Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ride-Off - Reviewed by Trix

RIDE-OFF (Polo series #2) by Mickie B. Ashling
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Finally reunited, Preston Fawkes and Konrad Schnell put family and obligations aside, preferring to remain in seclusion on Ned's estate to get reacquainted. Unfortunately, reality can only be held off for so long, and they return to Texas to reclaim the life they put on pause. Trying to strike the right balance between business, family, and romance requires ongoing effort, and the challenges begin shortly after they arrive.

At the top of the list is Bandi, Konrad's son, and his desire to play polo. A close second is Conrad Sasha Fawkes, Preston's actor son who's struggling to succeed on Broadway. And last, but certainly not least, is Paloma, the fiery Argentinean beauty Preston sired after a passionate tango.

Blending the interests and needs of three grown children is difficult at best and almost impossible when agendas collide and old secrets are unearthed. The situation comes to a head when the family gathers in San Antonio for Thanksgiving, throwing Preston and Konrad into a maelstrom they must weather as best they can, or they'll face a major ride-off that could throw the game before it even starts.

Trix’s Review: 3.75 stars
It had been a while since I read FIRE HORSE, the first installment of the series, so I worried that I would be lost here. It turns out that that didn't matter as much as I thought it would. While the complex saga of Konrad and Preston's reunion and romance is certainly a factor, RIDE-OFF concentrates on the lives of their children. So, while reading the earlier book will definitely help, RIDE-OFF can stand alone somewhat. Even with earlier knowledge of the characters, keeping track of all the storylines can be daunting at times. (It's especially confusing in the beginning when Sasha is still referred to by his given name, Conrad.) The intrigue also leads to some clunky plot exposition, where a lot is told rather than shown. (This was my main issue with FIRE HORSE as well.) Even so, Ashling's writing style is engaging, and the various plot threads did hold my attention.

Ashling's books are often very intense and angst-ridden throughout. RIDE-OFF ebbs and flows in that regard. It opens with a flashback to a cruel act of violence that may very well put some readers off, though it is integral to the plot. The story then backs off from physical threats for most of the book (until the events of the final third or so), concentrating on subtler relationships among this not-quite-blended family. Sasha is just coming to terms with Bandi's new place in the pecking order, and Paloma's re-emergence onto the scene complicates things even more. While I thought Bandi's role diminished as the book went on (though I could very well imagine another story to follow), Paloma and Sasha were both really compelling. Sasha's best friend turned love interest, Jeremy, was my favorite character by far: lovable and multifaceted, he falls into (and livens up) the family dynamic without missing a beat.

The use of BDSM is more problematic than in Ashling's other books. Konrad and Preston use resistance role play in the bedroom to address certain traumas, and, as Melanie of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words points out in her review, the way they do it (no safeword, other precautions not taken) definitely raises red flags in a "don't try this at home" sort of way. Since Konrad and Preston have such limited on-screen time in this installment, the whole BDSM aspect seems a little bit tacked on in the first place, especially since the scenes escalate to near-violence and then resolve to post-coital cuddliness very quickly. Since the scenes were infrequent, this seemed more of a curiosity to me than anything else, but I understand why some BDSM-savvy readers would be upset.

RIDE-OFF won't appeal to everyone, but it's refreshing to see a book that has too much going on instead of too little. While the couples' relationships resolve in satisfying ways, other story threads are open-ended enough that I won't be surprised if a third volume emerges in the Polo series. I'm curious to see what will happen to the members of this sometimes maddening but always diverting dynasty. 

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