Review: Bullheaded by Catt Ford

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Bullheaded coverBull rider Cody Grainger and bullfighter Johnny Arrow have been in love for two years and traveling together on the circuit for less.  The relationship is one that Cody’s parents approve of and the rodeo world has little knowledge of.  A time of change is coming for both men, something neither of them want to acknowledge. For Cody Grainger, the future means retirement.  Cody is at the top of the ratings and hopes to win the first back to back World Champion Bull Rider titles, but his body feels every inch his thirty years plus the wear and tear of riding bulls is making it harder for his body to take the abuse doled out by the bulls. Cody doesn’t just want to win, he needs to win and he refuses to see that his time as a bull rider is coming to an end.

Johnny Arrow is much younger than Cody and just starting out in his career as  a bullfighter.  His chosen profession means as much to him as bullriding does to Cody but Johnny just can’t seem to get that idea into Cody’s head.  Frustration and unhappiness grows between the men and when the lack of communication is combined with the stress of the chase  of the world title, their relationship breaks apart and Johnny leaves to pursue his profession on the summer circuit.  With Johnny gone and Cody in denial about the cause of their breakup, Cody’s career takes a downward spiral he is unable to break.  Both men soon realize they need to be together, but pride is a tough obstacle to get through.  So is Cody’s outlook on Johnny and his career.  Can both men compromise enough to let their love pull them through or will pride and denial cost them the love of their lives?

Catt Ford knows the world of bull riding from every exciting aspect, from the athleticism of the bulls themselves to the bullfighters who risk life and limb to protect the bull riders after their rides are done.  Ford’s familiarity and her vivid descriptions of the sport make this book for me.  I love the rodeo and Ford captures all the details from the danger of the chute to the politics and marketing strategy of the stock contractors and folds them effortlessly into her story.  The author even gives the reader an introductory Bullriding 101 that works in its brevity and simplicity and helps the reader unfamiliar with the subject to better understand the terms and specifics of the sport.  I normally am not a fan of this book dictionary idea but it works beautifully here and adds to the readers enjoyment instead of befuddlement.

Catt Ford’s descriptions really bring you into the world of bullriding.  Instead of feeling like you are watching the events happen from a distance, say on cable, she makes you feel the events are happening around you, as though you are sitting in the stands, the dust of the arena in the air and the sounds of clanging gates and the explosive grunts of the bulls ringing in your ears.  This is how the book opens, with Cody on the back of a bull and the chute gate getting ready to open:

IT ALWAYS started this way. He could feel his heart speed up, the insistent pounding in his chest, the steel rail cold under his hand, the restless beast throbbing between his legs, the tightness of the wrap around his hand. He gave the nod.

When the gate opened, the bull exploded out of the chute, bucking and twisting high in the air. Time slowed down for him as the rush of adrenaline shot through his body. It made him feel weightless yet powerful. Energized but floating on air. This was going to be a good ride. He was in the zone, shifting his body expertly, just enough to counter each move the bull threw at him, finding the perfect center of balance. The bull’s rage shivered up his spine, but it didn’t make a dent in his determination to win. He could almost hear the ticking as each hundredth of a second counted down.

His timing was perfect. He was so concentrated on his ride he couldn’t hear the roar of the crowd or the buzzer when it came. His internal clock told him once again he was the victor in the ageless contest between man and beast.

And it gets better from there.  You feel the pain from old and new injuries adding up, the young riders pushing to get ahead and the love of bull riding that doesn’t diminish even while the body is telling the rider it is time to quit.  Marvelous, realistic, glorious and sometimes quite sad.

It is Catt Ford’s characters and storyline that I had some issues with.  Johnny Arrow is clearly my favorite of the main characters.  He is young, ambitious and supporting a family on the reservation. Yet he is also inexperienced when it comes to men and insecure enough about his relationship with Cody not to speak up for his own needs.  Johnny’s growth as a professional bullfighter and more importantly as his own person is charted throughout the story.  It is well done and absolutely necessary to maintain his realism as a character.  He experiments with sexual encounters with a diverse sampling of gay men helps define who he is although some readers will have problems with this aspect of the book.  Both Johnny and Cody have sex with others but the reader needs to keep in mind that the couple is broken up and therefore not cheating on each other.  It is a realistic facet of their lives and helps with each characters growth.

