3 Stars, Daisy Harris, Genre Romance, New Adult, Reviewed by Sadonna, Samhain Publishing

Review: Twofer by Daisy Harris

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Title: Twofer

Author: Daisy Harris

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 176 Pages

At a Glance: Not my favorite book by this author, but an interesting take on two guys who want to play the same role.

Reviewed By: Sadonna

Blurb: Bottoms up!

If a college freshman can’t get laid in sun-drenched Miami, he’s doing something wrong. Frankie Perez is determined to help his roommate get some man action in any way possible.

When Frankie’s arsenal of dating apps, fashion advice, and playing-hard-to-get lessons doesn’t work, he realizes Jeremy needs remedial help. Except tutoring Jeremy in the art of sex gets steamier than Frankie expected—and it scares the hell out of him.

Jeremy’s not sure why he’s wasting his time hooking up when he’s only got eyes for the slinky, sexy roommate he comes home to at night. But the hotter their chemistry simmers, the quicker Frankie dances away.

In near desperation, Frankie suggests the two of them team up to find a third to top them both, forgetting that two bottoms aren’t immune from lusting after each other. In a world where every man is an option, choosing one to love can be the sexiest risk of all.

Warning: Contains questionable morals, copious immature hijinks, an X-rated photo shoot, and disastrous threesomes. Sex toys were misused (but not harmed) in the making of this book.

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Review: Twofer is the thirteenth book I’ve read by Daisy Harris. I just loved her Men of Holsum College series and her Ivory Tower series as well. Both of those series also featured college guys who are figuring things out for themselves and making their way in the world, so I thought I would enjoy this one too.

This story, however, was a bit different than the others. Frankie and Jeremy are about as different as two people can be—background, personality, you name it. The one thing it seems they do have in common is that they are both bottoms. Jeremy, however, is a pretty sheltered guy and has zero experience with any guys. Frankie is VERY out and has a very active sex life, but he’s not into relationships at all. He does feel bad that Jeremy seems to not be any closer to finding a boyfriend, though, so he decides to help.

This is a case of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. The advice that Frankie gives Jeremy and his “help” seems to cause even more problems than Jeremy had to start with. Things get a little steamy and then a lot awkward between them thanks to Frankie’s ill-advised “help.” Frankie also becomes aware that maybe he’s not that interested in finding somebody else for Jeremy.

There are a few things in this books that some people won’t like, including additional partners for Frankie and Jeremy that they sometimes like to include. For those who want only the primary couple in their books and no extracurricular playmates, then this book is not for you. Personally, I had no issue with the way they conducted themselves because there was total honesty and agreement in their pursuit of fulfillment in their relationship. I also thought that part of the story was handled well.

The only niggling issue that I had with the story was Jeremy’s character. I felt like we don’t get to know him as well as Frankie, and I would have liked to have seen more of his story. With Frankie we get his family and his jobs and his social life, and with Jeremy we pretty much get school and his time with Frankie and his attempts to find a toppy boyfriend.

Overall, while not the strongest work from this author, Twofer is still an enjoyable read, particularly for the adorable Frankie.

 

 

 

 

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4 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, New Adult, Reviewed by Sammy, S.C. Wynne

Review: Hiding Things by S.C. Wynne

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Title: Hiding Things

Author: S.C. Wynne

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 71 Pages

At a Glance: Hiding Things is one to add to your bookshelf if you are looking for a sweet coming of age story with a lovely happy ever after ending.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Mason Downing is good at a lot of things, but math isn’t one of them. What he is good at is hiding the fact that he’s a poor kid on a full scholarship at elite Bragson University—though he won’t be there for long if he can’t get his grades up.

Carter Lantor is the embodiment of all that Mason pretends to be: rich, confident, and smart. But when Carter is handpicked to be Mason’s new math tutor, Mason learns that he’s not the only one hiding things. Soon, Carter’s picture-perfect façade begins to crack under the pressure of his father’s expectations and his own unhappiness.

Together, Mason and Carter must teach each other that no matter how much they question their place in the world, their love for one another might be the answer they are looking for.

