out of frameRating: 4.5 stars
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Quinn Mathers has always been shy and lives life on the sidelines. He has overbearing parents and can’t help but think through the consequences of every action before making a move. But now he is headed out on a cruise for Spring Break with his best friend, Jess, and Quinn is determined to let loose and have fun. The fact that his celebrity crush, J.R. Butler, is on board filming with his reality show, Trip League, doesn’t hurt things either.

J.R. has dreams of being an actor and signed on almost a year ago with Trip League, hoping it would lead to his big break. J.R. took the advice of his agent who told him he must hide the fact that he is bisexual and now J.R. is forced to play straight for the cameras and the fans. It is killing him to keep that part of himself hidden, but with a sick brother in need of expensive medical treatments, J.R. doesn’t see much choice other than to play along and keep his interest in men hidden. It has been working for a while, but after seeing Quinn, J.R. can’t help of dream of a chance to be with the adorable, shy redhead.

As the guys get to know one other better over the course of the trip, the attraction between them continues to flare. Quinn finds himself seeing a softer side to J.R. than the angry man edit he often gets on the show. Seeing what J.R. is really like makes Quinn’s attraction even stronger. And J.R. finds himself falling for Quinn, despite his determination to keep his distance. He knows he can’t let himself fall for Quinn when he must keep his sexuality a secret, and Quinn has no interest in being hidden away. Yet even though both men know being together is a bad idea, the attraction and growing feelings for one another are too strong to ignore. Now they must figure out if they have any hope of being together, or if their relationship is doomed before it really starts.

Out of Frame is the third book in Erickson’s fabulous In Focus series. The first book, Trust the Focus, was one of my top picks of 2015. This story very loosely connects to the other two in that Jess is Colin’s sister from Focus on Me. Colin and Riley make a brief appearance here as they drop off/pick up Jess and Quinn from the ship, and the epilogue features all three series couples, but other than that, this story stands alone completely.

Although this book isn’t technically a road trip story like the other two, it has a similar feel as these guys are locked together on a cruise for the week. We can really feel the tension and attraction between them as they encounter each other over and over, being in close quarters and having trouble fighting their feelings. Erickson sets up a tough conflict here for the guys, as J.R. feels he has no choice but to stay closeted, and Quinn isn’t willing to be a secret boyfriend after getting out of a similar relationship in the past. I liked that not only can we understand what is driving both guys, but they are also so understanding of one another. Despite the impasse they find themselves at, both men are totally supportive of one another. It makes the conflict even more bittersweet and the resolution even more rewarding.

One issue this book handles particularly well is J.R.’s bisexuality. He has long known he was interested in both men and women, but felt pressured to keep it a secret in order to get acting jobs, and now is contractually obligated on the show to “play straight.” Erickson really shows how painful this is for J.R., and how little understanding he gets on the issue. People tell him it is ok because since he likes women too, what difference does it make if he can’t date men? But we can see how much J.R. wants to share who he is instead of feeling ashamed or like it is a big secret. He wants to be open, to be able to tell the people he dates, and to stop pretending. Just partnering with someone of the opposite sex doesn’t erase his  desire for the same sex, or the desire to be open about his sexuality. Erickson really does a great job exploring that here.

J.R. is on a reality show that is filming on the boat, so we get some some behind the scenes details about what life is like as a reality show star and can see the emotional toll it takes on J.R., and even on the other cast members. They are each pigeon-holed into their character and it is not an easy experience for any of them. The reality show isn’t a major part of the story in terms of the day-to-day filming, etc, so even if that is not your thing, I think you will still enjoy the book. I did find myself wondering about J.R.’s supposed “celebrity” status, however. Honestly, the vast majority of reality show contestants or performers aren’t even well known, let alone famous celebrities and I couldn’t help but find it odd that J.R. and the gang seem to be household names and that anyone was paying that much attention to what they were doing. I think a little more background on the show and its scope may have helped address that, as I couldn’t help but find it a bit far fetched that these random people were supposedly so famous.

My only real issue here is that I wished I had a better sense for what made J.R. decide now was the time to act on his feelings for a guy. He is immediately attracted to Quinn and almost right away starts thinking about being with him even though he knows he can’t. I get that he is kind of at his wit’s end over this pretending to be straight thing, but he must have been attracted to lots of folks in the past and I didn’t quite get what it was about Quinn specifically that made J.R. willing to finally act. Over time, they get to know one another, and then I could see how their feelings were growing enough to make me understand J.R.’s motivations. But in that time from first sight to actually knowing one another well enough to have real feelings, I felt like I was missing understanding what was making him act after keeping himself away from men for so long.

That issue aside, I found the book to really engaging and such a lovely story. I loved seeing Quinn blossom as he finally gets out of his parents’ overbearing reach. And I loved seeing J.R. let himself have the happiness he deserves. The guys are so great together and the story is romantic, and sexy, and totally entertaining. I really love this series and think Out of Frame is another wonderful installment.

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