Review: Playing Ball Anthology

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Playing Ball coverAre you in love with the boys of summer?  Can’t wait for opening day and the cry of “play ball”? Baseball is America’s favorite pastime and the focal point of the love, heartbreak and the dreams of a nation of fans and players alike.  In this anthology four terrific authors share their passion for the game of baseball with four stories of love…the love of the game as well as romance between men who share a passion for baseball and each other.

Here are the stories in the order they are to be found within this anthology:

“One Man to Remember” by Kate McMurray
“Home Field Advantage” by Shae Connor
“One Last Road Trip” by Kerry Freeman
“Wild Pitch” by Marguerite Labbe

What a treat to pick up a book whose authors and collection of stories share my love for baseball and the boys of summer!  From stories situated in 1927 that bring the Babe back to life to the present day game and romance, these four stories will keep you happy and engaged, especially during those months where the fields of dreams are empty and the stadium seats wait for summer and the fans to arrive once more.

Here are my reviews for each story in the order found within the book:

1.  “One Man to Remember” by Kate McMurray:  Rating 5 stars out of 5

It’s 1927, New York City. Babe Ruth and the Yankees’ unstoppable batting lineup, Murderers’ Row are on their way to a season that will go down in the annals of baseball as legendary.  Across town, a rookie infielder for the Giants, Skip LIttlefield is racking up as many hits as the Babe but no one is noticing.  No one except a  famed sports reporter named Walter Selby, a notorious dandy whose sexuality is an open secret.  Walter has been watching the kid make hit after hit in seeming anonymity as everyones attention is focused on the Babe.  Everything about this rookie puzzles and intrigues Walter so he arranges an interview that will have far ranging repercussions for them both.

Kate McMurray has gifted us with a small historical gem of writing with One Man to Remember.  She has captured both the flair of the era as well as the homophobia and secret society of gay men during those times.  Its clear that McMurray has done her homework not only for the information she imparts about that storied run of Babe’s and the Yankees but the every day life as lived in 1927.  Whether it is snappy slang of the day to notorious places represented by The Penguin Club off Fifty-Sixth Street near Times Square, the author submerges us as throughly as her characters in this time period and brings off a home-run of a story.

The men, their love and knowledge of the game and the manner in which they have to hide their romance is both realistically and beautifully laid out in a story so well done that it cries out for a sequel.  One of my favorite stories in an anthology full of great tales.

2. “Home Field Advantage” by Shae Connor.  Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Toby MacMillan lives for baseball and loves his team, the Atlanta Braves.  In fact Toby has grown up with the Braves as Toby is the grandson of Atlanta Braves owner Ray MacMillan. Toby owns 30 percent of the team and expects to inherit the rest from his conservative grandfather upon his death.  And that’s primarily the reason Toby has hidden his sexuality from his family and team.

Then a new rookie arrives from the minors, Caleb Browning, ready to make his appearance in the major leagues.  Caleb Browning is talented, naive, attractive and gay.  And he has eyes for Toby.  A dinner engagement highlights their attraction to each others as well as the dangers that any relationship between them will bring to each of their careers.  Despite their good intensions to remain just friends, a romance begins that soon deepens into love.  What will happen when a fastball to the head, threatens not only Caleb’s career but their  love affair as well?

Situated in present times, Shae Connor’s looks at the reality of major league players coming forward about their sexuality and the fragile acceptance they are met with.  Toby’s entire life has revolved about the Atlanta Braves, a team owned by his grandfather.  His is a  character in love with the game while still aware of the realities of being a gay man involved in professional team sports and the sacrifices that requires.  Toby is an endearing characters whose reality is grounded in the truth of the men who love and control the game itself.  Toby realizes that while change is coming, the progress is as slow as acceptance itself.

I had a little more of a stretch to believe in Caleb Browning.  I really don’t see someone who plays ball, whether it is in the minor or major leagues, not being more aware of the consequences of his “gayness” while remaining a ballplayer.  His naivete seems not only extreme but unrealistic, so it took me a while to commit to their relationship.  But once committed, I threw myself into their romance with all the fervor of a fan at the game.  And by the time I got to Toby’s speech towards the end I was cheering them on.  You will be too.

