When JUDAH MADDEN flees his tiny suffocating home town in New Zealand for the dream of international ballet stardom, he never intends coming back. Not to Painted Bay. Not to his family’s struggling mussel farm. Not to his jerk of a brother. Not with his entire life plan in shreds. And certainly not into the tempting arms of MORGAN WIPENE, the older, ruggedly handsome fisheries officer who seems determined to screw with Judah’s intention to wallow in peace.
But dreams are fickle things. Shatter them and it’s hard to pick up the pieces. Hard to believe. Hard to start again.
And the hardest thing of all? Finding the courage to trust in love and build a new dream where you least expected to find it.
In Off Balance, the first book in her new series of contemporary romances, author Jay Hogan takes a big geographical leap from one end of New Zealand to the other, from the lakes and mountains of the Southland (the setting for her recent Southern Lights books) to the coastal region of subtropical Northland at the northern tip of the North Island, and the small town of Painted Bay. It’s an emotional, powerful story about two very different men who end up back in their home town following tragedy and heartbreak, and how they learn to come to terms with the past and move forward with their lives while also working out how – and if – they can manage to do that together.
Judah Madden got out of Painted Bay as soon as he possibly could, having spent sixteen years never fitting in because he was too flamboyant, too gay and too unwilling to be anything other than who and what he was. His ticket out was his talent as a dancer; his parents supported him both morally and financially, and helped him to follow his dreams of making it as a ballet dancer, and when we meet him, he’s twenty-five and has already made himself a name as a world-class performer. But his world comes tumbling down when – during a performance – he has a severe dizzy spell which causes him to fall and then pass out. Shortly after this, he is diagnosed with Menière’s Disease – a chronic illness which affects the inner ear, causing (among other things) vertigo, tinnitus and potentially, hearing loss. It’s a condition for which there is no cure.
With no alternative left open to him, Judah returns to Painted Bay to lick his wounds and try to work out what to do next. The Menière’s means his future employment prospects are severely limited – he can’t drive, he can’t operate machinery – and in any case, the only thing he’s ever trained for, the only thing he’s ever been good at is ballet… which is no longer an option.
Around five years before this, another man whose life had been devastated by tragedy arrived in Painted Bay, needing to get away from the suffocating concern of his family while he worked through his grief. Fisheries officer Morgan Wipene lost his wife Sally to a particularly aggressive form of cancer, and it hit him hard, but over the years, he’s learned to process his grief and accept her loss, and while he still feels her absence at times, it’s a gentle comfort rather than a searing pain. After five years, he’s ready to move on; he’s always known he’s bisexual, but has mostly been with women, and had certainly reckoned without being knocked sideways by a gorgeous, smart-mouthed, but obviously deeply wounded (and much younger) man who is not coping well with whatever has brought him back to Painted Bay.
You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.