Review: Smoky Mountain Dreams — by Leta Blake

Smokey_Mt_dreamsOther Reviewers: Goodreads

This is an advance reader copy given to me by the author for an honest review.  As with all of my reviews, these are my own opinions.

I have previously read and reviewed a few books by Leta Blake.  What I love about her books are that they are not “typical” romances, meaning someone does not “rescue” the other one and no one has anything perfect.  While our men are very well matched and “Perfect” for each other, they have a significant amount of baggage that it takes the entire book for them to accept themselves and each other.

This format allows the reader to follow the character development and unveiling plot with anticipation, because you will never get what you think will happen!

Basic Plot:

Christopher Ryder is a singer, who tried to become a “star” in Nashville, but never had the talent to break through.  Now he is back to his grandmother’s home town, trying to make a living and settle down.  But he is lonely and the life he has been living is no longer satisfying him. Jesse Birch is a father of two, and struggling to be a single parent father with significant emotional problems due to his wife’s accident.  Now he has met Christopher, who seems to fill something that Jesse thought was missing in his life.  Can they put their pasts behind them enough to try for a future together?

Background:

The description sounds simple, but there is a lot of back story and baggage with Jesse and Christopher.  We spend much of the book understanding how they got this place in their life.  It sounds simple, but there is so much more to this book than a simple romance.

Christopher Ryder:

I loved Chris.  I think he is what we all feel like at some point in our lives.  One of the Blake trademarks is Chris:  a man with passion, but not enough raw talent to make it “big”.  To some degree, that is frustrating, because we want to see Chris “make it big”, but what we come to find out is that he just wants to be happy and fulfilled in life.  This is a lesson we all should learn, you do not have to be “famous” to make people happy and have a purpose in life.

Christopher wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to have that kind of talent.  He always sensed the audiences’ disappointment when he stepped out onto the stage for the lead parts instead of Lash.  In the end, he usually won them over and they enjoyed his performance–he wasn’t Lash’s second for nothing– but he wished he knew what it was like to step out and see even one person’s eyes light up.

Chris has a wonderful spirit.  He could be bitter, but instead he embraces what he CAN do, and tries his best.  He just wants to be happy:

He put down the chili and rubbed his face.  It wasn’t the whole heteronormative package he wanted, but he just wanted someone to hold and be held by.  He wanted a man who would willingly brave a Ryder-Jenkins family event with him even if it got Christopher disowned.

Christopher’s back story is one that we have seen before, the conservative southern religious family that does not understand or accept anything but traditional heterosexuality.  Living in the south, I have experienced and seen this type of relationship in action.  So it was easy for me to relate and understand how Christopher feels.

Jesse Birch:

Jesse is a little harder to understand.  He is a bisexual, as a youth he was “Out and proud” mostly to piss off his father and married his wife after their friendship moved to something more.  Now he has two kids and she is somewhat out of the picture.  I do not want to spoil some of the plot here, so forgive the vagueness.

Blake also throws themes throughout and I found something profound about Jesse’s discussion on the hidden value of jewelry:

“Yeah, but buildings talk.  Jewelry– it’s full of magic because it keeps its secrets safe.  And, here’s the thing about jewelry — any given piece can change and transform the person wearing it.”

To  me, this mini-theme describes Jesse in so many ways: he has been living his life with other people as his own jewelry.  He was “gay” to transform into pissing his father off, he conformed by becoming “straight” with his wife.  All the time he was keeping his true secret self safe.  Note, this is not a knock against any sexual orientation, just that his life seems to be more about reacting to others rather than discovering and accepting himself.

Theme Summary:

What have we done in our life that we really didn’t expect to have done, but did it anyway because it was expected or what the road of least resistance?  For both Christopher and Jesse, they have taken actions in the past for those they loved.  While they might not fully regret their actions, it took them to the places they are in their life.  Jesse describes why he thinks Christopher wants him to make a piece of jewelry for his grandmother:

“Because you want her to have it.”  Jesse studied him a bit longer and added, “Because you feel like you owe her for something, and  you’ll never be able to repay her, and you want her to know that you’re grateful, and that you love her.”

Accept who you are (and how you got to where you are in life by those decisions) and make a new path while celebrating those who helped you along the way.

Strong Points:

I love the risks that Blake takes in her writing.  Things don’t all end Disney-like, we get realistic (yet happy) endings and our characters go through some shit to get through to the end.  That’s called being a great storyteller.

But my fave?  The humor!  Christopher’s Gran is so much how my grandmother was that I was laughing out loud (and crying when things happened).  I would hope we could all be that spunky when we get old:

She finished up her burger before asking, “Will he be at Thanksgiving?”

“God, no!”

“Why not?  Can’t you just imagine Bob’s face?”

“Yes, I can.  He’d have a stroke.”

“Perfect.  Then we’d be done with him.”

“Gran!”

“What?”  She smiled innocently.  “I’m old.  I have dementia.  I don’t even know what I said.”

She reminded me so much of my grandmother.  Blake writes such colorful and deep secondary characters that it creates a vivid picture in our heads.

What could be better?

I really can’t think of anything that I would improve.  The only thing I would say is there is a lot of sex in the book, so make sure you enjoy reading descriptive hot sex scenes.  I will admit that toward the end I did skim a little on the sex.  Not that it was bad, just that I wanted to see what was going on with the storyline.

Conclusions:

Blake writes novels that are more than merely saying “romance”.  She paints a vivid picture of people who struggled with their family, lives, careers, anything and everything about who they are today.  But what we get is an amazing story about survival and perseverance to finally accepting who you are, how you got to where you are and where you want to go in the future.  I loved this book and I loved the characters.  You will cry, you will certainly be aroused.  And when you finish, I bet you will call your friends and family (blood or chosen family) and thank them for supporting you in difficult times.

All I can say is, “read this book.”

Bea

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