3. “One Last Road Trip” by Kerry Freeman.  Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

After many years in the major leagues, bad knees sees Second Baseman Jake Wilson retiring from San Diego Padres and heading back home to a small town near Atlanta.  He is making one last road trip, pulling along a small trailer of possessions both physical and emotional.  On his way, he visits his ex wife, his grown children, getting reacquainted with his present and bringing up memories of his past.  And always present in his thoughts is Mikko Niemi, the young man he fell in love with in college and has never forgotten.

From his Facebook account, Jake has learned that Mikko’s long term partner has died and Mikko has started to date once  more.  So Jake is heading home to Mikko hoping it’s not too late for them to reconnect and ignite a love that never should have been abandoned.

Kerry Freeman, Kerry Freeman, you hit a home run to the heart with this one.    Not only it is about older ex lovers getting a second chance at love but the main character is a retired MLB player feeling every inch of his years in the game and the injuries that go along with it.  I loved the character of Jake Wilson.  His rueful examination of his past actions along with acknowledging how much he was still grateful for his ex wife and children, well, it is a heartwarming and compassionate portrait of a man at a certain stage in life who has come to grips with who he is and where he hopes to be.   Jake is a large hearted individual aware of his short comings and his strengths.  He is easy to connect with and root for.  In fact all the people in this story are well rounded, layered characters that a reader will love spending time with.

If I have any small quibble at all, it is that I wish we had gotten a little bit more of Jake and Mikko after their reunion.  A little more interplay between them would have sweetened an already emotionally satisfying romance.  But that quibble aside, I loved this story and you will too.

4. “Wild Pitch” by Marguerite Labbe. Rating 5 stars out of 5

Ruben Martell and Alan Hartner have been together as friends for a long time. They met during their early years playing baseball, and their friendship stayed strong through marriages, different teams, and locations, and even through death of a wife and divorce.  Now they are business partners in a batting cage/ sports bar and coach rival Little League teams.  And through it all, Ruben Martell has loved Alan Hartner, not just as a friend, but with a passionate hidden love.

Except for one night where their relationship crossed the lines of friendship, neither man has ever referred to each other as anything other than best friends.  But the pain and stress of hiding his feelings and hopes from Alan is causing Ruben to question their friendship and business partnership.  Ruben isn’t sure how much more he can take of the status quo without even a glimmer of hope for their future. As Ruben pulls away from Alan and his kids, Alan realizes just how much he might lose unless he takes a chance on a wild pitch.

Wild Pitch by Margueritte Labbe brings together all the elements needed for a great romance and then spices it all up by  using baseball to frame this long term relationship between Ruben Martell and Alan Hartner.  This story is so great on so many levels I don’t know where to start.  Both men have been together since their earliest times in baseball.  With a love for that sport as the cement that initially held them together, Labbe lays out for the reader how that relationship has changed and deepened over the years, morphing from friendship to brotherly love to something far more dangerous and passionate, especially on Ruben’s side.

The author delivers this story with an intimacy and warmth that makes the reader a companion and friend to these men right from the start.  I loved feeling included as Alan and Ruben deal with Alan’s kids and the Little League players they coach.  These are  real kids spouting dialog that can be heard on school and park playing fields country wide as well as at home.  I loved them and wanted as much of this aspect of the story as I did the romance.

But it’s the emotional realism of the scenes that Labbe has written as the men break through the stasis of their present relationship into that of a recognized romantic love that will catch at your heart and perhaps even bring out the sniffles.  Watch out especially for that moment where one son’s asks how much love a heart can hold…sniff.  Well, just have the  tissues handy because you will find yourself bawling away like I was.  A remarkable story to end a collection of marvelous tales.

This collection of stories demonstrates just why baseball is so often used as a metaphor for life.  It is full of passion, and history.  It’s hilarious and heartbreaking.  It’s about the grand gesture and small intimacies.  And its about love and all the memorable diverse characters drawn to the National Pastime.  Every story here is a home run!   It is already on my must reread list.

Cover art by Aaron Anderson is perfect.  It has an almost old time look about it with the design and font that works perfectly for this collection.  Great job.

