A Guest Review by Lloyd A. Meeker
Review Summary: A gripping, intelligently-written story of romance and cycling. Head and shoulders above predictable fare.
Pro cyclist Luca Biondi lives for the race. For the star of Team Antano-Clark, victory lies within his grasp—if he can outdistance 200 other hopefuls, avoid suspicion from race officials, and keep his lieutenant more friend than foe. Luca also has secrets, and he has eyes for amateur cyclist and journalist Christopher Nye.
Christopher understands Luca’s need to keep their relationship under wraps, but chafes at hiding in the shadows of his lover’s career. He’s ready to cheer Luca’s victories, but he knows too well how triumph can turn to tears. While Christopher’s heart sees Luca the man, his inner journalist—and his editor—sees the cycling world’s biggest scoop.
From the jagged curves of the Colorado Rockies to the viciously steep Belgian hills, Luca can ride out any bumps, except rumors.
A few words in the wrong ear could crash everything. With miles between them, hints of scandal, and Luca’s fierce need to guard his reputation, a journalist might have to let go of the biggest story of his career or risk forcing his lover to abandon the race. Christopher and Luca face a path more treacherous than any road to the summit in the Italian Alps.
First clue that this is not just a shallow romance (that pays brief lip service to the milieu in which it’s set before plowing on to its too-predictable HEA) is the glossary of cycling terms at the beginning of the book. P.D. Singer wants you to understand something about the sport. She’s researched the world of pro cycling and its culture, and that world is an essential part of the story. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.
How many romances featuring Navy Seals, firemen, concert pianists, art gallery owners, research scientists, house renovators, (fill in the blank with some other colorful, specific skill set) have you read, not counting police procedurals, in which the hero’s professional world is nothing more than a one-dimensional stage-set backdrop, instead of a central part of the story?
Spokes opens on a bicycle outside Boulder, Colorado, and never strays far from one. Christopher Nye is a cycling junkie. He lives and breathes the sport. He’s a gifted amateur cyclist, works at a bike shop, and writes technical articles about subtle variations in bike seat attributes or gear ratios for a big cycling magazine.
Luca Biondi is GC (lead rider) for the Antano-Clark team. The team is training in Boulder because of the brutal hills and the altitude, getting conditioned for the grueling European season ahead. Luca comes into the bike shop with a couple of teammates, and the story begins.
Yes, this is the story of Luca’s and Christopher’s growing relationship, but the landscape of strong, well-woven plot twists with character stresses and conflicting goals makes it an unpredictable, believable, and satisfying journey.
Christopher is torn between his love for Luca and the chance to launch his career as a journalist. Luca is torn between his love of racing, his love for Christopher and his fear that if his sexuality becomes public knowledge his career—and all his hopes attached to it—will crash.
At the head of that list of hopes is care for his parents. Luca’s father is a butcher in a small town in the foothills of the Dolomites north of Venice. He wants to give his parents comfortable respite as they age, and that requires a long and successful cycling career, with lots of endorsements along the way.
So much can go wrong in a bike race, from badly-timed nutrition to a crash in the peloton or a slick patch on a treacherous high-speed descent. Those risks are ever-present, only a car fender or cobblestone away, and riders brace for disaster on every road.
The Santuario della Madonna del Ghisallo, the Italian mountain shrine of cyclists, honors those who have died racing. The English translation of the inscription at the shrine reads, “They fell on the road, following a dream of glory. They reached the light in the sacrifice of their young lives.”
I can’t say more about this without spoilers. Enough to say there is good reason the inscription appears in the book’s epigraph.
Christopher comes across as less mature than Luca, and one of my few quibbles with this story is his occasional childish outbursts. Many readers will not mind—or even notice—this, I’m glad to say. I just have a low threshold of tolerance for jealousy and possessiveness, which seem to be inescapable staples of the romance genre.
My other—very mild—criticism is that there were passages I had to read twice to be clear on what was happening. Singer’s style is spare and compact. A lot can happen in a hurry. When I sped up my reading during intense action scenes, I couldn’t always keep the picture in focus.
Overall, though, this is a terrific read and I hope you treat yourself by picking it up. It’s an intelligent, interesting, emotionally satisfying story with lovable characters. Even if you’re not crazy about cycling (or even yummy cyclists’ thighs in shiny lycra), let Spokes take you for a victory lap.