Review: Striking Sparks by Ari McKay

The stakes are high and the heat is on.

Beau Walker, owner of the Barbecue Shack, needs the help of Jake Parnell, his one-time rival and secret crush, in a televised barbecue competition. Beau is a proud man, but the stakes are high, and smart, sexy Jake is his only hope, even if being around Jake reawakens the attraction he’s fought for years.

Jake left his hometown, determined to build a life somewhere his sexuality wouldn’t hurt his family’s restaurant business—and far away from hunky, obstinate Beau Walker. Then his twin, Josh, is killed, and Jake returns to support his brother’s wife and children. Despite his reservations, he agrees to go head-to-head against Beau on national television. Between stress and grief, as well as pride and determination, only one thing is certain—the heat between Beau and Jake extends well beyond the kitchen.

Okay, now this is so the kind of story that makes me happy. Enemies to friends to lovers with unrequited love just warms my heart and that is what Striking Sparks has to offer.

You don’t have to be friends to feel sparks...
Jake Parnell is one hell of a good guy. He has come back to Buffalo Lick, Texas after leaving 10 years ago to pursue an education and a life in Southern California. He’s done well finding a teaching job at a private school he loves while going for his doctorate. When the unthinkable happens, when his twin Josh - who stayed in their home town to run the family business, Parnell’s Pantry and who was married with 2.5 kids - gets in a car accident and dies, Jake returns home to do the honorable thing and help everyone out.

But Jake, while he was comfortable in California, he has reasons for not welcoming his own homecoming because he is not out in Texas. The only people that know Jake is gay is his immediate family and Beau Walker, his high school rival and the boy he crushed on for far too long. A crush really, that is so deep rooted, you might mistake it for disdain. A disdain that needs an overhaul because Jake finds out Josh was signed up to do a reality show with the Pantry againsy Beau’s Barbeque Shack and well that just means the two rivals are gonna be all up in each other’s spaces for some time.

It was strange that it had taken Beau Walker, of all people, to provoke a positive change before Jake burned himself out completely.

GAH! I really liked both Jake and Beau upon first meeting. I loved that they still fancy one another but neither of them wants to do anything about it. Well, they would if they could leave the past in the past and truly see the men they have become. The story Trisha tells Beau about Jake and prom made me so happy and then his flashback to the realization both he and Jake had was bitter sweet. But Beau, he is one hell of a good guy as well and he is there for Jake when he needs it, even if Jake swears he doesn’t.

Maybe if you kick my ass in the final round, you can spank it afterward.

The setting of the Gourmet Network barbecue cook-off, hosted by Chef Shane Brody and assisted by his husband Richard, was great to show off just who Jake and Beau are now. Jake’s confidence in his cooking was boosted by the attention of Chef Shane and Richard is just the person Jake needs to give him confidence in being who he is along with the rumor mill of the townsfolk in Buffalo Lick. The men, need a chance to really get to know one another and the competition gives them the ability. I have to say, when both Jake and Beau let down their guards and decide to try each other out, they get damn adorable and their flirting was a blast to read.

The relationship moves a bit quick but not so much if you consider they have known one another since high school and the hidden feelings they had haven’t gone away. They are just waiting for a chance, the change of heart to appear so they can move forward with what they really want and what they really want is one another. And really, they have waited long enough.

God, I feel like I’ve wanted you my whole life. You wouldn’t believe the crazy daydreams I came up with as a teenager about how it would be with you.

The supporting characters of the Parnells, the Walkers and the people running the show were all great additions to the story. I loved how Jake thought he had folks fooled but even his mama knew the truth and Beau’s family are so willing to help out when folks need it they melted my heart. Lexy was a strong woman, mother, sister in law and supporter of Jake’s happiness that I couldn’t help but like her and grieve for her as a widow. Really, everything in this made for a lovey read.

I have a tendency to ramble when it comes to this series because it’s so damn good and just the right amount of romance I crave. It’s perfect, it’s sexy, it’s funny at times with riding the line of cheesy but when you’re in love; you get to be silly with the one person that accepts you completely. Am I right?

Striking Sparks was my first book from this writing pair and it won't be my last. If they can make this vegan smile while reading about flesh cooking on grills, they’ve won me over. Jake and Beau were a wonderful couple and I am all for them not wasting any more of the time they have with one another.

Find on Dreamspinner Press or Goodreads!

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