Review: Training Complex by Leta Blake

Other Reviewers: Goodreads


For full disclosure this book was given to me for an honest review by the author.

Basic Plot:

Book two of the series sees Matty Marcus (former ice skater, now coach), struggling to find work and his identity as he works on building his relationship with his partner, Rob.  But as his stress mounts, so does his personal issues as it affects his personal and professional life.  Can Matty find a safe space to accept himself or will he burn out?

Review:

This is a book two in a series called Training Season, as it follows Matty’s career and life.  My original review of book one is here, in which I gave it a 5 star review.  I found the BDSM realistic, intense, and Matty’s character was honestly flawed which is unusual to see is what we call “romance” today.

I have loved every book that Leta Blake has written, but I admit that this is the first time that I could not finish her book.  I think that I was just not the target audience for this continuation.  Matty’s character was just too dark and too troubled for me to enjoy his story.  Each chapter that I read (about 30%) just was one more illness, one more problem, and unlike the first book, there was no “new relationship” to break up the depression.

Conclusion:

From reading Goodreads reviews, I am in the minority here, most folks loved this book!  So, I think that if you loved the first one, then give this one a try.  Just keep in mind that this book is more complex and darker than the first and most other male/male romances out there.

 

Bea

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

Review: The River Leith– by Leta Blake

the-river-leithOther Reviewers: Goodreads

Disclaimer:  This book was given to me by the author for an honest review.  My opinions are my own.

I have read and reviewed a previous book by Leta Blake, Training Season.  I remember liking that book and reviewing it well despite some other reviewers not supporting the ending or relationship.  I think that is one of Leta’s strong points actually, making us think and creating characters that are not black and white and sometimes things do not have Disney endings all the time.

Something happens within this story that makes me question the rating, which has nothing to do with the quality of writing.  I will get to it naturally within this review, but I had some serious problems with one of the main character’s actions.

Basic Plot:

Leith is an amateur boxer who was hurt in the ring, forgetting the last 3 years of his life.  This means he has forgotten his father’s death and the fact that he was in love with a man, Zach.  Can Leith recover his memory and move forward with his relationship with Zach?  Or is his future gone for good?

 

Leith Wenz:

Leith is my man.  I loved this character.  He portrays the right amount of angst, fear, anger, pain, and hope that we would expect to experience in his situation.  Dr. Thakur (his psychologist) tells a story about a monsoon water troubled river and some youths trying to encourage each other to cross:

Go first, Leith thought.  Sometimes he felt torn into different people.  One who wanted to hold back and wait — to not push anything because the answers were surely coming.  Another who wanted to tell the world to go fuck itself because he was starting a new life without any of the old hang-ups to deal with.

In Leith’s position, I would be torn, to try to discover my past or just forget it and move to create a new life.

Zachariah Stephens:

We only see Zach’s perspective through his video-blogs, before and after the accident.  I like how Blake handled his perspective, we get to see how the couple was before the accident, through the video (actual Leith) as well as through Zach’s observations.  I enjoy how Leith described Zach:

There was something about Zach’s busyness that made Leith feel safe, as though simply by moving in the world Zach took charge of it, and made everything somehow easier.

This is how all of our other halves, should be, right?  Just by being there they make your life better, safer, even if it is just emotional and not a big hulking boxer.

****Skip this section now and go to the Theme Summary if you do not want the spoiler****

 

 

Early on in this book, Zach cheats on Leith, while Leith is in the hospital.  I do not have a problem if say, Leith was there for months and all hope had been lost, but it had only been a couple of weeks and he was on the mend.  If you truly love your partner, you do not have sex with someone else when you feel frightened and sad.  For this reason, I have no respect for Zach and I think that Leith could do so much better.  I would not have been able to have easily forgiven the situation.

But, this brings me to a point, do we punish the author for building a story with faulty, yet compelling characters?  There are tons of men and women who would have done the same thing in this situation or similar ones.  So I feel that it was realistic, even if it was not something in which I could relate.  It takes courage to write a main character with this type of damaging actions.

 

 

Theme Summary:

Everything about this novel deals with the past.  Our memories of the past, how we remember what happened, and how it affects us when we lose our memories of those things.  The author does an excellent job of using our main character’s name as a guide, “Lethe” was a mythical Greek river in which if you drank it you forgot.  Makes sense here, huh?

There are several key words and themes throughout the book, one having to do with Leith’s past and a golden-crowned kinglet.  I do not want to spoil it, but it has deep meaning to Leith and it is a source of early emotional pain.

