Sunday, February 12, 2017

ARC Review: Hard Wired (Cyberlove, #3) by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

My FallenCon agenda is simple: sit on a couple of panels and let people meet the real me. Jesse Garvy—mod of a famous Twitch channel and, if I ever come out of my shell, future vlogger. I definitely didn’t plan to sleep with a moody tattooed fan-artist, but he’s gorgeous and can’t keep his hands off me. There's a first time for everything, and my first time with a guy turns out to be the hottest experience of my life.

But the next day, I find out my moody fan-artist is Ian Larsen AKA Cherry—someone I've known online for years. And he'd known exactly who I was while shoving me up against that wall. Before I figure out whether to be pissed or flattered, the con ends.

Now we're back online, and he's acting like nothing happened. But despite the distance between us, and the way he clings to the safety of his online persona, we made a real connection that night. I don't plan to let him forget.

Jewel's rating:

The angst is strong in this one. Honestly, I think Hard Wired is the angstiest -- and most drama filled -- of this series. I quite enjoyed it.

Hard Wired centers around Kai's two feisty and dedicated mods -- Garvy and Cherrycakes. Near the end of Fast Connection was a scene with both of them at FallenCon, at a panel, where both mods looked like they might hate each other, the tension was so thick. The truth was much more delicious because they met the previous day, but Ian, who had a booth in Artist Alley and was in full on Cerise-mode, didn't mention that he was also Cherry (whom everyone pretty much thought identified as female) and Jesse and Ian hit it off in the best of ways. Hard Wired backs up to the day before to when Jesse and Ian meet.

Ian Larson is an introvert with huge anxiety issues, very similar to Kai, but Ian has learned how to actually go out among people, especially fandom, and interact. He was abandoned at birth, but no one adopted him. He spent his life in the system until he aged out and his last placement, was apparently the worst and rife with abuse, including sexual. Ian's never really dealt with that. Instead, he created Cerise who is badass and strong. Who is sex-positive. Who lives life on his own terms. Cerise is Ian's armor. Cerise is an artist with huge followings on Instagram and DeviantArt, and Ian uses Cerise, in part, to keep people at arms length. Cerise is who Ian becomes in order to take control of his life. Ian created Cherrycakes solely for separation from his art. Cherry is cheerful, helpful and is the same type of personality he uses for customer service for his freelance graphic design.

Jesse Garvy, by contrast, is pretty much WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). When he mods Kai's channel, as Garvy, he's pretty much himself. Jesse is also more than a bit insecure. He worries that people will get bored with him. He has trouble standing up for himself, especially when it comes to his parents, who are always mooching money off him. With Ian, though, Jesse isn't afraid to ask for what he wants. Of course, he doesn't really "get" Cerise and why Cerise is so important to Ian. Herein lies the angst of this story.

The aftermath of Jesse finding out, at the panel instead of from Ian, that Ian was Cherrycakes resulted in Jesse saying some pretty harsh things - not because Ian was also Cherry, but because Ian had acted like he barely knew about Kai's Twitch channel. So after a really wonderful night where Jesse got to explore his gayness for the first time, he feels vulnerable and insecure, like a joke had been played on him. I do wish he wouldn't have gone off on Ian like he did, but I understand the anger. Later, when Jesse has had a chance to cool down, he goes to find Ian to talk it through, but Ian uses sex to avoid the conversation and then runs away. Ian runs away a lot.

Ian sees himself, Cerise and Cherry as being very separate entities. They're not, though. Not really. They are all Ian. But what Ian doesn't see, and Jesse does, is that Ian can be all the things that Cerise is; that Cherry is; that Ian is -- all without making a division. Ian doesn't understand that that is what Jesse is trying to tell him. Not to just discard Cerise, but assimilate him.

And Jesse, who had never really stood up for himself, learns how to do that because he wants Ian so much. Jesse had been living in Santa Cruz, working at a surf shop and never pursuing any of his dreams because he always gave in to his parents when they wanted to "borrow" money. Jesse is a gamer and a surfer and he wants to start a YouTube channel about gaming, but he needs a confidence boost to do it. Ian gives Jesse that confidence to reach for his dreams.

I quite enjoyed Hard Wired. Not quite as much as the first two books, but still a winner in my mind. The angst and drama are delicious, the sex is smoldering and the ending, I'd say is an HEA.

ARC of Hard Wired was generously provided by the authors in exchange for an honest review.

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