Series: Shelby Beach #2
Author: Skylar M Cates
Publication Date: February 12, 2020
Length: 240 pages
Reviewed by Sammy
What if the right person could change everything?
Random hookups, saying “yes” to whatever, Zane thinks adulting should be easy. His childhood was a hard enough mess. After a health scare, however, Zane reevaluates his life and starts anew. When Zane meets Jordan, everything he secretly desires is finally in front of him. But Jordan Shelby’s family practically owns the town of Shelby Beach. Why would Jordan take a guy like Zane seriously?
Jordan only wants swimming lessons, so hiring Zane might have been a huge mistake. Even if Jordan resists Zane for now, the mere sight of the beautiful trainer fills him with yearning. Swimming isn’t Jordan’s only anxiety. Being nonbinary, Jordan’s dating life—hell, his life in general—isn’t always clear. Can he really trust Zane with his body? His heart?
Testing the Waters is a romance with a gender-fluid MC, a hurt/comfort trope, and a guaranteed happy ending.
Although it is in the Shelby Beach series, Testing the Waters can be read as a standalone. Note: Please look inside the copyright page for mentions of potential triggers.
How can two men overcome the trauma of their pasts and learn to trust and love another person? Jordan needs to learn how to confront his fear of water and swim. When he spots fitness guru Zane surfing, the same guy he rebuffed earlier that year when he was flirting with him and trying to get a date from Jordan, the young man takes a chance and asks Zane to be his swim instructor. Jordan just wants to swim—not to fall in love yet again. He’s done with love—he almost always ends up hurt and feeling shamed after a breakup but Zane is so appealing and so very kind—it’s hard for Jordan not to become attached.
Zane uses his fitness classes and workout routines to beat back the demons that haunt him. But one thing he can’t stop from piercing his carefully constructed walls is Jordan. Zane has always been a love them and leave them kind of guy but since his health scare something has been missing in his life and Jordan may be the very thing that fills in that empty place in his heart.
First, let me begin this review describing some of the marvelous elements in Skylar Cates’ novel, Testing the Waters. The story featured a non-binary/genderfluid character and I thought the presentation of how Jordan lived his truth was excellent. From his bravery in presenting who he was (the character uses male pronouns in the book), and, despite often being used by lovers to satisfy what they wanted him to be and then tossed aside when he chose to be more fem or masculine, he stayed true to his choices in spite of the pain of being dismissed. Jordan often felt as though he was forcing the world to accept him and, yet, he never caved. I loved this about his character. I was also absolutely thrilled by how Zane apologized when he got things wrong and asked questions when he was confused about what Jordan needed or wanted. This was a romantic match made in heaven complete with all the doubts, fears and hopes that two people who have been burnt before have when it comes to grappling with and learn how to love again.
I also wanted to cheer out loud when the author had not one but both her men seek professional counseling to help them overcome and learn how to better cope with the negative and debilitating feelings they each had inside. For Jordan, overcoming his aquaphobia and learning to manage being near and in water was so important—not only because he wanted to be a part of his grandfather’s favorite pastime but also to eradicate the brutal past memories that held him captive. For Zane a harrowing upbringing, with an addicted mother who abandoned him, left him with huge trust issues and a fear of allowing himself to feel or be loved. Both men helped the other but it was so savvy of Cates to bring that extra dish of realism to her novel by having them fight for independence from their fears and overcome their trust issues by using a professional to help.
The slow burning romance that built between Jordan and Zane exploded and only grew stronger as they realized they could lean on each other and know theirs was a lasting friendship. There was so much to love about this novel and the only thing that I found that worked against my wholehearted recommendation is the way in which we never really saw Zane share who he was or his past with Jordan. Instead we got glimpses and pieces of it at other times in the story but when it came to tell Jordan we were there only for the aftermath —after the discussion was finished—never there in the moment. I felt a bit robbed by that for even though Jordan reacted to each revelation by Zane appropriately it was not as impacting a scene as it could have been if we had been privy to the actual conversation in real time. I hope that makes sense to you once you read this novel.
Testing the Waters was a beautiful hurt/comfort romance with two remarkably strong and loving men. It was really lovely to see them come together and watch them change and grow. I hope many will enjoy this novel as I did.
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