Review: Block and Strike by Kelly Jensen

Jacob Kendricks is three months out of prison, estranged from his daughter, and ready to get his life on track. Taking care of the bum curled up on his doorstep isn’t part of the plan. When he realizes the man has been assaulted, Jake takes him to the hospital, where he learns that Max is his downstairs neighbor… and that he could really use a friend. Keeping Max in the friend-zone would be easier if he wasn’t so damned cute.

Maxwell Wilson has been bullied for years, and the only person who ever cared lives too far away to come to his rescue. Now his upstairs neighbor is offering support. Max remains cautious, suspecting he is little more than a project for the handsome Jake. When he learns Jake has had boyfriends as well as girlfriends, Max has to reevaluate his priorities—and muster the courage to take a chance at love.

Just when a happy future is within their grasp, life knocks them back down. A devastating blow leaves Max lower than ever and Jake wrestling with regret. They both have to find the strength to stand on their own before they can stand together.

Recently released from prison, Jake Kendricks is focused on getting his life back on track, and being able to be a part of his daughter’s life. He’s working hard to stay out of trouble, but that becomes difficult when he finds his downstairs neighbour, Max Wilson, has been assaulted on their doorstep.

As Max slowly heals, Jake finds himself falling for the quiet younger man. Max feels the same, finding in Jake the happiness he’s never had. But both men have their demons, and Jake’s past comes knocking before the two can have their happy ending.

I’m a big fan of Kelly Jensen and Jenn Burke’s sci-fi Chaos Station series, so I was excited to read a contemporary MM book from Jensen. ‘Block and Strike’ delivers a solid slow-burn hurt/comfort contemporary gay romance.

Jake’s story is revealed slowly. The circumstances of his imprisonment and family life aren’t very clear at first, so I just had to trust that he didn’t do something that I would find completely unforgivable.

Jake was in no way the stereotypical angry-at-the-world character that I often find in MM books dealing with prison, but was instead well-rounded and multi-dimensional. He won me over with his underlying need to protect and care for his loved ones. Underneath the hard exterior was a big old softie.

Max was in so many ways the complete opposite of Jake. He needed someone on his team, someone who would put him first. He struggles with his sexuality and self-esteem. I wanted to wrap him up in a blanket. But whatever his setbacks might have been, he was in no way a doormat. He had an inner strength that just needed some flaming.

I think what I liked most about this book is how imperfect the MCs were. They made mistakes, which made them realistic and ordinary. I had no trouble connecting to either Max or Jake.

The romance is very gradual and felt entirely authentic. Jake and Max become friends before becoming anything more. They connect through shared self-defence classes and quiet dinners. The emotional and physical chemistry is certainly there in the background, but the MCs take it slow.

I thought the pacing worked well. It made the romance believable. I got to really see Jake and Max fall in love. They had had their stumbling blocks, but I had no worries that they would make things work. It wasn’t easy, but Max and Jake build each other up and defy the odds.

However, I wasn’t a fan of the family drama, with Kate, Jake’s ex, and Dominic. I get that it isn’t always the case, but “once an abuser, always an abuser” is hard to ignore. Particularly because I wasn’t convinced that Dominic had really changed. It just seemed like the classic abuse cycle, with the victim unable to leave and the abuser making empty promises.

Also, I didn’t like that the men who hurt Max got away with it. Everything was just swept under the rug, which left a bitter taste.

Overall though, I enjoyed ‘Block and Strike’. I could have done without the family drama, but the slow burn romance was the mix of sweet yet angsty that I look for. It was an often painful journey, but Jake and Max get their brilliant happy ever after.

Find on Dreamspinner Press or Goodreads!

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