demolishedRating: 4 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

When Calvin Quarry meets up with his anonymous hookup, he is startled and upset to find out that the man is none other than Felix Bracks. Felix was responsible for the death of Calvin’s closest friend in high school and several of their classmates. Calvin flees from the encounter, horrified. But Felix pursues him, calling and texting Calvin over the next week or so. Felix wants Calvin to hear his side of the story. While it’s not something Calvin wants to hear, eventually he gives in and listens to a version of the story that differs greatly from the one he knew.

Felix has spent years as a social outcast because of that accident in high school. Physically and emotionally scarred, he thought he had recovered. But feeling the distain and hate from Calvin after all these years hurts him. He is attracted to Calvin and wants the man to like him. But Felix only tells Calvin part of the truth, keeping the full story to himself.

When Calvin’s cousin Robbie gets involved in something sinister, something that is derailing his life, Calvin decides to investigate. After all, Calvin is an journalism major. This is something he knows how to do. But as Robbie falls deeper and deeper into trouble, Calvin’s investigation starts to lead him not only to Robbie’s problem, but to Felix’s past as well. As the past starts to intrude on Calvin and Felix’s relationship, will they be able to trust each other or will the revelations from the past demolish the love they have found with each other?

Astrid Amara is an automatic go to author for me. I love her stories, especially her holidays with the Bellskis, which rank among my favorite. So when I heard she had a new story coming out, I was thrilled. Demolished has all the elements I have come to expect from this author: great characters and a mystery that involves the reader emotionally as well as mentally.

Amara starts us off with Calvin agreeing to meet his online hookup, Bikenut, in person for some hot, and decidedly casual sex.

After four weeks of online flirtations and cybersex, Calvin Quarry finally got up the nerve to meet Bikenut in person.

Meet wasn’t the correct term. Screw worked better. Bikenut agreed to host. Cal would knock on the man’s apartment door five times, walk in, and he would be grabbed and taken aggressively and quickly. Then he’d depart.

It was the kind of online hookup Cal always dreamed of engaging in but never had the nerve to. But after weeks of conversations online with the guy with the username Bikenut, a series of photographs showing the man’s impressive endowments, and the guy’s general sense of good humor and intelligence, Cal gave in to his fantasies and arranged the meeting.

But from the moment, Calvin and his online buddy meet face to face, everything starts to go wrong. Because Bikenut turns out to be Felix Brachs, the boy Calvin and his community love to hate. Felix was involved in a car accident turned fatal for several high school students, including Calvin’s best friend and secret crush. For that alone, Calvin has hated Felix all these years. Amara does a wonderful job in making Calvin, and then Felix, open and appealing young men. We understand the emotions each person is feeling and can relate to each of them, easily seeing that horrendous event from both sides of the story. As created by Amara, these are earnest young men with their futures ahead of them. But both Calvin and Felix have a joined past that they need to put behind them before they can go forward. The author’s characterizations give Calvin and Felix each a layer of vulnerability that goes hand in hand with their youthfulness. Each has experienced past angst and trauma, from the devastation of the accident to their coming out as gay youths. And in every scene, Amara makes us feel their pain and confusion with a vividness that is heartbreaking.

Robbie is another wonderfully engaging character. Younger than Calvin and Felix, Robbie is in trouble. His grades have fallen, he is sullen and keeping secrets. All the hallmarks of drug and alcohol abuse. Robbie’s situation becomes increasingly grave over the course of the story and it builds anxiety about Robbie’s future as clues from the past intertwine with revelations about Robbie’s current predicament. For me, this is where Amara really shined. Robbie’s portrayal of a youth in trouble is both realistic, grim, and still handled with sensitivity. The author ticks off the boxes of the parental check sheet of things to look out for to see if a child is in trouble. But she incorporates that knowledge seamlessly into Robbie’s personality and behavioral changes noticed by Calvin and Robbie’s parents. We watch it happening, we see the missteps by Calvin that we know can be laid at his youthfulness and inexperience, and the dread just seeps into the reader, spreading over the story as we wait to see how it will all play out.

I have a few quibbles with Demolished, the first of which I am not sure really mattered in the end. Perhaps I have watched far too many police procedurals on cable, but I could see some of the plot twists and turns coming, including the biggest of them all. That said, the journey to that point was so suspenseful and thrilling it didn’t matter so much that I knew where we were headed to begin with. The other quibble was the almost instantaneous love that sprang between a young man with hatred in his heart and the object of his distain. I wondered if Calvin could really push all those carefully hoarded feelings away and fall in love almost immediately with Felix. Maybe or then again, maybe not. That was a harder bump in the road to get over. But once I accepted their relationship, the story moved forward quickly, attaching my feelings in the process.

If you are new to Astrid Amara, there are so many books out there for you to start with. Whether it is the science fiction of Hell Cop, the contemporary holiday romance of The Carol of the Bellskis, or the mystery romance of Demolished, you can’t go wrong. Start here and work your way through her backlist. Astrid Amara lives in Bellingham, Washington, the wildly quirky town that is home to another one of my favorite authors, Nicole Kimberling. I have never been to Bellingham but feel a road trip coming on. What a place it must be to have such wonderful authors residing there and writing such amazing stories. No matter, Astrid Amara is a wonderful author. Begin your journey with her here.

Cover artist, Valerie Tibbs, has created a terrific cover for Demolished, the red is the perfect color in tone and emotion for the story within.