Rating: 3 stars
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After a shotgun blast took off his arm, former Chicago police officer Robert “Oggie” Ogden moved to Cattle Valley to start life over again as a cattle rancher. Then another opportunity came along, that of turning a portion of his ranch into a sanctuary for homeless and troubled GLBTQ youth. With the help of local philanthropist, Asa Montgomery, Second Chance Ranch is about to complete its second dormitory and other facilities. But accepting Asa’s help has also meant that Oggie has had to put up with Drake Smith, the head of security for Asa’s company. Oggie hates that people think of him as disabled and refuses most of the offers of help sent his way, including Drake’s.
Drake Smith learned early in life that his small size made him an easy target for bullies, as did his home life. And to take on the bullies he learned to defend himself, becoming a skilled fighter. But emotionally? That was something he found tougher to guard against the hurts inflicted by others. So he gave up and withdrew, isolating himself within his apartment and into his job. Against his better judgement, Drake finds himself drawn to the taciturn Oggie and reaches out to him only to find himself and his overtures of assistance harshly rebuffed.
Only an emergency rescue of a young boy in Washington, DC brings these two men back together. As they search for the missing boy, the sexual heat flares between them, burning down their barriers along the way. Neither man is prepared for the feelings emerging from their encounter and pull back from each other. When they land back in Cattle Valley with the rescued young man, only time will tell if they will give each other the second chance at love.
Carol Lynne’s Cattle Valley series has really turned into a hit or miss reading adventure. The last book I reviewed, Alone In A Crowd, was a return to the reason I loved this series and grabbed up each book as they were published. Lynne brought back her original characters in a long established relationship and gave us an intimate look into their changing dynamics, with only scarce mentions of new characters to come. So I eagerly picked up this book, only to find that the author has returned to the form that made me eventually give up on Cattle Valley. Here in Second Chances, the author has so many balls in the air that they are dropping figuratively all over the landscape and we are left with a grab bag of nonsensical characters and behaviors culled from the back of a psychiatry handbook.
Really, from the descriptions and back histories of the main characters here, Oggie and Drake, it looks like the author used the Mr. Potato Head method of character construction, jamming in various characteristics regardless of whether they fit or not. I don’t know how else to explain it. This is Drake Smith. He is small statured (no problem), so preoccupied by threats to his safety (real or imagined) that he lives in a tiny apartment in Asa’s business complex with multiple locks on his door. He takes a gun with him to answer any knocks on it. Drake bases all his life’s decisions on “what would make his (dead) mother smile” but only eats Campbell soup because that’s all he and his mother ate. Drake is a cutter. He self mutilates and then runs around on cutup feet like it is no problem. And after one episode, the cutting is never mentioned again. It just disappears. Drake is ok with casual sex but won’t open his door without a gun? Huh. And it just keep snow piling from there. I get that Lynne wants us to find him a pained filled man needing our sympathy but all she accomplishes is to make him out as a whacko with the Bate’s Motel in his background. Trust me it gets worse if you think that is harsh.
Oggie is a little better. I can see a cop having trouble leaving his life behind and having problems adjusting to his disability. I get that, I do. Oggie is more believable as someone who is afraid that pity lies behind offers of help. He’s not too bad except when Drake gives him a compliment and his response is “F*&k, Drake, you turning me into some kind of damn woman or what?” Really? I don’t know about you but I found that offensive to both men and women.
Then there is the matter of a little scene between the two men in the airplane on their way to DC. Drake carries with him a small photograph album of pictures of him and his mother. He gives them to Oggie to help him better understand where Drake is coming from. Sweet, right? The first picture shows a 5-year-old Drake and a women with bandaged feet. As he ages, his mother loses more and more limbs over time (to Diabetes), First her feet, then her arms…year by year there is less and less of her. Another year, another limb. And by then I am in tears. Of laughter. Not because of the very real and serious possibility of amputation as the disease progresses. No, I am in hysterics over the thought of what an SNL sketch this would make. Definitely not the reaction I think Lynne going for. But that just shows you how over the top this story got in making a grab for our emotions.
And finally there is Cullen “Little Man”, the boy they were sent to rescue. Her characterization of this young man is the ultimate black mark against this book. Cullen was a young prostitute on the streets of DC until Father Joseph (hopefully Episcopalian) talks him into the shelter he runs for GLBTQ youth. But something happens and Cullen returns to the streets where he is abducted by his pimp and made to pay for trying to leave his stable. It is inferred that this kid was gang raped, i.e., tortured and “retrained” by multiple men. And when Oggie and Drake find Cullen, he is tied to a bed barely breathing, bloody, beaten, raped, and a W is carved into his forehead. I don’t think it is a stretch for anyone to imagine the emotional and psychological trauma this would inflict on this young man, to say nothing of the physical mess his body is in. But is this handled responsibly after loading up this poor guy with one horrific event after another? No, Cullen bounds back to normal almost immediately. Nothing is said about the huge W on his forehead. It’s as though nothing bad had really happened to him. So how do you go there as an author and not address the very real problems brought up? I don’t know and Lynne has certainly not given us any answers.
There are smaller editing errors (Drake “unlocks” his apartment upon leaving) as well as an unrealistic case of “instant love,” all in 89 pages. But there are so many larger issues here, these are the least of the book’s problems. And finally there is the prospect of a romance on the horizon that even if Cullen turns out to be of legal age, leaves me kind of nauseous.
So where do I go from here? One terrific book is followed by one that is just this side of awful. I will probably keep reading them. At this point it is too late to stop and, like a carrot before the horse, there is always the promise of a return again to the form that made Cattle Valley I place I loved to visit.
Cover by Posh Gosh is perfection as usual.