Finding Zach by Rowan Speedwell

Title: Finding Zach
Author: Rowan Speedwell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Length: Novel / 270 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5

A guest review by Kassa


THE BLURB:

For five years, Zach Tyler, son of one of the world’s richest software moguls, was held hostage, tortured, and abused. When he is rescued at last from the Venezuelan jungle, he is physically and psychologically shattered, but he slowly begins to rebuild the life he should have had before an innocent kiss sent him into hell.

His childhood best friend David has lived those years with overwhelming guilt and grief. Every relationship David has tried has fallen apart because of his feelings for a boy he thought dead. When Zach is rescued, David is overjoyed—and then crushed when Zach shuts him out.

Two years later, David returns home, and he and Zach must come to terms with the rift between them, what they feel for each other, and what their future could hold. But Zach has secrets, and one of them might well destroy their fragile love.

THE REVIEW:
Finding Zach is an unexpected delight. The issues offered could have been depressing but the light touch and deft pace keeps the book absorbing and emotional without delving too far into dark and heavy. The characters are well defined with good chemistry and the various supporting characters help solidify an engaging cast. There are a few minor hiccups and the ending feels very rushed to wrap up everything and move on unfortunately but other than these few qualms, I think Finding Zach is going to be a hit among readers.

The book starts with Zach being rescued after five years of sheer hell. He was kidnapped in South America and forced to live as a dog under a ruthless paramilitary leader. Zach’s long imprisonment and torture leave physical, mental, and emotional scars. After his release, the story jumps two years into the future and picks up with David returning home and slowly resuming first a friendship and soon a relationship with Zach. Their stops and starts are hampered by Zach’s past and their own misunderstandings on their way to a happy ending.

The point of view shifts around some from first person to third person but in very distinct and obvious ways. Whenever Zach is thinking of his imprisonment and torture, he uses the first person and this brings an emotional impact seeing his pain through a shattered mind. For most of the story though the narrative is through the third person from Zach and David’s point of view. Both men are well defined and come across as honest, real, and likable. They make mistakes, are quick to leap to assumptions, and generally bungle their way into a relationship together. They have some moments of circular arguments where neither man is really listening and only hearing what they think is said rather than what is really sad. These fights get a little tiresome since not much is resolved. But thankfully there are only a handful of these moments and at least the men attempt to talk and communicate without letting their insecurities and issues fester – no doubt a fact that will appeal to romance readers.

Zach is a great character struggling to pick up his life again with the backdrop of massive PTSD and events that of course are going to alter someone permanently. His reactions didn’t always make sense to me, the anonymous sexing and so on, but they felt like honest emotions in a sea of turmoil. Thankfully the author has a light touch and keeps these moments real without getting too heavy and depressing. The theme is constant – as it would have to be – but never overwhelms and bogs the story down. In fact Zach has a pretty amazing and healthy recovery, considering everything. Perhaps unbelievable but that’s not the point and I doubt anyone will have issues with that aspect.

The various supporting characters from Zach’s parents to Anna, and even the best friends are nicely well rounded and feel like important characters rather than just place holders in scenes. There are no true evil characters – aside from the initial captor – and everyone since is highly supportive with honest concerns. The plot itself is mostly character driven so the well defined cast helps create a good pace and engaging story. The writing is very good and helps maintain a balance between emotional drama and sexual tension. There are a few minor issues I had with David calling Zach a “dweeb.” It’s a fine nickname but towards the end it starts to grate on me when it’s used almost every other sentence. Additionally the ending felt very rushed and an attempt to wrap things up quickly.

Here there are several choices that make no sense since the story glosses over them quickly. There is the reporter resolution, Zach and MIT, and the happy ending that frankly didn’t make sense. Why these choices were made and the reasons aren’t really given, instead we’re simply told about them in a very quick few pages wrap up to end the story. At 250 pages I can see why going into these issues may prolong an already lengthy story but instead they feel superficial and confusing to be thrown in at the end. The separation especially is a bit of an eye roller even if a thinly veiled reason is offered.

Other than these few issues, I really liked Finding Zach. It’s an absorbing and interesting story with a quick pace and good characters. The light hand to the PTSD issue keeps the issue relevant throughout the story without being too heavy. I think a lot of readers will really like this offering.

14 comments

    • I was enthralled with the story. I figured R.Speedwell would have a follow up story for the reporter in this story. I read that one as well, my only complaint..it wasnt long enough.
      I agree with you about the ending as well because it felt rushed…whats another 20-50 pdf to bring it all together?

  • I just read Finding Zach and just….WOW!!!

    It was such an amazing book that i really couldn’t stop reading it and spent the whole day sat inside just savouring every word.

    Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant.

