Author: Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell
Publication Date: February 15, 2016
Publisher: Megtino Press
Rating: ★★★★★/ 5 Stars
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, m/m relationship
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.
Anxiety was a bitch. And I was its bitch.
Trigger Warning: queerphobic slurs (that are challenged on page) and trauma about stalking.
Huge thank you to Leah (Small Queer, Big Opinions), my number one fave, for talking so much about these books on twitter and making my curious heart latch onto them.
I am an avid reader of erotic m/m fiction but I haven’t been reading much of them because let’s face it, there are way too many m/m books written by straight women which displeases me a lot. Also, m/m fiction seems to be more popular with fans of queer erotic novels and any other kind seems to be shat on in favor of them, hence my growing distaste with the m/m fandom. However, I was already familiar with Hassell’s work so these books intrigued me. Plus, I trust Leah with my life.
Strong Signal opened with one of our main characters Garrett. A gruff army guy who just wanted to get through his last tour and play video games. In his safe zone online, however, he was hassled. (haha, pun intended?) Enter famous gamer Kai, who happened to be the person who killed Garrett’s gaming little fella. (I apologize for how inaccurate I am being about game-speak…) Cue an online friendship that consisted of both Garrett and Kai divulging things that they never thought they’d ever find someone to entrust with.
What I truly loved in this book was how the connection was indeed fast between the two men, but there was still an element of slow burn. Both Garrett and Kai have very intriguing lives and arcs and rather than just forget their problems because they start a relationship, they rather grow and develop for their own personal goals and for their partners. Another thing I especially enjoyed is how sex-healthy this book is. Written half by a queer author, this made me extremely happy because no part of this felt fetishizing. Rather, Kai’s streaming channel exposed a lot of how he advocated for a safe and healthy queer space for gamers. Garrett’s POV also dealt with being gay in the army. When the two talked, they had such a cute energy that I felt 100% entertained. I honestly fell in love with their interactions. This book also had these sweet moments where Garrett and Kai did extremely romantic gestures for one another in the name of love. It made my little heart pound with happiness.
Both characters shared very special relationships with minor characters.
For Kai, being a recluse meant he had a very small group of people he trusts. It included his neighbor Shawn and Shawn’s mother (very small appearance) and the people in his streaming channel, especially the mods (Moderators show up in the third book!)
Kai’s social anxiety felt extremely honest when it struck. It took a very great turn when Kai took healthy measures to deal with it. No way was there a ‘cure’ that just allowed him to be in public without a panic attack but it was through his own strength and bravery that he could take small baby steps outside. Those measures did not endanger the safety Kai felt in his own little world but rather allowed it to expand to the people he loved.
Garrett on the other hand was a grump who simply didn’t like people, and was weary of online relationships due to past trauma. He still shared a good familial relationship with his sister and mother, who were incredible to read, by the way. He also had a friend in the army: Costigan. Who came off as a douche-canoe… but we love this douche-canoe. It’s moments between Garrett and Kai that we saw the softness in Garrett. He’s the kind of character that’s a hundred and one type of gruff and unapproachable but melts like caramel when in the presence of his partner. Garrett was extremely protective of people in his life, and when Kai became an integral part, it was only natural for this bubble to expand and accept Kai within it. What I loved was the constant reassurance he gave Kai without invading his boundaries and limitations. Consent in both emotional and physical ways was an essential part of their relationship and I loved it.
The aspect of technology used made me extremely happy since I had a long distance relationship and sometimes there were very limited ways to share feelings via text. But Garrett and Kai had this extremely well done cyber relationship that did not take their boundaries away. Rather, their communications felt very organic and healthy. I could relate to the constant texting and sexual tension but also to the anxiety of sending something risky over text. The part where they finally met up in real life was also incredible. I was in literal tears. Not a second went by without me smiling at my iPad as I gorged myself on this book. It was so good that it refreshed my appetite for reading. It healed my reading slump!
Stuff I enjoyed in this book:
- Online relationship
- Cam sex
- Romantic gestures
- “I don’t have a boyfriend. I have a wife.”
- Character with acute anxiety seeing a therapist
- Positive attitude concerning medication
- Sex positive gay men
I definitely recommend this book for fans of erotic m/m books that deal with social anxiety, aspirations, online connections and gaming! I recommended this to my ex-boyfriend, who is a big fan of 5/5 of those things.
About the Authors
Megan Erickson is a USA Today bestselling author of romance that sizzles. Her books have a touch of nerd, a dash of humor, and always have a happily ever after. A former journalist, she switched to fiction when she decided she likes writing her own endings better.
She lives in Pennsylvania with her very own nerdy husband and two kids. Although rather fun-sized, she’s been told she has a full-sized personality. When Megan isn’t writing, she’s either lounging with her two cats named after John Hughes characters or… thinking about writing.
Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family but grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into a grumpy introvert and unlikely romance author with an affinity for baseball caps. His novels are heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, and his desire to write relationships fueled by intensity and passion.
He’s been a finalist in both the Bisexual Book Awards and the EPIC Awards, and was nominated for a prestigious RITA award in 2017. His work has been featured in BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Washington Post, RT Magazine, and Cosmopolitan Magazine.