Title: All Wheel Drive (A Bluewater Bay Novel
Author: Z.A. Maxfield
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Length: 326 Pages
At a Glance: All Wheel Drive started off too slow and didn’t pick up soon enough to hook me. A rare miss for me from this author.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Healey Holly is battered, depressed, and looking to go to ground in his childhood home. He wants to rent the garage apartment, but it’s Diego Luz’s place now, and the last thing Diego wants is to share it.
Diego is recovering too—from the accident that put him in a wheelchair and the death of his mother shortly after. The garage apartment is where he’s keeping his mother’s things, and as long as they’re up those stairs and he’s down on the ground, there’s no way he can deal with his loss. And that’s just how he likes it.
Healey believes in science. Diego believes in luck. It will take a blend of both, and some prayer thrown in besides, for these two to learn that it’s the journey and the destination that matters.
Review: I’m going to come right out of the gate and say that All Wheel Drive was more miss than hit for me. Which, being a fan of so much of this author’s other work, made it all the more disappointing. My expectations were skewed higher going in—even more so, in all probability, since I liked Hell on Wheels so much and was looking forward to Healey Holly’s story. As Nash Holly’s twin, we met Healey—along with their dad, Ace, and their little sister, Shelby—in Hell on Wheels, and knew him as the genius Stanford student for whom Nash had sacrificed so much in order that Healey could reach his fullest potential. We also met Healey’s boyfriend, Ford, in Nash’s book. This book might be best described as the apocalypse and fallout of their relationship.
When All Wheel Drive begins, the Holly family are scattered to the four corners of the earth, and Healey has come home to Bluewater Bay to nurse his battered body, troubled mind and shattered heart. Where do you go when you need a safe place to land? Healey goes home. The only problem is that his childhood home doesn’t belong to the Holly family anymore. It belongs to Diego Luz, a guy we’re told works postproduction on Wolf’s Landing, the hit TV show that’s filmed there. Diego isn’t at all happy to see Healey’s bruised face and broken arm on his doorstep, but all Healey wants is to rent Nash’s old room above the garage, offering to throw an exorbitant amount of cash into the deal for the trouble, which Diego isn’t at all down with; he’s also insulted by the offer. He does give Healey one night on the floor of the apartment, though, and then makes him move on.
All Wheel Drive is set up as a sort of one-sided enemy-to-lovers story, with a hurt/comfort chaser. I tend to love both of these tropes when done well. Unfortunately, I can’t say it succeeds here; at least, it didn’t for me. When Healey is introduced, he’s in such dire straits that I wanted to put him in bubble wrap and set him on a shelf until he was well enough physically to deal with what he was struggling with emotionally—the aftermath of Ford’s complete psychological meltdown, which led to a road rage incident during which Healey was injured and, now, is possibly in need of an attorney. Healey suffered the consequences of his own denial and poor choices, and of loving a guy who needed more than just love to help him cope (I did like the message that love can make even the smartest people do stupid things). Healey was so pitiful when he showed up at Diego’s house, which was a jarring contrast to the stranger who answered the door. With absolutely no setup to prepare readers for Diego’s unprompted disdain (or, what felt a lot like it), it was as if I’d been dropped into the middle of a relationship that’d ended badly—there was zero context for Diego’s pissiness towards a guy who looked like the walking dead. I don’t know if I wasn’t supposed to like Diego right then, but he didn’t make a great first impression, and it took a long time before I was able to feel even tepid towards him. Points awarded to Healey for tripping my savior complex trigger, though.
Diego is paralyzed from the waist down after suffering a spinal cord injury. He’s still adjusting to all the ways he’s had to adapt since his accident, coping with the loss of his mom (more on her in a minute), and, in so, so many ways, is mourning the loss of the life he led before his accident. Kudos to Maxfield for the care she took in detailing some of Diego’s day-to-day challenges, and for the research she did to show readers how he could still have sex despite his paralysis. The hand he’s been dealt is, without a doubt, enough to make anyone angry, bitter and standoffish, and I developed a great amount of respect for his strength as the story continued. This made Healey Diego’s perfect romantic foil, in many ways, because of Healey’s scientific pragmatism as well as his own experience with a little sister who’d suffered from her own spinal injury.
The problem, however—the one issue I had difficulty overcoming, in the end—is that Diego came off as a one-note character to me for most of the book. Wolf’s Landing is on hiatus when All Wheel Drive begins, so it stands to reason we wouldn’t get to see him on the job, but I needed to see him interacting earlier in the story with a wider range of people, in a way that showed more layers to his personality and who he was as an everyday guy—that he was more than the ire he consistently directed at Healey. The side-effect of his monotone characterization is that I didn’t buy into Healey’s attraction to Diego, not beyond the fact that Diego is hot and ‘swole’, and that sex was the end goal. I get that people don’t have to be best friends before they have sex, or even like each other, for that matter, but I just didn’t get why Healey was so persistent. It was like watching a kicked puppy coming back, again and again, hoping for a tiny crumb of kindness. These guys had sex, there was more anger and some misunderstandings, all because there was no foundation for them to talk about the heavy stuff. They were too broken individually to “fix” each other with something as simple as sexual chemistry, and I just wasn’t sold on their relationship. In fact, some of the things that happened later in the book likely could’ve happened a bit earlier and addressed some of my issues—before they became issues—without it ruining the overall story. But, I can’t prove that.
Also weighing heavily against a believable beginning to any sort of relationship between Healey and Diego is the unresolved issues between Healey and Ford—which is what left Healey a physical and emotional and psychological wreck. Let’s talk about unfinished business and simplistic resolutions… For as damaged as Healey was by the events that happened between him and Ford, the end of that crisis was too abrupt and over simplified, and the narrative skimmed over too much of the emotional detritus to get to the HEA with Diego. This was a BIG deal in the story, it completely informed who Healey was for almost the entirety of the book, so a few pages of conversation with Ford to get him past that felt disingenuous and too tidy to me.
Getting back to Diego’s mom, I loved the little glimpses we got of her and her backstory, and I liked that she was the catalyst that brought Diego and Healey together, even if in only a peripheral and figurative way. There were some interesting tidbits parsed out that made her an intriguing and provocative addition to Diego’s narrative, and I loved the portrayal of her as such a free and rebellious spirit. Sadly, however, her story wasn’t wrapped up. I’d have loved to know more about the outcome of the research into her stealth artwork.
While I ended up liking Healey and Diego together well enough by the end, All Wheel Drive started slow and didn’t pick up quickly enough to hook me. I have an intense passion for characters who aren’t afraid to have those tough conversations that give a story substance and realism—something that I felt was important especially because these guys were both so broken, but it relies too much on sex as a foundation for a relationship that brings an excess of emotional baggage to it, some of which needed unloaded first for me to buy into it.
But, as always, your mileage with All Wheel Drive may vary.
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