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Review - A Tarnished Strength (Pickleville Book 4) by April Kelley

This book is an MM Small Town Romance, (Pickleville Book 4) There are several books to the series, but I believe they are all, like this one, standalone stories.

This one started off strong. I picked it up because of the blurb. Bad boy meets nice bar owner and sparks fly, amidst lots of historical angst, in a small town setting.

And by strong, I meant, the Prologue was great. Searing scenes of familial abuse, the hero drinking too much, great descriptions of his trailer park life as a young man looking out for his younger brothers, and ending up in prison for a homophobic crime. Great. Sign me up. Then everything seemed to go tits up.

Unfortunately, the Prologue was the best part of the book for this humble reader. There were several things that ground my gears, but I appreciate a couple of these are personal preferences.

First off, I know it's hard to have continuity with characters over a series, with each story being standalone. I guess it assumes previous knowledge, so if you picked the book up cold, like I did, several things might not quite add up. That's fair enough. I can live with that.

The second thing, which I struggle with, to be honest, is this is an Everyone Is Gay story, I guess so that they can have their own stories over a series, but three brothers, all gay, and very few women in the story at all? Also, there is always one homophobe, who is a woman. In these kind of books, women are either bitches or saints, no middle ground. I haven't read the other books, so it could be different in those, but those unspoken tropes put this story strictly in the "rose-tinted romance" category, which I tend to avoid if I can.

This alone makes the amount of heavy themes that were crammed into one shortish (160 pages) novel, incongruous in the extreme. Self-harm, mental health, being hospitalised, bully being forgiven, abuse, PTSD, virgin MC, domestic violence, and all of it kind of lumped together in a kind of squishy, easily-fixed package. Hmmm....

So Brad wants to restore his reputation, working as a handyman. He gets called to virgin bar owner, Kendrick's work, where there is a water leak. Several awkward conversations later, shy Kendrick kisses Brad. Way to go, Kendrick! But then he seems to undergo a magical transformation on their first date, where 'shy virgin' Ken turns into 'man slut wants to hit third base on first date,' Kendrick. Even Brad comments, without any irony, how much of a transformation Kendrick has gone through in the course of one date.

To be honest, I wanted to DNF this book several times.

1) On account of the dialogue, where Kendrick will say a sentence, then think about what he's said for a couple of sentences before Brad replies to him. This makes for clunky speech that doesn't flow at all, and interrupts any chemistry between the characters.

2) The boys "turn," so often, I began to feel dizzy and,

3) An over-abundance of minutae which I really didn't need. Here's a sample.

A black napkin dispenser and salt and pepper shakers sandwiched menus, holding them upright. Brad grabbed one and put it on the table for them to share. Kendrick picked it up and leaned into Brad so they both could see.

"I want a milkshake, but I know I won't be able to drink it and have a burger and fries too. Too much food." Kendrick met his gaze with a smile. "Want to share one with me?"

"Sure, baby."

"Which flavor would you like?"

"I'm easy. You choose."

"Strawberry." Kendrick held the menu for Brad. "Do you know what you're having?"

Brad nodded. "Burger and fries sound good to me too." And no one really went to the diner for anything else. That had changed little given what sat on the occupied tables. The diner tried to push other things, like meatloaf that was on special and a fish basket, but they weren't very successful. Or hadn't been in the past.

I could go on, but I'm half-asleep just typing this out. I don't care about the sodding meatloaf! Unless one of the characters nearly dies from meatloaf poisoning, or the said meatloaf gets yeeted out the window to stop some homophobe bullying the main characters, I DON'T CARE.

Okay, I've said enough. I'm moving on...


This is a rerelease. It has been rewritten and reedited with added content. Opposites attract when the timid bar owner asks the resident bad boy out on a date.

Brad Flynn’s reputation doesn’t change just because he has. Prison might not have been fun, but he’d made the most of it. Since his release, he’s tried to make the most out of his freedom as well. His handyperson business is taking off, but his clients are in neighboring towns.

When local bar owner, Kendrick Ashby, calls him to fix a leaky roof, he doesn’t expect the attraction he feels to go anywhere. Kendrick’s violent past doesn’t make asking him out on a date a simple task. Can Brad be brave enough to start over?


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