Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Kendall Monroe is a Broadway star who has been with his partner, author Johnny Harker, for a decade. But things have been a little off for a while between them. Kendall’s job keeps him out late almost every night of the week, and Johnny’s writing means he often needs time alone to focus on his work. The guys have been drifting apart and now that Kendall’s recent show has closed, he is even more out of sorts when Johnny doesn’t seem to have any time or interest in being together. So when he gets an offer to star in a movie, Kendall takes the opportunity to get away for a while and try something new.
For the most part, making the movie is a great experience. On the plus side, Kendall really enjoys the work and soon begins making friends with his coworkers. The rough start with his director smooths over and they begin to really appreciate one another. But Kendall is disappointed Johnny doesn’t take him up on his offer to come visit in California, and gets increasingly worried as Johnny appears to be drifting away from him. Kendall is also unnerved that the role calls for him to be locked in a car (even though it is staged), as this triggers his claustrophobia. And worst of all, it soon becomes clear that Kendall has a stalker who is leaving flowers and increasingly disturbing notes.
Although Kendall takes precautions and the director adds more security, to avoid media attention the police are not involved. And when the stalker kidnaps Kendall and nearly kills him, things become even more terrifying. Especially as the stalker recreates Kendall’s biggest fear by locking him in a car and leaving him stranded in the desert sun. With his life in danger, Kendall comes to realize just how much Johnny means to him, but as the threats continue, he has to hope the stalker is caught before it is too late.
Ok, so this was an interesting situation in that Stranded is so very different from the way the book is described in the blurb. Based on the blurb, I picked this book up expecting a thriller, a story where Kendall is trapped and fighting for his life, and, as he deals with this life or death situation over the course of the book, we get flashbacks to happier times with Johnny. Honestly, I assumed the “locked in the car” aspect of the book would be the primary focus of the story, as it is essentially the sole focus of the blurb, and that this would be an intense and thrilling tale. In reality, that is but a very small part of a very different story that reads much more like a traditional contemporary romance. So while the book was enjoyable, I had a really hard time adjusting my expectations from the way it was marketed.
Most of the story is focused on Kendall and Johnny and the slow collapse, and eventual rebuilding, of their relationship. We spend time with them in New York together and then with Kendall in California alone as we see them drifting apart and Kendall’s increasing fears that Johnny is having an affair and that their relationship may be over. At times Kendall comes across a little too arrogant and smug for my taste, and Johnny too distant, but for the most part these guys are likable together. And the more we learn about the early stages of their relationship and the incredible love they had for one another, the more I was rooting for them to make it together. At times things drifted a bit too saccharine for me, but overall I found them an appealing couple.
My problem really comes down to the marketing. We are told in the blurb that this kidnapping is the major event, and I just kept waiting for it through much of the book. If I wasn’t expecting this to be the focus of the story, I would have been satisfied with the pacing of Kendall’s settling in California and the details of the movie making. In fact, I think Grey does a great job with the setting here, both the background into Kendall’s theater life as well as what it is like to make the movie. But I just couldn’t help but be disappointed at not getting what is promised. The actual kidnapping and survival component is literally like 6% of the book, with not nearly enough of the tension and terror I was expecting. I just think this is a big failure of marketing and conveying to the reader what to expect from this book, and as a result I found myself somewhat disappointed to not be getting what I was promised and hoping for.
Leaving that issue aside, I found that the realism from the early parts of the book seemed to be gone once we deal with the kidnapping and the immediate aftermath. I am going to spoiler tag the specifics here, but I will just say I found myself going to Google thinking there is just no way this is possible. Too many things happened where I was in total disbelief (at either the lack of realism or their bad decision making. [spoiler] Ok, so Kendall is handcuffed to a car for two full days in a desert with no water. According to a post on The Weather Channel, when it is 90 degrees out, the inside of a car with closed windows will be 138 degrees within 90 minutes. Kendall is locked in a closed car in the Nevada desert with no water for two days! Even if he does survive, he would be near death one would assume. And yet here he needs no emergency medical care? Not a hospital, not IV fluids, not even a doctor? He is fine with some rest and Gatorade (and still healthy enough to come from a blow job the next day)! Yes, I am not a doctor and if Grey has researched this and I am totally wrong, I sincerely apologize. But I just couldn’t believe this at all and it took away from the intensity of the incident for me. I am also wondering how Johnny and Lyman ever manage to find him. Even if they don’t believe that Kendall has left for New York as the kidnapper’s note indicated, they have absolutely not one shred of information to suggest he might be in the desert. He could have been taken anywhere. Yet after telling us how desolate this desert is earlier in the book, these two manage to stumble upon him within days, out of all the possible places in the world he can be? And once he is found, calling the police is still not their immediate reaction (after getting this poor man to the hospital!). It was just frustrating and took what should have been the most intense and exciting aspect of the story and made it feel flat and frustrating.[/spoiler]
So I was really torn on this one. Taken for what it is, a nice story about lovers who find their way back to each other, there is a lot to like here once you can get past some of the realism issues surrounding the kidnapping. It is sweet and romantic and a bit of an unusual set up. But the marketing of this book doesn’t do it any favors as it is hard not to be disappointed that the story doesn’t deliver what is promised. So I’m of mixed feelings, but if you know what to expect, this can be a nice, sweet story.