Rating: 4.5 stars
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Matt Hawley is the high school baseball couch in his small, southern town. It is a conservative place and his father’s preaching about the sins of homosexuality doesn’t help matters. Although he managed some covert hookups during his years in baseball’s minor leagues, now that he is home with his father and sister following his mother’s death, Matt is back firmly in the closet. While taking his team to the state championships, Matt meets rival couch Rene Dias. Rene is out and much more comfortable and confident in himself than Matt. The guys are immediately attracted to one another, and after the games are over, have a hot and heavy hookup before parting.
The men both assume that will be the end of things between them, but some mutual friends bring them back in contact and each man finds he is not ready to let things go. They begin quietly dating and Matt loves the thrill of a real relationship where can he be himself. The men grow closer and closer but Matt continues to be haunted by fear of discovery and knowledge that his town, and especially his father, would never accept him if they find out he is gay. The relationship between Matt and Rene could turn into something really wonderful, but first Matt needs to decide if he is ready to come out or if the pressure to stay closeted will be too much for him.
This was a sweet, fun read, despite the somewhat angsty sounding premise. Alex and Matt are super hot together and their attraction to each other is instant and intense. I loved seeing Matt able to let loose with Rene and be himself without worrying about hiding and the guys are very sweet and sexy together.
Freeman also gives us a real sense of these guys through their families and friends. Rene is out and comfortable with a supportive father and best friend. You can feel the love between him and his dad from the casual way they interact in each other’s lives. It is clear that Rene is doing what he loves as both a teacher and a coach. Rene provides a nice contrast to Matt who is so stifled under the expectations of both his father and the town. Matt only came home to be with his family after his mother’s death, giving up his career as a player. His dad is a preacher, vocal in his hatred of homosexuality, and Matt knows without a doubt he will not be accepted. Jobs are scarce in his area, making it difficult for him to pursue his goal of getting additional degrees. Although Matt enjoys the support of his close friend Emily, the only one who knows he is gay, he knows he must maintain his secret to keep his job and his family. I think we get a nice sense of the contrast between the men and their lives without being too heavy handed, and I could totally understand both men and the backgrounds they brought into the relationship.
So I really liked this one. It is a relatively short novel and I flew through it pretty quickly. FWIW, despite the baseball premise this isn’t really a sports story and after the initial few pages it doesn’t talk much about sports at all. What we do get is a sweet story about two men who find each other and build their relationship and one man’s struggle to face expectations and reach for what he really wants. I enjoyed Pine Tar & Sweet Tea and would recommend it.