Tasting Notes, by Cate Ashwood
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (October 26, 2015)
Page Count: 200 pages
Genre: Gay (M/M) Romance
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. *
Joseph “West” Weston has paid for his wealth and success with long hours at the office and no personal life to speak of. Meetings, conference calls, and paperwork dominate his waking hours and have kept him from honoring the promise he made to his late grandfather years before.
After leaving the Marines, Robert “Rush” Coeman returns to his hometown and settles in as a Christmas tree farmer. His life is quiet and simple, and he likes it that way. When West arrives in town and buys Rush’s parents’ vineyard on a whim, that simple life is turned upside down. The animosity between them is palpable, but Rush shelves his preconceived notions in order to protect his parents’ legacy. He agrees to help West learn how to run the vineyard, and Rush soon realizes that love doesn’t necessarily come in the package he expected.
This was a really sweet romance, and I really enjoyed the plot and the characters. West is successful, but his life is completely empty, and he realizes one day that he’s not happy. Stress and over-work finally force him to take a break, and he makes an impulse decision to drive to the Pacific and spread his grandfather’s ashes, as a way to honor the man who raised him. Except he gets distracted on the way by a charming small town, a beautiful winery, and a handsome man named Rush.
I can relate to West in a lot of ways… being over-worked, and desperate for a break, is something that a lot of people can understand. So it’s nice to live out the fantasy through West, who has more than enough money to just take off one day.
Rush was a bit harder to grasp. He has his reasons for acting the way he does, but those reasons aren’t explained until much later, so at first he comes off as extremely unlikable.
But OH MAN, the hatred and sexual tension between Rush and West was so good! Rush is clearly attracted to West, but at the same time can’t stand the kind of person he knows (or thinks) West is. And West is just baffled, but certain that he wants to prove Rush wrong and win over the former Marine.
Rush saw the punch coming, and he couldn’t say why he didn’t react. West’s fist collided with his cheek, throwing Rush backward with the force of it. Even in the blur of anger, Rush had to give the guy credit. He didn’t think he had it in him.
While the initial relationship between Rush and West was fantastic, I feel like the animosity between them resolved way too quickly. I really wanted to see a slower transition from hate to love; the tension from Rush’s hatred really drove the plot and made both characters fascinating, but as soon as it was resolved everything really slowed down and leveled out, making the story drag on until the next point of conflict appeared.
I also feel like the author was a bit too pleased with her research. There were a lot of little details that were thrown in (ie, the exact make and model of West’s car, the specific breed of Rush’s dog, the exact type of helicopter pilot Rush used to be, etc) that seemed like overkill. Details that didn’t factor into the story at all, and didn’t improve the narrative, but instead just seemed awkwardly placed.
On the whole, though, the story was really enjoyable! Rush and West are sweet together, and Rush was great about teaching West to relax and enjoy the little things, while West was eager to learn and thrilled with the new challenges before him.
Worth checking out, especially if you want a sweet romance between two complex characters.
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