All the Wrong Places is part of the Bluewater Bay series, but as with all the books in the series, it is written as a standalone. Also, this is a romance between two asexual characters, so do not expect sex.
Brennan Cross is a 25-year-old semi-pro skateboarder who has just caught his girlfriend of the past 18 months having sex with his friend in their bed. This is the third girlfriend he’s lost to cheating and he’s feeling a bit battered. Brennan wonders why is he so lousy in bed, because it has been made clear by all three women that his sex drive is far below that of his partners.
Frustrated, Brennan heads into Red Hot Bluewater, the only sex shop in town, to see if there are some materials he can read to help improve his sex drive and prevent a fourth romantic disaster. Instead, he meets Zafir. Zafir is a Lebanese man who’s been raised in the US, and is a semi-lapsed Muslim. He’s also a single parent, raising his 9-year old son—conceived when Zafir was sixteen.
Zafir is asexual, and recognizes the similarities between what Brennan confides and things he has discovered about his own self. Zafir describes asexuality and Brennan isn’t convinced, at all, that this fits him, but the more Brennan considers asexuality and studies it, he thinks it could apply to him.
In the meantime, Brennan strikes up a friendship with Zafir, at first to discuss asexuality—which is confusing to him—and later because they make good companions. After all, having a person to talk to, and share troubles with, and watch a movie together, that was the best part of his previous relationships. It’s Zafir’s son, Tariq, who finally asks: Are you and Brennan dating?
I liked this story, because it really gets to the heart of asexuality: the desire for an intimate companion with, or without, sexual activity. Brennan was a great best friend to his girlfriends, who all found him consummately respectful—on account of his lack of pressure regarding sex. He was happy to follow their lead and allow them to initiate, which clearly didn’t work. He’s also been strictly heterosexual, so finding Zafir to be attractive as a companion was a hard step to take. Essentially, Brennan had to decide if he could be intimate—asexually—with a man. The thing is, he was so comfortable with Zafir before they ever took that step that it was practically the very next step to take.
There are so many sweet moments in this book, and many center around Tariq, who is a smart and generous, but shy, boy, who also wants to learn to skateboard. Brennan is eager to assist, as he’d pretty much skate everywhere if it were possible. Those moments of parental terror Zafir experiences were easy for me to identify with, and all the reactions seemed so very authentic. I also respected the care that Zafir took to shield Tariq, to some degree, from fallout from his relationships. Zafir has dated both men and women in the past—he’s biromantic—and Tariq accepts Brennan as a potential partner for his father without even a raised eyebrow. Also, the Muslim aspect was handled very well, which is something I’ve come to expect from this author, who continues to write stories that are not simply sexuality-diverse, but also ethnically and racially diverse. Brava.
While there are no hot-and-heavy scenes, there is plenty of affection, and a quiet romance. In a genre that’s growing to be fully LGBTQ-spectrum friendly, I really thought this book hit a good balance for asexual characters. Others I have read paired Aces with people who pretty much wanted regular sex, and those seemed a bit doomed. Zafir’s been engaged (to a woman) before, and it seemed she left for a similar reason, but this new relationship with Brennan seems custom-built to last. The writing is expressive and the pace is excellent. I never wondered where the story was going, or how long it would take to get there. It was easy to bond with these characters, and I hoped they’d get through their rough patch with little delay.