training seasonRating: 5 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

Matty Marcus is a champion figure skater with dreams of Olympic gold. But right now he is sidelined with an injury that is keeping him out of competitions and performances until the spring.  Matty’s family has sacrificed so much for his skating career and without show income, things are very tight.  So when an opportunity comes up for him to housesit some horses on a rural Montana ranch in exchange for some money and rink time, Matty takes it, despite his reservations about moving out to the middle of nowhere.

Matty soon meets his gorgeous next door neighbor, rancher Rob Lovely. Despite their many differences, Rob and Matty end up finding a spark between them almost immediately.  The two begin dating, and soon falling hard for one another.  But hanging over both their heads is the understanding that Matty is only in Montana for a short time.  Despite the fact that skating is a hard road, and the flamboyant Matty is not a judges’ favorite, he is determined to get back to the sport he loves, a sport that is his life.  He has given up so much for his career, and Matty is determined that come spring he will find a new coach and begin training in earnest for the next Olympics.

As the months pass, Rob and Matty become closer and more in love. In the past, Matty knows he has not been disciplined enough in his training. He has let his fear of failure take over, and make it too easy to give in to self defeat. Rob helps Matty gain confidence in himself and understand that he can still go on even when he is afraid. That new inner strength helps Matty to dedicate himself even further to his goals and to the intense training required. But at the same time it takes him further from Rob, as he knows he must leave Montana to begin training with his coach in New York.  Matty must give up the man he loves to be a part of the sport that is his life.  And eventually Matty must decide when he has given all he can to skating, and if by then it is too late for love.

Ah, you guys, this one was just so good!  I really loved everything about it.  So warm and romantic, sexy and kinky, gut wrenching at times, but also incredibly inspiring and uplifting. Author Leta Blake really gives us a fabulous story here and one that I just couldn’t put down.

So first off, I totally adored Matty.  He is flamboyant and bold and loves to wear makeup and sparkles and be amazing and fierce. He knows he gets looks and stares, and he is strong enough to still be his own person.  Even when that means the judges don’t give him the same marks as the more butch skaters, and even when he gets stares at the grocery store from strangers.  Matty knows that in the past he hasn’t pushed himself hard enough, hasn’t been willing to give 100% intensity.  Part of it was lack of discipline, and part is his own fear of failure sabotaging him.  But after a devastating performance at the last Olympics, Matty is now determined to give everything and more to reach his dream, one that means the world to him and for which his family has sacrificed so much.

I love that over the course of the book we see Matty’s growth.  At the very beginning he comes across sort of bratty. He doesn’t want to go to Montana and be the middle of nowhere.  He is feeling a little sorry for himself for his past skating record, for the fact that he can’t compete or perform this year due to injury.  But he goes because he knows his family needs him to earn some money and get back on his feet.  But as the book continues, we see there is so much more depth to Matty.  He has a fierce dedication and intensity to his training that is amazing.  He spends countless hours practicing and exercising. He practically starves himself with a rigid diet to get back to competition weight (most of Matty’s meals consist of water with bitters to make him feel full and smelling the soup).  Matty is also so warm and caring with others, especially with kids.  He teaches sessions to younger children. He also takes Rob’s son Ben under his wing, encouraging Ben’s love of skating and becoming incredibly close to the young man.  He is fun and sometimes bratty and full of intensity, but he is also warm and loving, especially with those close to him.

Rob is another wonderful character.  After getting his best friend pregnant years before, Rob gave in to the demands of his father and took over the ranch.  Rob had dreams of being a doctor or physical therapist, and although he loves the ranch, this is never the life he wanted.  Rob is incredibly close with his son, as well as with Ben’s mother Anja.  He works hard and puts in long days trying to fulfill his duty to a father who would never appreciate it, but he hasn’t quite let himself live and do what he really wants.  So in this book we see Rob’s journey as well as he finds himself and figures out what he really wants out of life.  I appreciated that Rob loves and accepts Matty unconditionally. He thinks Matty is beautiful and wonderful and doesn’t care that he is a hulking cowboy in a rural Montana town in love with a sparkly figure skater.  He loves Matty’s brattiness and fierce determination to do what he loves, even though Rob realizes that this love will ultimately take Matty away from him.