Book Details:

ebook, 270 pages
Expected publication: September 25th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press

Review: Outlast the Night (Lang Downs #3) by Ariel Tachna

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Rating: 5 stars

OutlasttheNightBroke, despondent and soon to be divorced Sam Emery has no where to turn but to his brother Neil when he leaves his embittered wife and old life behind him.  Sam is also leaving the closet as well, another reason for the divorce and the hatred his soon to be ex feels for him.  Sam only got married to please his controlling father and that was a disaster from the very beginning.  Now Sam turns to Neil, his younger brother who lives and works on a sheep station and Sam is unsure of his welcome there when he tells his brother he is gay.  Sam knows that Neil loves him but will he be accepted?  And what will an out of work bookkeeper do on a sheep station?

The brother who meets Sam is not the brother Sam remembers.  Neil accepts Sam’s sexuality with an openness that surprises Sam.  But then again, Neil lives at Lang Downs, a sheep station owned and operated by a gay couple, Caine Neiheisel and Macklin Armstrong and his views have undergone a fundamental change in the process.  Lang Downs has been described by those that live there as a “miracle”, a magnet and haven for those in need.  Sam has been hurt to his core by the constant verbal abuse thrown at him by his wife, shattered by the loss of his job and made to feel like a total failure by his life to date.  A miracle is just what he needs if only he can accept it.

Jeremy Taylor is another man in need of a home and sanctuary.  The youngest brother of the family that owns the neighboring sheep station, the two families have butted heads since Jeremy can remember.  But since his father died and his brother took over, things have gotten out of control because of his brother’s bigotry and hatred.  One explosive argument and fight leads to Jeremy outing himself to his brother and his exit from the only home and lifestyle Jeremy has ever known.  Immediately Jeremy heads over to the one place he hopes to be accepted – Lang Downs.   But the animosity runs deep between the seasonal buckaroos and Jeremy when the hands have problems looking past Jeremy’s last name to see the man underneath. And then the problem is compounded when Sam and Jeremy become friends  to his brother’s consternation because Neil’s antipathy towards Jeremy’s family.

Can two men in need of love and a home find it with each other at Lang Downs?  It will take another small miracle to overcome Sam’s insecurity and fear and Jeremy’s family’s reputation if they are to find happiness with each other and outlast the night.

I finished this book and immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and start the series a fresh because I can’t get enough of this universe that Ariel Tachna has created. This book and series has such compelling characters as well as a captivating setting that it is impossible to put the books down once started and the stories stay with you long past the last page.  Really this is fast becoming one of my top favorites in contemporary fiction series.

Outlast The Night is as strong and enthralling book as the one that started the series.  Lang Downs is such a large and isolated sheep station that it acts as its own small village.  By using the sheep station as her setting, Ariel Tachna ensures that all the beloved characters of the previous novels are fully present and engaged in the current story as are the newly introduced main characters.  Tachna creates her web of characters that works much the way that nature herself does, they are all interlocked with each other.  Their actions have reverberations throughout the sheep station and all those who live there, just as it does in nature.  The men, women, children and animals all live in intimate connection with the earth at Lang Downs.  From the seasonal variations in their lives and work to the animals themselves, both wild and domesticated, all are aware of the fundamental role nature plays in their lives.

Winter, the season the book starts in, brings a slower pace to the sheep station.  Breeding is finished, and the seasonal jackaroos are gone until spring.  The village has shrunk down to those “year rounders” who make Lang Downs their home, school, and workplace. Through the previous novels, we have gotten familiar with the sights and sounds of the place and its citizens.  We see the bare necessities of the bunkhouse, the functionality of the sheep sheds, complete with odor mind you, and the predators that keep watch for the unwary animals in field and barn. The author brings Lang Downs vividly and authentically to life before our eyes and before we know it, we feel right at home there along with Caine, Macklin, and Kami. Of course, Kami the aboriginal chef is in the main house kitchen, creating food for all who live there and dispensing advice to those who need it.  Molly, Neil’s fiance, is a marvelous female character, a force in her own right. Well, I will let you see them through Sam’s eyes:

Sam finished eating, doing his best not to telegraph his unease to the rest of the room. Caine and Macklin sat at a nearby table talking with several other jackaroos Sam hadn’t met yet, but it was obvious from the body language that they were well known to Caine and Macklin. Sam figured the two men knew everyone pretty well by the end of the summer, but it took a certain degree of familiarity to choose to sit at the table with the bosses. Two teens joined them at the table a moment later, obviously sure of their welcome, and Sam realized one of the boys closely resembled the youngest of the jackaroos.

