5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Jules, TJ Klune

Review: How to be a Normal Person by TJ Klune

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Title: How to be a Normal Person

Author: TJ Klune

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 290 Pages

At a GlanceI love so hard that this book exists.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Gustavo Tiberius is not normal. He knows this. Everyone in his small town of Abby, Oregon, knows this. He reads encyclopedias every night before bed. He has a pet ferret called Harry S. Truman. He owns a video rental store that no one goes to. His closest friends are a lady named Lottie with drag queen hair and a trio of elderly Vespa riders known as the We Three Queens.

Gus is not normal. And he’s fine with that. All he wants is to be left alone.

Until Casey, an asexual stoner hipster and the newest employee at Lottie’s Lattes, enters his life. For some reason, Casey thinks Gus is the greatest thing ever. And maybe Gus is starting to think the same thing about Casey, even if Casey is obsessive about Instagramming his food.

But Gus isn’t normal and Casey deserves someone who can be. Suddenly wanting to be that someone, Gus steps out of his comfort zone and plans to become the most normal person ever.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

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Review: So, I just finished my first TJ Klune book – *waits for massive collective gasp to die down* – and, it was…utterly fantastic. It was so fantastic that I had to immediately go back in and read several passages over again. It was so fantastic that I have a strong feeling that even if I had read other TJ Klune books, this one would still be my favorite. I loved this book like crazy – for so many reasons.

First of all – there’s Gus. Gustavo Tiberius is “abnormal and weird and strange.” And, that’s what makes him so perfect. Gus has never left Abby, Oregon, was best friends with his dad, and is pretty outspoken about his aversion to people and basically any social situation. One of the things that instantly endeared Gus to me was that he reminded me a lot of my son, who is also a giant bag of awesome quirks; I loved him more with every page.

Next, there’s Casey. New in town, and working at his aunt’s coffee shop, Casey is instantly smitten when he meets Gus. Casey is an asexual stoner hipster. This description – repeated many times throughout the book – cracked me up every time. In fact, the word hipster is in the book eighty-one times. Now, most people probably have an idea what a hipster is… but, in case you might find it helpful, here you go…Hipster, as defined by Urban Dictionary: Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20s and 30s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter… Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often seen wearing vintage and thrift store inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick rimmed glasses. According to Gus, Casey and his friends definitely fit this bill – and, initially, Gus is NOT impressed.

Though Gus is outraged at first about Lottie not telling him about her nephew, he quickly finds himself unable to stop thinking about Casey, and, in fact, wanting to change himself for the other man. Wanting to be “normal”. So, where does he head for help? The internet, of course! Oh, man…the website he finds and decides to use as his go-to for the voice of “normal” is beyond hilarious. There were several times where I couldn’t even fathom what I was reading, and was terrified at what advice Gus would take to heart next!

Somehow, though, simply by being his own amazing self, the boy that Pastor Tommy raised, Gus finds a way to make it work with Casey. He manages to connect with Casey, even though intimacy is difficult for them both for different reasons. He learns a lot about himself in the process, and begins to really heal and find happiness again after the devastating loss of his father.

I have to say something quickly about Pastor Tommy…I don’t know if there ever has been a time when I loved a character so damn much who wasn’t even in the book. We get to know him through a series of scenes from Gus’s memory, and he became so real to me, so amazing, that I could feel the pain from his loss. Some of them were funny of course – how can there not be humor with an old hippie stoner raising a kid? – but mostly they were beautifully heartwarming and moving, the last few even bringing tears to my eyes. Pastor Tommy was a kickass dad.

And, now we’ve come to the ‘this-review-is-getting-soooo-long-and-there-are-too-many-fantastic-things-to-mention’ montage. So, here we go…more epic things you would miss out on if you didn’t read this book…Stoner Scrabble…a ferret called Harry S. Truman…Gus handling Casey’s friends like a boss…a Vespa gang who are possible lesbian sister-lovers…a know-it-all inspirational calendar…and, again, Pastor Tommy.

There were so many layers to this story; it was equal parts hilarious, touching, informative (heh), and romantic. I’m sure there will be some out there who will say, “There’s no sex.  How can there be romance?” There is TONS of romance. It may be even more romantic because there is no sex. Casey and Gus are completely swoon-worthy.

I don’t know how TJ Klune ever got through this manuscript. I know some authors go through the same emotions while writing that we go through while reading – in this case: hysterical laughter, eye rolling, swooning, and tears, to name just a handful – which must have made writing this one an adventure and a joy. I know reading it sure was. I love so hard that this book exists.