And oh, you guys, there is some heartache here, I won’t lie. It is not an overly angsty book, but when Matty and Rob fall for one another despite knowing Matty must leave, it really is heartbreaking.  We definitely do get a happy ending, but it doesn’t come right away, and both these men must deal with the pain of knowing they are making the right decision while having their hearts broken by loss and separation.  But as much as I wanted my immediate happy resolution, I really liked the way this is all handled.  We can really understand why Matty has to go. It is is not just a simple choice between Rob and skating.  Matty needs to try, he needs to see what happens if he dedicates himself fully, and he needs to face his fears and attempt to conquer his inner demons.  And the best part is the way we see how his time with Rob changes him and is exactly what makes him able to then leave Rob to return to skating.

Part of it is Rob’s unwavering love and support for Matty. And part of it is the way Rob helps Matty find that dark part of himself, the part that is afraid and that is sabotaging him and helps him face it.  This mostly happens through some BDSM scenes where Rob helps Matty expose his fears and vulnerabilities, and shows Matty that he is strong enough to be weak and afraid and still come out ok.  It is incredibly powerful and we can see how much Matty needs these scenes and how even when away from Rob he is able to draw on that strength and those lessons.  I wavered on whether to tag this one as a BDSM book and in the end I decided not to as it is mostly a traditional contemporary with a few more hard core scenes.  All of their time out of the bedroom and even most of their time in it is kink free.  It is really only a few powerful scenes, though they are intense with some breath play, whipping, bondage, etc.  I really think Blake does a wonderful job with this dynamic and shows us how Rob helps Matty gain strength that carries him through as he faces future decisions and challenges.

And finally, I just loved the figure skating elements here. I used to be a huge skating fan and watched every competition and knew every skater.  I loved getting the insider’s look in to the world of skating, through the politics of judging, the rigors of training, the coaching, the shows and competitions, and so much more.  Blake really lets us into the world, behind the glittery costumes and beautiful performances to the real grit and pain and struggle.  For those of you who are fans of skating, Matty reminds me very much of skater Johnny Weir.  We really get to see how the prejudices against more femme gay men are alive and well in figure skating.  Matty never has favor with the judges who want him to be more masculine, and with the subjective elements of scoring, he often suffers.  And even aside from that, there is always someone younger or better or who can train harder.  It is difficult to watch as even giving everything he has to the sport he loves isn’t always enough.  One of the deeper takeaways from this story is that deserving something and working hard for something doesn’t always mean you will get it.  And sometimes you need to figure out if you can really have what you want, and even if you can, if it is worth what you have to give up to get it.

I feel like I could talk about this book forever.  There are so many layers and fascinating ideas brought out here.  In addition to what I have already mentioned, I loved Matty’s relationship with his mother. She is his rock, and has given up so much for his career. But she is always supportive and Matty’s total confidant and biggest cheerleader. I adored Rob’s friends Bill and Angus and their relationship.  From them we see that sometimes what you want (or think you want) isn’t always the right thing for you, and sometimes you need to recognize the good you have right in front of you.  I loved the sly humor and banter and fun loving way so many of these characters interact with one another.  There is a lot going on here, and at times I wondered if perhaps the book was a little over long. But as I continued to read, I really think there is so much depth, so many lessons learned along the way, that cutting things out would really have lessened the story.  And honestly, I really enjoyed every minute of it.

So as you can see, this one was a real winner for me. I loved Matty and Rob, loved that this story took me on an emotional journey and left me feeling so happy and fulfilled.  It was really wonderful and I highly recommend it.

Cover: I loved this cover. Totally Matty fierceness.

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