  • As someone who has lived with PTSD for many years, I can say that this was a realistic, awe-inspiring story, though difficult to read at times. The average reader would have no idea of ‘normal’ recovery and time frame for trauma survivors. Every PTSD case is different. Zach’s portrayal was heartwrenchingly believable. Trust me, w/o the 2 year flash forward, this story would have gone down a much darker road – too much for the average reader.
    Remember, Zach was completely non-verbal when first rescued and had only been home for 10 months at that 2 year mark where the story picks up. Rich parents obviously got him the best care to fix his injuries and lots of intense ongoing therapy, so the amount of progress he’d made is not unreasonable. His fears and panic attacks and rage – all typical. Again, no set formula to learn coping skills for dealing with PTSD symptoms. There is no cure, but some survivors function better than others, even after years of therapy. Maybe I’m biased but I found this to be a realistic, harrowing read. Zach’s behaviors and feelings were very typical and accurate. People who haven’t been there couldn’t possibly have a clue. Sure, I would have liked a longer version that filled in the 4 years near the end of the book, but overall, the novel was so well written and had an emotionally satisfying ending. Zach’s strength of survival instinct kept him from dying in that jungle and his courage to learn to cope and move forward was inspirational. This book was awesome!

    • I always wonder, reading a book like this, how realistic certain things are. So it’s great to read a comment from someone with first-hand PTSD experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book!

      I agree it was awesome. 😉

    • Thanks for commenting! You hit on exactly what I felt when reading it. Although I didn’t think it was realistic (thanks for the help in correcting that) but I did think it touched the right balance of trying not to dwell too much while also using it as an effective plot device.

      It’s great when someone with more experience and knowledge can chime in with their opinion. Hopefully this will help those that felt it was too unrealistic to enjoy it. It’s a good read – or I thought so anyway.

  • I thought this book was great. Yes, there was some suspension of disbelief required. I did get the impression that the first 1-2 years (half or all of the time that the story fast forwards) was pretty intensive recovery time, and it’s good to remember that young people can sometimes recover quicker than older people–emotionally and physically. Well, he was 20 when found and emotionally/mentally he was kinda like a cross between 15 and 50, really. I’m not saying it was 100% realistic, but I pinned his state after those 2 years on those 2 years being a very intensive run of physical and emotional therapy. Shoot, the guy was still doing therapy TWICE A DAY when we caught up with him after 2 years. 😉

    Also, it seemed to me like he got a lot done in 2 years, then started coasting. I took David’s return to his life as the catalyst for his recovery to get a big jump start and move along some more–yeah, perhaps overly quickly–but I could suspend that much disbelief without feeling like it was too much. (It is an erotic romance, not a memoir, after all.)

    It was mostly well written, IMHO. I thought the first-person-present-tense flashback parts were very well done. Zach’s attitudes and hang-ups about sex made sense to me. I agree the ending felt rushed and a couple of things about it seemed odd…

    …but still, overall I felt it was very good and I look forward to what the author does next. 🙂

  • Actually, I would have preferred the story to dwell more on the recovery. Granted, I’m only about half-way thru, but I have to agree with a few of the others on that point. I think it would have made the whole ‘power of love to heal’ point more poignant.

    Initially, the recovery and his not wanting to see David were done pretty well, though it might have been better if it was more defined as Zach feeling ugly from the scars or feeling dirty, instead of the ‘reality or dream’ answer that the reader was given. And Zach having the physique of a near adonis sans scars (based on my perception from the reading) after 5 years of physical abuse/starvation/wrongly-healed bones and badly degraded muscles was a bit much to absorb, though I’ll be the first to admit that I have no idea how quickly a body can physically recover from such damage.

    But, it seemed like, when they finally got together ‘friend wise’ (jogging together, etc) after the initial angst of not wanting to see David, they were too quick to jump into the chummy buddy routine. I didn’t feel the tension that should have been there, imo.

    I liked how, at the bar when they run into each other for the first time in years, Zach was totally harsh and commented about not bottoming with anyone. That was realistic (to me). But then, when they started jogging together (was it the next day?) and David pinned Zach on the ground as a joke/teasing, I would have expected Zach to have a panic attack/flashback with the weight on his back and arm pinned. That was a prime moment for a flashback to happen. Instead, it was joking and laughing.

    I’m still reading on the story, and it’s mostly enjoyable. There’s just that ‘too quick recovery’ aspect that’s dampened the book for me so far.

  • This is an interesting and helpful review. I had seen this book listed among the bestsellers, I think, at the ARe online store and was curious about the book. I don’t think I’ll read it, based on the review. When something horrible has happened to a character, and the review keeps emphasizing how the author keeps a “light touch” about it — that’s in eye-rollingly unrealistic territory for me. I know lots of romance readers like it like that, and will enjoy the book. I appreciate the review, Kassa, for steering me clear of this one. I generally don’t like it when romance authors treat their characters like little paper dolls that they can just dress up and pose and have fun with, instead of dealing with real world repercussions. That style can work great, as long as nothing really serious actually happens and it stays in the realm of fluffy romantic fantasy. But 5 years of absuve imprisonment and PTSD? I can’t go along with that as the stuff of light and fluffy romance — I’d probably be muttering under my breath and annoyed with the author and characters if I tried to read this one.

