charismatic, and makes a good living playing games and cultivating his online presence. He has a legion of fans, but none of them know the truth — that he hasn’t left the house in years. His panic disorder has escalated into agoraphobia and he lives through his gaming and online delivery.

One of the things I love about this book is that there are a lot of places where you think, “Yeah, I know where this is going,” the place where any other romance novel might have gone, and Strong Signal never quite goes there. Garrett’s military service is never played for drama. He doesn’t have some dramatic, life-changing injury that gives him an epiphany. His biggest problem is the depressingly bad job market and the sluggish economy in his tiny Pennsylvania town. (And trust me, this struggle is depicted perfectly. The flattening, unglamorous grind of poverty, with its undercurrent of fear is uncomfortably realistic.)

Kai is never depicted as some Internet loser. His mental illness is also portrayed very realistically, and he’s shown as someone who has successfully built his own business based on his strengths, rather than having his illness mocked or fetishized. And there is no magical love cure for either of their problems, no anxiety-curing orgasm, no dead relative leaving Garrett a million dollars. They have to find their way together in the real world. working through their problems the best way they know how. And somehow that realism is more heartbreakingly romantic than the wildest fantasy.

This book explores the nuances and depths of the friendships and relationships we form online. Kai’s livelihood depends on his fans feeling like they know him, but not TOO much. He has to maintain a friendly-but-untouchable image and keep it genuine, all while fending off trolls and haters. He has friendships with some of his fans, but by necessity, he has to keep them a bit at arm’s length. And again, the authors don’t go to the easy “all online friendships are fake” place. Kai and his fans are treated with respect, and his relationship with Garrett shows how online relationships can move to something more. And the long-distance aspect makes their first meeting that much more exciting. And hot. So, so hot.

Also, I’m not going to spoil anything, but I loved the unexpected way they handled the guy who’s going to be the next hero of the book. That whole plotline was delightful.

What you might not like: There is an incident where Kai is called a homophobic slur and is threatened. Garrett is also called some slurs casually while on base.

What I loved: The compelling writing, the realistic characters, the treatment of Kai’s mental illness, the smoking hot long-distance sex.

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