“Chris and Seth Simms,” Neil said, following Sam’s gaze. “Chris is the one I was telling you about in Yass, the one who nearly died. Seth is his younger brother. And that’s Jesse Harris sitting next to Chris, and then Jason Thompson, the other kid, and his dad, Patrick, our head mechanic. They’re all year-rounders. Patrick’s wife, Carley, is around here somewhere, although I haven’t seen her this morning. She helps out in the bunkhouses and in the kitchen sometimes, when Kami lets her.”

And that doesn’t even include the animals that play such an important roles on the station as well.  From Arrow, Jeremy’s kelpie (a sheep herding breed),  to Titan, “and a big lug of a horse who loved anyone who brought him treats”, these animals will endear themselves to you in much the same manner as their human counterparts.  And never does Ariel Tachna make the mistake of treating these animals as pets.  These are workers with important jobs to do on the station and are handled accordingly, although with love and affection.

Sam and Jeremy are wonderful additions to Lang Downs and the series.  Sam, so vulnerable and hurting, his self image shattered over time by an angry abusive wife.  Sam feels out of place,in his life and on the station.  A business manager by profession, you can feel his unease and wariness at thinking that he will find a home at Lang Downs. The reader will feel his pain and insecurity and then root for him as Sam begins to pull himself back together, a slow process and a realistic one too.  Jeremy is his opposite, he is so rooted to the land and the sheep that it practically rolls off of him from the moment we meet him.  Coming from a tough family background has made Jeremy equally tough, inside and out.  But still, Jeremy has the capacity to show his gentle side with his dog, Arrow and Sam.  It is a beautiful character and the two of them together are like comfort food and magic at the same time.  A difficult combination to achieve but Ariel Tachna has done it here with Sam and Jeremy.

Authenticity.  Ariel Tachna brings that to this novel and her series in spades.  From the Drizzle Bones the men wear (and wear properly) to the utes they drive, I never doubt that the terms and clothing the author uses are the correct ones.  But just as important as the research is the seamless manner in which the information is doled out to the reader, in spurts and quick asides.  And ever so slowly we have accumulated a wealth of information about an Australian sheep station and how it feels to live and work on one without realizing it.  Really, the flawless manner in which Tachna has created all of Lang Downs is exceptional.

I love that all of Tachna’s characters are fully realized and vivid in their personalities as any you would meet out on the streets around you.  They endear themselves to you because they feel so real, from their flaws to their passions.  And just as real and special is Lang Downs, the heart of the series.  I will let you hear it from Jeremy and Sam:

” “Lang Downs is a pretty special place.

”“Lang Downs is a miracle,” Jeremy amended. “A bloody miracle, and if you don’t believe that, ask Chris how he ended up here. Hell, ask Macklin how he ended up here. Or Kami. Or Patrick. I’d bet most of the year-rounders have a story to tell about how this place changed their lives. I never knew what drove Michael Lang, but even as a young child, I knew things were different here when I came to visit. That’s even more the case now.”

Yes, Lang Downs is a special place and each new story makes it even more so.  I hope that Ariel Tachna has many more stories to tell on her sheep station in Australia, more people to meet, more couples in need of home and a miracle.  I know that I will never get tired of this place and the people who inhabit it as the saga gets stronger with each new story it tells.  If you are already on the journey, pick up this new addition and fall in love all over again.  If you are new to the series, start at the beginning, discover the magic and wonder that is Lang Downs.  Expect to become addicted to a very special place in an isolated territory in Australia and the people who live there.

Here is the series in the order they were written and should be read in order to understand the characters and events that occur:

Inherit The Sky (Lang Downs #1)

Chase The Stars (Lang Downs #2)

Outlast The Night (Lang Downs #3)

Cover art by Anne Cain is as lovely as the book it represents.  The men are perfect representations for Jeremy and Sam and the landscape gorgeous.

