Title: Puzzle Me This
Author: Eli Easton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Characters: Luke Schumaker, Alex Shaw
Sub-Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Luke Schumaker designs computer games, working from his home. Every day he walks his dog in the woods nearby, never suspecting that someone who is completely smitten is watching. The watcher is Alex Shaw, and he too works from home, designing logic and crossword puzzles. Alex’s options are limited: he’s too shy to approach Luke and his wheelchair won’t let him follow into the woods. His solution? Secret messages for Luke in the crosswords he writes for the local paper. When Luke decodes them, romance begins, but then they face greater puzzles, like Alex’s interfering sister and what commitment to a man in a wheelchair really takes. And, most puzzling of all, how do you know if love is real?
This story was a positive, refreshing take on the secret admirer angle. Game designer Luke starts getting cryptic messages that draw him close to Alex, a crossword puzzle designer in a wheelchair. They hit it off in a big way—until the inevitable question of the length of their relationship takes the foreground. Is it really harder to figure out if you’re in love when you know the other person’s physical state will eventually deteriorate? Or is it all in one’s head?
A beautiful story of two people attracted to one another, this story delivers everything in spades. Ms. Easton’s writing is fluent and to the point, just like the story of the three bears: This one’s just right. The plot moves swiftly, considering the length, and I found that it worked very well for this story. Had this been longer, the emotional toll would have been greater, and I think that would have led to needless repetition. So, in this instance I think the shortness works nicely.
Apart from a very small section, the only POV we’re given is Luke’s. This way we get to learn alongside Luke what it means to have a relationship with someone in a wheelchair. The characterization is done subtlety, with Luke talking a lot and joking about everything, while Alex is shyer, more serious, and somehow more resigned to his fate. Being in love magnifies the sadness in Alex when he doesn’t quite understand why someone as gorgeous as Luke finds him attractive. And Luke has to step outside his comfort zone when jokes and teasing alone don’t cut it anymore.
Overall, a great novella with sympathetic, realistic characters, sweet and fun romance, hot action between the sheets, and an emotional struggle to learn how to beat the physical world in the face of love. I recommend this story wholeheartedly to anyone who likes their heroes flawed yet amiable and their romance sweet and strong.
Reviewed By: Susan