Desert Isle Keeper
They Told Me I Was Everything
I foolishly start every Ashe novel thinking he can’t possibly top his last book. I finish each one and then decide it’s my new favorite. They Told Me I Was Everything is another winner, and the slow burn romance between the principal characters is challenging and frustrating, and wonderful and lovely, too. Opposites attract when Theo Stratford, a college professor at Wroxall College (in Wahredua, Missouri – the setting for the Hazard and Somerset books), and Auggie Lopez, a Wroxall freshman, get caught up in a murder investigation. The plot is complex and engrossing, and the evolving relationship between Theo and Auggie is… well, let’s just say It’s Complicated. And sweet. And totally worth your time and attention.
Auggie needs a fresh start. A social media influencer with a massive fan following, Auggie lives his life burying his true self (and his sexuality) in the hopes of one day scoring a lucrative sponsorship deal. When he arrives at Wroxall, Auggie is determined to put a messy past behind him, and focus on building his social media brand. TTMIWE kicks off after his older half-brother Fer helps move him into his dorm. He fills the time before the start of classes adding content to his various social media accounts, getting to know his roommate Orlando, and pledging and partying at the Sigma Sigma frat. Tired and angry from the need to constantly hide his true self, Auggie is sobering up outside the frat house after a party when another student – Robert – asks to bum a smoke. Confessing to Robert that he wants to go for a drive and “fuck some shit up,” Robert steals a Porsche 911 and the pair hit the road. When their headlights pick up a man standing in the middle of the road, Auggie barely avoids hitting him by crashing into a drainage ditch. Scared and angry, he exits the car and starts screaming at the man. The man punches Auggie before Robert pulls him off – but the sound of sirens sends Robert running away. It’s an abrupt return to the reality of the mess Auggie’s made of his life. Again.
Injured in the car crash that killed his husband Ian and destroyed their family months before, Theo dulls his pain with alcohol and painkillers. Late Saturday night, he’s exhausted – by his bus and bike commute (he’s still afraid to get behind the wheel of his car), from prepping lectures, from dodging sympathetic colleagues, and long days of trying to figure out what the hell he was doing, he’s taken a Percocet and even though he knows its stupid, is working his way through a four-pack of beer. He’s lonely and tired and sad, and decides to go outside to escape his house. Disoriented, slightly drunk and dulled by the Percocet, he sees a car approaching him and then the sound of screeching brakes and a crash. He charges the first kid out of the car, the driver, and drops him with a punch, and then finds himself wrestling in the ditch with the passenger. Theo recognizes the second kid as Robert Poulson, who had come to his office earlier that week. Robert flees at the sound of sirens, leaving him with the young kid he punched. Already regretting the entire night, Theo is dismayed to also recognize the cop at his side – it’s Howie Cartwright, his husband Ian’s best friend on the force.
Auggie can’t believe it when he realizes his professor is the stranger who lied to the police and told them it was Robert driving the wrecked Porsche. Theo is equally surprised and when he spots Auggie, he promptly points to the door and escorts him out of the room. Despite Theo’s attempts to force him to drop the class, Auggie refuses. The pair return to the classroom; just as Auggie is about to turn off his phone, he clicks a new notification and watches a video that’s just loaded. It shows Auggie driving the stolen Porsche and screaming obscenities, then it cuts to Auggie and Theo standing together on the road, and concludes with footage of a hooded man being dragged by his arms and screaming for help. When the video ends, the screen fades to black with you just saw a murder in stark white text.
Things go from bad to terrible when a panicked Auggie rushes back to his dorm only to find a stranger waiting for him. The stranger asks Auggie where he can find Robert, but when Auggie tells him he has no idea where Robert is, the man hits him. An increasingly desperate Auggie tries to convince him he doesn’t really know Robert, but it only makes the man more violent. When he finally leaves – after Auggie offers to find Robert, Auggie knows he needs help. Aside from Robert, the only other person who knows what happened… is Theo. But before he can ask Theo for help…ha! That’s all I’m saying! Let’s just say Auggie meets up with a few more nasty strangers before he finally reaches Theo – who saves him, and from this inauspicious beginning the pair are drawn into a complicated web of intrigue and murder, forced to work together to stay alive. Trust me, you’ll be glad I kept the details vague. Following along with Theo and Auggie as they ‘work’ the case and follow the clues is a pleasure in and of itself, and I don’t want to spoil any of Ashe’s clever plotting.
The murder investigation is only one part of what makes this book so addictive and entertaining. Aside from his superbly well written stories and clever, complex plots, the best part of any Ashe story is his principal characters, and TTMIWE is no exception. Ashe novels feature memorable, loveable, flawed men who struggle to find love and happiness – and he puts them (and us!) through the wringer as they find their way to a happily ever after. After the death of his husband, an emotionally and physically wrecked Theo can barely face the home he once shared with Ian, and his self-destructive behavior is only getting worse. Worried and well-meaning friends try and help him, but until he meets Auggie he’s nearly given up on happiness. Auggie wakes him up, bringing light and joy (and humor and lust) whenever they’re together. He’s still a confused mess – but he finally sees a future outside of booze and pills. Meanwhile, Auggie has spent a lifetime hiding behind an “everything is great,” persona and he’s exhausted. He finally feels ‘seen’ by Theo, and doesn’t hide who he is when they’re together. They find comfort in their time together, despite the fact that other than troubling childhoods, they have little in common. Theo is an unapologetic luddite, while Auggie is a savvy social media star who tries to ‘help’ Theo with technology (using it to find many of the clues that help them solve the case). Some of the funniest, laugh out loud moments are those that showcase Theo trying (and failing) to keep up with Auggie on social media. I giggled my way through these parts.
Before I mislead you about this love story let me be clear. Theo and Auggie won’t be in a romantic relationship anytime soon. This series has S-L-O-W burn written all over it, and if you can’t stomach either man in a relationship with someone else on the road to happily ever after, this might not be the story for you. Both leads have a LOT of growing – and in Auggie’s case, maturing – to do before they’re ready to be together. Fortunately, this pairing promises to be one of Ashe’s best. Theo and Auggie are absolutely meant to fall in love, and I can’t wait to see how this talented author helps them find their way to a happily ever after.
TTMIWE has all the hallmarks of what makes Ashe such a terrific storyteller – clever and complex plotting, compelling principal characters, a fantastic cast of secondary characters that round out the novel, and vivid settings that come alive in his capable hands. And a cameo (or two) from a younger John Henry Somerset!! They Told Me I Was Everything is one of the best books of the year.
Note: This title was previously released as a daily serial to members of the author’s mailing list; book two in the series, Yet a Stranger, is now being serialised and readers can sign up HERE.