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Not all wounds are visible.
Skanian investigator Bengt fell in love with fellow policeman Alex Rukow in a week. But that was a year ago, and they’ve been apart ever since. Then Alex escapes the corrupt and destitute island nation of Santuario and comes to live with Bengt. Happy ever after . . .?
Alex’s lifelong dream of leaving Santuario has come true at last. But he finds himself adrift in a society he doesn’t understand. Worse, past nightmares come back to haunt him, and after so many years of suspicion and self-reliance, it’s harder than he imagined to trust someone else.
Bengt just wants Alex to share his comfortable life. But the more he tries to give, the more Alex pulls away. Their physical connection couldn’t be better, but Bengt can’t seem to get through to his difficult, taciturn lover outside the bedroom. Meanwhile, he has his own demons to confront—not to mention a serial killer on the loose.
Bengt and Alex must dig deep for the courage to face their pasts, but it may be too late to save their relationship or their lives.
I invited along a couple of my favorite readers/reviewers/friends to a monthly book club read for the blog! And they graciously accepted the challenge. So Kristie, Gaby, and I (Susan) tackled the newly released book “The Other Side of Winter” by GB Gordon.
I was the only one who had read book 1, Santuario. We were told book 2 could be read as a standalone. I think both Kristie & Gaby agree with this to some degree, but both felt the desire, moreso than the need, to go back and read book 1. You miss the entire world-building of this series w/o it…
Kristie: The first chapter had me feeling like I was a fish out of water. You kind of have to dive in head first, into a world you don’t know, a culture you’re not aware is different than your own, and you’re expected to follow along with no problems. Perhaps if I’d read the first book I would not have felt that way.
Both Alex and Bengt are complex characters. Alex is suffering from PTSD…the life he escaped from on Santuario was oppressive. Adding in Alex’s culture shock with his new home, his past issues, Bengt’s need/desire to be in control and take care of everything, and both of their inabilities to COMMUNICATE…it’s a bit of a tough ride for our MC’s.
Gaby: I think both MC’s were brilliant, and I loved how they were portrayed. I loved that they represented perfectly well where they came from, and, I especially appreciate that they were flawed.
Kristie: I did love Alex and Bengt, both. I loved the struggle that they both went through, despite not loving how slow the process was.
Susan: I think I was much more sympathetic to Bengt. He’s a fixer. I can relate to that. I understand what makes Alex so closed off, but I hurt on behalf of Bengt…I felt his frustration, his confusion.
Gaby: I adored Alex, and while at times he looked like a bastard, I think that his background and culture influenced him a lot. He comes from a place where being affectionate towards another man was not acceptable. It’s not easy to change your ways. I even understand his reluctance to take any gifts from Bengt. It’s not that he doesn’t love him, or appreciates what he’s trying to do. Alex’s feeling of becoming a burden also felt realistic. See, this is what I liked the most about him, all of him felt real. He was SO flawed that he felt incredibly realistic.
The first part of the book had Alex and Bengt trying to adjust to one another. There was a clear lack of communication, a lot of mixed signals, and ultimately hurt between the two.
Susan: It’s rarely a good sign when I yell at my kindle “TALK TO EACH OTHER!”. I think this was what frustrated me the most during the first part of the book. And also that they constantly used sex as a “fix it”. But oddly, where I’d normally give up on a story that did these things, I was still really engaged in Alex & Bengt. I wanted to see them through this. All credit to the author for sucking me in!
