Title: Smoky Mountain Dreams
Author: Leta Blake
Pages/Word Count: 425 Pages
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Blurb: Sometimes holding on means letting go.
After giving up on his career as a country singer in Nashville, Christopher Ryder is happy enough performing at the Smoky Mountain Dreams theme park in Tennessee. But while his beloved Gran loves him the way he is, Christopher feels painfully invisible to everyone else. Even when he’s center stage he aches for someone to see the real him.
Bisexual Jesse Birch has no room in his life for dating. Raising two kids and fighting with family after a tragic accident took his children’s mother, he doesn’t want more than an occasional hook-up. He sure as hell doesn’t want to fall hard for his favorite local singer, but when Christopher walks into his jewelry studio, Jesse hears a new song in his heart.
Review: I’m a big fan of Leta Blake, and Smoky Mountain Dreams is another perfect example of why. Here Leta gives us two very real characters – both are flawed and vulnerable – and a love story that feels so natural and beautiful; I quickly fell in love with both Christopher and Jesse.
Christopher is a singer at Smoky Mountain Dreams theme park, and though he does enjoy his job, it’s tiresome always being second fiddle to a drunk who clearly doesn’t appreciate his position, his talent, or his fans. His family life is also certainly less than ideal. With a stepfather who constantly berates and verbally abuses him, and a mother who doesn’t support him, it’s a wonder he has any self-esteem at all. Christopher’s Gran has always been in his corner, though, and he loves her dearly. It is her house on the side of the mountain in Gatlinburg that he calls home, and he visits her regularly at the assisted living facility that is now her home. A desire to get a special gift for his Gran takes Christopher to Jesse Birch’s Jewelry Studio one afternoon, and he is instantly attracted to the owner/artist.
Jesse Birch is a Gatlinburg local who grew up in a very rich family and wanted for nothing, but didn’t really know what family meant, or what it was to be loved, until he ended up at Tim and Nova McMillan’s house one night when he was fifteen years old. Jesse had taken off from his house when his dad caught him making out with another boy in the rec room, and Tim picked him up on the side of the road and asked him to share a meal with them. That’s where he met his best friend, and future wife, Marcy.
When Christopher shows up in Jesse’s life, a few things become clear… He wants Christopher. Badly. Though he did love Marcy, and was definitely attracted to her, he very much prefers being with men. The blurb says that Jesse is bisexual, but it seems pretty clear to me that the only woman Jesse was truly ever attracted to was Marcy and that, as the story progresses, he realizes where his needs have always been, and that Christopher – whose performances Jesse has been following since he started at Smoky Mountain Dreams – is a very natural fit for him. It’s also clear that Jesse and his children desperately need to move on and let Marcy go. It has been five years since a terrible accident left her in a permanent vegetative state; they are all hurting so badly and are in need of a fresh start.
As I said above, Jesse and Christopher’s romance feels very natural. There are obstacles along the way, but nothing feels forced, and there are no easy, tidy solutions here. When Jesse’s daughter Brigid has a major problem with Christopher being in Jesse’s life, things definitely get rocky. And the guys disagree in a BIG way a couple of times. But the author brings things around in a realistic and very satisfying way (I was worried for a moment when things looked to be headed in a horrible, clichéd direction that would have had me raging and throwing my Kindle…but, I should have known better that Leta would never have done that to us).
Christopher’s Gran is a major part of the storyline the entire way through, which was great. I loved her character, and how Christopher “heard” her giving him advice in his mind all the time. Christopher’s brother-in-law, Joe, was a fantastic supporting character who had me laughing out loud a couple of times, so he had to get a mention here. And, of course, the story of Brigid making the origami Cranes was such a gorgeous and important part of the story. I completely loved how that played out at the end.
While technically not a Christmas story, Smoky Mountain Dreams takes place from Halloween right through to Christmas, so it’s a perfect addition to your holiday story lineup!! It’s a fabulous read for any time of year, though, and one I highly recommend!
You can buy Smoky Mountain Dreams here: