Title: Half Pass
Author: Astrid Amara
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 208 Pages
At a Glance: Half Pass is a book I couldn’t put down—not necessarily because it was so different from anything else I’ve ever read but because Astrid Amara’s storytelling is so engaging and I just enjoyed spending time with its characters.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: He looks good on a horse, but it’s hard to love a man with a big ego and a small alibi.
Paul King’s inheritance is named Serenity Stables, but for him it’s far from serene. He has one plan for the crumbling facility: unload it as fast as possible. But two months on the market, and he’s still mucking stalls and dreaming of his old life back in San Francisco.
It doesn’t help that he seems to have misplaced a horse. Not just any horse—Tux, a million-dollar Warmblood who, despite lacking opposable thumbs, has an Olympic medal to its name. So does its Brazilian trainer, Estevan Souza, a man whose darkly sexual, smoldering glances almost make Paul forget his horse phobia.
Intriguing as Paul finds Estevan, distractions are piling up. The boarders are picky. The arena roof is leaking. His drunken cousin is wreaking havoc. Tux’s owners are threatening to sue. On top of that, a bucket of blood points to possible murder.
Suddenly, Estevan’s glances are looking more suspicious than sinful. And, if Paul can’t come up with a plan to save Tux, he could lose not only his chance with Estevan, but his life.
Review: Having recently spent some time digging around in the massive collection of unread books on my Kindle to find something to read, and having not yet met an Astrid Amara book I didn’t like, I unearthed the author’s 2011 novel Half Pass from my archives and am happy to report that she hasn’t failed me yet.
This novel is immersed in an equestrian setting, one I admit is entirely foreign to me outside of the fact I look at horses and think, “Oooooh, pretty.” Amara, it becomes clear, either knows her stuff firsthand, or did an impressive amount of research about the backdrop against which she’s set this romantic mystery. Based upon the Dedication at the outset of the novel, I’m going to lean toward the side of her knowing her way around a horse, though, and I really enjoyed this aspect of the story. There’s nothing I don’t love about the idea of a man on horse (cowboys, anyone?), and this served the feel of the novel well.
Paul King’s equine history holds some bad memories laced with grief and fear, but upon his aunt’s death and his inheriting Serenity Stables from her in the process, he left the city life to return to his hometown of Lynden, Washington—the small town he’d left behind years before to escape the small minds that made it difficult to be openly gay—to carry on Beth’s legacy until he can find a buyer for the stables. A bitter and drunken cousin, a failing business, the responsibility for the care of horses he’s not particularly fond of (not to mention their owners), and a Brazilian trainer whose smoldering sexiness lights a little fire under Paul’s libido all combine to complicate even further the sudden disappearance of a horse whose pedigree includes an Olympic medal and a million-plus-dollar price tag. I felt for Paul being in the position he was in—being stuck somewhere he didn’t want to be, doing things he didn’t want to do, and dealing with problems he didn’t ask for, let alone want. And through it all, he persevered out of love for his aunt when a lesser man would have called it quits and walked away.
And then, someone starts trying to kill him.
Amidst all this turmoil and mystery, Paul’s trying his hardest to figure out what Estevan Souza’s story is. The gorgeous horseman has a past he’s left behind in Brazil, and quite the reputation as a ladies’ man around the stables…but the looks Estevan’s giving Paul don’t exactly scream platonic curiosity. When Tux disappears and all the red herrings begin to surface, including some of that suspicion falling directly on Estevan himself, not to mention the threats of a lawsuit from Tux’s owners, Collin—the drunk—trying to sabotage the stables, and someone very nearly succeeding in making sure Paul doesn’t live long enough to start collecting social security, Estevan slowly begins to emerge as not at all the man he’d like people to believe he is. I loved the chemistry and sexual tension between these guys, and liked the juxtaposition of their respective fears—Paul’s fear of getting back on a horse, with good reason; Estevan’s fear of admitting he’s not as straight as everyone believes he is, and the way both men gentled each other’s anxieties along the way.
Half Pass is a sweet bit of escapist romance fortified by a mystery and a little amateur sleuthing by its heroes. I really liked Paul and Estevan together, loved the way they helped each other find their way, and I liked the little home-grown family that built around Paul at the stables–friends who are ready to not only take care of him but to defend him too. This whole story is just so feel-good with a little bit of drama thrown in for good measure. It’s a book I couldn’t put down—not necessarily because it was so different from anything else I’ve ever read but because Astrid Amara’s storytelling is so engaging and I just enjoyed spending time with its characters.
You can buy Half Pass here: