Judah Madden spent his life training to be a ballet dancer and waiting to get out of small-town New Zealand. His chance came and he joined the Boston ballet and he was on his way to stardom and all of his dreams were coming true. But Judah’s health took a hit and all dreams of dancing were snatched away in a dizzying instant. He’s now back in Painted Bay on his family’s mussel farm, trying to hang on, but his brother’s constant jabs certainly aren’t helping.
When Judah meets fisheries officer Morgan Wipene, it’s easy to turn on the charm and flirt with the gorgeous older man and they click on so many levels at first sight. Judah wants to wallow for a while, but Morgan has other ideas of how Judah can spend his time. Morgan, though, is still trying to find his footing after the death of his wife, and while he knows he’s falling too fast for Judah, he can’t seem to stop himself.
The men have some work to do as Judah needs to find a new life and Morgan needs to be ready to fully move on. Painted Bay doesn’t offer much opportunity for Judah and while he wants to stay with Morgan, he knows he needs a new dream of his own, but maybe he can find a way to have both.
I have read all of Jay Hogan’s books and this one hit the sweet spot for me. With two interesting characters that spark and connect from the start, Judah and Morgan’s story was a pleasure to read.
Judah was living the life of his dreams until a medical diagnosis stopped it all. I enjoyed reading about an ailment not usually seen, and Hogan does a good job showing how debilitating Meniere’s disease is. Not only does it effect Judah’s balance so much that he can’t dance, some days just standing upright is impossible. He came back to the place he couldn’t wait to get away from—he was bullied as a teen and his brother never stood up for him—and Judah is not handling any of it well. His story is compelling and emotional and his struggles seem to have no end.
Morgan is the perfect complement for Judah. He was married to a woman he loved fiercely and always accepted he was attracted to men as well, but Judah is the first man he wants to spend any considerable amount of time with. Even with the easy attraction between them, the men try a friendship so they can sort themselves out, but being together is easiest for both of them and they really do complete each other. I enjoyed the flow of their relationship as every step they took brought them closer to each other without a lot of manufactured drama, as they had enough real drama going on.
Many of Hogan’s books have a mystery/suspense element to them and that is the weakest link of the books for me and it was again here. There was one area of it that did move Judah’s story forward, but ultimately that area was not the highlight. The atmosphere in this book was a highlight, however, taking place in New Zealand, which I look forward to with her books. I also liked how the author handled the bullying aspects and just because someone apologizes doesn’t mean you have to accept.
There was a warm love story here for Judah and Morgan, complete with great banter, sparkling chemistry, and doses of hurt and comfort. Off-Balance is the first book in the Painted Bay series and with tiny sparks illuminated of whose story might be next, I look forward to returning to this small town.