Title and Link: Sticks & Stones
Author: Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban
Publisher URL: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Action/Adventure
Length: Novel (322 pages)
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
Six months after nearly losing their lives to a serial killer in New York City, FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are suffering through something almost as frightening: the monotony of desk duty. When they’re ordered to take a vacation for the good of everyone’s sanity, Ty bites the bullet and takes Zane home with him to West Virginia, hoping the peace and quiet of the mountains will give them the chance to explore the explosive attraction they’ve so far been unable to reconcile with their professional partnership.
Ty and Zane, along with Ty’s father and brother, head up into the Appalachian mountains for a nice, relaxing hike deep into the woods… where no one will hear them scream. They find themselves facing danger from all directions: unpredictable weather, the unrelenting mountains, wild animals, fellow hikers with nothing to lose, and the most terrifying challenge of all. Each other.
FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are back in a new adventure, one year and 4 months after the release of Cut & Run reviewed here. The second book in the series, Sticks & Stones, is a delight from beginning to end with vividly drawn characters, more action and adventure than fans could ever want, hair raising excitement and danger, and emotional highs and lows as the protagonists try to discover what they mean to each other and how to make their dual relationship work.
Sticks & Stones opens with a training exercise in typical Ty & Zane style. They were spending a few weeks in D.C. after enduring 5 months of separation since the end of the Tri State serial killer case. Lots of action and one upmanship between the two guys who are still trying to outdo each other months after their last case together.
Ty is still hot headed and Zane is a little calmer after being close to death and seeing his partner almost killed by a crazed murderer. Ty doesn’t want to admit his feelings for Zane even though he realizes they are drifting apart. He doesn’t know how to fix the problem until an opportunity presents itself when Assistant Director Burns requested that they take some time off to regroup because he was concerned about their ability to work together. In addition, both of them had failed their mental evaluations, which meant they could not be cleared for field work. Burns’ news was was a major blow, but realizing that Zane hadn’t had any time to make plans to spend his unexpected time off, Ty invited him to stay with his family in the mountains of West Virginia. Zane was still under a lot of stress and had not recovered fully from their last case, and although he, too, recognized that things were not right with Ty, he didn’t know what to do to make them better so that they could be partners again, professionally and personally.
This visit turned out to be way too dangerous for both of them, physically and emotionally, but before they could get any kind of resolution to their personal issues they had to go through the fire again.
Ty’s family was very different from what I pictured and I didn’t expect to like most of them as much as I did, especially Deuce, Ty’s brother, who was a standout. Probably the most complex and flawed character was Ty’s father Earl, a difficult character to like. During the week they spent together he was demanding, overbearing, and imposed his will on Ty - I’m not sure I will like him any better if he’s in future books unless he undergoes a personality transplant. The other exceptional character was Mara, Ty’s mother, who kept everyone sane and was soft until she had to be tough in order to save her family. Last, there was Ty’s crazy grandfather Chester who lived in his own world and always had his shovel close by in case of an attack.
Ty, Zane, Deuce and Earl go on a planned hike in the Appalachian mountains and that’s where everything fell apart. After a couple of days of backbreaking trekking they are put in harm’s way because Earl refused to acknowledge the danger they faced, and the need to act in a manner that would protect the lives and safety of everyone, until they ran into a brick wall - vicious armed men who would kill at the drop of a hat, in a place “where no one will hear them scream.”
Meeting Earl illustrated why Ty was almost an emotional cripple, because it was clear that he looked up to this man whose his life was all about duty, who expected blind and unquestioning obedience from his sons.What was amazing was that Ty was another person when his father was around and almost unrecognizable. The confident, intelligent person from Cut & Run disappeared and he became withdrawn, almost subservient to his father, never argued with him even when he knew his judgment was flawed. Why am I stressing Ty’s relationship with his father? Because this dynamic between father and son was a critical element in Sticks & Stones and almost ended Zane’s and Ty’s partnership forever. Once again one of the protagonists is critically injured and I wonder how sustainable this hurt/comfort strategy will be over a series that runs for years, even though they are FBI agents and it is expected that they will be placed in dangerous situations in each upcoming book.
What of the relationship between Ty & Zane? That was the best part of this book as their emotions ran very high and a lot of what was left unsaid in Cut & Run was now out in the open like a wound that never healed. I think this comment defined their relationship -
“As partners they could read each other’s minds, but as lovers – they barely knew each other at all”
There were many firsts as the guys try to understand and unravel their emotions. Has their relationship matured? The answer to that question would be a resounding ‘yes,’ and the vulnerability that was seldom, if ever, seen in Cut & Run, is quite evident in Sticks & Stones. Yes, there is wonderful sex between them in case you were wondering.
Sticks & Stones is a revelation and a game changer between two characters who had gone through so much but found that there was still a long way to go. This book is a great deal about Ty’s emotional journey – being open and admitting his feelings for Zane who also experienced his own epiphany. These two men who were bisexual in Cut & Run had a lot of personal baggage to resolve as well as job related secrets that Ty never shared with Zane. What of Ty and Earl? This is what Ty tried to tell himself in order not to show his deep anguish at the way his father treated him: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” until he found out how wrong he was. Your heart will break for Ty as you gain an understanding of this very complex character and why he is the way he is, as well as the challenges he faced in his life. His relationship with Burns is revealed as well as Burns’ ties to his family. What was remarkable about this story was the emotional depths of the characters, especially Ty who didn’t want to admit his tender feelings for Zane even though he had brought him home “to meet the family.”
It’s my opinion that Sticks & Stones is more than a wonderful follow up to Cut & Run - it’s better! This story is a study of human nature as the two characters’ layers are revealed and their motivations explained, and I think that readers will get a real sense of who they are at this point in their relationship. You will love the ending! Highly recommended. Two thumbs up!
Sticks & Stones is not a standalone book and will be released by Dreamspinner Press on January 25th.