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Review:   Mason has lost nearly everything: his parents, his emotional support, and now lives a secret life—one where he is not a poor orphan, financially strapped, with only his scholarship keeping him at the prestigious private university. Instead, he pretends to be one of the majority—wealthy, unencumbered and “good enough” to breathe the same air as those that surround him at school. Unfortunately, math would be his undoing, as he finds himself in need of a tutor but with no way to pay for it. Now he must take on the burden of a part time job while still maintaining his taxing academic schedule. Determined not to let others know of his humble status, he keeps to himself and quietly hopes no one will recognize him as he drives the shuttle on campus. However, his first night brings with it an encounter that will ultimately be his undoing and, at the same time, his redemption.

Carter lives behind his camera. With a burning desire to become a famous photographer one day, Carter wants nothing more than to be free to pursue his dreams and his art. However, between his being gay and his chosen field of study, his father is threatening to cut him off. Carter freely acknowledges that he enjoys the money he comes from, but he simply cannot envision his life as the heir apparent to a firm his father has lovingly nurtured. With his mother encouraging him not to make waves, Carter realizes his parents may never accept him and that he may indeed lose everything he is accustomed to having. When he meets the shy yet intriguing student he is to tutor in precalc, he feels things he never thought possible. But can the two young men open up and trust each other with their secrets?

S.C. Wynne writes a short story that immediately captures the imagination and presents two characters who both yearn for the same thing–acceptance. While the story develops rapidly, there is real depth to both Carter and Mason. This story could have devolved into a “poor rich boy meets mousy poor boy” so very quickly, and yet, this author smartly saves it from becoming so by making Carter and Mason so very down to earth and real. Carter admits he loves the wealth that allows him to do the things he want—he acknowledges that it would be more than difficult to give it all up to pursue his dream career. Because of this, you develop great compassion for him and see him as much more than the shallow façade that kind of wealth can produce. He stands up for himself and for his feeling towards Mason, and, in doing so, utterly captures the reader’s heart.

Mason’s fears that he will be viewed as being beneath those he attends school with stems from a real place of fear of failure. He allows himself to believe that he is less than his fellow classmates, and it colors everything he does. Trusting Carter does not come easy for him, and we experience his struggle with believing that someone obviously out of his league could truly care for him.

While there were a few glitches in this story—minor things like Mason being on his knees one moment and then being able to kiss Carter the next without transitioning to his feet, and other awkward movement issues like that within the story, it was still a sweet college romance that was well done in many ways.

Overall, Hiding Things is one to add to your bookshelf if you are looking for a sweet coming of age story with a lovely happy ever after ending.

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3.5 Stars, CJane Elliott, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, New Adult, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Sex, Love, and Videogames by CJane Elliott

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Title: Sex, Love, and Videogames

Author: CJane Elliott

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 264 Pages

At a Glance: The story was a bit of a ramble for me, but there were definitely some winning elements to this installment.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Shy guy Jed Carter has always felt invisible next to his charismatic older brother, Kent. Kent’s master plan for Jed is simple: University of Virginia, fraternity, business, sports, and ladies’ man. None of it is Jed, except for playing on the rugby team, which he joins in defiance of soccer-loving Kent. Jed comes out in his sophomore year and starts seeing Pete, an attractive junior, who uses him for sex and videogames. Jed wants more—in life and in love—and starts making his own plans. First on the list: getting to know Charlie, the handsome guy working at the local videogame arcade.

Charlie Ambrose has always felt like an oddball, and not just for his tendency to stutter. Being gay sets him apart from his African-American community, and as a “townie,” he doesn’t fit in with the college crowd. Charlie’s inspiration is his cousin, Morocco, who’s transgender and doesn’t give a fig about fitting in. Art is Charlie’s passion, and when a local videogame designer discovers him, Charlie’s living a dream. The only thing he’s missing is love. But the last person Charlie expects to find it with is a cute, white U.Va. rugby player named Jed.

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Review: Author CJane Elliott has released the third in her Serpentine series, Sex, Love, and Videogames. Interestingly, this one could be read as a standalone and does not hinge on the first two having been read to lend it continuity. Having read the others, the setting (University of Virginia) was once again represented well, and the college atmosphere was spot on. The story was a bit of a ramble for me, but there were definitely some winning elements to this installment.

