Rating: 3.5 stars
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Levi Peletier has taken a break from his nomadic life and is now working at the Bentley Ghost Town performing trick riding shows with his best friend, Robin. Levi grew up working in his family’s traveling rodeo and, after his brother died, Levi was lost for a while to addiction and self destruction. But now he has reconnected with Robin and is enjoying his new life in a tiny house on the ranch/ghost town property.
George Thompson was an elite figure skater until the pressure from his family and the abuse from his coach became too much for him and he gave it all up. He has spent the last seven years trying to put that life behind him and now lives as a virtual recluse with his twin brother, Orry. George has only just begun venturing out to do any socializing at all with his apartment neighbors and is taking baby steps toward re-engaging with the world. That is why he cautiously agrees to accompany Orry and some of their neighbors to a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some friends who own the ghost town.
When George and Levi meet, they are drawn to each other’s sweet and quiet energy. George is still overwhelmed at the party, but Levi feels safe for him and the two start a friendship. When the pair end up spending a week together at Clean Slate Ranch, it draws them even closer and they start to fall for one another. But George is still finding his way after so many years of isolation. He wants to try to spread his wings, but he is also not sure of his limits and is taking it slow. Levi is always patient with George and wants to take things at George’s pace. But Levi is also not sure if he is ready to put down roots after so many years of traveling the country. Now, as George and Levi are falling for one another, they must figure out if there is a way to make a future together.
Right Move is the sixth installment in A.M. Arthur’s Clean Slate Ranch series. I enjoy this series and the lovely found family aspect of life at the ranch and the ghost town. There is almost a magical quality about the place, where people seem to find themselves and the group has a nice connection. Here we see how Levi has found a temporary home after floundering following his brother’s death. We met Levi in Robin’s book, Lucky Break, and now he is living on the land and working at the ghost town. Levi is a peaceful, spiritual man who has been through some hard times and is now sweet, patient, and kind. He is gentle with George as the younger man figures himself out and they are a good fit for one another.
George has had a sheltered life since leaving skating and has relied heavily on his brother for support. He feels anxious being around people, having people recognize him, and beinging in the spotlight. We met George in the last book, Hard Ride, as one of Derrick and Slater’s upstairs neighbors. There we also saw his encounter with his former coach, which has made him even more anxious about interacting with others. But by the start of this book, George is ready to try and he starts taking slow steps toward getting out in the world. It is sweet to watch George come into his own and realize he is ready for more than he thought. I wish we had more of a sense of why now and why Levi, however. George has been a virtual shut in for years, and yet he is ready for regular interaction with Levi and even a vacation away from home and his brother within an incredibly short time.
This is a sweet story of two men slowly building their relationship. It is calm, placid, and mostly easy feeling, even as George deals with his anxiety. But I found this one almost too calm and easy. It is a long book and there was just not enough to carry it for me. George and Levi are both nice lovely men. Everyone they interact with is also kind, loving, and understanding. They meet, George quickly becomes comfortable with Levi, and they have a nice, sweet, growth to their relationship. While we know each man has a complicated past, it doesn’t become a hurdle here and both reveal their backstories without so much as a speed bump. Other issues that seem like they may turn into something, like some potential conflict between George and Orry, settle very easily. Even the conflict at the end as to how they will reconcile George’s anxiety about being out in the world and Levi’s desire to travel is just smoothed over, with all the decision making handled in the gap between when the main story ends and the epilogue starts, so we never see it happen on page. For a book that is over 350 pages, I just needed more here. Everything just feels too smooth, easy, and flat without enough happening in the story or with the characters to really carry it completely.
On a somewhat related note, even the way men speak to one another is so sweet and careful, and while it is nice to see characters that kind and loving, something about the style just enhanced my feeling of everything being just too calm and placid. When George shares something personal, Levi replies, “Okay. Thank you, George. I hear and accept your truth.” When they have a sexual encounter, “‘Wow,’ Levi said. ‘Thank you for that gift.'” I think this is personal preference, but I found the dialog between them a lot at times.
My other issue here is I am not sure whether this book fully works for either new readers or those familiar with the series. On one hand, Arthur does a great job for folks new to these books giving background on everyone we meet and providing context and backstory on the ranch, the ghost town, and past events. Even as someone familiar with the series, I found the reminders helpful. So new readers could probably jump in here, but I can’t help wondering if they would be overwhelmed by the sheer number of side characters that appear here, each with their own backstory summary. I feel like virtually everyone who has ever appeared in this series is at least mentioned in this book, and most of them appear on page. It feels like a lot for someone new to encounter all these characters, most of whom aren’t really that relevant to this particularly story. On the other hand, as a series reader, I enjoyed seeing this gang again, as this series has always been about the found family. But I still felt like this was almost a parade of former characters for no real reason other than to revisit them. I also found the story somewhat repetitive having read other the books, particularly Wild Trail where we also see a vacation to the ranch and a “day in the life” style story of what a trip there entails. At this point, six books in, I feel like I have already heard multiple times about the ride in the wagon to the ranch when people arrive, Sunday night’s BBQ dinner, camping trips, Arthur’s stories, etc. And for a book where there isn’t much in the way of peaks and valleys with the main characters, seeing all of that repeated here just added to that sense of not enough going on for me.
On a related note, we also see Samuel and Rey Briggs-King and their daughter, Faith, from Arthur’s Cost of Repairs series appear here. They are fellow guests on the ranch and befriend George and Levi. I think for fans of that series, seeing this couple will be a thrill, though as someone not familiar with their books, I did find this felt like a bit of filler in an already long book.
In the end, I found that I enjoyed revisiting these old friends from the series. I am a huge fan of found family books and I like reconnecting with these guys (though perhaps not all of them in every book). And I think Arthur does a nice job of creating a sort of magical place that brings happiness and a sense of peace to those who come there. I just found that this story felt too calm and placid with not enough happening to carry such a long book. I am curious to see where Arthur takes this series and if there is more to come for our friends at the Clean Slate Ranch.