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You can read How to be a Normal Person here:

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Alex Beecroft, Giveaways, Riptide Publishing

Guest Post and Giveaway: The Blue Steel Chain Blog Tour with Alex Beecroft

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We’re so pleased to welcome author Alex Beecroft back to The Novel Approach today, on the Blue Steel Chain tour. Enjoy Alex’s guest post and then be sure to leave a comment to enter in Riptide Press’s tour-wide giveaway of a signed paperback from Alex Beecroft’s backlist (Any title which has a paperback edition, excluding Blue Steel Chain).  Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on August 1, 2015. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries.

And please be sure to leave your email address in your comment so we can contact you at the close of the competition.

Good luck!

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When False Colors came out in 2009, I still thought I was straight. I remember the furor that was kicked up by the marketing campaign for that book, which was released as part of a four book attempt to take m/m romance to the mainstream under the ill advised marketing slogan “m/m romance by straight women for straight women.” The four authors involved were somewhat startled by this because they were Erastes, Lee Rowan, Donald Hardy and me. That’s two bisexual women, a gay man, and an asexual person who really still isn’t quite sure about this whole gender business.

I’ve digressed. My point was that at the time I didn’t know that asexuality existed. I thought I was the token straight in that group. I’d always been aware that I’d never been very good at being straight. I’d always felt that there were vast areas in our culture that I just wasn’t getting. The whole business with sex, for example. What was the attraction? What was the point? I could see that it seemed to be a huge driving force in human interaction, and yet for me it was a blank space. Did that mean I wasn’t human? I sometimes felt that way.

I defined myself in negatives. I wasn’t a woman but I wasn’t a man. So I probably wasn’t trans. I wasn’t gay or bi or poly, but I really wasn’t very straight either.

How could a person who was so nothing ever actually exist at all?

That may not sound like an important question, if you’re the kind of concrete realist who can then go on to say “and yet I do, and my existence is valid.” But as an artist and an INTP, I’m a pattern maker by nature, and when I didn’t fit into any of the available patterns it did tend to lead me down the road of “then you must be a mistake. If there’s no space for you in this world, perhaps the world would be better off without you.”

An interesting thing that happened to me recently was that I began to go to a therapist (for non-writing related reasons). On one occasion I said to her “My depression hasn’t been so bad the last three years.” Another time I said “I found out about asexuality about three years ago, and that cleared up a lot of questions I’d had.” She was the one who said “You don’t think the timing of those two things is significant?”

I think it probably is.

I’m supposed to be talking about Blue Steel Chain, aren’t I? But this backstory is relevant to that book. By the time I discovered that asexuality was an actual thing, I had already lived for forty seven years. I had lived for 47 years not knowing that I wasn’t simply a failure at being a human being.

Asexuality is known as one of the ‘invisible orientations,’ because there is so little awareness in society that it exists at all. Asexual people can go their whole lives asking “what’s wrong with me?!” and never get an answer.

Naturally once I’d found this out, I knew I had to do something about it. I had to spread the news and let other people know that they too were not as broken as they might have thought. So I wrote Blue Steel Chain, a romance in which one of my main characters is asexual.

I thought I was writing it mainly for me – mainly for the thrill of thumbing my nose at all those people who assumed that I was writing romance for the sex. “I’ll show them what I really think about sex!” I thought. “That’ll teach them.”

(Because I’m clearly a very mature person these days.)

What I didn’t anticipate was that the moment I said I was writing a book with an ace main character, so many people would start saying “Yes! I feel represented. I can’t wait!”

I really hope I don’t let you down. There are as many different ways to be ace as there are people, and Aidan can’t be all of them. But I hope those of you who are ace can recognize something in him and go “Ha! Yes! It’s just like that.” And I hope those who aren’t will find it fun anyway, and useful for knowing how to deal with the Aces you meet in your life.

Judging from the latest surveys of slash writers/readers I think there are a disproportionate number of us amongst m/m fans. So the chances are you will meet one of us sooner or later. Be prepared!

~Alex

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BlueSteelChain_600x900Blurb: At sixteen, Aidan Swift was swept off his feet by a rich older man who promised to take care of him for the rest of his life. But eight years later, his sugar daddy has turned from a prince into a beast. Trapped and terrified, Aidan snatches an hour’s respite at the Trowchester Museum.

Local archaeologist James Huntley is in a failing long distance relationship with a rock star, and Aidan—nervous, bruised, and clearly in need of a champion—brings out all his white knight tendencies. When everything falls apart for Aidan, James saves him from certain death . . . and discovers a skeleton of another boy who wasn’t so lucky.

