Review of Home the Hard Way, by Z. A. Maxfield

Home the Hard Way

The nice folks over at Netgalley sent me an ARC of Home the Hard Way, by Z. A. Maxfield.

Description from Goodreads:
Dare Buckley has come home—or at least, he’s come back to Palladian, the small town he left as a teenager. After a major lapse in judgment forced him to resign from the Seattle PD, Palladian is the only place that’ll hire him. There’s one benefit to hitting rock bottom, though: the chance to investigate the mystery of his father’s suicide.

Dare also gets to reacquaint himself with Finn Fowler, whose childhood hero worship ended in uncomfortable silence when Dare moved away. But Finn isn’t the same little kid Dare once protected. He’s grown into an attractive, enigmatic stranger who neither wants nor needs what Dare has to offer.

In fact, Dare soon realizes that Finn’s keeping secrets—his own and the town’s. And he doesn’t seem to care that Dare needs answers. The atmosphere in Palladian, like its namesake river, appears placid, but dark currents churn underneath. When danger closes in, Dare must pit his ingenuity against his heart, and find his way home the hard way.

I’m having a hard time deciding how I feel about this book. I finished it last night, with time to review it, but waited until today in order to consider my own response to it. You see, I can’t decide if I didn’t like certain aspects of the story full stop or if I just didn’t like that it wasn’t the story I wanted it to be (if that distinction makes any sense outside of my head). 

Before I talk more about that let me add here that I like erotica. Not that I would qualify this as erotica, there isn’t that much sex in it. But my point is that I have no problem with sex in books. I like a lot of m/m romances. I also like finding a little surprise kink thrown into either one. So, my complaint isn’t based just on not liking D/s, BDSM, rope and/or pain play in the book. (Though, I have to admit, anytime a character refers to something by its name, like ‘pain play,’ it feels too proper to be realistic to me. It rings the same cringe-bell as stiff dialogue in my head. But that’s a whole ‘nother matter altogether.)

Having said all that, I didn’t like the BDSM, etc. aspect of this book. I think it was probably well written; that’s not my complaint. And it was kinda hot; that’s not my beef either. It just didn’t feel natural in the story. This is the first Z. A. Maxfield book I’ve ever read, so I’m not coming from a place of comparative knowledge. But to me it FELT like it was all thrown in just to catch readers from the current D/s popularity wave. I don’t know if it really was, but that’s how it felt to me.

You see, Dare comes home to Palladian with no discernible interest in being dominated in any fashion. Doesn’t even seem to be consciously aware of the lifestyle. But on meeting up with Finn he immediately starts wanting things he’s never wanted before. He allows Finn control he’d never previously even considered giving up and he does it with no discussion, explanation or even verbal request (from either party). Now, consent is very clearly established, as are stop words and such. I don’t mean anything like that. I just mean there must have been some psychic communication going on for Finn to know what Dare wanted and for Dare to know Finn could/would provide it, especially on Dare’s part.

I did like Dare and Finn. Don’t get me wrong. I liked them. I just kept thinking that the things they were doing didn’t fit the otherwise sweet romance that was trying desperately to establish itself. This is also were my ‘did I just not like it’ or ‘did I not like that the blurb sent me in expecting something else’ internal debate comes in. Either way, it was jarring to me. 

Then there was the whole Fraser twist. Surprisingly, I also like Fraser. I had fewer problems with he and Finn’s activities than Finn and Dare’s. It felt more natural there, maybe because it had had years to develop. However, unless there is going to be a sequel that deals with Fraser and his issues I’d have to call it a giant loose end. 

I also liked the, I believe the phrase is penetration politics. Dare is your average hulking police alpha (as is Fraser), Finn is as you would expect. He’s smaller, finer boned, prettier, gayer (or at least more openly so). Based on m/m norms you would expect Dare & Fraser to top almost exclusively. It was nice to see this trope played with.

The mystery was a good one. It wasn’t too hard to figure the historic aspect of it out. It was pretty obvious, actually. But that obviousness just made the part happening in ‘real-time’ more interesting because you had this tantalising part of the puzzle that Dare didn’t. 

The writing and editing were both pretty good. I was a bit bothered by all the full names. Palladian is meant to be a pretty small town and everyone’s supposed to have known each other since childhood. So I can’t imagine they’d so often need a full name to identify someone. I also thought the author had a few catchall phrases she repeated (the plug & socket comparison, for example). But really these are minuscule complaints in the grand scheme of things. 

I’m feeling fairly torn about how I feel or how I want to rate this book. So, I’m splitting the difference with a 3 and a bit.

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