Tag Team Review: Level Up by Annabeth Albert

Landon can’t believe he’s let himself get roped into participating in a charity calendar, let alone one that features tastefully photographed nudes. The genius physicist is hardly model material and he’s dreading the nude part of the photoshoot. Amid his reluctance, the one bright spot is his emails back and forth with the photographer.

However, Bailey ends up being not quite what Landon expects, and their first meeting is decidedly awkward. Bailey’s persistent though, and gradually Landon warms to the burly photographer, and they discover they have a shared love of gamer culture.

A tentative friendship is born, but the road from friends to lovers isn’t easy. Landon’s battling past trauma and must decide how much of a risk he’s willing to take. A sexy connection may not be enough to keep them together unless both are willing to put their hearts on the line.

Approximately 40,000 words. Previously released as part of the EXPOSED anthology, and loosely linked to the #Gaymers universe, this friends-to-lovers, hurt/comfort story stands alone with a guaranteed happy ending. Contains a brief mention of a prior assault, but no on-screen violence or flashbacks.

This is another one of those, I like the premise but the execution fell a bit short IMO. I was hooked on photographer and genius physicist are supposed to meet up for a charity gig but prior to the event, they communicate online for a couple of weeks allowing things go from professional to flirty. Unfortunately my excitement didn’t extend throughout and this became an okay level of enjoyment.

As the blurb mentions, Landon is voluntold to help with a nude charity calendar. He begins email communication with the photographer (Bailey) about logistics and then as multiple emails are exchanged, they find themselves in flirty territory where each “man” is looking forward to meeting with an almost giddy anticipation.

Their first meet is awkward and isn’t the slam dunk each was hoping for. They decide to be friends and over their love of video games, a tentative romantic relationship forms. Landon has serious issues from the past he must navigate to make it work and Bailey is so patient. He handles him with understanding and care while moving towards a HEA.

My hang-ups with this book deal mostly with the lack of depth and fleshing out of the characters. We jump right in when Bailey and Landon are about to meet and miss out on the communication or build up prior. The interactions that take place are awkward and never quite cohesive. There’s a lot of sex, sex talk, “cyber,” etc., when some of that page time could have been spent developing their connection. I like sex but I like well rounded characters with chemistry AND connection even more.

This book can definitely use another round of edits prior to release and please heed the Trigger Warning for mentions of past sexual-assault. I’m not sure if these men were mentioned in the #gaymers books since it's “loosely linked” and maybe that would provide more depth to the characters? But if you're a fan of that series, this may work better for you.

I was intrigued by the premise of Level Up and once I got to know Bailey, I absolutely loved him. He’s a character that you root for as soon as you meet him and want to read about him for way longer than a novella length story.

Bailey and Landon have been communicating via email and gaming platforms but haven’t met in person. What should have been a meet-cute turns into a big ball of awkward when Landon realizes that Bailey, is in fact a dude and not the girl he had been picturing throughout their conversations. They’ve built up chemistry over their interactions and while Landon’s reaction was understandable I couldn’t help but feel Bailey’s heartache over “what could have been”.

Landon keeps an open mind because he can’t deny how much he enjoyed Bailey’s company before meeting him and Bailey is so very attracted to Landon he’d rather have a friend than nothing at all, so the two embark on a new friendship. When Bailey learns that Landon is Bi, he’s hopeful for a hot minute, but then realizes that newfound knowledge is even harder to take, because Landon doesn’t want Bailey regardless and his hurt was palpable. Buuuuut, not so fast, because Landon IS actually into Bailey, but he’s got some past trauma that goes a long way in explaining his reactions and attitude.

Be aware of the trigger warnings for past sexual assault. The assault itself is not detailed, but Landon does bear the emotional scars and it is heartbreaking to read. Bailey is there for Landon though and he has some experience with people suffering from panic attacks (as Landon does) and Landon could not have found a better match than Bailey.

To be super repetitive, I love Bailey, but I didn’t feel the same connection with Landon. We missed out on all the banter between the two before they met in person and I think that was what was missing for me. I was told about it, I believed it, but I didn’t get a chance to absorb it myself so I wasn’t as invested as I wanted to be. Landon felt more defined by his past than as a fully fleshed out character and the “before banter” would have gone a long way to give him more depth. He made my Bailey happy though, and the ending was quite sweet and gave them the HEA these guys deserved.

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