    • Hi Cary,

      I can easily sympathize with your feelings. I’ll say it’s rare (VERY rare) that I just go with a story and ignore all the crazy, improbable, totally whack things. I am one that usually won’t go for a book like that.

      So what worked for me in this book is that I think it has several areas of “hmmm that’s not really true” but it doesn’t dwell on those, and they never were book changing events. There never was a moment when Zach’s “quick” recovery led him to save the day as the lone savior on the grassy knoll kind of a thing. Instead it’s clearly used to create tension. So ok and honestly I liked the characters and writing enough to go with it. Other times, absolutely not – no way in hell.

      I think the author took the right choice here in re. to the emotional angst/trauma. She -could- have dwelled on it and made a stunning intense story but I think it’d have been too much for readers. She could have used something else entirely but I could tell the whole PTSD thing was a choice. So I think most readers are going to prefer the lighter hand with the emotional angst since I think the goal was for an erotic romance with the subtext of PTSD as the vehicle. I could be wrong but I was ok with that due to how the whole thing was handled. I do think the author took into consideration real life consequences. Just not to it’s full extent. Instead of driving the -entire- angst highway, the author checked out at an earlier exit.

      I can easily understand why some may not like the book while others really enjoy it. I liked it, but I can see it’s faults for sure. Usually I’m defending why I didn’t like a book while everyone loves it hehe so this is a new and interesting position!

  • Thanks for the review 🙂 It was interesting to read yours and see how we have a different view on the book. Like Sim I have quite a lot of issues with this book (though I didn’t necessarily found it bad).

    While the recovery time seemed a bit easy too, I guess that can depends on the person as well (people amaze me sometimes with what they can recover from).

    What bugged me as well was that Zach’s parents seem to have given up after the ransom was paid. It seemed a bit too easy to just give up (it might be that I missed something in the book because I was angry :P)

    And what was up with the constant miscommunications?? Sheesh I don’t think I’ve seen so many in just one book. Both characters just kept on assuming stuff. Dude ask already…that’s what questions are for 😛

    It is a beautiful but very shocking and frustrating story 😉

    • Hi Larissa,

      This is a great book for discussion since everyone seems to have different triggers for what annoys them or what they find unbelievable.

      I agree the parents gave up too easily but I kind of shrugged that off. I personally didn’t think Zach actually would have survived 5 yrs of constant abuse and torture like that so I kind of went into it with.. “totally unbelievable but the story doesn’t care.” That mentality (which I’m not always get into) is what let me get over most of the hiccups.

      I will say the constant miscommunications .. oy. I literally remember telling the book “someone smack their heads together!” at one point in the circular conversation lol.

      Like I said, the book has some definite problems but I don’t think it’s attempting to be realistic or believable. I think it’s using a traumatic event as a background for emotional and physical tension. Now, whether readers can get into the story despite that is another question. Or that’s how I saw it.

  • Hi Kassa,
    I hope you don`t mind a different opinion.
    I know I must draw a thick line between a fiction novel and real life,but I simply can`t. I have strong issues with the ordeal/recovery time frame.Was it really necessary for the author to use 5(five!)years of living in hell to tell a story about “the power of love heals everything”?(I`m better not speaking about the amount and form of torture and humilation-that`s another issue.) 5 days -o.k.- 5 weeks max. would have been more than enough.
    The recovery time is ridiculous. I understand Zach is human and not some alien with superpowers.
    And why is that “not the point”?
    For me,the incredibility of the time frames had totally destroyed the story,
    I know,that 99,9% of the readers will love/ like-or already love/like-the book and I`m the lonely 0,01%(or not?) who don`t.
    It`s okay – really. I just had to get that out.

    Again,I hope you don`t mind and thanks for the review.

    • Hi Simsala,

      Thanks for the comment!! I don’t mind and actually I think you bring up a great point. I thought Zach’s recovery was way tooo easy. This was an aspect I just sort of went with and suspended disbelief (personal choice/preference) because I wanted to see him recover.

      I think the whole “fast forward 2 yrs” and he’s pretty much cured is eye rolling – especially since I didn’t buy into him having all that sex.

      I don’t think your comment is bad, and actually it’s incredibly valid. Why is not the point? Well I don’t think the story wanted to focus on it. I didn’t think it was the “point” of the story. It wasn’t really trying to be believable (IMHO) so it just skimmed over that and focused on what it wanted to, the romance. I think the author took the concept but didn’t want to deal with the emotional/physical repercussions so skipped those. Hell, the same story could have come about using a totally different vehicle. I was able to get into the story regardless but some readers definitely won’t.

      Thanks for commenting! I don’t think you’re going to be the lone dissenting voice. 🙂

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