Keaton Perry has recently moved to the small town of Forestville looking for a fresh start for his teen sons. His 16-year-old, Byron, had started getting into trouble with the wrong crowd and Keaton and his ex-wife decided to move across the country from Atlanta to a small Washington town where hopefully Byron could find less trouble. Keaton is working as an English teacher at the local high school and his younger son, Milton, seems to be settling in, but Byron is having an incredibly hard time. He is sulky, surly, and making clear to Keaton that he is unhappy and he blames his father.
Auden Frant is the sheriff of Forestville and also a divorced father, with two teen girls. After growing up in Forestville, Auden always knew he wanted to stay and take over as sheriff for his father. Auden has a great relationship with his girls, a close friendship with his ex-wife, and lots of friends. But he can’t help but feeling stuck, like his chances for future happiness with a partner are dwindling now that he is near fifty.
When Keaton and Auden meet when Byron lands in some trouble at school, it is a hard first encounter, but the men find an easy connection. As the two begin to forge a friendship, both men are finding how much they enjoy one another’s company and quickly form a close relationship. For Keaton, things are a little more challenging, as he can’t help but be attracted to Auden, but Auden has always identified as straight. Yet as the men spend more time together, Auden begins to realize that he is attracted to Keaton in return. It is a surprising revelation for him, but not unwelcome. However, even as the men are falling hard for each other and beginning to think about building a future, Keaton’s difficulties at home with his kids and his ex continue to grow. Now, Keaton has to figure out a way to help his family and be there for his kids, and hope that there is still a chance for something more with Auden.
Awakening the Sheriff is the second book in Nora Phoenix’s Forestville Silver Foxes series, following the excellent Renovating the Model. The series focuses on a group of friends in this small town and this story features a new couple in Auden and Keaton. While the other guys appear here and there are connections across the books, this story will stand alone fine if you want to jump in here. I really enjoyed revisiting this town and these characters. One of the nice things about a small town series is getting to know the town and the people and I liked getting a chance to reconnect with Forestville and this group of men. Phoenix does a nice job balancing things, giving us time with the other side characters, but still focusing on Auden and Keaton. I also really like that this is a group of older men who have different life experiences than younger men might, which makes for some interesting stories.
The focus here is really two-fold, with the developing relationship between Auden and Keaton, and then Keaton working through issues at home. I really liked these men together and the easy way they build a friendship. There is a clear connection between them, even as they are just getting to know one another. They are open and honest with one another and take time to talk things through. It helps as Auden and Keaton are both dealing with some self-reflection and self-doubt and they are there to listen to and support one another. This is a bisexual awakening story and there are some nice moments as Auden is exploring being with a man for the first time, as well as coming out to friends and family.
The other focus is on Keaton and his family and the struggles he is having with Byron and also with his ex-wife. Byron is struggling and, in typical teen fashion, is taking all his anger and frustration out on his father. Keaton is a dedicated dad and the primarily custodial parent and wants to do anything to help Bryon, but Bryon won’t talk to him about what is going on. Phoenix does a nice job showing some very real struggles for the teen and later exploring well just what is going on with him and why. However, for me personally, the focus on the kids took up a lot of the story and I would have liked to spend more of that time instead with Auden and Keaton. Even when they are together, a lot of their time is spent working through issues relating to the kids. It is, of course, totally reasonable for parents to need to focus on their kids, so I don’t think it is a problem with the story or the realism. It is just as personal preference, I felt like the weight leaned too heavily on working through things with Byron and with Keaton’s ex, and less on the romantic side of things between our main characters.
Overall, I really enjoyed revisiting the town of Forestville and this engaging group of friends. I appreciated watching Keaton and Auden talk through issues and be there to support one another, as well as seeing them find an unexpected love with one another. It looks like Tomas’ book is up next, and I am looking forward to continuing on with the series.