Half Pass – Astrid Amara (Samhain Publishing)

Buy it now direct from Samhain Publishing.

Depth and subtlety in character are both essential for
romances—indeed, for any story worth reading. Who can care about a caricature?
And if I don’t care about a character, what’s the point in reading about him?
Even worse is when you see unexplored potential, and that’s what made Astrid
Amara’s Half Pass so tough to get through.

Recently unemployed Paul King has inherited Serenity Stables
from his late aunt. His plan is to turn it around quickly, make a bucket-load of
cash and go back to his old life in San Francisco. But the broken down property
is a tough sell, so he’s stuck mucking out stables and wishing he were
somewhere else—until Olympic horse trainer Estevan Souza comes to town to work
with Tux, a million-dollar horse and Serenity Stables’ last salvation. But when
Tux vanishes, Paul and Estevan are forced to put their heads together to solve
the mystery. And build a relationship.

The main problem here isn’t so much the predictable plot or
telegraphed solution as it is the broad strokes with which these characters are
painted. That’s a particular shame in the case of Paul, who has so much
potential—a stable owner with a horse phobia who loved his aunt but loathed her
business. Estevan is merely a dark, mysterious, closeted figure. We get no
sense of why he’s in love with Paul. He just is. Paul’s helpers around the
stables are just that—helpers. We don’t know why they stay or what makes them
tick.

But the broadest strokes of all are saved for Paul’s cousin
Collin, who also lives in a house on the property. His first words to Paul (and
the reader) are “Hello, fucker.” When you start a character out that angry, you
can’t ratchet him up a few notches when the occasion calls for it. He becomes,
once again, a caricature of hatred with some hastily scribbled explanatory
notes as to the reason for their emnity.

I also found the lack of a sense of place a bit disturbing.
There is no more picturesque place than a stable, and this one seems nearly
antiseptic. It’s supposed to take place in Washington, drenched in the beauty
of the Pacific Northwest. But that doesn’t come through on the page.

That said, if you’re looking for a quick, undemanding read,
you could do worse. The equestrian angle is interesting and if you haven’t read
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short story, “Silver Blaze,” the
mystery might even hold some surprises for you. The sex scene even works pretty
well. But if you’re into motivation, dramatic tension, dynamic characters, and
a setting that works…

…ride on, my friend. Ride on.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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