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Stranded (In Midsummer, #1) by Jessica Frances

Stranded by Jessica Frances was gifted to me, by NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

4.75 Stars!

YouTuber and vlogger Conner Sherwood is having a not so mid-life, “mid-life” crisis after turning thirty. He has found fame on the internet that has allowed him to pack up his life and hit the road to find adventure and hopefully himself in the process, while also vlogging his experience for his fans.

On day four of his road trip, his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, leaving him stranded on the streets of what seems to be a small ghost town. Dirty, tired, and hungry, Conner is walking the deserted streets looking for a hotel when he comes across the local bar and the sexiest, most handsome man he has ever laid eyes on. His night suddenly gets better when Mr. Handsome takes him home for the most mind-blowing sex he has ever had. But true to the bad luck that stranded him in Midsummer, things go from bad to worse, before he can even pull up his pants. Sadly, Conner’s car troubles are just the beginning of an adventure that will have him targeted as the prime suspect in a local murder while also challenging him to put his heart, self-worth, and needs first for the first time in his life. Will he be able to walk away if he can’t have it all?

The town of Midsummer is a quiet sleepy town whose favorite pastime is gossip about its drop-dead gorgeous sheriff, and most importantly, his love life or lack thereof. So, when Conner catches his eye, the town’s rumor mill goes into overdrive.

Sheriff Rocky Green is focused on serving the town he loves, being a single father, and making sure his gay lifestyle does not come between him and the job. He has rules that make sure no one gets close to the life he’s built or his heart, until he sees Conner, that is. One night ends up challenging the rules that have been the lawman’s bible. Will he break his own rules to have another taste of the young firecracker, whose presence may just be the town’s saving grace? What will he be willing to do when Conner is accused of a murder Rocky is sure he didn’t commit? And most importantly, how will he fight his electric attraction to the man, who has already worked his way under Rocky’s skin?

I really enjoyed this story. Conner, from the very start, is unapologetically himself. His snarky banter with just about everyone he meets, had me laughing out loud several times. Conner’s unfiltered nature is what seems to endear him to those he meets. Despite how hard life is knocking him around, Conner tries to laugh and smile, wanting to bring his fanbase positive, real content. I think it is interesting that while Conner’s character is looking for himself, he never wavers from being true to himself. His fans all subscribe because Conner is real, which includes a local young woman named Love, that helps him in his time of need and becomes his first friend in town.

Rocky has been through it, his life has been a massive middle finger of hurt, heartache, and loss. Jessica Frances writes the sheriff’s character in such a way that you can truly see and feel the turmoil and struggle the man is feeling. It is almost palpable how much he is fighting against himself every time he is around Conner. The author does a great job of making the reader feel the physical and mental connection between Conner and Rocky while also showcasing the evolution of friendship between Conner and Love.

The more profound implications of the texts deal with loss and grief for family lost to death and life. Homophobia, both internal and external, show the sad struggle, heartbreak, and cost of being completely who you are, while also embracing acceptance, love, and friendship when it does arise. Themes of self-confidence and self-worth, homophobia, sexuality, strong sexual interactions, assault and attempted assault, and murder are woven through this story with balance and clarity.

While yes, I adore this story, it was not perfect, but, for me, those imperfections are easily overlooked by all the positives. The murder mystery, again for me, was not really a mystery. I knew who the killer was almost immediately. I tend to be able to always figure out the bad guy right away, so this could just be me. I think my most significant disconnect here may also be just a big case of preference. The intensity that burns between Conner and Rocky is off the charts, and Frances does a fantastic job of writing that chemistry until it gets to the sex scenes that seem, to me, to fizzle instead of sizzle. Is the sex hot? Sure, but based on their attraction and the electricity that pulses between them, the encounters on page both times seem way too tame; and lack the fire and personal connection you know they are feeling. You know this because their kisses on the page are hot AF, affecting every ounce of each man, but the sex scenes seem almost robotic and bland in comparison. I’m not talking about the actual act, but the lead-up. That much attraction makes you crazy and a lot more handsy and needy than is shown, creating a contradiction between what we see and feel brewing between them in every other second. I don’t know, it just made me disconnect a little from their chemistry, both times, not running harmoniously with all their other interactions.

In the end, the main players of this story are funny, heartfelt, and real, as are the themes that are challenged. I highly recommend, that ending though, didn’t see it coming.

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