Raising the Bar (CrabbyPatty’s review)

Title: Raising The Bar (States Of Love Series)
Author: Leigh Dillon
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: September 7, 2018
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance
Page Count: 91 pages
Reviewed by: CrabbyPatty
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 3 stars out of 5


Destin Bellingham has inherited a problem. Thanks to his late playboy father, Destin faces putting a For Sale sign on his family’s historic horse farm. Getting his talented stallion, Black Sambuca, into the Grand Prix show ring would put Bellmeade back on the map—if only someone could make “Sam” behave like a show horse.

Disgraced top rider Tonio Benedetto has his own problems, but he can work magic with difficult jumpers, so Destin hires him despite his bad-boy reputation. The street-smart, openly gay loudmouth from Miami and the closeted, buttoned-down son of Old Dominion Virginia make a rocky pairing, but time is running out to save Bellmeade from bankruptcy.

Opposites attract, sparks of tension grow into flames of passion. But if Tonio fails to tame Sam, will true love become a lost cause too?

States of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the United States.

The author does a good job of setting the stage for this novella about a Virginia horse breeding farm which has fallen upon hard times after the death of the elder Bellingham, who squandered money on fast cars rather than breeding fast horses. His son Destin pins his hopes on a talented jumper named Black Sambuca (“Sam” for short) who refuses to jump in the show ring. He brings in Tonio, a top-notch rider who has struggled with fighting and drinking, in an attempt to rebuild the farm’s reputation and fortune.

I like the premise of this story and the setting, and Dillon writes interestingly about horses, riding and training. However, in the personal arena, Destin and Tonio are so lightly fleshed-out (we only get Destin’s POV throughout) it is difficult to become invested in their lives and their romance. There is little sizzle between the two and one on-page sex scene, with others fading to black. The story is fraught with misunderstandings and miscommunication, and each man leaps to conclusions with more consistency than Black Sambuca. The ending comes about somewhat abruptly, and personally I would have liked 40-50 additional pages to really develop the characters and give their relationship a chance to deepen rather than rushing to the epilogue.

While I enjoyed the equine part of this novella, I personally needed more character development and gave “Raising the Bar” 3 stars.

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Galley copy of Raising The Bar (States Of Love) provided by Dreamspinner Press in exchange of an honest review.


Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.  Frederick Douglas I distinctly remember that day in school when, all of a sudden, those squiggles on the page made sense and I could read. It has changed my life in ways I still cannot comprehend. My favorite M/M tropes are friends-to-lovers, murder/mysteries, amnesia, hurt/healing and historicals. Shifters, vampires, paranormal? Meh ... not in my wheelhouse, but I'm a sucker for a well-written well-plotted book, no matter the genre. Favorite authors includes Brandon Witt, Rick R. Reed, Abigail Roux, Jay Northcote, JL Merrow, KJ Charles, Lane Hayes, Marshall Thornton and so many more. A few "badges" from NetGalley: 100 Book Reviews Reviews Published Professional Reader