Monday, January 2, 2017

ARC Review: Block and Strike by Kelly Jensen

Jacob Kendricks is three months out of prison, estranged from his daughter, and ready to get his life on track. Taking care of the bum curled up on his doorstep isn’t part of the plan. When he realizes the man has been assaulted, Jake takes him to the hospital, where he learns that Max is his downstairs neighbor… and that he could really use a friend. Keeping Max in the friend-zone would be easier if he wasn’t so damned cute.

Maxwell Wilson has been bullied for years, and the only person who ever cared lives too far away to come to his rescue. Now his upstairs neighbor is offering support. Max remains cautious, suspecting he is little more than a project for the handsome Jake. When he learns Jake has had boyfriends as well as girlfriends, Max has to reevaluate his priorities—and muster the courage to take a chance at love.

Just when a happy future is within their grasp, life knocks them back down. A devastating blow leaves Max lower than ever and Jake wrestling with regret. They both have to find the strength to stand on their own before they can stand together.

Jewel's rating:

Block and Strike is a story about new beginnings and second chances. And family.

Jake Kendricks knows what it's like to make mistakes. He's made more than his share; the most recent one landing him in prison for a year. And he is remorseful and he is trying to do everything he can to get his life back. And some days, it really is a struggle. Being on parole, he especially has to stay out of trouble and under the radar. So when he comes home and finds a man passed out on his door step, his first thought isn't to help him. Until he saw the man was hurt, then helping was all he thought about.

Max Wilson is fairly used to being beaten up. He's not a big guy and he's always been different, and for people who feel that being different is akin to being scum, he's always been a target. Even his father belittled him and thought Max deserved getting beat up because Max wasn't the image of masculinity that his father approved of. So Max came to Philadelphia to get a new start in a place he hoped he could be himself. Except he isn't really comfortable in his own skin, so being himself is tougher than it sounds. Max doesn't have much, but he's ok with that. He works hard and what he has is his and that is good enough.

Jake looks after Max, after the attack, and takes him to his dojo, so he can learn self-defense and they build a tentative friendship. Max is skittish, though, so Jake has to navigate things carefully, especially at first. Jake would bring Max food -- and pie, as an excuse to see Max and make sure he was ok. As it turns out, the way to a man's heart really is through his stomach.

Jake and Max are exactly what each other needs. Max needs someone who can show him how to fight back and how to stand tall. Jake needs someone who doesn't see him as the fuckup he sees in himself. Someone to stand with him.

Jake's family was great, too. The Kendricks clan is tight knit and they do take care of their own. And once they consider you to be family, then they take care of you, too. Max never had a family like that, so it took some getting used to.

One thing that I would have love to have seen, though, would have been for <spoiler removed>

I also thought that his ex, Kate, was massively unfair to Jake when it came to their daughter. Yeah, Jake messed up and he regrets it. But Kate could have done things a bit differently, as well. Not even letting him see his daughter was pretty low and I didn't think he deserved that.

I loved Block and Strike. I loved the friends to lovers, slow burn of a romance. I loved watching these two men find their way together. I loved watching them both find their confidence again. The sexytimes weren't many, but they were so damn sweet, I could have cried. And the ending was a strong HFN, which was very appropriate for the story. Max isn't quite ready to start picking out wedding china yet (don't worry, though, Jake is working on him and I feel sure they will get there soon enough).


ARC of Block and Strike was generously provided by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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