Our Dr. Thakur is our Greek chorus, and he often speaks the theme, giving us hints along the way.  He speaks of Krishna:

‘Krishna told us that he was the taste of pure water, the sound of every voice and noise, the radiance of the sun and moon, and the courage of human beings.’

We are told that Leith is lost, he has no recent memories of his friends, family, and recent events.  He is a lone cow in a field of loneliness.  He needs a Krishna, and he thinks he has found that in Zach.  But first he must find himself, the kinglet.

Strong Points:

One of the best things about Blake is her writing.  From the first page, I was hooked, wanting to know about this Leith, what happened to make him lose his memory and what was he going to do about.  Blake made me feel how Leith felt and I was humbled on how graceful he handled it compared to how I would have.  The author brings home the theme skillfully toward the end:

Sometimes it took divine courage to let go and end up in an ocean of the unknown.

There are times when “shit happens,” and we can not change the past, we can only move forward.  This book is a good lesson on how to try to pick up after a disaster and create a new life out of the ashes.

What could be better?

There is nothing really to improve, other than my complaint regarding Zach.  It was certainly possible to make him a faulty character without having that particular fault.  I can only imagine that Blake had a purpose here and not just a salacious angst moment.

Conclusions:

I read this book in one sitting (after watching World War Z, wow, what a movie!).  It was compelling and a good read.  I think that you can get something meaningful out of this book, that your problems, are really not that bad.  And if they are, all you can do is collect yourself and move forward.  Sometimes the past is just the past; you certainly can’t change it.

It has been awhile since I have read a book that I WANTED to write a review, so this read was a pleasure.

Bea

Review: Training Season — by Leta Blake

Training_Season Other Reviewers: Goodreads

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

This is the first book of Leta Blake that I have read, with no preconceived notions of her writing style.  This was a great opportunity to read Training Season with fresh eyes.

One note, this review will have some explicit quotes because I need to make a point. So if offended by sex (then you really would not be reading my blog), then this review might shock you.

Basic Plot:

Matty Marcus is an ice skater who is recovering from a sport injury and needs to begin preparing for the next Olympics.  Depressed about his failure and worried about money issues, he is given an opportunity to train and gain money in the wilderness of Montana.  Once there, he begins a relationship with a local rancher, Rob Lovely.  While their chemistry is instant, is it enough to last through Matty’s determination to win the gold?

Matty Marcus:

Matty’s introduction easily demonstrates his unstoppable drive to win at competitive ice skating.  This intense focus and drive has led him to the level that he has competed, yet he has always never quite made it.  This drive to succeed and make a name for himself colors his entire vision.

The question for Matty then through this book is something simple:  Is Matty happy?  What will make him happy?

Matty is our stereotypical flamboyant gay male, early on we see how his appearance is his expression of who he is and it is not something that he wants to sacrifice to “fit in” and be “straight”.  He is blessed with having a supportive family, including his father.  This is not a book where we have to deal with family strife.

However, one of the conflicts within this book is Matty’s internal struggles, both in relationships as well as his career.  Matty is afraid to put himself emotionally out there and has not dealt well with his professional disappointments.  Matty describes himself accurately here:

Matty found that Rob was a good listener.  He asked all the right questions to keep the conversation moving ever deeper.  Because of that, Matty soon found himself standing at an emotional precipice.  He was good at talking, good at expressing important concepts and emotions, but he wasn’t good at cutting through that final bit of protection band laying himself bare.  He kept a little armor up with most people nearly all of the time.

So, we can see that Matty’s flamboyant is a cover.  Much like when he is on the ice, Matty gives a performance to everyone in his life.  He allows no one to see his true self.

This is a quote later on in the novel as Rob describes Matty:

“But that’s not what I meant.”  Rob’s cheeks flushed a little.  “Like it says, bone to bone, down to your marrow, you’re beautifully made, like the swan.  And like the bring of pearls, you’re precious, shinning, and incredibly strong.”

This is where Rob comes in, as well as the BDSM.  Rob actually gets Matt and he understands what he needs.  I will not go into too much details here, because to me this is the majority of the novel.  But believe me that once Matt submits and gives Rob control with his submission, we see how Matt blossoms and gains control over his self-esteem and future.

Rob Lovely:

We are only given Matty’s perspective in this novel, so any characterization of Rob is through Matty’s eyes.  He is a divorced rancher with a son (Ben), who he raises on his father’s ranch.  There is a lot of back story that we learn about Rob, that I do not want to get into here.  The basics are fairly simple:  his entire life has unfolded without his control, so in his personal life now he administers it with complete control.  Yet despite this, he is still not happy or fulfilled.

