Monday, December 18, 2017

Outside the Lines by Anna Zabo

Miniature artist Ian Meyers has one week to rebuild his damaged set. Needing help, he goes to End o’ Earth, the local comic and gaming shop. Owner Simon Derry pushes all of Ian’s buttons, and he also has steady hands and the skills Ian needs.

Before they can even grab a beer, Ian meets Lydia Derry, Simon’s wife. If Ian had any interest in women, he’d suggest a threesome, but then Simon explains that he and Lydia are polyamorous, and if Ian wants Simon, neither of them will complain. If anything, Lydia encourages the relationship.

Ian’s all in, and it’s fantastic working with Simon to piece together his set and then take each other apart at night. His friendship with Lydia grows too. The only problem is, the more time he spends with Simon, the more he wants everything Simon already has with Lydia: A house. A cat. A commitment. So Ian runs, and shatters the trust he has with them both — right when they need him the most. Piecing their relationships back together might prove harder than a smashed set.

The Bluewater Bay stories can be enjoyed in any order — jump in wherever you'd like!

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Book 22
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Riptide Publishing

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

4.5 Stars

Outside the Lines is the 22nd installment of the Bluewater Bay series. While it mentions past narrators, this novel can easily be read as a standalone.

Please note: Outside the Lines gives an in-depth look into both polyamory (featuring a married couple MF and an additional M) and the power-exchange of BDSM.

Ian creates miniatures for the production of Wolf's Landing. An accident on-set has Ian scrambling to do his job, find all the necessary supplies, and work within an impossible timeline without help. This predicament has Ian outside of a comic store, hoping they have the necessary supplies he needs at such late notice. Ian found more than supplies. Simon. A fellow artist.

Sparks fly, but miscommunication runs rampant, adding a small dose of angst and frustration for both the characters and the reader.

Simon is a bisexual, adorkable geek, married to Lydia, a sophisticated and open-minded artist, both also polyamorous and closeted with their obsession with Wolf's Landing. Lydia pushes Simon to go after Ian. Simon's a sweet guy, a natural submissive when it comes to his needs. He believes in trust and communication as the cornerstones of his relationships. He's looking for more than just swinging with the wife or seeking a quick hookup.

As you can tell, this leaves big openings for Ian to misunderstand the situation, and for Simon to rush in and explain after the fact. I do appreciate how the author has Simon call himself out for not communicating when it was absolutely necessary, after stating he wasn't a mind-reader but expecting Ian to be one.

As a reader who believes in all the facets polyamory, it was refreshing to read a novel that made it about emotion rather than sexual exploration. Most I've read aren't mature, focusing on which slot goes into which hole, and didn't explore the uncomfortable depths or the tenuous emotions involved. The author did an excellent job exploring all those facets while making sure the sex meant something.

However, there was an ambiguous gray area the reader fell into, where we too had to be mind-readers, since Simon and Lydia explaining the ins and outs of polyamory to Ian was the only way the reader learned how their complicated relationship functioned, and this was close to the end of the novel.

There is a BDSM bent to the novel, the majority of the sex involving the power-exchange as Simon becomes submissive to Ian. I appreciated this aspect, found it accurate, not shock-value, and not added to give the reader a sexual thrill. It fit into the plot, into the characterization, and into their relationship.

The pacing is rather slow, to be honest. Since I was so busy, I read the novel over the course of almost a week, but I did enjoy it as a much-needed escape.

The sparks are fly between Ian and Simon when they meet and then Ian meets Simon's wife Lydia. Simon and Lydia are up front about their poly relationship and I liked the Ian isn't immediately turned off by this. But Ian assumes it will just be a casual thing with Simon and the relationship between them is going brilliantly and he gets along great with Lydia. But things start to go pear shaped when Ian realises he wants a relationship with Simon like Lydia has, it scares him off.

Outside the Lines shows the importance of communication in relationships. These characters demonstrate if you want to have a successful poly relationship you have to have an open heart and the courage to be completely honest.

Now the romance and love is all well and good, but it has to be said the sex scenes are off the charts hot. The addition of BDSM in bedroom takes everything to the next level of hotness.

As someone in a monogamous relationship, I was fascinated by this poly relationship and the bravery and love it takes to make it work. I'd love to see a follow up book focusing on Lydia and see her have a romance of her own. Outside the Lines is an excellent story and in the I was left feeling all warm and fuzzy in the end.

I think this is possibly my favourite of the Bluewater Bay books. I love, love, love the characters in this book and I love that at book #22 in the series, this feels fresh and exciting. While there is some angst in the story, I loved the playful friendships between Simon, Lydia, and Ian. I loved the way the interests of all three overlap and the way their lives blend seamlessly together.

I had no idea that miniature existed – or that they work on film sets. I was fascinated by Ian’s job – but I was even more fascinated by Ian himself. Ian finds himself attracted not just to Simon but to Simon and Lydia’s life together. Ian’s struggle to find his place in the relationship feels powerfully honest.