Gaby: I don’t think Bengt and Alex’s relationship status (ahaha) was clear. After all they went through I would have expected them to sit down and talk for days if necessary. To start over from scratch and get to know each other again. To tell all the truths that should have been told, but to my knowledge weren’t because they were not in the book. The “making-up” lines were BEAUTIFUL, but I was left feeling incomplete, and in a bit of a state of disbelief. I spent PAGES waiting for them to get there and it didn’t happen until almost the end of the book… i swear that I was going into an anxiety attack. But then when they got there it was all too fast, too rushed, and I didn’t have the time to savor it, and enjoy it. It felt weak because it felt like it was just patched up instead of being worked out from the inside. I get the feeling that if we rip the band aid were gonna find a HUGE mess underneath it, but then again maybe this is where the writer is going to…
Kristie: Where my love of the story started to go down hill was over the lack of communication and the belief that Bengt thought he was doing the right thing by giving Alex space, and the fact that Alex was so quick to jump to conclusions. Bengt gave him space so many times over the months, how could Alex not give Bengt that even once? But then, they never communicated well, so…
The author really puts this couple (and the readers) through the ringer. As mentioned, their road was not an easy one and the pitfalls along the way were massive. This book HURT at times to read…it was that emotional.
Kristie: I was hurt when Bengt came home that one night, finding Alex happily entertaining friends, being open and comfortable, only to shut down totally when he realized Bengt was there. I guess you always hurt the ones you love more than any other, right? I could go on forever and talk about every single thing that was good and bad, but ultimately the thing that saved it for me was when Bengt broke down and cried in Alex’s arms. I felt a physical release at that. Like, FINALLY, maybe now Alex will understand that big, strong, and sure Bengt is just as alone as Alex. That Bengt needs Alex just as much as Alex needs Bengt. It was a sigh of relief.
Susan: I physically felt the hurt that each of these guys felt. Despite having the luxury of knowing what the other one was thinking or doing, I still felt the betrayal, the disappointment, the brokenness, the loneliness, the “he doesn’t want me” -ness from each of them as the story went on. Again… TALK TO EACH OTHER!
There was a mystery element to the story. Bengt working on a murder case that was going nowhere and Alex inadvertently stumbling across some clues to help along the way. It makes for an interesting whodunnit twist.
Gaby: The mystery part. I love mystery. I love books that give me a thrill. I think that the mystery plot point was interesting as hell. The killer profile was interesting too, but the execution of it fell a bit short for my taste. I think that the main problem was that in the end it felt too rushed. Actually, the last 30% of the book felt rushed in every single way: romance wise, mystery wise, politically wise.
Kristie: I really do feel like the case was handled badly in the end. I was invested in it until it was solved and no more discussion was had with Alex and how he’d found those clues.
Susan: I’m not even sure what the purpose of the mystery was. Maybe to show Bengt on-the-job…giving him an avenue to communicate and have scenes apart from Alex? Truthfully, only a couple days after finishing reading, I’d almost forgot how the case was wrapped up. There was potential there, but I don’t think it fully was realized in this book.
The author introduced some amazing side characters. Bengt’s family, Alex’s new friends…we’re all intrigued by them.
Gaby: I think Kristin, Mattie and Tom were brilliant secondary characters. Secondary characters are a huge deal for me. More often than not I come across characters that are just there for the sake of making the story flow, but that don’t have any real function in it, and that if you eliminate them nothing really changes. I don’t think this was the case, I think that these characters were given a job, and the job was mostly fulfilled. I loved Kristin’s relationship with Alex, it felt easy, and natural. I adored that Tom was blunt enough to put both Alex and Bengt in their place and make them understand where and how they’d fucked up.. However, I was disappointed to see that neither of them really listened to him. It happens a lot in RL, I guess, so it sounded realistic. Mattie was another great character, and I truly wish we’d read more of him. I hope we get to know him better in a future installment
Admittedly, there were some inconsistencies with the story and some major issues kinda swept away with easy fixes. There were many parts that left all three of us scratching our heads. For 2 people who loved each other so much, basic things like texting “I can’t make it” or “sorry I missed this” or “I heard you were struggling, need any help?” didn’t occur to these guys. That became a frustrating pattern.
But despite all that, the author’s writing style and the strong characters saved the book for all of us. So much so that we kept talking about it not only while we read it but also afterwards…breaking it down…asking why’s…figuring out our own reactions to things. All signs of a really good read.
It’s one of those books that will drive you crazy while you read it, but you’ll be so glad you did by the end. We’re all definitely looking forward to more from GB Gordon!