stealthy situationRating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Benny and his twin brother, Emmett are identical twins — REALLY identical. In fact, even some of their siblings can barely tell them apart without checking for the scar on Emmett’s palm. It has helped the guys get through college by switching places in class. Benny helps Emmett with English, and Emmett sits in for Benny in his Statistics class. In order to keep up the ruse, they are careful about not making friends with people in class when pretending to be one another. However, things get thrown off when Emmett gets sick and Benny needs to go to his own Statistics class. While there, he meets an adorable guy named Harrison and the pair hit it off. Harrison is straight, so Benny is trying to keep his crush under control, but he is enjoying the friendship.

Harrison has been sitting next to Benny in class for a while now, but Benny has always been friendly but distant. However, one day, Benny strikes up a conversation and the guys start to hang out outside of class. Weirdly, when they are in class, Benny goes back to acting like they hardly know each other, however the rest of the time, they are growing ever closer. Harrison has never considered himself anything but straight, but he is having decidedly sexual feelings about Benny. When the guys act on their attraction, Harrison is finding himself falling hard for Benny, and Benny seems to share his feelings. But when Harrison notices an old scar on Benny’s palm that has never been there before, it upends everything he thought he they were building together.

A Stealthy Situation by Saxon James is part of the multi-author, shared world, Franklin U 2 series (a follow on to the original Franklin U series). Both sets of books take place at the same school, but I don’t think you necessarily need to be familiar with the first collection, and these are designed to be standalones. That said, Harrison is friends/roommates with Felix and Marshall from James’ Franklin U series story, The Dating Disaster, and those guys do appear here as minor side characters (also, Harrison appears in their book, but is called by the nickname “Bowser” there). Also, fans of James’ CU Hockey series with co-author Eden Finley may remember Benny and Emmett as the younger brothers of Asher and West (from Line Mates and Study Dates and Puck Drills and Quick Thrills respectively). The twins were young there, so there is a time jump between that series and this book, but being familiar with either of those stories will give you a better sense of some of the backstory when the twins talk about their family (and you will see the accident that causes Emmett’s scar), but reading them isn’t required.

Ok, background stuff out of the way. So this is a fun case of (intentional) mistaken identity, with a dose of bi-awakening as Harrison figures out his sexual identity (though he isn’t total clear on how he identifies). The first portion of the book focuses on how Benny and Emmett switching places in class impacts Benny’s growing relationship with Harrison. Emmett had some casual conversations in class with Harrison and they sit next to each other in class, so naturally, when Benny shows up in his own class one day, Harrison sits next to him as usual. Which then leads to the guys talking more, because Benny is so drawn to Harrison, and ultimately has them hanging out a lot after class, first as friends and then more. James does a good job setting up how this mix up could occur and there is some nice tension as we see Harrison and Benny falling harder for each other, as we know this ultimate reveal is brewing.

This is a significant conflict and does take up about

Spoiler title
half
of the book, but I did appreciate that the truth comes to light early enough on to keep the mistaken identity from being the sole focus of the story. Having the truth come out also gives the guys a chance to work together to solve the larger problem of the fact that Benny needs to stop cheating and has to figure out how to pass his class without Emmett taking it for him. I did think everyone’s idea of Benny just studying more and it will all be fine seemed sort of short sighted. Even before learning more about Benny’s challenges with math, the fact that they are months into a class he has never attended in a subject that he finds very difficult makes it seem unlikely he is just going to suddenly be able to figure it out all out. James gives some backstory that helps rationalize these guys cheating their way through college, but I also felt like the way the ultimately plays out gives Benny a super soft landing and I’d have like to see a little more fallout.

I enjoyed the dynamic between Benny and Harrison. They have a playful vibe that is a lot of fun, and it is a nice balance with the more sexy side. At first the guys are just friends, but soon it begins to build to more as Harrison realizes he is not as straight as he thought. I liked how the pair support one another, both with the academic stuff for Benny, and for Harrison’s passion for plants and ecology. I also really liked the close bond between Benny and Emmett. They not only look identical, they have an incredibly close relationship and are always there for each other. So it was fun to see them interacting, particularly after remembering them as will pre-teens in the earlier series.

I’ll admit that I struggled early on with the whole mistaken identity set up and wrapping my brain around how all this is all supposedly working. The guys are juniors in college, but no one at either of their schools knows that either man has a twin (for background, Emmett used to go to another local college, but got expelled and is now living secretly in Benny’s fraternity house room). Apparently they never told anyone they were twins because somehow folks would then be suspicious they were impersonating each other. Which, ok, maybe? But would anyone truly think that (despite it actually being true)? So they have gone years with their twin living nearby and never told anyone about their existence. Then, Emmett is now living with Benny, in his room in a shared dwelling, and no one ever notices? The guys do sometimes both leave the room at once (including at the frat party, where apparently everyone is so drunk no one notices there are two of them wandering around). So how does no one ever encounter one and then the other and not realize they are wearing different clothes or whatever?

And what happens with these classes? Even if the guys just make small talk with folks in class with them, how does it never happen that someone who Emmett meets in Benny’s class sees Benny somewhere and he has no idea who they are? Or one of Benny’s fraternity brothers running into Emmett on campus and he doesn’t recognize them? The whole thing made my head hurt a little, to be honest, as my brain just wouldn’t turn off the questions. Things settled later on in the story as some of these issues get at addressed a bit. For example, it turns out that Emmett knows Harrison as “Bowser” not by his real name; apparently that is an old nickname he gave up, but it is how he introduced himself that first day. So it makes sense that when Benny and Emmett are talking about this guy Harrison that Benny is crushing on, Emmett doesn’t realize it is someone he knows. But the whole thing still is a little rocky.

My other issue here is that the ending wraps up without a full enough resolution for me and I was left somewhat confused as to how it was all playing out. Benny needs to figure out how to pass math and so they are exploring options, which I won’t spoil here, but we never really see what happens and this whole thing just sort of gets brushed aside in the end. Even in the epilogue, which skips the guys way ahead in time, we aren’t ever really told details looking back at it all. So I felt like I wanted a little more in terms of resolution. Also, we never get Emmett’s story as to why he was expelled (apparently he set something on fire, but we don’t get any real information). I am assuming that is because Finley is writing Emmett’s book, which is coming later in this collection, so I presume more will be to come there. I am really looking forward to that, as I am intrigued about it all and I think it is nice way to tie things all together for the brothers.

Overall, I found this one fun and, despite a little bit of a rough time with the set up early on, it came together well for me. If you enjoy new adult stories, particularly a bit of mistaken identity, then this one is definitely worth checking out.

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Joyfully Jay