Simon is sweet and passionate – and wonderful. He and Lydia are solid and happy and supportive of each other. I love the way they include Ian – there were times that Ian and Lydia’s non-sexual relationship felt almost more intimate than the sex between Simon and Ian (though there are some pretty hot scenes!).

I love that the Bluewater Bay series has pushed beyond typical m/m pairings and explored pretty much the whole LGBT rainbow. This is so much more than a ménage (and there isn’t any m/f/m sex in the story). Beyond the sex, the shared interests and shared lives make this a beautiful – if slightly idealistic – portrayal of a special polyamorous relationship.

This is a really interesting read on a number of levels. Undoubtedly the whole concept of a poly relationship as envisioned by Simon and Lydia, and Simon's new friend, Ian, is key – and it is an absolutely outstanding read. Zabo has an extremely careful and sensitive touch, which brings out so many of the issues that anyone might have and creates a relationship which is intensely interesting and incredibly loving. I would have loved to have another five years of story, but it was a good place to reach all the same.

As well as the fledgling romance, there is a wonderful nod to fan-fiction and fan-art, to the impact of a major series being filmed in the area, and the tourists that it brings. I loved how Simon and Lydia behaved when in the presence of the stars, and how Ian was able to give them unique experiences due to his job.

And then there is the amazing model, which brings the men together in the first place. The description of how it is mended, and the amount of effort needed in Ian's role was fascinating. I shall be looking at big explosions on TV far more carefully now!

I would highly recommend this book to you – you get to see how a committed married couple have embraced their poly natures, and what that means to the new person in the relationship, and get an insight into a TV production unit and the impact on the local community. Great mix, I promise.

I LOVED THIS STORY! I loved Outside the Lines so much that not even shouty caps can adequately convey it. The flirting. The sexual tension. The misunderstandings. The theft. The righting of wrongs. The sex. The relationships. A couple who is so secure in who they are as individuals and as a couple that they are able to give each other what they need and do so in a way that is healthy for their relationship – even if what they need is another person. This is perhaps one of the best M/F polyamorous relationships I’ve read.

Hacky sacks are evil. Or maybe not as that instrument of the devil is what led Ian to Simon and Lydia’s comic and gaming shop, End o’ Earth Comics. [On a side note, I’m surprised that Anna managed to keep from killing Anderson. Although, after Natalya got through with him, he was probably wishing Anna hadn’t restrained herself.] While the physical attraction between Ian and Simon might have been instant, they took a bit of time to let the heat simmer – not a slow-burn romance, but a building of anticipation – which is understandable when we learn more about Simon. And I could have died and gone to heaven when Lydia encouraged her husband to pursue Ian, not just because of where it meant the story would go, but because Lydia was written with zero jealousy or pettiness or any other negative trait that is so often seen in female characters in m/m romances. As we watch the two men interact while working on the miniature set, it’s very easy to see why they click so well, at least for me it was. Despite Simon and Lydia’s openness about their polyamorous relationship and the stress placed on the importance of communication, Simon’s failure to tell Ian that he wanted to see if a “them” was possible led to a serious case of heartbreak for both of them. Thank goodness Lydia had no problem taking Ian to task when she got the opportunity to do so and was able to get the two men to TALK to each other. I thought the ending was perfect, especially Lydia’s discussion of the future she saw for the three of them.

I think one of the things that makes Outside the Lines stand out among the polyamorous romances I’ve read is the hetero-romantic relationship that develops between Lydia and Ian. I loved that their relationship became more than just friendship, but there was no attempt by the author to move it in a sexual direction or have Ian give serious consideration to doing so. By writing their relationship that way, Zabo remained true to who the characters were and didn’t try to stuff them into a box that didn’t fit. I thought the author did a great job with the trio’s sex scene because it seemed to feed each of their needs without going places that would have been uncharacteristic of the individuals. Not to mention, it was hot as… well, insert your favorite word because I can’t use the one that’s most appropriate. I really liked how the End o’ Earth Comics was nearly a character in its own right. The manner in which the store renewed the past love of comics for more than one character through the course of the story had me grinning repeatedly. Honestly, I really don’t think there’s anything in Outside the Lines that I didn’t like and it is certainly one of my favorite Bluewater Bay books – they were definitely saving some of the best stories for last.

Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow. They live and work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which isn’t nearly as boring as most people think.

Anna grew up in the wilds of suburban Philadelphia before returning to their ancestral homelands in Western Pennsylvania. As a child they were heartily disappointed to discover that they couldn’t grow up to be what they wanted (a boy, a cat, a dragon), so they settled on being themself whenever possible, which may be a combination of a boy, a cat, and a dragon. Or perhaps a girl, a knight, and a writer. Depends on whom you ask. They do have a penchant for colorful ties and may be hording a small collection of cufflinks. They can be easily plied with coffee.

Anna has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where they fell in with a roving band of romance writers and never looked back. They also have a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University.

Connect with Anna

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Outside the Lines (Bluewater Bay #22) by Anna Zabo to read and review.

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