Thursday, March 2, 2017

Block and Strike by Kelly Jensen

Jacob Kendricks is three months out of prison, estranged from his daughter, and ready to get his life on track. Taking care of the bum curled up on his doorstep isn’t part of the plan. When he realizes the man has been assaulted, Jake takes him to the hospital, where he learns that Max is his downstairs neighbor… and that he could really use a friend. Keeping Max in the friend-zone would be easier if he wasn’t so damned cute.

Maxwell Wilson has been bullied for years, and the only person who ever cared lives too far away to come to his rescue. Now his upstairs neighbor is offering support. Max remains cautious, suspecting he is little more than a project for the handsome Jake. When he learns Jake has had boyfriends as well as girlfriends, Max has to reevaluate his priorities—and muster the courage to take a chance at love.

Just when a happy future is within their grasp, life knocks them back down. A devastating blow leaves Max lower than ever and Jake wrestling with regret. They both have to find the strength to stand on their own before they can stand together.

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

3.5 stars

This is as dark and gritty as m/m romance gets. When a rehabilitating ex-con rescues his young neighbor after a brutal attack, the result is an unlikely friendship and an angst filled attraction between the two men.

I’m conflicted about this story. There were moments I loved: Jake’s family is very special. His relationship with Eric made for some very emotional scenes between the two friends. I loved Jake’s karate class and the interesting characters in the group – there are some great scenes as Max begins his training.

However, as Jake and Max’s histories are revealed, this story gets darker and darker. Domestic abuse, parental rejection, poverty, bullying, and debilitating injuries are just a few of the problems circling around these two men. The resulting story was just too heavy for me. There are moments of hope and redemption, but the gloom that shadows these two had me feeling so miserable that I had to read this in small chunks.

The poor communication between Jake and Max created additional conflict, but I struggled to invest in the relationship as Jake kept secrets for far too long and Max alternately chased and ran from Jake. For me, there was too much emotional angst and it didn’t ring true from two hardened blue collar men.

I also struggled with Jake’s character. I couldn’t reconcile the many parts of his character. The calm, disciplined karate student who is committed to his family and his building projects seemed alien to the character described as having a brutal temper and who went to prison for assault. There is something Jekyll and Hyde about Jake’s character that just didn’t ring true for me.

This is a story I might revisit when I’m in a better headspace myself. I struggled with the dark themes in this book, which isn’t necessarily criticism of the author or the writing – I just found the angst overwhelming.

KELLY JENSEN was born in Australia and raised everywhere else. Currently, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter, and herd of four cats. After disproving the theory that water only spins counterclockwise around drains north of the equator, she turned her attention to more productive pursuits such as reading, writing, writing about reading, and writing stories of her own. She also enjoys volunteering at her local library, playing video games, and holds a brown belt in Kiryoku, a martial art combining Shotokan, Aikido, and Tang Soo Do. Her family is not intimidated by her.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Block and Strike by Kelly Jensen to read and review.

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