Title: Handle with Care
Author: Josephine Myles
Publisher: Samhain
Length: Novel

Buy links: Amazon | All Romance

Rating: 4.75

Ben Lethbridge spends most of his time at home, breaking up the monotony of his days by looking forward to deliveries from the hot parcel post guy bringing his regular shipment of porn DVDs.  Ben is in end stage kidney failure and waiting for a donor, severely limiting his activity and ability to get out and about.  But Ollie is the bright spot in his day (and in fact, one of the reasons he places so many orders).  The adorable younger man is so full of energy and life, with his purple spiky hair and his skater vibe that totally turns Ben on.

At first Ben is not even sure Ollie is gay, but after Ollie continues to flirt (and Ben gets some prodding from his sister Zoe), Ben finally accepts that the guy is actually into him.  Just as things start to get interesting between them though, Ben gets the call he has been waiting for — there is a donor and he is having a transplant.  As Ben deals with the surgery and the recovery, Ollie is there for him every step along the way.  Their relationship blossoms, but both men face a lot of insecurities and old baggage that often gets in the way.

One of Ben’s biggest problems is his own self-image.  When he first meets Ollie he is undergoing a regular dialysis treatment that makes him bloated and uncomfortable.  Adding to that, he has an implanted tube for his treatment that sticks out of his abdomen, and patchy bald spots on his stomach from taping it down.  Ben is incredibly self-conscious about his appearance and can’t imagine what the hot young Ollie sees in him.  It has also been many years since Ben has been with another man (thus the porn habit).  His last sexual partner was four years ago and ended in a traumatic accident that caused Ben’s kidney failure, among other terrible results.  So Ben faces quite a bit of performance anxiety and fear about having sex with someone again.  And finally, Ben worries about how much he has come to need Ollie and to care for him. He fears he will get too attached and be destroyed if Ollie ultimately leaves him.

Although the story is told from Ben’s POV, we come to understand a lot of issues that Ollie deals with as well.  He is 20 years old and just starting to find his independence.  Ollie dreams of opening a cafe near his beloved skate park, and with Ben’s help begins getting things off the ground. But his past relationship taught him that his job as the younger man is to serve and take care of his partner, and he and Ben sometimes clash as Ollie wants to be a caretaker while Ben wants to show he can do things for himself. Both men really need to work to communicate with one another about what they want and what they expect in order to make things work between them.

I just loved both of these guys.  They each had such a great mix of strength and vulnerability.  And I am a total sucker for the hot bear/adorable twink dynamic that they have going on.  There is no question that Ben is a tough guy, dealing with such extreme health issues that impact so much of his daily life.  He lost his parents when he was a young man and took on the care of his much younger sister Zoe.  So he can handle challenge and responsibility, but he is so vulnerable as well.  He doesn’t want to be weak and is determined not to have others have to take care of him.  He adores Ollie and at the same time is so scared of losing him.

Ollie is even more of a delicious character.  He is a bundle of energy, bouncing and lively and full of life.  He works hard, holding down multiple jobs and is full of determination to reach his goals.  In addition to his passion for skating, he is a talented artist and does wonderful illustrations of Cyber-Ben and Sidekick-Ollie, gifting Ben with a wealth of pornographic pictures of their alter egos.  Despite the difference in their ages, it is clear that Ollie is more than a match for the older Ben.  The two fit together so well and their relationship develops so naturally, even under such extreme circumstances.  And while Ben’s physical health takes a toll on his sex life, the guys still manage to be scorchingly hot together and quite inventive, even when Ben is on restricted activity.

I think Myles does a wonderful job of handling Ben’s illness and working it into the story.  The book doesn’t shy away from facing the more challenging side of his condition and we get enough detail on what his life is like and how his health affects him without being too grisly or depressing.  Ben’s illness and subsequent recovery from the transplant are interwoven really seamlessly into the story and I think it is addressed quite well.

Most of the book is very relationship focused on Ollie and Ben as they get to know one another and things grow between them and I enjoyed this immensely.  I did have a little bit of trouble with some of the parts that move outside that scope.  My biggest issue was Ollie and his new business. Although we learn he is taking out a loan and getting furniture and supplies on the cheap, I had trouble imaging how this guy with virtually no experience and little income is able to secure a loan for a business as risky as opening a cafe. Even with Ben helping him with a business plan, this is an incredibly difficult business venture and I think the challenges here might have been a bit glossed over.  I also found the coincidence at one point of something from Ollie’s past intersecting with Ben’s life to stretch belief a bit.  But both of these things are really outside the main focus of the story, and as a result, did little to affect my enjoyment of the book.

Overall I thought this was another really wonderful story from Myles.  I think she does “opposites attract” so well and this book was no exception.  Myles has created really interesting and unique characters in Ollie and Ben, and made me really care about what happened to them.  This story was sweet, romantic, hot, and full of hope.  I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it.

Cover Review: I really like this cover.  Mostly because of the purple hair. It is such a big part of Ollie’s personality and appearance that I am so glad it is incorporated into the cover. Such an easy thing that so rarely happens in cover design.  Overall I sort of pictured Ollie younger and more twinkie, but the purple hair makes up for it. And I like how it sort of shows him in a caring/protective position over Ben.  They even conveyed a bit of Ben’s hairiness with the deeper 5 o’clock shadow.  Really nicely done.

I am super excited that Josephine Myles will be stopping here today as part of her Handle With Care blog tour. Be sure to check out that post to hear her thoughts on writing a seriously ill character and for a chance to win an All Romance eBooks gift card and Handle With Care mug.