And while Johnny is my favorite character, Cody is my least.  It probably doesn’t help that we see only a little of their relationship before the argument that breaks them up.  The Bullheaded of the title clearly speaks to Cody’s mental state as well as profession.  He rides roughshod over Johnny and pretty much everyone else throughout most of the book and doesn’t experience nearly the amount of growth Johnny does or that Cody needs to.  In fact, they are separated for almost too much of the story and for me, it doesn’t really begin to gel until they meet back up again and try to work things out.   For far too much of the story, Cody is just that much of an unlikeable person.  He  is understandable in his desperation to stay on top and we get the stress he is under from all sides to retire and while we can relate to him we don’t necessarily like him.  And that hurts the story from my perspective.

It took me a while to commit to the relationship between Cody and Johnny.  What pulled me through until I connected with them was Catt Ford’s immersion of the reader into her love of the bull riding universe.  I will let Cody speak for himself:

The physical and mental challenge to stay aboard and the ecstasy of conquest rushed through him, electrifying his body. It felt like more excitement than his body could contain, as if he might explode with the insane joy of it any moment.

Catt Ford gets bull riding and makes the reader understand why.  For that reason alone, you should pick up this book and let the bulls and their riders come alive before you.  It is an amazing journey and one you will enjoy.

Cover art by Catt Ford.  Unusual cover gets your attention immediately and works for the story within.

Book Details:

ebook, 340 pages
Published April 15th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN
1623806267 (ISBN13: 9781623806262)
edition language
English

Review: Adding to the Collection (A Roughstock story) by B.A. Tortuga

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Adding To The Collection coverCloseted rancher Derrick Stahlman has always had a thing for professional bull riders.  Once a year he treats himself to a small vacation to watch the PBR Finals in Reno and get himself laid in the process.  This year Derrick has a chance to watch a young bull rider he has been following on the circuit, Stone Haverty.  Everything about that small firecracker of a man turns Derrick on like nothing in recent memory.  And a specific kind of memory to take back to the ranch and keep him warm is just what Derrick is pursuing.

Stone has been doing well this year and his rides have put him in the money and top 20 rankings.  Stone also happens to be gay, although quiet about it because of the PBR sponsors.  When he spots that handsome rancher cheering him on from the fan seats in the stadium, he recognizes a kindred spirit, and a big sexy one at that.  The men come together for a couple of days of white hot sex and major snuggling before parting ways with a quiet “come see me if you are in the area” from Derrick.  And then at Christmas time, Stone appears at Derrick’s ranch and Derrick has some big decisions to make and maybe make his dream come true in the process.

First a little bull rider history.  If you aren’t familiar with PBR (here that doesn’t stand for Pabst Blue Ribbon but Professional Bull Riders, Inc.) then you are missing out on a wonderful group of athletes often overlooked outside certain sections of this country.  A professional bull rider is someone who has to remain on the back of a bucking bull for 8 seconds.  Within that 8 seconds, the rider will be judged on control and rhythm in matching the movements of the bull,  and at the same time, the bull is equally being judged for their performance. their athletic ability to buck off the rider with high jumps and unexpected  twists.  It is athlete versus athlete, rider versus bull but here the riders average around 5’6″ and a hundred and more pounds versus these amazing bulls weighing in at  close to a ton or over.  Needless to say, it is the bull rider who often comes off the worst in this contest of skill, will, and might, hopefully walking away with no more than a bruised ego and behind to show for a ride lasting less than 8 seconds, sometimes much worse happens.  Not surprisingly, this is a young man’s sport with the average age being in their twenties.  Countries like Canada, Brazil, Australia, and Mexico each have their own PBR tours and bull riders from all over the world come to participate in the World PBR Tour.

B.A. Tortuga knows her bull riding.  B.A. Tortuga also writes some of the best regional voices in the business.  Her characters conversations are flavored with  colloquialisms that never fall over the edge into parody.   It certainly helps that she knows her roughstock and bull riders like the back of her hand too.   Here is her description of Stone Haverty:

“Short, lean, but not bird-like, Stone was a little nut-brown dynamo with a pair of blue eyes that looked like lasers, glinting from under the brim of that straw hat. That callused, scarred hand worked resin into glove and rope, up and down, mimicking an action that made Derrick’s mouth dry.”

