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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Secondhand Heart by Scarlet Blackwell

Secondhand Heart by Scarlet Blackwell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (332 pages)
Other: M/M, M/M/M, Masturbation, Menage, Voyeurism, Anal Sex, Toys
Rating: 5 cherries
Reviewed by Amaryllis

Conrad Muller’s heart is the center of a web of friendships, fights, and love lost and found in a close-knit group of gay men in Orange County, California. Six months ago, Conrad died, and his organs were donated for transplant. A month later, Conrad’s lover, Christian, receives a letter from the recipient of Conrad’s donated heart.

Christian can’t stop thinking about the letter, and he’s not the only one affected by loss. Conrad’s best friend Eban is also brokenhearted, and he’s struggling with his lover Damien, who has always resented living in Conrad’s shadow. Though Conrad is gone, his friends and his lover will have to cope with their grief to move on and find new love.

In the interwoven fabric of life, what happens to a group of people when someone in their circle dies? This is not a light read; it is a deep and emotionally rich, thought-provoking story. I enjoy complex stories and so I enjoyed this story very much. This plot is not exactly like a traditional romance but it is a love story with a hard earned happy ending. This is a compound novel that centers on the lives of two roommates who are struggling to carry on their lives in the face of deep grief. Their hearts hunger for love but their preconceived notions of loyalty and the desire to hang on to some piece of the past will not let them move on with living and loving.

The main character is Christian, whose partner, Conrad recently died and he is grieving deeply. Christian is human and vulnerable; easy to relate to. He’s surly when he’s having a bad day and feels bad about it later. He’s not always perfect but he is always real; I like that in a character. He is torn between his need to stay loyal to the memory of Conrad and his burgeoning attraction to Luke.

Christian’s best friend and roommate is Eban, a policeman. Eban is struggling to get over a painful breakup with Damien while supporting Christian through his grief. Eban is also trying to come to terms with his own multifaceted relationship with the now deceased Conrad. Yet Eban is also tempted by his new attraction to a new man named Darius. Eban is a long-suffering friend and sweet solace to Christian and the two men also fight an attraction to each other while they are trying to sort out their individual love lives.

This story does not follow the neat and tidy lines of most traditional romances. There’s extreme emotional danger to these men from all sides in their intricate interactions as they try and sort out and define what life means now that they have lost Conrad to death. There is also a scene of a violent crime which takes place in the middle of novel which may be too much for gentle readers. Emotions are the central focus of the plot and conflicts and the sex reflects this. The sex is not frequent and is more tightly related to plot than in many stories. But the sex is also hot and poignant and touchingly funny at the same time.

Secondhand Heart is a deep, rich story about life while grieving that switches mid-book to a story about coming out of grief. It has a happy, life-affirming ending that just might have you reaching for your hanky. It's one of the most satisfying stories I have read in a long time. I know I’ll be thinking of Christian and Eban’s world for a long time to come.

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