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Book Review: Lifeline, by Brynn Stein

Book – Lifeline

Author – Brynn Stein

Star rating – ★★★★

No. of Pages – 55 (only 43 pages of story)

Ease of reading – easy to read, after the first page or two.

Would I read it again – Yes, probably.

** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **

This is my first Brynn Stein book, though I own quite a few of them. It all comes down to not enough hours in the day and not enough days in the year.

This was a difficult one for me. There were a lot of great things about this story, but also a few niggles that didn’t work for me.

Writing

First off, the very first page didn’t sit well with me. It was choppy and the story is told in first person, which isn’t always an easy POV to read. Especially when you don’t know what’s going on. (I’ll come back to this later) The sentences are punchy, short and don’t give you much to work with. There’s no emotion in them; no sense of time, feeling or attitude. They’re descriptive, without being long and drawn out, but I think I’d prefer that to such brutal choppy lines. They feel extremely impersonal and unnatural:

I was new in town. Had just arrived, in fact. I thought I’d stop by the local diner to pick up a bite to eat. It was an okay palace. Small, but clean and well lit. It was moderately full. Not bursting at the seams, but not empty either.”

I think I’d have liked the use of a few more semi-colons, just to make it less dramatic. Another thing to point out is that I completely missed the spelling mistake with ‘palace’ when reading (until I copied out the quote) because these sentences were so jarring. I’d just come from reading the intro blurb, which sounded great, was written well and read as if a completely different person wrote it:

Eric Duncan rolls into a quaint Upstate New York town to sell medical supplies. He doesn’t intend to stay long, but an apparently homeless man whom he keeps running into catches his attention. While passersby ignore the man, Eric can’t leave the situation alone. 

Dennis Hayden’s last memory is of hiking in the mountains. He doesn’t know how he ended up in town, nor how he keeps popping up in various places. He walks around aimlessly, trying to recall something as simple as his name. He’s not sure what to think of the stranger he sees repeatedly, and who keeps trying to talk to him. 

While meeting a potential client at the hospital, Eric overhears a young lady looking for her brother who went missing several days ago, while hiking. Eric recognizes the picture of Dennis on the flyer and sets out to reunite him with his sister.

See what I mean?

Back to the 1st person POV. The tricky thing with first person POV – in general, but also in this story – is that you’re dropped into a situation halfway through events and expected to understand and know what’s happening, but you don’t. It’s supposed to be a POV that draws you in, but, for me, it does the opposite – it places you in the uncomfortable position of having to be IN a situation that you’re supposed to think of as your own life, without any concept of what’s happening, who you are or where you are. You could be male, female, blonde, brunette, fat, skinny – and you won’t know, until another character points it out, or your character has an attack of ego.

Story

In this one, the first page is uncomfortably jarring, impersonal and doesn’t feel at all well written. Turn to page two and that all changes. I can see why; page one is the intro to the situation and the character, dealing with the surroundings and people who we’ll probably never read about again. Once it gets to page two, the author begins to write more…I want to say casually, but I really just mean in a more familiar way. This is probably because the MC begins to get introduced here, thinking his thoughts, settling into his surroundings and becoming more of a person, rather than just some guy in a dozen.

When our MC (still name less by page 4) finally meets the homeless man mentioned in the blurb, it’s a rather curious state of affairs. And I LOVE it! I’m a sucker for mysteries, which was why I wanted to read this book in the first place, but I must admit that the first meeting gave me something of a supernatural/paranormal vibe and somewhat reminded me of an M/F book I’d read a really long time ago. (Forever Blue, by Elodie Parkes, if you’re interested.) It has a completely different plot, but similar strange circumstances and the similarity makes me hopeful. Both books are short, ~50 pages, but the M/F was still a 5 star for me and even at this starting point, I had the suspicion that Lifeline would be the same.

There’s some really great flirting and chemistry between our MC, Eric, and the homeless man, Dennis, when they finally meet. It really makes Eric a more complete person and more relateable.

Once Eric and Dennis meet, the story progresses quickly. There’s a lot of banter, searching, and mystery about how they meet and what it means, especially for Dennis. Then Dennis’ sister Sarah enters the story and, again, it progresses quickly. A lot happens, but it doesn’t feel rushed or forced.

However, I do think this should have been a novel. So much happened that, by the time we got answers, the rest of the story was basically told in short, half page segments, that glossed over the actual relationship. We don’t get a first kiss, first time together or any of the relationship stuff that I’d want or expect in an M/M romance story. I know it’s short, but there was plenty of time for that stuff, in one or two chapters at the end. But there was nothing. No physical contact between the two MC’s that we, as readers, got to experience, read about and enjoy.

The lack of a plausible relationship dimmed my overall view of this story. Though there were some great moments and good chemistry between the MC’s, it never lead anywhere. Not even to a memorable first kiss. Things just happened, once the mystery was solved, and that doesn’t satisfy my inner romantic at all.

Overall

I’m taking 1 star off because of the choppy sentences, the 1st person POV that was so confusing to begin with and for not knowing my own name (1st person problem) or gender for around 8 pages. The first time we ever know that Eric is a male (disregarding the obvious M/M genre) is when he introduces himself. There is no other hint or suggestion, until then.

I’m taking another ½ star off for the fact that the story feels rushed at the end and the lack of a real relationship between the MC’s.

Overall, it was a great short story, with some depth in places and good, likeable characters. But, it was hardly unique in story line. I’ve seen a similar plot done in both the book I mentioned – Forever Blue – and the movie Just Like Heaven. Unfortunately, though this book did it better than those two, it still isn’t a unique plot and the ending took away the ‘romantic’ factor, for me.

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