Two sentences that so fully describe this man you could pick him out of a crowd.  Here is Stone’s first impression of Derrick:

“Solid and broad, with hands that would be rough and hard on a man’s skin…This one looked like he didn’t get to town much. Oh, the boots were clean, and the hat was obviously expensive, but the guy scanned the crowd like he was starving, like he had a powerful itch.”

Derrick is a lonely, closeted rancher from California who collects bull riding memorabilia on his annual trip to the PBR Finals in Reno.  He accepts that his lot will be that of a man lacking a real romantic relationship in order to live the life he has on his ranch, although he dreams of much more.  I loved solid, grounded Derrick and wanted much more of his backstory.  Stone too only gives us hints as to what drives him.  He comes from a huge family and is the baby of a family of eight brothers but you get the feeling that there is much more to his story than is revealed here.  We get realistic glimpses of the hardships that come with competing on the circuit too, the lack of insurance and rootless existence can mean in the long run.

The sex scenes are hot, desperate in their need,  funny and totally realistic.  I mean you are laughing along with the men as pants get stuck on boots and clothes refuse to fly off the way they do in the movies. And you will hurt with them too as the injuries arrive.  These men breath and bleed, laugh and hump so authentically that you expect them to climb out of the pages.

My only quibble with this story is the length.  It just cries out for a much longer version so all the requisite back history of these men and their journey to this point in their lives is layered into this story to finish it out.   At 60 pages, it is just enough to “wet our whistle” as it were but not enough to fully satisfy.  I hope B.A. Tortuga revisits this couple and lets us in on how they are faring.  I loved my short visit with them and am ready for the rest to follow.

Cover: Cover illustration by BS Clay is lovely and pertinent to the story

BA Tortuga. Adding to the Collection (Kindle Locations 83-87). Torquere Press.

Review of Leather Work and Lonely Cowboys, a Roughstock Story by BA Tortuga

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Rating: 5 stars

Beau is lonely and feeling every moment of Sam’s absence.  Not that Sam has left, it’s just that he has become absorbed in the leather working he does as therapy to help his recovery from the accident.  So Beau plans a little road trip in their camper hoping that time alone will reignite the heat missing lately in their relationship and force Sam to talk use his voice again, if only in passion.

Leather Work and Lonely Cowboys is absolutely a 5 star story, even if you are unfamiliar with Beau and Sam from previous Roughtstock books.  All the of the elements that make BA Tortuga’s stories so compelling and memorable are present.  You don’t have to know Beau and Sam’s backstory to understand them.  They’re cowboys so deeply in love with each other that they can communicate without words even as Beau is missing the sound of his lover’s voice.  BA Tortuga makes us feel each small gesture, each touch exchanged between the two men that becomes magnified within the context of the moment.  Even the “pups” and Boudreaux, their Bloodhound have their part to play in helping us understand who these men are and the challenges they are facing in their relationship.

Now having said that you can read this as a stand alone, I say please don’t.  You would be shortchanging yourself. Beau and Sam are part of a group of rodeo cowboys that make up the Roughstock stories, tales so rich in emotion, so deep in characterizations and  s0 authentic in location that the stories smell of leather, sweat, and livestock.  I love all the men involved in this universe Beau and Sam, Coke and Dillon and all the others.  Beau and Sam first appear in Roughstock:  File Gumbo- Season One.  And then keep appearing from Starting the Roux, a Roughstock story as well as in Coke and Dillon’s stories.  BA Totuga writes so realistically and with such affection for these men that it translates with ease to the reader and you become entrenched in their world as the characters themselves.

Here are the Roughstock stories not in the order they were written but grouped according to pairing:

Roughstock: File Gumbo – Season One (Sam and Beau)

Roughstock: And a Smile — Season One (Coke and Dillon with Sam and Beau mentioned)

Roughstock: And a Smile — Coke’s Clown (Coke and Dillon, with Sam and Beau)

Cowboy Christmas: A Roughstock Short (Coke and Dillon)

The New Guy, a Roughstock story (Coke and Dillon)

The Retreat, a Roughstock story (Coke and Dillon)

Roughstock: Blindride — Season One

Starting the Roux, a Roughstock story (Beau and Same)

Leather Work and Lonely Cowboys, a Roughstock story (Sam and Beau)

Doce, A Roughstock Story: The Ten of Wands – Roughstock universe

Give it Time: the Seven of Wands – Roughstock universe

Shutter Speed, A Roughstock Story: the Seven of Pentacles – Roughstock universe

Amorzinhos, A Roughstock Story