Recommended Read, Review

Review: This is Not the End by Sidney Bell (2021)

Heat Factor: The sex writing is remarkable. Also there’s pegging. 

Character Chemistry: I believe the friendship. I believe the attraction. And I believe the love. 

Plot: The third wheel becomes an equal partner.

Overall: This is a beautiful book.

Here’s the set up: Zac and Anya have been married for three years. They sometimes invite other men into their bedroom, because it’s fun. Mostly, only Anya has sex with these other men, while Zac watches. They are both a bit wild, both a bit volatile, and they’re very happy together. 

Anya proposes that, for Zac’s birthday, they invite Zac’s best friend of twenty years into their bedroom for some sexy rumpus. After all, Cal’s hot – and it might help clear the weird vibes between Anya and Cal, who are not exactly friends. Zac shoots the idea down not because he’s not interested, but because he’s sure that Cal won’t be. After all, Cal is from Nebraska. 

However, Anya doesn’t let it go. So the first part of the book, told entirely in a limited 3rd person narration with only Anya’s perspective, is about Anya wooing Cal. Not necessarily for sex, but because she realizes that she may have judged him too quickly, that he may have hidden depths. But when she propositions him, after ascertaining that he is, in fact, attracted to her, it goes very badly.

Now, this is where this book gets really interesting. Because Anya can tell that Cal is judging her, is judging her marriage – even when she explains that just because she and Zac share casual sexual experiences with other people, at the end of the night, she and Zac still go home together, are still a family. For her, a sexy rumpus isn’t love, and she doesn’t understand how someone could know and love Zac as much as Cal clearly does, and still find Zac’s predeliction for casual sex off-putting. But still, Cal is important to Zac, so she apologizes, which clearly makes Cal more uncomfortable, which, in turn, makes Anya angry, because why did he have to be such a dick about the whole thing? 

Of course, even if Anya can’t see it yet, what Cal objects to is not being invited to have a threesome with his best friend and best friend’s wife. He objects to being treated as something casual by the most important people in his life. Because – yes, reader, you guessed it – Cal has been in love with Zac for years. 

Part one climaxes with a climax – by which I mean, a friggin’ hot sex scene. And then a minor meltdown, because we are not out of the woods yet. 

In the second half of the book, the narration switches to Cal’s perspective (still 3rd person) as the three of them work out what this new relationship will look like. I will admit that Cal is a little angsty for my taste, but by the time we got to the part where he wasn’t sure if Anya and Zac *really* wanted him, I was already hooked on the characters and their fate. The hang-up here ties back to the scene where Anya first invites Cal to her bed: he continues to be convinced that for she and Zac are the family, and that he is a bonus feature, no matter how many times Anya and Zac try to explain to him that he’s different from those other men. Turns out it’s not just words that he needs, but actions. And it also turns out that Anya and Zac and Cal all need each other in ways that come to light as friendship becomes something more. 

This book works really well as a close character study of these three people – there are basically no other characters – as they negotiate and renegotiate their relationship. But where this book really sings is Bell’s attention to detail. The very first thing I said in this review is that the sex writing is remarkable, so let me give an example. Cal and Anya are about to get it on for the first time, and Anya is removing her clothes. Then we get this paragraph: 

She sees a flash of movement from the corner of her eye. Zac’s sliding down to sit on the sofa, apparently realizing that they’re not getting to a bed anytime soon. She watches him for a few seconds as Cal’s hand strokes up to her hip, playing over the fabric of her panties, because little in the world gets her hotter than Zac’s expression when he sees her like this – the way his eyes go wide and started, the way his mouth goes soft as if he’s hurting, the way his fingers stretch and flex as if he wants to jerk off but won’t let himself. He’s too caught up in trying to memorize the moment, and his own cock becomes a secondary concern.

Panning away from the main event, as it were, may seem like a distraction, but Bell accomplishes so much here, in terms of reinforcing the beats of Zac and Anya’s relationship – and not just because of what Zac’s face does, but because of Anya’s response and interpretation to the changes in his eyes and mouth and hands. 

I loved reading this book, and skimming through my highlighted passages to put together this mess of synopsis and gushing that I’m passing off as a review is just reminding me how much I enjoyed it, so I’ll leave you with this description (from the epilogue, Zac’s POV) of Anya eating popcorn because it’s amazing:

The popcorn bag is open and her fingers are sloppy yellow as she crams popcorn in her mouth. It’s disgusting. He wants to kiss her. He wishes Cal were down here, because he’s missing the sight of their cultured, terrible Anya looking like a werewolf as she gnaws on her prey, only with butter all over her face instead of blood. Which should not remotely be an appetizing image, but it is. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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