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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 22 February 2014
Occasionally I read a book and I find myself having to take a time out after I finish it because I just can’t get my head around everything I’ve just read and images and thoughts won’t stop spinning through my head. ‘Strain’ is one of those books. Although there was some time between finishing the story and going to bed last night, I found myself dreaming about this book; the characters and the world they inhabit were the first thing on my mind the one or two times I woke up. And one question wouldn’t and still hasn’t left my mind; how far would I be willing to go to save my own life, or to try saving someone else’s.

I should probably begin this book with a warning. This is not an easy or light read, quite the opposite in fact. This is also a book that could easily offend and/or shock a lot of readers. Ultimately though this is a very powerful and memorable story; one I’m very glad to have read and one that will probably continue to play in my mind for a few more nights at least.

The world ‘Strain’ is set in is a horrible place. A lethal and very contagious virus has killed most humans and is still being spread by ‘Revenants’; infected humans who have turned into monsters driven to kill the remaining uninfected population. Contact with a Revenant is a death sentence; if they don’t kill you on the spot they will infect you and seal your fate.

When 19 year old Rhys Cooper sacrifices himself in the hope of protecting others he survives his encounter with the Revenants only because a troupe of ‘super-human’ soldiers arrives in time to kill them. Survival isn’t necessarily a blessing though; those Rhys was trying to protect have died anyway, his arch-enemy and bane of his young life, Jacob, is the only other survivor and both of them have almost certainly been infected with the virus that will turn them into Revenants before killing them.

The soldiers offer both Rhys and Jacob a slim hope of survival. It is possible that the virus can be counteracted if they manage to get infected with another strain; a strain the soldiers carry. The only sure way to get infected though is through frequent sexual contact with as many of the soldiers as possible.

Darius Murrell is the 43 old leader of the squadron of soldiers who rescued the two men and is determined to save them. He’s spent his life fighting and killing to protect the remaining uninfected humans and would do anything to ensure he won’t have to put a bullet in Rhys’ head once the plague sets in.

It is difficult for Rhys though. While he doesn’t want to die and is interested in men, he has huge issues dealing with the multiple partners he needs to have in order to optimise his chances of immunity. Sex with Darius is something he, reluctantly, enjoys. With anybody else he can barely make himself endure it, putting Darius in a position where he has to force the young man to have sex if he wants to save him.

“Look, far as I’m concerned, only thing evil about sex is rape. Now, that puts us in a real gray area but I’m trying to avoid it.” - Darius

Darius and Rhys may be discovering feelings for each other; it is an impossible situation for both. Darius can’t afford that get attached to a man he may have to kill and Rhys is at best a reluctant participant in his own rescue.

I have to admit this was, at times, a very difficult read for me. Reading about Rhys, his insecurities, fears and shame at having to be intimate with all these men who, as far as he can tell, are only with him out of a sense of duty, was heartbreaking. In fact, the only thing that prevented this book from turning into a very dark story about institutionalised rape was the fact that the soldiers volunteering their services to Rhys grow ever more reluctant to do so as his distaste for the act becomes more obvious.

“I fought it for a long time because I didn’t want the only sex I ever had before I died to not mean anything, especially when it was already something I didn’t have a choice in. Then it didn’t feel meaningless anymore, and it was okay. Better than okay.” – Rhys

Despite appearances earlier on in this story, this isn’t ‘just’ a book about sex. Nor is the story-line an excuse to introduce as many sex-scenes as possible. Ultimately this is a story about love, finding it under the most unlikely of circumstances and the things we are willing to do and endure for those we love. It is also a book about what it means to be human and how to hang on to that humanity even when the world around you doesn’t appear to have room for ‘luxuries’ like that.

“Knowing people like you exist, people who won’t lie or kill or whore themselves out for another day of pointless breathing, people who actually believe in something – even if it’s just yourself and what you know is right – it makes it worth it, boy.”

This story broke my heart, forced me to look away in horror but ultimately made me rejoice because of the sheer beauty of it. It was a joy to watch Rhys as he tried to hang on the things he valued. I lost myself in his journey from scared boy to sensible young man. And I may just have fallen in love with Darius, the tough soldier who turns out to have very deep feelings despite his job and the things it forces him to do.

I have to applaud the author for releasing a book with a story-line that was likely to find as many detractors as fans. I’m in awe that Amelia C. Gormley managed to put this much beauty in what was for all intents and purposes a horrific story, and find myself deeply grateful for having found a tale that will linger for a long time to come.

