Levi Grainger spent a year on the reality show Trip League and is now tired of being in the spotlight. He and his sister Laylah had planned to hike the Appalachian Trail once the show was over, but she was killed during military service. The two were incredibly close, and Levi is still devastated by her loss. He decides to hike the trail alone, as a tribute to his sister, and also to give himself some time alone to deal with his grief and think about his future.
One night Levi sees a stranger sitting on a rock, staring at the moon near Levi’s tent. When the two run into each other again, they somehow end up deciding to hike together. Thad is a guy who keeps mostly to himself. He clearly doesn’t want to talk about himself, or talk much at all in fact, but that is ok with Levi. Somehow, despite the fact that Levi is chatty and outgoing, he just fits with the quiet, stoic Thad. As the two continue to hike together, a quiet friendship grows between them, as does an attraction. The two act on their feelings, and a relationship grows between them over the long, quiet miles through the woods.
Neither man has talked about their future after the trail, but it is clear that something real is developing between them. Being with Thad is helping Levi to get over his loss, and Thad’s quiet strength and support allows Levi to take the time to reflect and deal with his pain from Laylah’s death. But as Levi gets more attached, he also knows the pain of loss if things don’t work out will be devastating. And when he learns some of Thad’s secrets, Levi becomes even more afraid. Now the two men must decide if they are willing to take a chance on one another, and if what they have built as they hiked together is enough to sustain them in the real world.
Overexposed is the fourth book in Megan Erickson’s In Focus series and I absolutely adored it! I wasn’t sure any of the books would top my feelings for Trust the Focus, the first book in the series, but Overexposed was about as close as you could get. We met Levi in the previous book, Out of Frame, as one of J.R.’s costars on the reality show. But this story stands alone the most of any in the series, and while we see all the guys again in the epilogue, other than that this story stands entirely alone.
Aside from loving this series, this book caught my attention because it prominently features the Appalachian Trail. The trail is a 2180+ mile path that runs from Maine to Georgia and every year hikers not only day hike its paths, but many attempt to through hike, covering the entire trail. I live close enough to the trail that I have had a chance to see parts and even do some small day hikes and I have always found it fascinating. Like climbing a massive mountain, the strength and endurance required to hike the entire trail is incredible. Just even attempting such an arduous journey is impressive, let alone those who manage to survive the elements and the endless miles of hiking to complete the whole trail. So needless to say, I found the setting fascinating and Erickson does a nice job of bringing the trail to life. We get to see details of their day-to-day experiences and some of the dangers, as well as those quiet, beautiful moments of being alone in a vast wilderness.
One element that works particularly well is the sense of being able to reinvent yourself on the trail. Both men are at kind of a crossroads in their lives, looking to put aside the past and figure out who and what they want to be moving forward. For Levi in particular, he is well known enough from his TV show to be often recognized. But he is also grieving, and wants some time to reflect and deal with his loss. So these guys both have some baggage, and both are looking for a chance to refocus themselves and figure out what is next. There is an anonymity to the experience that is important to both men. Neither know one another in the outside world, and they accept each other at face value as the person they present on the trail. It enables both of them to start fresh and put aside their pasts in a way that opens both men up to what is to come.
I also really liked these guys together. Levi is friendly and chatty and outgoing. And Thad is, well, not. He is quiet and stoic and mostly grunts and gives one word answers. He clearly doesn’t want to talk himself, or really talk at all. Half the time when they encounter other people, Thad sort of hulks behind Levi and terrifies everyone around him. But somehow these guys are a perfect match. Thad loves listening to Levi talk, even when he doesn’t want to talk back. He is also sweet and gentle and kind with Levi. And when Thad does open up, he is so beautifully romantic and lovely you can’t help but get kind of swoony. These guys are such an interesting match and are so sweet and super sexy together. I haven’t come across too many characters like Thad, or couples like the pair of them, and I found them so engaging and really enjoyable.
So I really totally loved this one. It gave me all the warm fuzzies as the story came together. Plus, lots of super hotness between the guys. And I loved the way the trail is incorporated into the story, really proving to be much more than a setting, but also a means for these guys to find themselves and their love for one another. This is a fabulous addition to an already great series and I highly recommend it.