K.M. Neuhold has released the second book in her Replay series, Play It by Ear. For those unfamiliar with the first novel, I agree with the author this really could be read as a standalone, but honestly, I feel there is so much more to be enjoyed in this book if you read the first as well. The focus of the series is on the band members of Downward Spiral—an apt name when you begin to discover just how dysfunctional this group of four guys has become as they have ridden their way to the top of the music industry. In this story we learn more about the bassist of the group—Lando.
Nine years ago, Lando ended up having a weekend fling with a man he met on a return flight home from his parent’s house. The problem is that what may have started out as an impetuous booty call turned into something much more—at least for Lando. He simply couldn’t get the guy out of his mind or heart and after letting him slip away so many years before, Lando is determined to see if he can find the guy again. He thinks of Dawson as much more than a good lay; in fact, he is actually Lando’s muse as well as the guy who holds his heart captive. With his fellow bandmate, Lincoln, failing to hold up his promise to write new material for the band, it has fallen to Lando to keep the music flowing and he is deep in the hold of a writer’s block. He hopes seeing Dawson again will not only unleash his inner songwriter, but also allow them to reconnect and explore the love Lando knows he still has for Dawson. But after that weekend, Dawson never contacted Lando again so now the question is does Lando try to find his muse and make him his lover again, or is it too late? A trip to the scene of the crime, Miami, is in order and Lando is hoping somehow he can find Dawson again while he is there.
Dawson walked out of Lando’s life with big dreams, just having gotten his MA in English lit. He was going to write the next great novel, but then life intervened and a brutal car accident left him not only physically scarred, but fearful as well—something the vibrant, daring Dawson had never experienced. Living life as a deaf man who lives in fear that his every memory may slip away due to the brain injury he sustained in the accident is challenging to say the least. As is, he can’t remember anything about his life or experiences the weekend prior to the accident or most of the following year. Now Dawson carefully writes each event in his calendar so that if he should lose his memory again, he will have a record of how he spends each day. When his sister gifts him with a week at a beach house in Miami, he reluctantly goes. Little does he know his life is about to change yet again.
I think, in many ways, I liked this second novel even more than the first. While the idea of finding someone after so many years have passed and in the same city you originally met feels implausible, somehow author K.M. Neuhold makes it work and does so with a gentle and romantic flair. Lando was so smitten by the Dawson he remembers and it takes some time for him to adjust to this reluctant, somewhat fearful version of the strong, independent man that once was. Life has dealt Dawson a raw hand and he has made huge strides in acclimating, but the reality is that he lives each day as if it could be the last and that makes him very reluctant to take any risks at all. It was rather perfect how the author chose to give both her characters a struggle when it came to their creative sides and I loved how there was no instant fix for Dawson’s deafness, even though the idea was floated of a risky experimental surgery that Lando could well afford to pay for if Dawson wanted. Instead, these men were allowed to fumble and make their way together in a different way from the past—forcing Lando to scale back his expectations and Dawson to reach beyond his fears.
Play It By Ear was a genuine love story—a gentle journey of rediscovering a memory of someone only to find the alterations of the past more appealing than the original. Lando and Dawson don’t simply build on what they once had together, but instead create a future and that means accepting the differences both of them have adopted in their lives and finding common ground once again. It takes strength and compassion to do that and these characters have that in spades. It is a beautiful story and one that I can easily recommend.