“None of us have much worth holding on to, which makes us hold on even tighter to what we can.”
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on 10 March 2014
Yes it shocked me.
The way Rhys had no real choice but to live and that meant being forced to have sex with as many partners as possible. Being a virgin made it that much harder for him especially as he had fallen for his friend when he was younger and still believed in tenderness and love.
It's hard to imagine what it's like to live in a place like that. Survival is something that is inside all of us and l wonder how many of us would have refused to be saved if there was a way.
The way the guys tried to be as gentle and kind to him as possible made it a lot easier to read. They cared for him and didn't want to hurt more then they needed to.
A very different type of book than l have read before but l found l couldn't put it down.
Uneasy reading but l am glad l did buy it. Like another viewer said it gives you food for thought and it is not a story you will forget in a hurry.
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on 25 March 2014
Quite simply, this was one of those stories where all sorts of superlatives could be thrown into the hat for the writing alone..... outstanding, superb, fantastic, exquisite, fascinating; however, add to that the highly imaginative storyline and all the descriptive words used by the author to convey the bleakness and despair of this dystopian world, and the nightmare existence its survivors have to endure and you have one of those stories that comes along once in a blue moon.

I fell in love with Rhys and Darius, and that in itself is unusual cos I don't normally go for a story where one of the MC's is 25 years older than the other BUT as anyone who reads this will discover, this is no run-of-the-mill story, and there are extenuating circumstances and very valid reasons why Darius has been 'paired' with Rhys, although at the start Rhys is completely against what must happen to him in order for him to survive. I loved nearly all of the characters although one or two that may have met an untimely end will certainly not be missed in this house, and I must mention in particular Xolani, Titus, Toby and Joe who were my faves.

Amelia C. Gormley, I salute you and your characters and am desperately hoping for a sequel to this amazing story. Are 50 stars too many??
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on 20 July 2014
Ok, barely a dozen pages in, I was hooked and that thing was dug in deep. My. Kind. Of. Book.

By the beginning of chapter three, I had that ever present inner grin when fully engaged in what someone does with words like this. Even into a dying, nearly dead society, with survival almost as the punch line. This punch line, though, has some bite. His name is Rhys. His name is Darius.

X-Military — check

Zombie-pocalypse — check

Adrenaline — check

Diverse characters – check

Well written erotica — check

Drama/humor/blood — check

Here’s the thing: we humans are complex creatures. Unfortunately, we’re often not written as such. Here? Oh yeah, complex. Head-tilting confusion. Conflicting drives, mottled emotions. And it’s all laid out for our devouring with mighty fine writing. Are there a few familiar phrases? Yeah. A well-known trope of sorts? Yeah. But when they’re a part of a story written like this, they almost feel brand new. Yup.

Anger. Contentment. Anxiety. Fear. Disconnection. Joy. Relief. Loss. Surprises. Smiles.

For me, this was rather mild on the dub-con scale, but know that it’s undoubtedly there in case that is a trigger for you. Neither any character’s age nor circumstance went over the line or really came close to crossing it. It hit me that this is due in great part to how well this word is presented, sans most clichés at that. Therefore, the actions of survival make sense. It makes sense that, even in this world, some humanity between people still exists. That even when very difficult things need to be done, sometimes there is someone there to make it not so horrible. Imperfect life is lifetimes better than horrible, than death.

A shout-out to Xolani. Talk about a fantastic female character. Why is this so difficult and so rare??? And actually, most of these characters are more realistic that many I encounter these days. So if that’s important to you in particular types of books, you’re golden here. This goes back to that complexity factor. These are capable, smart, quiet, humorous, sad, cold, driven, gentle people trying to survive, trying to get their brains and bodies to accept the unacceptable.

Intense.

And this doesn’t only come from the physical danger. It’s the combination of that with the humanity inside this book. Again: complexity. As unlike our current world as this one is, on the whole, there are many similarities. This recognition increases the intensity, as well. I understand their motivations. Though there is one who deserves to be dropped on his head, but there always has to be at least one.

Rhys and Darius. It is a relationship that is slowly forming. It lives in an entirely different society so the constructs are not the norm, there’s no way that they could be. But as two human men, with pasts and ideas and wants and misunderstandings, even in this extreme situation, they are trying to get to know each other. Their world is a world of basics, of obtaining them, fighting them, needing them. This feeling of being compelled to explore each other is as basic as it gets between two people.

