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Release Review: Fighter: Carol Lynne

Fighter (The Brick Yard, #1)
Carol Lynne
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Released February 9, 2017
Buy Pride PublishingAmazon | B&N | Kobo

For Lucky Gunn, the hardest fight of his life happens outside the cage. On the south side of Chicago sits an old gym called The Brick Yard. Ten years ago, on a bitterly cold day, Lucky Gunn wandered into The Brick Yard dressed in a threadbare jacket, looking for refuge. He hadn't expected the owner, Tony Brick, to welcome him with a job and a place to sleep when Lucky's abusive and drug addicted mother made it too dangerous to return home.

Dray was a gay man living in a world of straight fighters. When his secret was exposed to the media, he dropped out, giving Lucky a piece of advice: if you want to make it as a MMA fighter, bury the part of yourself that won't be accepted. Lucky discovered the cage was the perfect place to keep his demons at bay, but when he learns his trainer and mentor, Brick, is suffering from end-stage cancer, he begins to spiral out of control.

After eight years, Dray returns to help Lucky and Brick deal with the devastating news. With Dray so close, Lucky's old desires return, and Dray teaches him more than how to fight. Torn between his career and the passion he feels for Dray, Lucky's past demons resurface in full force, threatening his sanity and his budding relationship with Dray. Despite leaving the cage years earlier, Dray finds himself in the battle of his life with the only man he's ever loved. Will he stand and fight, or walk away like he did years earlier?

When I read the blurb for Carol Lynne’s Fighter, I almost passed it up, not because it sounds angsty (it definitely does, and the book itself certainly is), but because I worried that there were so many sources of angst that I would find it overdone. But the thought of how well such angst might translate into heat and passion between a pair of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters was too much for me to ignore. Overall, this turned out to be a compelling read, though, perhaps surprisingly, I enjoyed it more for the story than for the pairing.

To say that Lucky Gunn’s childhood in Chicago was rough is an understatement. Home consisted of an abusive, drug-addicted mother and a revolving door of mostly losers and junkies she used and slept with to get money for more. It was a place where Lucky had to be the grown-up from a very young age, or they would have been out on the street. On a frigid winter day, Lucky seeks refuge at a gym called The Brick Yard, a place that becomes a safe haven for him, and the owner, who goes by Brick, quickly becomes a father figure for the boy. Dray Cruz was the most successful fighter to come out of The Brick Yard and had quite a following in the UFC until his closeted homosexuality was revealed to the hypermasculine world of MMA fighting. Stung by the betrayal and the negative reaction by his fans, he quits fighting and leaves Chicago so as not to tarnish The Brick Yard’s reputation further, a fact that left a then-teenaged Lucky scarred over losing his crush and learning the lesson to keep his own sexuality hidden. As Lucky grew up, he discovered fighting helped him deal with his troubled youth and his attraction to men, but when Dray returns nearly a decade later to help Lucky deal with The Brick Yard upon the news of Brick’s terminal illness, all Lucky’s demons come back to haunt him, threatening to destroy more than just himself.

See what I mean? Lots of angst from lots of different places. It needs to be noted first that there are a couple of potential triggers in this book, both of which I’ve hinted at already: if imagery/memories of past child abuse or if you are bothered by the death of a prominent (in this case, secondary) character, you might want to pass on Fighter. With that out of the way, I will say that the story lives up to its potential for emotional drama without being over-the-top. In Lucky’s case, yes, there is a lot of it—almost too much, really—and it keeps piling on, but it all goes toward explaining why he behaves the way he does. Dray, too, has some demons, but they really only manifest themselves in his desire not to be the cause of Lucky being outed while he’s fighting. The big reveals in the book all worked toward keeping me in the story and making me pull for the characters to succeed.

The story contains a plethora of secondary characters that tie back to the gym owner in some way, but it’s more than just a community feel, it’s essentially a family. For fear of spoiling some of the plot, I will refrain from delving into it more deeply, but for the most part, the author is successful in handling this during her storytelling. Unfortunately, there are times where it felt like the author had too many side things going on that while they served to move the plot forward, they weren’t all necessarily very well tied up by the end of the story—both Lucky’s mother and Dray’s family, for example, felt like unfinished stories. It’s possible, I suppose, that these storylines could come back in future books of the series in order to allow the author to bring Lucky and Dray back as secondary characters who actually have a point to the plot, but time will tell. And even if they aren’t, this is just a small complaint on my part.

There is one other big concern I had while reading the book. While I liked both Lucky and Dray as characters, had no trouble understanding why they were attracted to each other, and generally felt the connection between them, the intimate scenes between them were disappointing overall. With all the angst—and especially because they’re fighters!—I was expecting the sex scenes to be a way for them to release some of these heavy emotions, and that they would be hot-as-fuck doing so together. But the potential never translated to the page, in my opinion. The scenes were often short and never set the page on fire. We’re talking hunky, aggressive men in a romance…gotta gimme the goods and make it smutty! Perhaps I’m being a little harsh, but this fact is what kept the novel from being up there among the best I’ve read.

Fighter is my first exposure to Carol Lynne’s writing. In spite of what I felt was the missed potential to make the novel truly sizzle, the plot carried the story enough to keep me reading and enjoying it. The final 15% of the novel really does a great job setting the story up for at least one additional story, and it’s one I look forward to.

The author and/or publisher generously provided me a complimentary copy of Fighter in exchange for this fair and honest review.

Carol Lynne
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An avid reader for years, one day Carol Lynne decided to write her own brand of erotic romance. While writing her first novel, Branded by Gold, Carol fell in love with the M/M genre. Carol juggles between being a full-time mother and a full-time writer. With well over one hundred releases, one thing is certain, Carol loves to keep busy writing sexy cowboys, shifters, bodyguards, vampires and everything in between. Although series books are her passion, Carol enjoys penning the occasional stand-alone title.

As founder and President of GRL Retreat, Inc., Carol helps organize the annual GayRomLit Retreat. Now in its sixth year, GayRomLit is an annual retreat that brings together the people who create and celebrate LGBT romance for a one-of-a-kind, must-attend gathering of dynamic, informal, and diverse fun.

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