Rating: 4.5 stars
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In After the End we’re introduced to Quinn O’Malley who is grieving Aaron, his partner of 10 years. Aaron died two years ago from an ugly battle with cancer and Quinn hasn’t let himself feel anything but grief since that day. He’s a comic book store owner who is able to shut himself away in his store and communicate only with his customers and his two best friends, Tracy and Anna. When Tracy sets up Quinn on a blind date, he reluctantly agrees to go, knowing that he’ll probably just do his time and leave.
Brady Banner, an event planner and all-around gorgeous specimen of a man, is extremely difficult to dismiss. They have an instant chemistry that jumps off of the page. Even though Quinn is grieving and hesitant and scared to death, they manage to make a connection from the instant that they meet. Quickly, Brady learns of Aaron and Quinn’s inability to move past his death. He agrees to take things slowly, so the two of them are able to build a solid friendship while at the same time assuring the skittish Quinn that there could be a possibility of more for the two of them.
It’s not an easy road. Quinn is still very much in love with Aaron, and while he has strong feelings for Brady, this powerful attachment to his dead partner leads Quinn to do some really stupid things. Along the way, though, Quinn is able to find himself by returning to the art that he once loved and finding the joy in things that he thought had been lost forever. Brady, a man who is confident in himself but is also willing to work hard for something that he wants, is the perfect person to support him through this process.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hesitant about reading this story. It’s difficult to write about grief in connection with romance, and in this case the heartache that accompanies the death of a partner is a major element of the plot. It was recently done well in Con Riley’s After Ben and I didn’t see how this novel could do this heavy topic justice as well. I can say, without reservation, that Alex Kidwell brought an interesting perspective to the heartbreak of a surviving spouse that was both devastating and hopeful.
Most of the credit can be given to the creation of Quinn and Ben, who are charming, sensitive, funny, and make a instantly dynamic couple. They are the type of couple that makes you believe in soul mates. While Quinn is trying to reconcile his feelings for Ben with his existing love for Aaron, Ben is patient and loving, but is far from passive. He fights for his man and I loved this about Ben. Ben’s the kind of guy who could have anyone that he wanted, but he fell in love with Quinn, someone far out of his “type,” and accepts and loves Quinn for all of the baggage that he brings with him.
Sexual chemistry either exists or it doesn’t and Kidwell does an amazing job of creating that explosive spark from the very first time their hands touch. Their connection does not just rely on the intimacy in the bedroom. While the sex scenes are hot, it’s their emotional connection, the relationship that builds from understanding and compassion and appreciation, that makes their physical bond that much stronger.
I’m a sucker for a good sense of humor, and the characters in After the End have that in spades. They’re able to laugh at each other and themselves, which is a nice reprieve from the often heavy subject matter. Both Brady’s family and Quinn’s two best friends make an ensemble cast that is a lot of fun. There’s no family angst, which I appreciated, because it takes that strong familial bond to get through some of the issues that Quinn and Brady confront along the way.
My major issue with this book was the fairly unoriginal premise of the plot. It’s beautifully written. I liked the characters. But ultimately there was nothing new here. The conflict that shows up later in the book is one like hundreds of others I’ve read. While I believe that Kidwell ranks among the top 10% of writers in the genre, I hope the next book she writes stretches this author’s talent just a little bit more. This is definitely an author to watch.
You will not regret giving this book a chance. It is just the kind of sweet, captivating book that keeps you reading late into the night and leaves you wanting just a few more chapters. It is a beautiful love story perfect for this time of the year.