Title: Block and Strike
Author: Kelly Jensen
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 266 pages
At a Glance: This is a bit of a heavy and slow building story about two f*cked up underdogs that, while at times it was painful to watch them try to get it together, is so worth it in the end.
Reviewed By: Sadonna
Blurb: Jacob Kendricks is three months out of prison, estranged from his daughter, and ready to get his life on track. Taking care of the bum curled up on his doorstep isn’t part of the plan. When he realizes the man has been assaulted, Jake takes him to the hospital, where he learns that Max is his downstairs neighbor… and that he could really use a friend. Keeping Max in the friend-zone would be easier if he wasn’t so damned cute.
Maxwell Wilson has been bullied for years, and the only person who ever cared lives too far away to come to his rescue. Now his upstairs neighbor is offering support. Max remains cautious, suspecting he is little more than a project for the handsome Jake. When he learns Jake has had boyfriends as well as girlfriends, Max has to reevaluate his priorities—and muster the courage to take a chance at love.
Just when a happy future is within their grasp, life knocks them back down. A devastating blow leaves Max lower than ever and Jake wrestling with regret. They both have to find the strength to stand on their own before they can stand together.
Review: Jake Kendricks is not your typical hero. He’s made mistakes—some of them more devastating than others. Recently, he’s been released from prison, is back at his construction job and trying to get his life back on track. When he finds a guy on his doorstep, he thinks it’s some drunk bum sleeping it off—until his hands come back covered in blood when he tries to move him. He calls his sister, who is an ER nurse, and he takes the guy to the hospital where he discovers it’s his neighbor who he’s never really even talked to.
Max has been beaten to a pulp, and, apparently, it’s far from the first time this has happened. He’s spent his whole life, up until now, as a bit of a punching bag for whatever bullies decide to go after him. He had a couple of good years at college, but then his mother’s illness forced him to come back home, and after he left home for good the year before and moved to Philly, he’s made his own way. When Jake insists that Max stay at his apartment to be watched over after his beating and concussion, Max is definitely reluctant, but he doesn’t have the strength to argue.
Jake is mad at himself that he didn’t make sure the lightbulb got changed in the alley, which he thinks might have deterred the guys who beat up Max. He feels guilty about it and decides that he’s going to look in on Max and make sure he’s healing and taking care of himself. Max is pretty prickly about Jake’s interference, but he also kind of likes it.
When Jake suggests that Max join him at his dojo to maybe pick up some self-defense moves, Max is not at all convinced that it’s a good idea. But he doesn’t exactly have anything else to do, so he goes along. By this point, Max has pretty much acknowledged, to himself at least, his growing attraction to Jake. For his part, Jake is feeling guilty that he hasn’t been upfront with Max about his sexuality, and since he has an ex and a daughter, Max has been free to draw his own conclusions. Jake is also a bit ambivalent about how his bisexuality has been viewed and commented on by those he has been honest with in the past, so it’s not like he’s itching to come out with it.
There are some miscommunications, though, and some not super helpful “help” from some of Jake’s friends when it comes to Jake being honest with Max, and things don’t go so well. Luckily there are other factors at work, and Jake also isn’t one to necessarily give up. It’s pretty clear that Max and Jake have some stuff to work through, and they need to work on being more open and honest with their feelings as well.
While Jake and Max’s friendship is building, there are a lot of other things that are going on with Jake’s family, the self-defense classes, and some disturbing information about who may have beaten Max. Jake once again finds himself riddled with guilt over a lot of things that he may or may not have any control over. And Max has difficulty dealing with his insecurity, feeling that he’s just some sort of do-gooder project for Jake. But really, Jake’s only concern is Max and making sure he is getting what he needs. When Max has another crisis, Jake blames himself and again nearly loses himself in his anger and fear. He’s got some good friends and family who help him through it, though. Certainly, Max and Jake have to work pretty hard for their happy ending.
I really liked this story. This is the first full-length novel I’ve read by this author, after enjoying her shorter stories. I have to say I’m a sucker for fucked up underdog characters, and this story has it in spades. Both main characters have had a rough go of it and have come out the other side. Jake and Max both worked hard to make some sort of a life for themselves that they view as successful and independent. I liked that they were very different types of guys, and Max’s prickly nature and Jake’s kindness and compassion really complement each other. Jake never wanted to push Max or make him feel like he has to do anything or wasn’t in charge of his own decisions. At times it was painful to watch them try to get it together, but it’s so worth it.
You can buy Block and Strike here: