Title: Two Sides of the Same Coin (Lucky Jeff Ranch #1)
Author: Jake Mactire
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Western/D/s-lite
Length: Novel (341 PDF pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: Though not without issues, a decent first effort by a writer that shows promise.
This review contains what could be considered spoilers
Leaving his boyfriend behind in San Francisco, cowboy and struggling artist Jeff Connelly returns to the family ranch after his father’s death and meets the man who will become a large part of his future: ranch hand Mike Guidry. Mike starts out cynical, bitter, and very unfriendly, but he warms to Jeff when he realizes Jeff just might be the friend he needs.
Life on the ranch is as hard as Jeff remembers: he has to deal with cattle rustling and the stress of hoping the business will break even while he weathers changes in attitude from the locals, harassment, prejudice, and betrayal. Jeff and Mike will embark on a plan to secure the ranch’s future, try to find a way to live and love together, and discover that they’re more alike than they’d ever have dreamed.
Lucky Jeff Ranch Series
Two Sides of the Same Coin seems to be the first published story by this author. With a healthy page count, an interesting blurb and a nice cover, I was hoping for a winner as I was in the mood for a western. But while decently written and ambitious, like other books that failed to meet my expectations recently, it was laced with problems for me. I think that a lot of it comes from inexperience, and I anticipate that with some more writing under his belt, Mactire could become a good author.
Jeff returns to his homestead cattle ranch in a valley in the North Cascades of Washington State after the death of his father, to the displeasure of his San Francisco boyfriend, Robert. He is needed at the ranch, and besides, he’s more comfortable there than anywhere else because even though he is an artist with an accounting degree, he’s really a cowboy at heart. When he gets there, he finds new hand Mike, a grumpy, anti-social man with whom not many get along, a challenge. Mike does his job and well, but no one wants to be around him. After some time, Jeff is able to bring him out of his shell and befriend him, thus learning of Mike’s difficult past as a gay youth in a very strict, religious family. Once Jeff is free from Robert, he cautiously, but happily enters into a relationship with Mike, with whom he has tons more in common than any of his other boyfriends and is very attracted. In the meantime, he has big, dangerous problems with rustlers and fears that the ranch won’t be able to stay afloat financially. With new ventures in the works and the acceptance of the town folks, he has hopes that it will all work out with the man he loves.
What worked for me:
I thought the characters were likeable, realistic and well-developed, and I really liked watching the interaction between the cast of friends who are more like family than not. I thought the plot was believable, and though I suspected the reveal very early on — and I was right — the rustlers mystery was a good touch, taking the edge somewhat off what could have been a highly saccharin romance (see more on this later).
As I said, this book has a healthy page count and with almost 170k words, it’s very dense. That should be good, but for me it wasn’t, and what I found were multiple things that could have been dealt with tighter editing. It seemed, to me, to be just too…much.
First are the many info dumps. Several characters — especially (but not limited to) Jeff — turn conversations into huge explanations about lots of topics, from what it’s like to be an out gay man, to what it’s like to be a cowboy and/or rancher, to what rodeos (straight and gay ones as well) are like, to the differences between cultures, to how to do art, to Wicca and its ceremonies and other religious views. Although I learned some things, it was tedious as a reader for these long enlightenment episodes and at times I felt like I was being lectured.
Related to this, it’s quite heavy in dialog, and while I love to watch characters interact via spoken word, many things are said repeatedly. I grew weary of the number of times we hear “buddy,” “Jeffy,” “buckaroo” and other nick-namies as well as how Jeff’s dad would approve of their relationship and how he felt about Mike, how the characters all feel about each other, how big Jeff’s member is, cowboy coffee, and “son of a bitch stew,” just to name a few things.
Next, it is extremely — too much, for my tastes — descriptive. We get deep details on most meals, drinks, clothing, songs that are played or sung (and sometimes their words), chores that are being done, dancing and other social gatherings (of which there are many).
Outside of the initial issues with Mike’s reserved stand-offishness, all of the conflict is external. Our heroes get along like bread and butter and don’t have any problems to work through. It made it overly sweet in spots. Also, there’s a lot of smexxin and much of it is repetitive. I ended up skimming through most of the scenes, looking for things that were either different or would lead to a furthering of the plot.
I found Jeff to be very Gary-Sue-ish: he’s handsome, well-built, hung like a horse, can fuck like a champion, seems to be good at whatever he puts his mind to, is a real charmer and just about everyone loves him on sight. Related to this, the ranch and town around it are like gay utopia. Outside of a very few predictable bigots, gays are accepted by just about everyone in the town, and even rooted for. And it seems like this is one of those tales where quite a few of the straight characters conveniently have a gay relative.
While not without issues for me, Two Sides of the Same Coin is an ambitious first effort. I am interested to see what this author produces next.