Book Details:

ebook, 210 pages
Published May 20th 2013 by Dreamspinners Press
ISBN 1623807093 (ISBN13: 9781623807092)
edition languageEnglish
seriesLang Downs

Ariel Tachna (0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00). Outlast the Night (Kindle Locations 1171-1175). Dreamspinner Press. Kindle Edition.

Review: The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

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Rating: 5 stars

GeneralandtheHorse-Lord[The]General John Mitchel has recently retired after serving 25 memorable years in the Army. By his side for all those years was helicopter pilot Sgt. Gabriel Sanchez.  Together across five continents John and Gabriel counted on each other to have their backs as they fought in every American engagement. Over 25 years of honorable service, putting the mission and the  safety of the nation first.  Renowned, even idolized by the troops who serviced with them, both men carried a secret with them all through those years in the Army and into retirement.  And that was that they loved one another deeply and had almost since the first time they met.

The General and the Horse-Lord as Gabriel  was called (due to the fact that he flew Apache helicopters) served in the Army at the time when even the hint of homosexuality was cause for dismissal.   Both John and Gabriel knew that their special skills were necessary on the battlegrounds and so their own need for love and companionship were secondary to the mission.   But now both are retired and finding said retirement  and their lives lacking in almost every way.  The General misses the comradeship and the sense of purpose, but most importantly, he misses Gabriel.  Gabriel too finds retirement and his personal life hollow in some respects.  Gabriel had made some decisions while in the Army that he now regrets, but his love for John has always been a certainty in his life.  Now with both John and Gabriel retired, the men start thinking that perhaps finally they might have their chance at the happiness they have long denied themselves.  Life has never been easy for the General and the Horse-Lord and their long awaited path to happiness still has obstacles they have to overcome before they can finally be together.  What will it cost them before they can take that last step together?

I think The General and the Horse-Lord may be my all time favorite book of Sarah Black’s yet.  As a retired Naval Officer herself, her military characters always rang true to the military code they honored and served under, but never more so than with General John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez, his pilot.  Black’s characters are  human warriors so full of life that I often expect them to stride off the page. These two have remained talking to me in my dreams a week after I put down their story.  John and Gabriel, their honor and their unhappiness in retirement, got to me.  Here is John reflecting on the past:

They had made their choices a long time ago, and he thought Gabriel, just like himself, was happy for the grace notes in his life, the few hours they could be themselves, with all their public masks removed, a few gentle and intimate hours between friends. Wasn’t that the best one could ask for? A life of service to others, with the occasional grace note? So why did he still feel so lonely? Why had so much of this last year been spent feeling an ache for something he couldn’t describe even to himself?

You can just feel the puzzlement of a warrior lost when his mission has moved forward without him.  Sarah Black’s dialog is perfection.  You can just hear the military tone and inflection in everything they say.  Being a warrior is part of them, like the blood flowing in their veins.  Here they are at a baseball game, talking about Juan, Gabriel’s 14 year old son:

 Gabriel speaking: “She said we have to support him and let him make his own choices. Really? I don’t think so, not at fourteen. He’s like one of those soft-shell crabs in the middle of molting. Not ready to make choices about anything. Absolutely at risk from any passing predator. Dumb as a fucking stone. That’s why he’s not speaking to me. I told him he can’t be a video game tester, and then he says why don’t I know he hates seafood?”

“You shared with him the soft-shell crab analogy?”

Gabriel nodded. “That was probably a mistake.”

These men are exactly who they say they are.  Straight forward, honorable and somewhat adrift in modern civilian life.  Both are at home making difficult decisions but now are faced with one that they have been avoiding for years because they never thought it would be possible – that they might have a life together in a society much changed from the one they were familiar with.

I know immediately that some people will have a problem with the fact that Gabriel is and has been married for 15 years, albeit a troubled one.  This is an issue that is treated seriously from every aspect.  The men remind several other characters (and themselves) that the 70’s were a far cry from the open mindedness of today and that if one wanted to have a family, getting married was the only option, again not a decision  or commitment that was made lightly.  Both John and Gabriel take responsibility and their actions with the gravity one would expect from such men.  And we see and feel what each decision cost them along the way.  Perhaps it is easier to accept when you realize John and Gabriel had one focus for much of their life and that was their service in the Army, everything else, including their feelings about each other, came second.

