Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novella

I selected Shoulder Season for International Week of our Reading Challenge Month because it’s set in Iceland! I’ve read a few stories set there and was excited to experience that locale in a new way.

Ben is a mid-twenties, newly graduated, mechanical engineer who’s working in a garage in Colorado until he can get a job in his field. He’s recently broken up with his spoiled, rich, and abusive boyfriend, Alan. Alan actually ended things, cancelling Ben’s ticket on their Oktoberfest trip in a fit of petulance, but Ben had the time off and a new passport, so he booked the cheapest international trip he could afford: a red-eye to Reykjavik, Iceland. He airbnb’d a utilitarian apartment, but his clothing, while suitable for Germany’s more balmy temps, isn’t holding off the rain and wind of Reykjavik.

Despondent and isolated, Ben plans to return to the airport the next morning, but before he books a flight, he notices his neighbor struggling to get around with both a cane and a sling. Hearing the crash through their common wall, Ben fears the Icelandic god isn’t doing so well. Coming to the man’s aid gives Ben a thrill; he always liked taking care of people, not that Alan ever appreciated his efforts. Solvin, however, is embarrassed, but grateful. He’s been struggling for a few weeks, too stubborn to rely on his friends and family to care for him. Still, Ben’s stuttering, sweet greetings, and offer of help are more than Solvin will refuse.

And, the next day, Solvin wants to repay Ben’s initial kindness by helping him explore Iceland. Together they take in quiet sites, museums and churches that Alan never would have deigned worthy of a visit. And Ben and Solvin build a rapport over tasty local fare and mutual struggles. Turns out that Solvin is also gay, and has been without a partner for some time. These two take delicate steps into intimacy, mostly through cautious touches and haltingly delivered conversation. Solvin’s English is quite good, and he’s a gracious tour guide, but both he and Ben are reserved people. Solvin, perhaps due to his culture, and Ben, likely due to his ex’s abuse. Ben struggles with his own emotions—and he’s still recovering from their last blowout, which left Ben with a black eye. He wonders if Solvin will suddenly treat him as poorly as Alan did, but he’s always happily mistaken and enjoying his very nice visit.

I loved exploring the mysteries of Iceland, from black volcanic beaches to azure hot springs. It’s seems to be a land of extremes and that rang clear throughout the story. There are plenty of descriptions of cultures, both Icelandic and American–sometimes to Ben’s mortification. It was good to see Ben begin to recover from his abuse and fight the wariness that had been ingrained through his connections to Alan. I wondered a bit about Ben’s family, who are never mentioned, and how they would feel about his grand adventure and budding love. It would have been nice to get that information, especially as we do hear quite a bit about Solvin’s mother. Expect a quiet romance, a bit of sexytimes, and a plan for new lives and happiness.

This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for International Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a prize pack of some of our favorite International Books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a Kindle Fire filled with Dreamspun Desires/Beyond books, plus a 3-month subscription!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on International Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize. 

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