As Aidan recovers, James falls desperately in love. But though Aidan acts like an adoring boyfriend, he doesn’t seem to feel any sexual attraction at all. Meanwhile there are two angry exes on the horizon, one coming after them with the press and the other with a butcher’s knife. To be together, Aidan and James must conquer death, sex, and everyone’s preconceptions about the right way to love—even their own.

Available from Riptide Publishing on July 27.

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About the Author: Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.

Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel, Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in the Charleston City PaperLA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association of the UK and an occasional reviewer for the blog Speak Its Name, which highlights historical gay fiction.

Alex was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800-year-old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

She is represented by Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Literary Agency.

Connect with Alex: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter: @Alex_Beecroft | Goodreads

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4 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Michaela Grey, Reviewed by Jules

Review: Coffee Cake by Michaela Grey

Title: Coffee Cake

Author: Michaela Grey

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 220 Pages

At a Glance: I appreciated several things about Coffee Cake, Michaela Grey’s first foray into the M/M romance genre. The whole cast of characters was extremely likeable and eclectic.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Bran Kendrick never expected to fall in love. He’s asexual, after all. What chance does he have of finding someone who’ll see past that? So when Malachi Warren catches his eye, Bran tells himself his crush will pass. Malachi disagrees. He has been attracted to Bran for some time, something he is delighted to find Bran reciprocating. They begin to date and feel their way through an intimate relationship that meets both their needs.

Suddenly Bran finds himself juggling a new boyfriend, a demanding job, and a college degree he’s not sure he wants, but he couldn’t be happier—until a series of seemingly random accidents befall Malachi. When they escalate, Bran realizes someone is trying to take away the best thing that ever happened to him, and he must scramble to keep Malachi safe while they search for the would-be killer.

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Review: I want to start by talking about how much I adored Bran’s character in this book. Bran is fiercely loyal, sweet, and smart. I liked him immediately. He is dedicated and attentive to his studies, but clearly loves baking, creating new recipes and working at the café near campus as well; and he soon finds himself less interested in his class work, and frequently turning to the kitchen to center himself and take his mind off of what’s going on in his life. As the story goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that Bran’s talent for baking should be where he focuses his energies. I really enjoyed where the author took Bran on his personal journey.

I also really liked Malachi, who Bran has been admiring from afar for awhile when the story begins. Malachi is not quite what you see on the surface. He comes across as an extremely confident, popular, vivacious guy – and he is those things – but, on the inside, he’s actually battling lots of insecurity and is fairly unsure of himself and where he’s going in life. One would never know that he has a past he’s having a hard time putting behind him, and that it is also perhaps coming back to bite him in the ass.

In fact, I appreciated several things about Coffee Cake, Michaela Grey’s first foray into the M/M romance genre. The whole cast of characters was extremely likeable and eclectic. I enjoyed the way the author brought both Bran’s and Malachi’s brothers into the bulk of the story. Bran’s brother, Callan, is also fiercely loyal and protective of Bran, as well as being lots of fun. He obviously loves Bran a great deal. And, Malachi’s brother, Tristan, really grew on me throughout the story. He’s extremely dry, and comes across as very uptight most of the time, but he actually has a good sense of humor, and cares deeply for his brother. I would actually love to read even more about Tristan. I thought he was a fascinating character.

Along with the importance of friendships and family, another big theme in the book is Bran’s asexuality. The author does a very good job at showing that it’s just one tiny facet of what makes up Bran. Making it clear that it doesn’t have to define the person, as well as showing that they can still have a fulfilling sex life—if that’s something that they want with their partner—is certainly important, and she did very well with that. However, the scene in the beginning of the story, where Bran and Malachi first discuss their sexuality felt very contrived. Bran tells Malachi that he’s not interested in girls, and then says that he’s “not gay either”. From just these two statements, Malachi somehow instantly makes the leap to Bran being asexual, and states, “So you’re ace?” Maybe twenty and twenty-one year olds are much more progressive these days – I hope so – but I still find it hard to believe that asexuality is common enough for Malachi to have instantly inferred it from what Bran told him. Also, along with casually using the lingo, he asks Bran if he’s aromantic, and Bran doesn’t even know what that means. Bran…who has done lots of research trying to learn about his asexuality…doesn’t know what it means. Huh. Just didn’t quite sit right with me.

The mystery/drama element of the story was okay, but for me this was absolutely a character driven story, and the mystery aspect was really more just the vehicle for getting to know and enjoy all of the players, who were definitely the strength of the book. Bran and Malachi’s chemistry was great, and I loved how they supported and took care of each other through everything. They were the stars of the show.

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