Kindle Unlimited is great for stress-binging books. After reading (but not reviewing because I still don’t know what to say) Cate C. Wells’ Run Posy Run, I ended up reading another book by Wells, Heavy. After that I gave in and binged all the books about the family Wall. Two of the books, Heavy and Wall, are in the Steel Bones Motorcycle Club series. The other two are the spinoff Stonecut County duology, Hitting the Wall and Against a Wall. I’m reviewing them chronologically rather than in the order I read them.
Wall is a novella featuring a second chance romance between an estranged married couple. After 3 miscarriages, Mona and John were mourning and unable to relate to each other. At the time, John was a firefighter and a member of a lightweight motorcycle club. He confesses to Mona that he has been sexually active with another woman and she kicks him out. A few years later, they still aren’t divorced, but also aren’t in contact. For reasons, Mona needs John’s help with intimidating an asshole. John, who has moved onto the Steel Bones Motorcycle Club (they do construction, organized crime, and murder), has been waiting for a chance to get back into Mona’s life.
I think this is my least favorite of the books, and if I had started here, I wouldn’t have read any further. I’m not particularly a fan of motorcycle club romances, in fact, I’m generally happy to skip the entire motorcycle club/mafia/dark romance archipelago in romancelandia. That said, Cate C. Wells knows how to write a second chance/marriage in trouble romance.
Hitting the Wall is also a second chance romance, but in this case, Kellum Wall and Shay didn’t have a relationship. They had sex at a party. Shay was a minor and got pregnant. Kellum gets back together with his on/off girlfriend and doesn’t give Shay an opportunity to tell him she’s pregnant. When the rumor starts going around that the adult Kellum got the not an adult Shat pregnant, Shay is invited to leave town by Kellum’s father, uncle, and the sheriff. Shay returns a few years later when she has no where else to go, with her daughter in tow. Kellum sees them and recognizes that Shay’s daughter, Mia, looks a lot like his sister, Dina. Mia is also autistic. The proverbial shit hits the fan.
This one was interesting. Kellum comes from a family with money and status in Stonecut County. At the time that he and Shay first have sex, he is an adult who has graduated from high school and is in his first couple of years as a police officer. He becomes a deputy sheriff and respects the current sheriff, who is his godfather. As the book goes on, the blinders come off and he recognizes that the sheriff treats people according to their wealth and race. He also comes to grips with the way his father has allowed his tenants to live in squalor. Kellum spends time examining his personal mythology. There’s a reckoning and Kellum chooses to be a responsible parent and doesn’t attach his support to Shay’s willingness to have a relationship.
Heavy is one of the strangest romances I’ve read, but Wells makes it work. This has a lot of what I hate about motorcycle club romances, but Wells really lets her characters be their own weird selves. Dina Wall needs to murder her uncle and she wants some help burying the body. In the first quarter of the book she offers Heavy Ruth a Strangers on a Train deal – he helps her get away with murder and she gives him information he’s been looking for about a job that went bad a long time ago. All he hears is a threat to his club, so he threatens to kill Dina. Instead they go to Vegas and get married because of spousal immunity (spousal immunity is actually a great motivator for a contemporary marriage of convenience romance).
Dina is on the autism spectrum and I have no idea if this was a good portrayal of an autistic character. I did appreciate that she was a well rounded character who was autistic. As much as I clenched my jaw every time women were referred to as a “sweet butt” or “house mouse,” I appreciate the community Wells’ characters have created. Heavy and Dina are a fun couple to read. They banter with Bible quotes.
Against a Wall finishes up the arc of familial justice and self reflection that’s started in Hitting the Wall. Dina’s twin brother Cash has been kind of a jackass but not truly an antagonist in past books. Dina thinks he’s an ass, but isn’t decided on him as a bad guy. Glenna Dobbs thinks he’s out to get her, and she’s not wrong. Glenna was Dina’s best friend until she suddenly broke off the friendship. Cash took it personally and has been antagonistic towards her since they were 13.
When the book begins, Glenna is having a hard time. The local newspaper owned and operated by Glenna’s father ran an expose on the town sheriff which has led to a Federal investigation. Most of the town has turned against them, resulting in threats and a boycott of the cafe they also own. Gemma’s long time boyfriend broke up with her, but still works with her. And then Cash came into the cafe and loosened the lids on all the sugar containers and embarrassed her in front of her customers.
Against a Wall fits within one of my very least favorite subgenres – bully romance. ‘Hurt people hurt people’ may be true, but I get enough of that in my real life. I don’t particularly want to read about it in a romance. In general. Wells makes me care that Cash always had a thing for Glenna and was locked into a pattern of seeking negative attention that he didn’t know how to get out of. When Cash’s hunting client accidentally shoots her, towns people start congratulating Cash as if it were intentional and a good thing. Cash then proposes that Glenna fake date him so that his popularity mitigates the hostility the town has been feeling. Of course, Cash plans to turn the fake dating into real dating.
I liked that neither Cash nor Glenna become different people, but they change the way they look at each other which then reframes their antagonistic past. As with Kellum, Cash takes off his blinders about the Sheriff and apologizes for not seeing what he should have seen sooner. This one is my favorite in part because of the Cash’s best friend and the dogs.
I’m not sure I can adequately explain why Cate C. Wells works for me. She centers characters I don’t generally want to read – motorcycle clubs, cops, bullies, mafia, and so on. But she makes her characters so human and compelling and she isn’t ra ra-ing for small town America as a place where the good people live. She doesn’t burn down the world to build a better society, but she does let her glance linger on built in and perpetuated power structures. There’s something about the way she lets her characters be messy, difficult, and unapologetically their own selves that works for me.
There are so many content warnings in these books. Violence, murder (on page and in past), rape (in the past), child endangerment, ableism, gendered insults, gun shots, fights, classism, addiction, disability, drug use, alcohol, sex work, racism, emotional abuse.