With the entrance of Matty, Rob is drawn to this beauty (both inner and outer).  Rob sees the need for submission in Matty and this makes them a good pair.  The problem is that Matty focuses on his ice skating career and this leaves little room for a Montana rancher and his son.

Rob turned away and washed his hands again.  He smiled at Matty, “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound bitter, and I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.  Something came up today that reminded me of some bad times with my father.  I try, but I guess I haven’t really let it go.  I’m loyal that way I guess.”

This is Rob’s theme, “Loyalty”.  He is loyal to his family, but that responsibility to his family has kept him from doing what he really wants in life.  This responsibility also keeps him from moving forward with Matty.

Theme Summary:

I found the theme fairly late in the novel, although as we can read in the characterizations of Rob and Matt, Blake does an effective job of working us through to the theme:

“Perfection lies in the imperfection,” Anja said, lifting her glass in a toast.  “To Matty.  May he always feel our friendship and support whoever he goes,a n may success always find him.”

Again, I do not want to go too deeply into the theme, to keep the spoils at a minimum.  But, what happens when your focus is on the perfection and you never can quite make that goal?  Can any human mange to have this perfection in their personal and professional live?  Will you have to compromise yourself and are you willing to do that?

Strong Points:

This is an intense book, dealing with serious issues and with more dramatic BDSM scenes than some other romance books that I have read.  So with this intensity, comes the need for humor.  Early on we have a scene between Matty and his mother discussing this move to Montana:

“You realize she just wants me to be her pet, don’t you?  This could all be some sick tactic to get me alone in the wilderness with her.  It could end up like that Stephen King novel.  She’s going to kidnap me and make me into her own private skater!  She’ll force me to perform for her pleasure!  If I don’t she’ll cut off my foot.”

And heck, any book that can refer to Stephen King so elegantly is a win in my book.

The other strong point to me is her understanding of BDSM dynamics.  Kinky sex play can range from the light and fluffy scenes in the bedroom to the hard-core masochistic scenes in a dungeon.  It seems that lately (think the Fifty Shades debacle) every author just throws in a BDSM scene and thinks they are “current” in the trends.

But a great writer who understands BDSM will incorporate aspects into the entire book, including both characters.  In Training Season, Blake incorporates aspects of BDSM relationships into the theme of the novel and the characters’ developments.  This makes the BDSM systemic, rather than a fluffy outer layer.

Training Season deals with some Edge play, which I loved!  Blake managed to describe the idea of Power Exchange and I got that these two men were emotionally involved with their sex.  The sex is not just for titillation, but moves the relationship and character development:

Matty’s cock ached, throbbing with every touch of Rob’s hand.  His hips jerked in rhythm with the strokes, desperate to reach climax.  He vision swam and his throat stung the fruitless search for air.  When Rob released his nose, Matty sucked in air so loudly that it was all he could hear, huffing through his nostrils like a race horse.

“Good boy.”  Then the air was gone again.

Matty flung his head back on Rob’s shoulder, his entire body shaking and his heart pounding so hard that it resounded in his fingertips and toes.  Rob’s whispers came through to him, words of encouragement and affection.  “So good…so fucking beautiful and sweet…come on.  Good boy, let go, there…like that.  Let go.”

And this is what Matt needs, the ability to let go and know that he is ok.  That being Matty is acceptable.  His entire life has focused on what these judges think about him and they have determined his self-worth.  This scene demonstrates that Matty has found a support in Rob, something that he has never really felt despite the support of friends and family.

What could be better?

This is the hard section of the review.  Usually when I give a five-star review, there is very little that I would change.  I would say that getting Rob’s perspective would have given me a better view of Matt and to “get into Rob’s head”.  It is not a deal killer, just something that I would have enjoyed.

Conclusions:

When I read a book, I want to feel the impact.  Just reading a fluffy book might be fun, don’t get me wrong.  But most of the time I want books of substance.  Training Season By Leta Blake is a quality book that deals with complex issues and has a sophisticated theme.  I admit that I was angry at first at the ending, not because it was not happy, but it was not a Disney ending.  Yet, the ending was realistic and heart-felt.  We get our HEA, but we get something so much better than that:  a metamorphosis of two men who go from letting others determine their own happiness and success to unfettered men reaching for their own happiness.

Bea