Jed has followed, reluctantly, in his big brother Kent’s footsteps most of his life. The “plan” now is for the two of them to be in an on campus frat together, along with Kent’s best buddy, Tucker. Unfortunately, as Jed’s freshman year gets underway, the stress of hiding his sexuality from his brother and the realization that he really doesn’t want to follow in Kent’s footsteps comes crashing down on Jed. When he accidentally outs himself to the frat, things seem to ease up a bit, albeit slowly. Unfortunately for Jed, finding a boyfriend is not as easy as he is assured it should be by his best friend, Myesha. The one boy he does like seems to treat him as a dirty little secret despite being openly out himself. For Jed, life is not the dream he had hoped it would be, and his self-esteem plummets more and more as he moves through the year into his second; unattached, lonely, and questioning whether he will ever find someone to love.

In town, Charlie Ambrose wiles away the hours wishing for so much more in his life. Occasional clandestine meetings with a school friend leave him wanting more than hurried and secretive blowjobs. He wishes he could be like his cousin, Morocco, a transgender whirlwind who constantly pushes at Charlie to come out, pursue his talent for art, and live the life he so desperately wants. But Charlie’s fears as a half white/half black man in the African American community, along with his sexuality, make him so very fearful that he will never fit in. Stuck with a painful stutter when he is stressed, Charlie prefers to hide and not make waves.

When these two boys meet, life seems to continually pull them apart until a rally for the LGBT community finds them working together, and then sparks begin to fly. But can two young men who see themselves as only inferior and lost find the courage to be together?

Sex, Love, and Videogames had many good elements. CJane Elliott excels at painting her characters with a realistic brush and allowing us to get inside their heads to see what makes them tick. I felt I really understood the fears both of these guys faced and how similar their struggles were with fitting into a world that seemed poised to condemn them. I also appreciated how the boys were just that—boys who still needed their friends and family to help them as they grappled with their futures, their career paths and their coming out. I loved the fact that there were strong female characters and not the typical screeching harridans we so often see in m/m novels. The fact that Morocco was a transitioning/questioning transgender leant depth to the story in many ways, and allowed us to see a bit of the way families sometimes accept their child’s struggle often by not addressing it.

The story itself seemed to languish at times, and once again I was struck by this author’s tendency to tell us the story rather than putting us in the moment and allowing us to experience it along with her characters. There were huge leaps in time and place so often that I had to stop at times to get my bearings. Major life events were often glossed over—in particular, Morocco’s attack. It was presented as severe enough to cause her to leave school and nearly revert back to being a boy. Yet, there was next to no mention of how she grappled with this horrible attack. One moment she was battered and bruised in the hospital, then she was wearing boys clothing, then suddenly Charlie managed to convince her to come help with the community rally and she was headed back to school the next fall. Yes, there was mention of therapy, but we never saw even a glimpse of the healing process she was undergoing. It’s as if her attack was placed in the story to solidify Charlie’s fears that he would never be accepted. So, that begs the question, why wasn’t Charlie the one attacked? There was certainly enough potential for that plot point to happen since the old school friend Charlie hooked up with sexually was trying to be pulled into a gang—that hates gays. I really felt the story skimmed the life events surrounding Jed and Charlie rather than developing them and using them as a means to mature the two boys. This, coupled with the fact that every roadblock facing them was neatly and conveniently tied up in the last three chapters of the book, made for an unbelievable ending and a lackluster story overall.

With the story being told in alternating points of view, I thought we would get more ‘in the moment action’ rather than a heap of emotional angst and regret each boy seemed to have after nearly every life event and little more than a description of that event from their understanding of what had occurred. Again, the biggest concern with this novel was the author’s way of talking at us—describing what had taken place as an afterthought rather than placing us in the action and allowing us to live there and enjoy the moment.

All in all, Sex, Love, and Videogames had some wonderful characters whose potential was lost in the wake of a sprawling storyline that lacked enough development to make the story as gripping as it could have possibly been.

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Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday and Giveaway: You’re Only Young Once

Flashback Friday

Cheers, everyone, and welcome back to another edition of Flashback Friday. This week we’re focusing on young love, first love, all the angst and wonder to be found in Young Adult/New Adult fiction.

