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.
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’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.
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.
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?
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.
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.