Title: This Red Rock
Author: Louise Blaydon
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Kindle
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance, Western
Length: Novella, 56 pges
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
A Guest Review by Raine
Summary Review: The lovely writing was slowly seducing me, when wham—a barn door slammed in my face. This could have been a damn fine novel, but as a novella it left me feeling unsatisfied.
When an open life in San Diego beckoned, Alex Arzano left the oppressive Southwest town of his childhood without a second thought—until now. Working on his Uncle Frank’s New Mexico ranch isn’t Alex’s first choice of ways to spend the summer, but it turns out not to be as bad as he’d feared: the scenery is beautiful… and not just the landscape, either. Frank has put ranch hand Oro Torres in charge of Alex’s training, and everything about Oro, from his gorgeous accent and muscled forearms to the way he handles a horse, is completely captivating. Alex is quicker to learn than Oro expects, and the tension between them rises just as fast. Finally, close quarters and exhilaration push them to take that last step—and after that, there’s no turning back.
I suppose briefly put this could be described, unfairly perhaps, as “who Alex Arzano did on his summer holidays.” I think you can probably tell I am a bit irritated, but I was so enjoying this read before my problems started. Narrated in the first person, twenty-one-year-old Alex is an intelligent, attractive character, self-absorbed but realistically self-aware, self-confident, and self-deprecating.
The description of his reluctant drive to his uncle’s ranch is lyrically written with some lovely touches about his observances. Moreover, he listens to and quotes Bob Dylan. I am totally suggestible to the influence of music in a story and Dylan happens to be my son’s go-to music god. So while I read, he — home for the holidays — put “Magdalena” on his iPhone and I was very happy, living the book.
Alex’s attitude at the ranch is very sensible and appealing — no stupid posturing here — and he is aware of how the summer could go (“This would be a summer of sweat and dirt and shit, resentment on my part and irritation on Frank’s”). It doesn’t follow this path because although Alex feels obligated (his uncle is helping him with college financially) it is his real affection for Frank’s kindness that inspires his determination to work hard on the ranch for him, which doesn’t go as planned even the first morning. There is a touching symbolic scene between uncle and nephew, when Frank finds an old pair of his own work boots for Alex to wear.
Alex’s meeting with the gorgeous Oro is set up nicely. Both characters have European ancestry — Alex is Italian and Oro the “lisping” kind of Spanish — and Alex’s attraction and hero worship is beautifully written with such a light touch beginning with his body language, then Alex’s characteristic revealing thoughts finish a great paragraph:
He was easy to talk to, this guy, this Oro. I could see now that there might something in this summer for me, so long as I kept a hold on myself, didn’t let myself get out of hand. If I could be content just to ride the ragged edge of flirtation, enough that there’d always be a margin of plausible deniability, maybe Oro and I could be friends, kind of. Maybe we could have some fun.
Though Oro is twenty-five, he has a strength and maturity that contrasts with Alex’s volatility. The attraction between the two men is built up with some ambiguous flirting, but Oro’s sexuality is not immediately defined.
Alex works hard under his casual supervision, and he is Oro’s ”go-to guy.” The ranch work is described with realism and great detail: mucking out, fence mending and finally birthing a cow. The story slowly leads to a great scene which once past the sweat, dust and bovine vaginal fluids, grows into hot barn sex for Oro and Alex.
Up to this point all was really rather wonderful and then…that was it. There is a rushed precis of the rest of the summer and hopes for the future. Alex had fallen in love and relearned that he was a Southwesterner at heart.
The first eighty five percent of the book covered, in well-written detail, the drive to New Mexico and first two days of Alex’s stay on the ranch. The final seven and a half weeks was summarised in the fifteen percent of space the book had left. That is not a story arc, it’s a precipice.
Perhaps I should have been more aware of how much book I’d read. Nevertheless, I actually had an out-loud “huh?” moment when I realised that it was all down hill back to San Diego. I felt very disappointed, full of righteous indignation and Loiuse Blaydon was a victim of her own success. The writing was so very accomplished, but there was just not enough of it.