But John and Gabriel don’t exist in a vacuum any more than we do and Sarah Black has  surrounded these men with an array of characters that I not only connected with immediately but came to care for as much as John and Gabriel themselves.  There is Kim, John’s adopted nephew, who know lives with him.  Kim is young, artistic, gay and adores John and Gabriel.  Kim is the victim of an attack and the men decide they will accompany him to a bar that night as protectors:

You bring me in, then how I deal with him is no longer your concern, Kim.” “Yes, it is my concern, and I don’t want to be responsible….” John held up a hand to stop him. “You don’t have any kids, so don’t tell me how I need to follow your Greenpeace PETA pacifist butt into a gay bar to not take care of an asshole who only understands one thing.” He held up a clenched fist. “Now how about you fetch us some more of that coffee?” Gabriel held out his empty cup without a word, and they watched Kim flounce out the door.

What Kim does with that statement later just cracked me up.  One great fully realized character after another comes into the picture as the events of the book unfold, including ex bull riders and their sons. So many joys in this book, from the sparkling and tight dialog to the events that bring old pain and new hurts to the surface to be examined and dealt with by two warriors trying to find their way together as lovers in a civilian world.

This is one of the author’s longer books to my delight.  At 200 pages, the story comes to a lovely conclusion without me feeling that more is due.  Would I have loved to have been given a few more glimpses of John and Gabriel’s future? Certainly but I am very happy with the way I left them. Of course, it helps to know that Sarah Black is currently writing a sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord, so that certainly figured into my current state of bliss.

I will leave you all with Gabriel’s playlist as compiled by Sarah Black, a wonderful thing for dancing by yourself or with a man you have waited 25 years for:

Gabriel’s Playlist- Music for Some Quiet Dance Time in the Garage

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYHxGB… SUPER FREAK!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcATvu… ADDICTED TO LOVE!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK2HAN… LA BAMBA!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pk-W_i… SHAKEDOWN! (talk about a silver fox!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv6tuz… WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN!

Now go out and grab this book.  It will be on my Best of 2013 list, that you can count on.  Let me know what you think, ok?

Cover art by Paul Richmond.   I love this cover, perfect for John and the Horse-Lord, perfect for the story in every way.

The Week Ahead in Reviews

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Well, I hate to throw this out there but this coming week is full of things I don’t like to talk about, mostly doctors appointments.  I would much rather dwell on things like the arrival of Spring, plants I want to establish in the gardens, the latest antics of my terrors three, and what knitting projects are in the pipeline. But sometimes I just have to face up to the fact my health takes priority, even over the Caps and the Nats. So if things don’t exactly arrive as scheduled, this is the reason.  Just saying.

I want to finish out Charlie Cochrane’s Cambridge Fellows series over this week and the next, so grab onto that box of tissues and be prepared. I also have the latest Josh Lanyon book he self published after his year off.  This week I am also posting books from favorite authors like B.A. Tortuga and K. A. Mitchell that were reviewed for Joyfully Jay’s Jock Week.  I know you will enjoy them as well. So here is the schedule as planned.

Monday, Feb. 25:              Lessons In Trust by Charlie Cochrane

Tuesday, Feb 26:                Blood Red Butterfly by Josh Lanyon

Wed, Feb. 27:                     Life, Over Easy by K. A. Mitchell

Thursday, Feb. 28:           Adding To The Collection by B. A Tortuga

Friday, Feb. 29:                 All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane

Saturday, Feb. 30:             Scattered Thoughts On Authors, Conventions and Hurt Feelings

 

In the meantime I have become familiar with the music of Kaija Saariaho,  In “Lonh”, a work for soprano and electronics, Saariaho combined a medieval love poem with bells and bird song to arrive a composition both memorable and eerie.  What do you think?

Review: A Shared Range (Range #1) by Andrew Grey

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Rating: 5 stars

A Shared RangeDakota Holden is home on school break and his medical studies when he finds out that his father has multiple sclerosis and has been hiding his diagnosis from his son.  Dakota puts his dream of a medical degree on hold to return home and run the Holden ranch and watch as his father’s condition degenerates.  Dakota has never spoken of his homosexuality to anyone at home, including his father, and the only time he feels he can be himself is on the one week vacations he allows himself every year.

