Title: Secondhand Heart
Author: Scarlett Blackwell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Catt Ford
Buy Link: Amazon Genre: contemporary m/m
Length: Novel (350 pdf pages)
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: While this story was, for the main part, a gay merry-go-round sexathon revolving around a deceased man and his transplanted heart, its ending might still satisfy all the romantics out there.
The Blurb: 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.
Only one word: DRAMA. Spelled out in blinking, capitalized neon letters three feet high with sparkling stars flashing all around. Boy, all that swinging and bed-hopping made my head spin! If I’ve counted correctly, there are ten men more or less entangled in this web of relationships, love affairs, friendships and or/ fuck sessions, all orbiting Conrad, who seems to have been the center of their universe – still is, actually, even though he’s dead. Perhaps all the more for it. And to top it all, nothing in this story is low-key. Those who are sad are weeping their eyes out – actually, there’s a flood of tears in this story. Those who feel betrayed are devastated to the point of wanting to end their lives. Those who love do so unconditionally and eternally, with their whole hearts. Fights turn into public scenes, kisses turn legs to jelly, affection turns into obsession. There’s sex on well-nigh every third page or so, sometimes involving more than one pairing within one chapter. However, the sheer abundance and the intensity of all those twists and turns made for a very interesting ride.
Let me see if I can give you an idea:
Six months ago, Conrad Muller died, leaving behind his lover of ten years, Christian. Conrad’s parents, in complete disregard of their son’s life partner, put up Conrad’s organ’s for transplantation. Not only has Christian to live with his awful loss, but also with the knowledge that Conrad’s heart now beats in the chest of a random stranger – a fact that becomes Christian’s obsession when he receives a letter from the receiver of Conrad’s heart. Caught in his own world of sorrow and pain, Christian leans heavily on Eban, who used to be Conrad’s best childhood friend and now has become Christian’s best friend as well. However, Christian is totally oblivious to the fact that Eban’s grief is just as deep, perhaps deeper because Eban has been secretly in love with Conrad ever since they had sex one single time when they were both sixteen.
Cop Eban is with ER doctor Damien, technically; they have been together for five years. Conrad never approved of Damien in the first place, and the course of events seems to prove him right since Eban felt neglected by Damien to a point he felt compelled to sleep with Jack, who is Eban’s friend and Christian’s co-worker. Damien caught them and threw Eban out, which is why Eban is now living with Christian. While Eban wants Damien back, he also falls back into his old pattern of behavior of hooking up with random strangers for meaningless sex. This is how Eban meets Darius, another cop. Apparently, Darius immediately develops deeper feelings for Eban, who nevertheless pushes him away rather harshly once Damien shows an inclination to want him back. The latter can’t keep Eban from hooking up with Jack again, though, who is actually with Christian’s boss, Michael, which in turn makes Michael angry at Eban. Damien, for his part, likewise seeks comfort in anonymous sex with a stranger, who in time turns out to be yet another cop, Aaron, who happens to be Eban’s partner. When Eban learns of this, he gets mindlessly drunk together with Christian, and eventually, they have sex, which does considerable damage to their friendship.
Meanwhile, Christian meets a stranger in a coffee shop he frequents every day. The stranger, Luke, makes no secret out of his interest in Christian. Yet, Christian feels as if by getting together with another man he is betraying Conrad’s memory and thus refuses Luke at first, but he can’t resist for too long, and they get together after all. By chance, Luke’s best friend is none other than Darius, the one who has a crush on Eban. And to top it all, the identity of the receiver of Conrad’s heart is revealed, which results in major uproar not only on Christian’s part, but also for Eban.
Finally, there’s also Adam. He owns an ice cream booth on the beach which Conrad and Christian used to visit often and he had his own little secret crush on Conrad even though he has a partner, Tom. One night after Adam had an argument with Tom, he goes to a bar where he meets Eban, who has yet again broken up with Damien, which leads to – didn’t you know it – the two of them having sex…
As a matter of fact, this was a Comedy of Errors of Shakespearian dimensions that moved from one catastrophe to the next. Curious enough, though, it worked for me. I felt myself sucked into the troubles and problems of those men as their emotions, their despair and happiness unfolded before me and came alive on the pages. I found myself picking favorites (Darius and Aaron – knights in shining armor!), pitying others (Luke – poor sod), despising some (Conrad – what a sorry prick) and mocking some (Christian – get a grip, man! Eban – just grow a pair!). In the end, when the main protagonists were sitting happily paired up around the Christmas tree, with all the various sideline Jacks having found their respective Jills (ahem, Bills), I was satisfied like after a fluffy piece of Danish pastry. Man, what an indulgence!
As you might have noticed, this book worked for me because I didn’t take it overly seriously. Then again, others might take a different approach. After all this has some highly emotional scenes too, with all the grieving and uncovering of deeply buried secrets. I can clearly see how this story might be a tear-jerker for some, and readers who are into that type of story might like this book all the more for it.
(Then again, if you aren’t into partner-swapping and/or wish to see your protagonists remain faithful to only each other, this book is so totally not for you.)