What I have appreciated about the books I've read by this author and made me hunt down his back list of works for my wish list or in this case seek out the opportunity to read the latest as soon as I could are a few things: the warm overtones of family and friendship, characters with depth who are flawed yet have potential to grow, difficult and troubling challenges for characters to surmount, respect for differences and the diversity around us and nice bits of action tossed in for good measure.
In this sequel to 'The Good Fight', which I recommend that you read first since the backdrop and recurring characters make better sense then, it is Bryce's turn to have his story told. Bryce Morton was a secondary character in 'The Good Fight' and a favorite of mine. I was excited to see that he was to be a lead in this one. But oh no- tissue please- the story begins with Bryce experiencing tragedy in the form of his fiance being taken from him just days before his wedding. He has family and friends to support him, but his grief is deep and must run the coarse and let time heal him.
Jerry and John worry about their friend so they talk Bryce into coming with them and the kids to spend time on the reservation where they'll teach computer classes, do some programing work and visit with John's family particularly his dad who's come home from the oil fields to spend time with his family. Bryce reluctantly agrees. His reluctance soon turns to intrigue when he runs up against the abrupt anger and rudeness of Paytah Stillwater on a few occasions when he's helping teach a computer software class and when he must shop at Paytah's store.
Bryce is prepared to chalk Paytah's attitude up to the age old skin color prejudice which was John's apologetic explanation to him after the first time it happened, but instinctively he is drawn to Paytah and wants to get a closer look sensing there is more to it. And so begins a tentative something between these two very outwardly different men who have both experienced pain in their lives. Bryce is coming out of his pain finally and ready to look to his future, but for Paytah, he has lived with his pain a long time and it goes deep- yes another tissue was necessary here. Bryce becomes the catalyst that allows Paytah to begin to heal. Bryce and Paytah have reached out to each other and are forging a relationship through fire as Paytah secrets inflame the community on the reservation and force people to take sides and take stands. There is still the external barrier they must face namely the fact that they live in two separate worlds and neither of them can see a way to bridge the chasm.
The story was superb not that I expected anything less after reading the first story in the series. Like its predecessor, this book flows at a gentle pace with spikes of action or passion, but for the most part it is character-driven. Usually I would be nervous to read a story where the author tackled issues that are like tip-toeing through a minefield. Whether it was Native American/White relations or child abuse and neglect, the author handled them with care and sympathy. But the book is not heavy and morose. For instance, there is this scene in the beginning that had me laughing at Bryce. Bryce is in the van on the way to the reservation with Jerry, John and the kids when he discovers -horror of all- that they're all going camping. I love camping particularly in the Mountain states, but I've seen that expression on that family member's face when they picture being eaten alive by wild beasts when you invite them to go with you. Bryce does not get the camping trip from hell, but gets to experience the best part of camping and an unexpected gift- the serenity of sitting around a campfire staring up at the clear night sky with only the sounds of nature to intrude allowing his soul to heal.
I enjoy how the relationship is handled too. Bryce's healing began before he pursued something with Paytah and later there is a slow down for both men to make sure that Paytah's attraction was not just out of gratitude. There is also the fact that barriers like Bryce's job and feelings of not being accepted are not just swept under the carpet once love is declared.
It was great to meet up again with Jerry, John, the kids and John's folks. Jerry and John have forged a strong relationship and a beautiful family together. Mato cracked me up with his donut cravings (me too pal).
Oh and a caution to those who might have an empathetic past with child exploitation through abuse, there is no actual scene where it is present, but it is referenced to with a the littlest of details.
I can recommend this series/book to those who enjoy heartwarming m/m contemporary romance.