Top Secret is the latest collaboration between Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy and their third joint M/M romance.
I love Bowen’s and Kennedy’s combined writing. It’s spectacular, on point and utterly engaging. However, I have to admit, I’m a bit on the fence about Top Secret. Maybe it’s because I started out with such high expectations, and that I was counting on being as blown away as I was by Him and Us.
The story takes place in a small American college town, and the two main characters are members of the same fraternity. Keaton is the rich and, supposedly, spoilt football player and Luke is the broke scholarship student with a seriously dysfunctional and shitty family. Keaton and Luke couldn’t dislike each other more but, unknowingly to both, they really hit it off on a hook-up app when Keaton is fishing for a third for the threesome his girlfriend wants for her birthday. What starts up as online vetting for his girl makes Keaton realize that he’s definitely not as straight as he once thought. Going by the handles LobsterShorts and SinnerThree the guys start to chat and, as the exchanges grows hotter, Keaton realizes that at some point he has become way more invested in this threesome than his girlfriend is. When they finally meet and realize who they’ve been chatting with, drama ensues. Of course, after the intial upheaval, the good stuff begin.
I had a really hard time to like either of the characters for a good while. I couldn’t quite sympathize with Keaton’s naive cluelessness or with the gigantic chip on Luke’s shoulder. The first half of the book, the parts that I enjoyed reading the most were the chat-sessions which were both hilarious and dirty.
It may be that the setting was so very alien to me. As someone living in a country where education is free, the whole rich vs poor thing feels so very foreign. The fear of loosing a scholarship, being kicked out of student housing with the end result being missing out on a degree, is just plain weird. And the idea of having to work two (or more jobs) while simultaneously studying full-time just to be able to eat is also way out of my normal reference frame. Modern, western societies don’t work like that. Well, apart from the US that is. Of course, either way, it’s good drama. But it also highlights how utterly priviliged I feel for living where I do.
The story really hits it’s stride when Keaton and Luke meets irl and eventually start fooling around. After that, it’s super engaging. And I don’t say that just because that’s when it gets seriously steamy. You learn more about Luke’s awful family and about Keaton’s struggle to stand up to his father. The last half of the book, I couldn’t put it down it was so awesome. But – there is a but – I was kind of bummed out at the end. It felt sort of unfinished. Not because there wasn’t a HEA, because of course it was. But there were several loose ends left. Or rather, they were tucked away a bit too hastily and I would have wanted to get an expanded fictional closure of all the discord.
My final thought when I reached the end was ”I want to know more!”
All in all, Top Secret was a great read even though it wasn’t what I expected. Although, I don’t think this story will stick with me in the same way Bowen’s and Kennedy’s earlier work has. However, I would absolutely recommend it if you’re looking for an easy, hot romance.