Everybody is on a journey here, including the supporting characters. They’re each unique and carry their importance in the story. I never felt difficulty in keeping track of or believing their actions and words, nor in how they related to both Rhys and Darius. There are a few that are so important, that I blame them equally for leaving wide open gashes in my heart.

There are so many moments, gestures, glances that I want to tell you about. But just like they were each a meal for a starving man or a startling guffaw or a slow moving wave of heat, I want you to experience every delicious morsel for yourself.

There were a few points repeated throughout the book. They almost felt like mini-recaps, but were far enough apart so as not to really lessen what was happening during each occurrence.

Just know you’re in for a ride of quiet adrenaline, life, death, treachery, fear, tenderness, resignation, determination and, dare I say, hope. And tears. Wrecked, large, lumpy tears. Read on, my friends, please… read on.

** This review originally appeared at Prism Book Alliance.
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on 25 April 2014
OMG....WOW..What can i say...I loved this book...You really need to be able to overcome any angst about Dub-Con because it does seem that Rhys is pushed against his wishes to survive..But read it carefully and you soon realise he's not really pushed into anything...It's how his mind works from the way he's lived...I loved Rhys from the start...and I also loved Darius from the start...He gave Rhys what he came to realise Rhys needed...The secondary characters were amazing...Xolani..The medical officer...she showed love to Rhys and caring and kicked Darius' arse when needed...Kaleo...Oh i loved Kaleo...His arrogance was refreshing and he lived by his own rules until kicked into touch..Toby and Joe....wow..Poor Joe went through it but they were so suited to each other...You read this book hoping to all the world that Rhys will survive and survive with his mind and soul intact...with Darius by his side all he wants is to be wanted...This book isn't hard to read until around 95% which is when the tears started for me...Not many books make me cry but that part certainly did...What Rhys had to do..but again he had Darius by his side to help him through...This is by far an amazing book and though should be read with caution is nothing short of an amazing read...Well done Amelia Gormley....This is definitely going into my favourites on my kindle and as my friends know me by now...I will be getting this in paperback...I always get my favourites in paperback..I so wish i could give this ten or even twenty stars...A braver book has never been written x
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on 23 March 2014
I enjoyed this! It is very different to a lot of other m/m fiction and in places quite harsh especially dealing with relationships. I could imagine the world the main characters lived in and the brutal sex scenes did fit in with the storyline!

It was well written. I presume there will be a sequel as although this did have a natural end there is still plenty of mileage in the larger plot. Worth taking a chance on.
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on 28 March 2014
This is not my usual m/m type read but I am so glad I got it. So unusual in this genre, this was less about sex and more about realtionships. The plot was good and well written and I loved the main characters. So good I read it in a day and a half! A sequel would be much appreciated Amelia. :)
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on 2 November 2014
Amelia is an amazing writer. Her way with words, her characters and her world building's astonishingly beautiful. I've read this book back-to-back many times now and every time I laugh, cry and cringe to my heart's content.

This novel is the inspiration behind my own. Amelia sparked a new world within me, and I wholeheartedly idolise her writing technique. I hope that one day I'll be able to write like her.

It may be because I was so similar to Rhys, in so many ways, that I lost myself endlessly in this book, but I'm so glad that I found it. It's one of my favourites and I can't wait for more.

I'll definitely be reading this again. Probably in like . . . oh, about four hours? :)
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on 4 February 2016
A decent read but it didn't really grip me. At about chapter 5 I almost stopped reading. However I continued and the story got a bit better. The idea of the book is good but for some reason I just found it lacking. It was not one of those books that you want to continue reading for as long as possible or until your eyes get sore. I simply put the book down whenever I got a bit fed up with it. I did read the whole book. There are other books in this series, I may read them, but I have other books that I will read already set up on my kindle before I even think about buying any more from this series or author.
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on 28 August 2014
I thought this was a very well written book with an exciting story. My only problem was that I wasn't entirely convinced by the character of Rhys, so seemed to keep changing his mind about what he has to do to survive. At times, I wanted to slap him! (and not in a good way). But then again, Rhys is supposed to be a teenager. Still, I'd have thought in such a harsh world he might be a bit more pragmatic.

I found the end a little disappointing. I think it was supposed to be a twist but actually it just came across as a bit of a damp squib. Still, I liked the romantic storyline.
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