Desert Isle Keeper
Yet a Stranger
When Auggie Lopez returns to Wroxall College, he’s determined that his second year will be different from the chaos he faced as a freshman. He’s living in the Sigma Sigma house, he’s got a good group of friends, and his social media presence is growing. Meeting a hot older guy on move-in day is just the cherry on top. All he has to do now is avoid getting dragged into another murder.
That last part, though, turns out to be easier said than done, especially when Auggie’s ex-roommate, Orlando, asks for help. Orlando’s brother Cal has gone missing, and Orlando wants Auggie to find him.
Auggie knows he’ll need help, but recruiting his friend—and crush—Theo is not as straightforward as he expects. While Auggie was gone for the summer, Theo has started dating someone, and neither Theo nor Auggie knows how to handle the shift in their relationship.
Finding Orlando’s brother dead only makes their situation more complicated. Although the police are quick to write off the homicide as a drug deal gone wrong, Auggie and Theo aren’t so sure, and Orlando begs them to keep investigating. To learn the truth, Auggie and Theo will have to untangle a web of lies while keeping each other safe from a killer who is determined to stop them.
As Auggie and Theo dig deeper, they realize that Cal was a stranger even to the people who thought they knew him. And Auggie and Theo both begin to fear that they are also strangers to each other.
Caz and Em laughed, cried and swore their way through Gregory Ashe’s latest novel, Yet a Stranger, and are here to share their many (many, many) thoughts about it.
Yet a Stranger is a direct sequel to They Told Me I Was Everything, which should be read first.
There are spoilers for that book in this review.
EBW: Wow! Lots to unpack in this one. Reader, I was on the struggle-bus right from the get go when I realized Theo was in a ‘relationship’ with Cart, and Auggie was eyeing up another student on move-in day. I DON’T LIKE MY PRINCIPAL PAIR WITH ANYONE BUT EACH OTHER, CAZ. So, there’s that. Did you expect the story to kick off like this or did you have fantasies of Theo and Auggie corresponding as friends during the summer?
Caz: Well… it’s Gregory Ashe and it’s a four book series, so I knew it wasn’t going to be that simple! And after I read the synopsis, that last line caused an immediate “uh-oh!” Also, the thing with Cart was set up at the very end of the previous book, so that wasn’t entirely unexpected. There is, as you say, a LOT to unpack here, and I know we’ll both have plenty to say about the way the relationship(s) go in this one, so maybe we should start with the plot, which sees Theo and Auggie getting mixed up in another murder mystery.
EBW: When Orlando, (Auggie’s former roommate), asked Auggie to help find his missing brother, I didn’t get the sense of a supremely complicated investigation in the offing. BUT then… Reader: PAY ATTENTION early on. It helps to put the pieces together later.
Caz: Oh, ye of little faith :P Mr. Ashe is devious and clever and lulls the reader into that proverbial false sense of security by setting up what looks like a fairly simple missing person case – and then slowly opens it up to reveal all sorts of far-reaching connections. As a side note: I was surprised by how much I actually liked Orlando in this one! Yes, he was a bit of a creep in TTMIWE, but once we meet his family – who are simply AWFUL – it’s easy to understand why he was so fucked up.
EBW: The ‘case’ kicks off after Theo agrees to help Auggie find Cal, and when they discover Cal isn’t missing at all – but dead – things take a turn. Lender (from the Hazard and Somerset series) makes an appearance, and that’s never a good thing. Damn, he’s MEAN. But Lender’s appearance opens up another can of worms that links Cal to a different investigation in Wahredua, and that one intersects with John-Henry Somerset, who works with Cart at the police department… Oh, Mr. Ashe, what a tangled web you weave!
Caz: Yep, the plot turns out to be as twisty and intricate as I think we’ve come to expect from this author :) But the real meat of this book is – IMO – in the character development and the relationships – and at times, this is a TOUGH read. Theo is involved (I can’t say ‘dating’ because they’re basically fuck-buddies) with the deeply closeted Cart, while Auggie decides that he felt a strong connection with the hot older student he met on moving-in day – Dylan – and that he wants to pursue a relationship with him. In both cases, it’s obvious almost right away that these people are completely wrong for them.
EBW: SO WRONG CAZ. SO VERY, VERY WRONG. Did you get the creeps from Dylan right away? I couldn’t make up my mind on him; I want Auggie to have a healthy relationship that helps him to be the mature partner Theo needs, but I also want him to be young and have fun at college.
Caz: Yeah, Dylan creeped me out from the get-go; his constant hot/cold rang alarm bells straight away and then when he started to criticise Auggie’s choice of friends… they rang even LOUDER! Auggie is such a lovely person and he deserves to be happy, and he grows so much in this book. He might be young but many times, he’s ‘the better man’ – he’s never rude about Cart (who, by contrast, won’t even use Auggie’s name), and shows his maturity in many ways throughout the story.
EBW: Auggie is so gentle and good to Theo re: Cart, which is a wonderful reflection of him as a friend and a potential partner. It hurts him to see Theo with someone else, but he genuinely wants Theo to be happy. And even to a total stranger, it’s clear Cart is not good for Theo. Oh, wow, what can we say about this relationship?
Caz: Cart starts out seeming like a decent guy. It’s clear right from the start that he’s made the running – there’s a line to the effect Theo has just kind of ‘gone along with’ whatever is going on between them – but slowly, we start seeing how Cart is manipulating Theo every bit as much as Dylan is manipulating Auggie, albeit in a different way.
EBW: It’s so disturbing. Theo is hiding drugs, using alcohol to numb his pain, and consenting to sex… and pretending he’s happy. He isn’t – but Theo has numbed himself to feeling and processing what’s become of his life, and when this story starts, I feel like he believes this is a relationship with Cart that he isn’t leaving anytime soon.
Caz: I think that’s true of both Theo and Auggie. They are – for whatever reason – intent on “building something” with someone else, and they’re SO intent on it that they talk themselves into believing that they have a connection with that person. And the key thing for me here – and another example of Mr. Ashe’s cleverness – there is absolutely ZERO chemistry between Theo and Cart and Auggie and Dylan. ZERO. For me as a reader, that was a massive signal that something was wrong.
EBW: No one does repellent, I PASSIONATELY HATE THEM characters like Ashe. I mean, he’s so good at developing fallible, inherently good principal characters who we love and root for despite their stumbles and bumbles, and then contrasting them with the vile jerks who somehow worm their way into their lives. I’m invested in how the relationships play out and how his principal characters grow and change as a result these awful experiences.
Caz: I honestly don’t think I hated Mikey Grames (from Hazard and Somerset) as much as I hated Douchebag Dylan and Officer Scumbag. And that’s saying something! The thing is, on the surface, both seemed like okay guys – which is what makes them even more dangerous.
EBW: 100% agree. Deep down I knew Cart and Dylan were ‘bad’, – but not like Mikey, who’s very obviously a villain. Theirs is this insidious evil that burrows deep and isn’t as easy to label, and isn’t visible to the other people in Theo and Auggie’s lives. But since these two are so totally attuned to each other, they see it and recognize it right away!
Caz: Oh, yes – I was waiting for the moment Theo would meet Dylan and see him for the creep he was – which he did, right away, but how on earth do you tell the friend (you’re actually in love with) that his boyfriend is a dangerous, pretentious dickhead without alienating him?
EBW: Both of these guys hurt Theo and Auggie, and they each allow it as some sort of pseudo-penance for the mistakes in their pasts. Fortunately, Ashe contrasts these toxic relationships with the lovely, hilarious, secretly lusty one they have with each other!
Caz: Yes! Lest everyone get the idea that this book is all doom and gloom – it isn’t! The relationships and the mystery are woven together as expertly as ever, and the absolute, best parts of the book are those moments where Theo and Auggie are, well, just Theo and Auggie bantering and giving each other shit. Those scenes are pure gold.
EBW: Oh my gosh, when Auggie teases Theo it just lights me up – and left me still hopeful for them.
Caz: And the little moments of UST are amazing and wonderful and completely swoonworthy! There are also some beautiful moments of introspection as Theo and Auggie think about each other that show just how far gone they are for one another.
EBW: So where do we think they’re going next? Are we allowed to guess? Look, reader. The ending is AWESOME – and hard. I think we’re going to get more of Auggie’s family somehow; and I wonder if Theo is getting help. PLEASE PLEASE GET HELP THEO.
Caz: I would LOVE to read Theo meeting Fer (Auggie’s older brother) – I suspect Theo won’t know what’s hit him! The ending is definitely hopeful but I think they’ve still got a hard road ahead of them. They can’t solve each other’s problems; that would be an unhealthy codependency wouldn’t it? I want them to be there for each other, but Theo, especially, knows he has to get better for himself, and I want to see Auggie gain some self-confidence and realise what a catch he is. (Also – Theo has got some serious grovelling to do if he’s going to deserve him!)
EBW: I can’t wait for the inevitable Fer and Theo meeting. It has to happen right??!! And yes, Auggie can’t be the reason Theo gets help. Ashe never takes the easy way out in stories, so I definitely think Theo has a tough road ahead of him.
Caz: We could sit here and speculate for hours (and actually we have!) but to sum up, Yet a Stranger is another slice of Ashe brilliance and a book I loved and hated at the same time.
EBW: HATE TO LOVE! Ha! It’s one of those books where you just want to see a glimpse of the finish line to ease the pain, but then again, because the journey is so intense, you don’t want to miss even a minute of it.
Yet a Stranger is significantly darker that TTMIWE, and I didn’t think the mystery was as strong this time out (honestly, I had a bit of a challenge keeping up with the tangential secondary characters), but it’s still a straight up DIK (A) for me. I could read about Auggie and Theo all day long; I love them in every iteration – frenemies, teasing, flirting, consoling, loving…. So, so good.
Caz: I definitely went through the wringer along with Theo and Auggie – but I can’t do anything other than gasp in awe at the sort of writing that can evoke such strong feelings. Yet a Stranger does go to some dark places and is very different in tone to the previous book, but it’s compelling and impossible to put down – like a train wreck in places, horrible but you can’t look away! But difficult as it can be, the character and relationship development is stellar, and Theo and Auggie, even when they’re on the outs, continue to show exactly why they are perfect for each other. It’s an A from me, too.
Note: This book includes scenes of drug use, dubious consent, and attempted rape