This year, the ocean cruise holiday romance he struck up with another passenger turned into a friendship, and when Phillip Reardon asks to visit Dakota at the ranch, Phillip brings along another friend, Wally Schumacher, a veterinarian, with him.  Almost at once, Wally’s presence starts to upset the balance at the ranch.  Both Phillip and Wally are out and gay, a situation that makes Dakota reexamine his closeted status. And Wally is loudly vehement against the ranchers and ranch hands shooting the wolves that have come into the territory and threatens the herds.  Dakota finds Wally both brave and hot, an attractive that Wally returns 100 percent.

But Wally and Phillip’s vacation is a short one and  Dakota must weigh not only coming out to his father and ranch hands but finding out if Wally would want to stay and make his isolated western lifestyle his own.  Can Wally’s passion for wildlife and his honesty about his sexuality coexist with the conservative lifestyle and small town point of view that Dakota lives with daily?  Or will the call of the big city be too much for their love to overcome?

What fun I have had working my way back to the beginning of the Ranch series where it all started. Was it worth the journey?  Absolutely, I just loved the story of Dakota and Wally, the foundation couple that is the impetus that brings all the future couples together and sets several  people on the road to understanding their true natures and self worth.  When I first met Dakota in book 5, An Isolated Range, he had achieved his dream of becoming a doctor but here we see him as a young man who, in his devotion to his father, shelves his dream to return home and run the family ranch.  And we get to see the true measure of his character as he shoulders all the responsibilities because of love, love for his father and love of the ranch and the land.  Andrew Grey does such a wonderful job of making Dakota and his life real that it is easy to understand the decisions he makes and agree with them.  From the vivid descriptions of the majestic territory the ranch is situated on to the small town that is the  hub of ranch society, Grey paints it all with such loving, understanding language that you feel as though you have visited there as well.

Wally Schumacher is another character that quickly eases his way into your heart.  Small in stature, large in heart and bravery, he is a firecracker to be dealt with on his own terms,  It is through Wally’s eyes that we get to see the other side of the natural beauty and wildlife that is the western United States.  While the ranchers see the wolves in terms of livestock lost and financial stability, Wally sees the fierce beauty of Nature and the natural course of predator/prey being played out as it should.  Andrew Grey remains an impartial observer, relating both sides to the reader in such a way to let us understand the combustable mixture that occurs when these two widely divergent viewpoints come together while never belittling or downplaying the issues for both sides.   One way that is so successful is that Grey’s characters are living, breathing beings. They are equally capable of  adjusting their viewpoints to a wider perspective or persons living life narrowly within the confines of a rigid viewpoint.  No matter where they may fall on the spectrum, they always come across as viable human beings.

We see Jefferson Holden as the disease quickly takes over, we meet Phillip as he begins to examine his own lifestyle, and so many others as the ranch and our main couple starts to work the magic that  will continue through all the books to come.  And I got to see how the big cats came to live under Wally’s care.  How I laughed about that one and commiserated with Dakota.  For me Andrew Grey has created a couple, a ranch, and a series that is just about irresistible, and this book is the beginning of that journey.  Don’t miss out on any of it.  It doesn’t matter the path you take to get here, forward, backward or zigzagging in between, just make sure your road leads to the ranch where Dakota and Wally make their lives matter  and everyone is welcome, including you.  You won’t be sorry, I promise  you.

Here are the book in the series in the order they were written, linked to my reviews:

A Shared Range (Range #1)

A Troubled Range (Range #2)

An Unsettled Range (Range #3)

A Foreign Range (Range #4)

An Isolated Range (Range #5)

A Volatile Range (Range #6) coming out February 4, 2013 by Dreamspinner Press

Cover art by Reese Dante, lovely job as usual.

To help support the organizations working to rescue these wonderful  exotic animals, please visit the following websites, these are but a few that could use your help:

International Exotic Feline Sanctuary (bigcat.org)

Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge, Tyler, TX

In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center Wylie, Texas 

Never Cry Wolf Rescue

Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary

Wolf Mountain Sanctuary

And of course, our wonderful World Wildlife Fund