"Saddle Up," by A.M. Arthur
Contemporary Gay (M/M) Romance
Reyes Caldero keeps his past buried deep and his emotions buried deeper. But what he doesn’t say he always makes up for with his actions. When the hot chef he once saved from an abusive ex turns up at Clean Slate Ranch, the quiet cowboy is happy to act on their sizzling chemistry, even if he’s not ready to share his secrets—or his heart.
Miles Arlington needs to get the hell out of San Francisco, and heading north for a job near Clean Slate Ranch seems like just the thing. It doesn’t hurt that his secret crush slash onetime rescuer happens to work at the ranch. Miles has never been one for the outdoors, but the superhot Reyes has him ready to saddle up.
Reyes is happy to keep things casual, even though his heart has other ideas. And when Miles is forced to confront his past again, Reyes and Miles will have to put all their trust in each other if they want any chance at building a future together.
I’m going to preface this review with the fact I went into this book not knowing it was part of a continuing miniseries. While it does a decent job of standing alone plot wise, I think quite a few of my “issues” with the read had to do with things related to it being part of a series I wasn’t previously invested in. I might not have perceived certain items as problematic if I had an attachment to the side characters and their world already.
That being said, let’s dive in, shall we? This week, I read Saddle Up by A.M. Arthur. It’s part of the Clean Slate Ranch miniseries from Carina Press. Ms. Arthur is a well-established and successful author, with books from Carina, Dreamspinner Press, SMP Swerve, and Briggs-King Books.
Our two heroes are Miles and Reyes, and I will admit, I adored both of them. Ms. Arthur certainly does a good job of building broken men, and their backstories were unique and heart wrenching. I was rooting for them from the get-go to get together, and the development of their relationship was satisfying and far from insta-love (a personal pet peeve, so yay!)
There were quite a few side characters—almost to the point of overwhelming, considering I was just meeting all of them—and I had a hard time at first getting settled into the story because so many names kept flying my way. There was also a significant amount of info dumping, especially at the beginning, that I gather had to do with previous plot lines from prior novels in the series. I could have done without pretty much all of that, as it had little if anything to do with the present story, and really bogged things down. The beginning dragged, and I think the biggest reason for that was because so much of it was dedicated to backstory.
I’m also going to be brutal here and say, aside from the excessive exposition at the beginning, I also think the story itself started in the wrong place. The main characters don’t even get on page together until maybe 15% into the book. Again, most of that 15% was dedicated to backstory and minor scenes with little to no importance. Anything we learned during that time would have been much better interwoven in an organic fashion throughout the novel rather than shoved rather heavy-handedly down our throats right out of the gate. Again, perhaps if I had a prior connection with these characters, I wouldn’t feel as I do.
Another thing that struck me as odd—and might have something to do with the series I can’t relate to as a first time reader—was the introduction of a third POV around the 20% mark. Mack, who is Reyes’ best friend and Miles’ best friend’s boyfriend, made a sudden and jarring appearance… with no apparent purpose. Nothing we learned from his very brief scene needed to come from him (any and all of it could have come from either of the main POV characters) and wound up being just another opportunity to info dump. Then, he showed up twice more (for a grand total of only three occurrences) with barely a page or two to his name each time.
Not one of the three times his POV appears does anything happen of any great import. None of it needed to come from him and, in fact, could very easily be removed entirely from the book and not a thing would be missing. This was one of the most glaringly confusing things about this story, and it made me wonder: does Mack make appearances in all the novels as a POV character? Does it serve a specific purpose I don’t understand because I haven’t read the rest of the series? Who knows. Maybe. But it was disconcerting and bizarre either way.
My final “gripe” has to do with the black moment and its resolution. I’m not going to go into detail, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say this: There were some seriously overblown reactions and an unsatisfactory resolution. Then, just, bam, happily ever after and it’s over.
But… aside from that, I did enjoy the read, which is really all that matters, right? I’m approaching this from a writer’s perspective, so I’m watching out for things most readers don’t even know to look for. (I remember those blissful days when I was a clueless reader who didn’t understand the mechanics of good writing and storytelling… writerly knowledge has ruined more than a few of my favorite books, trust me.)
Ms. Arthur does a beautiful job at world building, and the side characters—while overwhelming in sheer number at first—were unique and did add quite a bit to the story as a whole. There was an agreeable amount of natural conflict throughout the book; the main romance arc (until the end) was well done and believable; and the characters are well fleshed out.
Overall, this really was a pleasant read. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fan of A.M. Arthur, but also to anyone who enjoys m/m romance and might be looking for a light read with quirky, sexy, and adorable leads.
Saddle Up is available for pre-order or can be purchased for immediate enjoyment on or after its release date, September 17th, 2018!
Until next time,