A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: A summer crush becomes a reality when two men collide and love is realized.
Blurb: Luke Scherer has turned bad romance into an art. When he catches his latest deadbeat boyfriend selling Luke’s belongings—and his own body—to cover his debts, Luke decides he needs a vacation. He just doesn’t expect his Napa Valley retreat to be a step into his past.
Eight years ago Mal Kuijpers was grieving his wife while his vineyard floundered. Hiring Luke for the summer put the business back on track and a smile back on Mal’s face.
Nineteen-year-old Luke had just gotten out from under his father’s thumb and started saving for his education, his last screw-you to his old man. Then he made the mistake of falling for his boss, his dad caught up with him, and Luke panicked—and fled.
Now they have another chance. Mal has his own share of closet skeletons, including a family he doesn’t talk to and a dead wife he sometimes does, and he’s gone without romance for years. He works hard to convince Luke he’s worth more than a casual fling and asks for nothing in return, but Luke needs a relationship of equals. If Mal can believe in himself and Luke can believe in love, two hot summers might yield a lifelong reward.
Review: I cannot add much to the blurb for A Good Vintage by Ashlyn Kane except to tell you that the layers of guilt and sadness that bear down on both Mal and Luke almost render their love for each other null and void. For Mal, it stems from the decisions to wait on raising children and seeing improvements made to the vineyard that were near and dear to the heart of his deceased wife, Tori. For Luke, the final moments with his father and the brutal way in which their relationship ended became a millstone around his neck that would ultimately need to be shed in order to move forward in any relationship that would include a future with Mal. As each man moves through this story, those burdens had to be shed or remain fixed and remove any possibility of lasting happiness in each other’s arms.
A Good Vintage employed a unique vehicle to deliver images and memories from the past. These “interludes” as author Ashlyn Kane called them were vital to understanding the men who lived in the present. Without these snippets, some life-changing, others emotionally challenging, Mal and Luke would have been become mere caricatures instead of the broadly developed characters they actually were in the novel. However, as important and, often, enlightening as these flashbacks were, I felt they also sometimes hindered the emotional flow and impact of the story, particularly when Mal and Luke were facing their most intimate moments and difficult life decisions. I felt the placement and even the subject matter of these interludes to be a bit off kilter at times and I began to wonder why some of them were included or necessary. For instance, the moments Luke had where his jealousy of his brother Val and his wife relationship were revealed didn’t seem to be important enough to pull me away from the main story line. I tried to understand why that was critical to the story as I never felt it influenced Luke’s interactions with Mal. Rather, I would have liked to have seen more about Luke and his father and what made their lives the living hell it was, for I felt this had way more impact on who Luke had become as a person.
Having said that, some of these same sketches were incredibly important to revealing much about Mal and why he lived a sort of self-imposed emotional exile. They revealed much about the taciturn Mal and the way in which he dealt with sadness and loss and the way it influenced his thinking. I also found it interesting that author Ashlyn Kane opted to make both her men bisexual and boldly chose not to justify her choice but let it stand. So often, bisexual men are called liars or closeted, but not the case here. These men moved easily between their love of both sexes and it was this aspect of their sexuality that I found both realistic and very well presented. Before you worry, this is definitely m/m all the way. While there is mention of Mal’s marriage it is quick and only touched upon to allow the reader the understanding of how the death of his wife impacted his life so profoundly.
All in all, I found this latest novel, A Good Vintage by Ashlyn Kane to be very well written with some lovely and heartfelt characters who grappled realistically with falling in love and all the pain and joy it can bring.