Title: Braving the Rapids (Rocky Mountain Boys: Book Two)
Author: Brandon Witt
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 256 Pages
At a Glance: Trust me when I say this author does a sense of community better than most, and allows for mistakes and real life to intervene. Braving the Rapids is a worthy addition to this series, and has me eager to see who will be the focus of the next novel.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Estes Park native Todd Fleece works hard to honor his obligations to family and the businesses he inherited, but only his friends and the horses at his ranch brighten Todd’s life. In fighting his attraction to his best friend’s ex-boyfriend, Todd has focused solely on his work, leaving little room in his life for finding love.
Matt Abel’s reckless youth put him on a path to a self-destructive life—his most painful failure was being a horrible father. He excels at extreme sports and living on the edge. Now back in Estes Park and teaching white-water rafting, Matt tries to reconnect with his mother and his grown daughter. When he runs into his ex’s friend Todd, Matt longs for more than a fling.
But achieving happiness isn’t simple, not with Todd’s family conflicts and Matt struggling not to slide back into alcoholism. With hurdles threatening to drive them apart, Todd and Matt try to find the courage to brave the rapids and face a future together….
Review: Braving the Rapids is author Brandon Witt’s second Rocky Mountain Boys novel, which takes us back to beautiful Colorado and Estes Park. It’s here that a group of friends, all gay, have formed a social club they fondly refer to as the Gay Boy Christmas Dinner Group or GBCD. Todd has been a member of the group since its founding, and is best friends with one other member, Steve. Having inherited a horse ranch along with another business from his late father, Todd does his best to cater to the summer clientele while honoring all the many obligations he has to a family who are a handful, to say the least.
Todd and an older sister are part of their father’s first marriage, and have never fully meshed with his second wife and her daughter. After their father’s, the family came to terms with the fact that all the businesses and monies attached to them went solely to Todd, with little more than the house being given to his stepmother. Todd rectified this by insisting the estate be split evenly, and bought out the others, taking on an incredible burden of making these businesses work, or face financial ruin. He now lives on a tight budget, but has managed to turn enough profit to keep things afloat. Unfortunately, his stepmother has been steadily declining with dementia, and has major episodes where she essentially becomes unhinged and causes a scene fairly regularly, accusing Todd of stealing the businesses. His stepsister does little to help, steadfastly denying that their mother is in decline and needs round-the-clock care.
For Todd, life is balanced delicately between falling into a pretty dark place of despair and attempting to stay above all the drama, and his sex life has definitely taken a back seat in all the turmoil. Add to that a failed relationship that became rather abusive due to an alcoholic partner, and you can understand why Todd prefers the company of his horses rather than even considering a new boyfriend. He maintains that resolve until Matt Abel shows back up in town, and all the old feelings of lust and longing for the guy return full force.
Matt Abel is the polar opposite of Todd; leaving the care of his baby daughter to the hands of a teenage girl who would die three years later due to drug addiction; drifting through life until a stint in the military gave him some focus, only to have alcohol derail that career; and now, an extreme sport addict who drifts from one job to another, Matt has finally decided to try and ingratiate himself back into his grown daughter’s life, at the encouragement of his mother. But that road is paved with a great deal of disappointment and anger on the part of his daughter, who is so used to a father who disappears when the least little thing gets rough.
To make matters worse, the last time Matt was in town, he ended an eight-month relationship with Steve, Todd’s best friend. All the time they were together, Todd fought his growing attraction to Matt, and now that both men are free to pursue something, Todd cannot overcome the guilt he feels that it would be a betrayal of his friendship with Steve to date Matt. But there is more to Todd’s misgivings concerning the wild Matt Able than just his loyalty to Steve. Matt is an alcoholic, and a man who never stays in one place too long, and avoids putting down roots of any kind, and that sends off all kinds of warning bells for Todd. The two men are definitely attracted to one another, but neither can overcome their commitment phobia and mountains of guilt.
A beautiful setting, a lovely group of men who care for and take care of one another, and the possibility of romance is the ideal mix for a romance novel. Brandon Witt manages to establish all three with a deft hand. The layers in this story are a bit staggering, as the past and present chaos that is Matt and Todd’s lives unfolds, but the author takes great care in developing the backstories of each man. There is so much genuine hesitation for both men as they attempt to understand their feelings for each other, and whether it is worth pursuing them. Neither Todd nor Matt have had the greatest success when it comes to long-term relationships, and to say they are both a little gun shy is an understatement. But, more often than not, this is a classic case of not enough honest communication and jumping to conclusions that just aren’t realistic, particularly on Todd’s part.
Matt has a terrible track record, both with his daughter and with his love interests. His struggle with alcohol only serves as the catalyst for most people to view him as shiftless and irresponsible. Now, when he is trying his best to clean up his act, it seems he cannot catch a break—until Todd finally finds the courage to give him a chance. The best parts of this novel were how Todd’s friends turned the tables on him when they were more than willing to give Matt a pass and a needed second chance. Unlike Todd, they were not concerned with how Steve might react to Todd dating Matt, but more concerned with having Todd leave behind all his guilt and fears and take that step toward his own happiness.
Accordingly, although Matt’s mother, Rosalind, could be a bit over the top, it was her relentless belief in her son and her constant love for him that kept Matt afloat. She was his cheerleader, his kick in the rear when needed, and his friend, all rolled into one. Perhaps the most realistic character was Matt’s daughter, Jordan, who was also the most well-written, in my opinion.
Struggling to move beyond the attempted rape she experienced in the first installment of this series, and now grappling with the anger and hurt that has been fostered over the years by an absentee dad, she was portrayed as hardhearted, but for all the right reasons. I really appreciated how it wasn’t an easy battle between her and Matt, and how the author chose to make Matt really work for this relationship to even begin again. There was so much hurt to overcome, and to make Jordan an easy conquest for Matt would have truly diminished this vital plot point.
This is not an easy novel by any means. There are a tremendous number of sub-plots that are handled really well but play into the main action a great deal. It is far from a bed of roses in Estes Park, and the men who live there must grapple with a town bully, their own past histories of less than stellar relationships, and the idea of being business owners in a seasonal resort town. All in all, it is a happening place, and the GBCD will have to be there for each other in the roughest of times. Trust me when I say this author does a sense of community better than most, and allows for mistakes and real life to intervene. It is so well done, and this novel shines above all the rest in this aspect. Braving the Rapids is a worthy addition to this series, and has me eager to see who will be the focus of the next novel.
You can buy Braving the Rapids here:
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