The hardest part about choosing our Flashback Friday recommendations is when we get genre-specific because, let’s face it, every single one of us has more than one favorite book in the genres we frequent. In fact, Sammy and Sadonna have selected the same book this week–and again, I’ve read it and couldn’t agree more! In fact, I could have quite literally chosen any one of about a dozen titles this week, so be sure to watch for this category to show up again at a later date. Because young love, it ain’t kid’s play. ;-)

Congratulations to last week’s Flashback Friday winner, Silke, who selected Dani Alexander’s Shattered Glass. An excellent choice it is, too!

And, as always, click on the Rafflecopter widget below to enter for the chance to win one of this week’s e-titles.

Good luck!

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TNA_Signature_JulesI’m so happy to be able to shine a spotlight on this book once again for this week’s Flashback Friday. I read and reviewed Gives Light back in January, and loved it so damn much, I just had to choose it for my contribution to our first ‘Fave YA’ books theme. And, in fact, it’s part of a series! So, if you’re like me, and like to get wrapped up in a world for more than one novel, you’re in luck.

Gives Light is the beginning of Skylar St. Clair’s story, and takes us through how he ended up living with his Granny on the Nettlebush Indian Reservation, as well as how he came to be mute, and how he met and fell in love with Rafael Gives Light.

In my review I described the book as “an important piece of literature that is at once a beautiful coming-of-age love story, and also an extremely thoughtful book dealing with several pressing Native American issues,” and I still think that’s a good, albeit a bit simplistic, summation. I was sucked into the story immediately; I couldn’t put it down, in large part due to the author’s fabulous storytelling ability, but mostly because of Sky. Stealing another snippet from my review…my thoughts on Sky:

“In Skylar, Rose Christo has created one of the most positive, loveable, funny, down-to-earth characters I have ever read. Sky’s attitude, wit, and zest for life are unparalleled, especially for someone who has had to overcome so much adversity, perhaps worst of all being the fact that he is mute. He runs at everything head-on, and won’t be brought down. I love him. Plain and simple.”

I know I’m supposed to be convincing you guys to go out and read this book…but, scrolling back through my highlights has made me want to read it again! I love reading YA, but I think even if YA isn’t your first choice, or you aren’t sure if you would like it, you should still add Rose Christo’s Gives Light to your reading list. This book has so much heart, and it’s so smart, and funny, and interesting. I can’t imagine anyone not being glad they gave it a try. If nothing else, I promise you that Skylar St. Clair is a character you won’t soon forget.

Gives light“Skylar is my name, tragically.” Sixteen-year-old Skylar is witty, empathetic, sensitive–and mute. Skylar hasn’t uttered a single word since his mother died eleven years ago, a senseless tragedy he’s grateful he doesn’t have to talk about. When Skylar’s father mysteriously vanishes one summer afternoon, Skylar is placed in the temporary custody of his only remaining relative, an estranged grandmother living on an Indian reservation in the middle of arid Arizona. Adapting to a brand new culture is the least of Skylar’s qualms. Because Skylar’s mother did not die a peaceful death. Skylar’s mother was murdered eleven years ago on the Nettlebush Reserve. And her murderer left behind a son. And he is like nothing Skylar has ever known.

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TNA_Signature_SammyBy far and above the best YA series I have read is John Goode’s Foster High Series. So often I feel YA gets a poor rap—I think sometimes readers feel that because a novel is young adult it may not have the same emotional impact an adult read offers.

Maybe With a Chance of Certainty is a coming of age novel like no other. Its story revolves around Kyle, a battered, oft physically abused seventeen-year-old, who lives with a drunken mother and a fear that someday someone will truly see him, will discover he is gay and will force him out into the light of day that he so adroitly avoids. Enter Brad, baseball hero, god of high school fame, the abused and broken seventeen-year-old who steadfastly hides in the closet until he sees Kyle, really sees him and knows…knows that this is what he has been missing…that this boy is one he likes, maybe, with a chance of certainty.

This book is never glib or self-important but it is humorous and self-aware. This book is never trite or condescending but it does dare to look at the smallest of fears and bring them into the light and it does meet us right at the emotional level where we live, and it says we have the right to live there, to feel as we do.

I want to encourage you to explore the YA genre—so many times I have experienced my own teen years played out on the pages of these wonderfully crafted stories. So, please, take a leap, if you have not already done so and scoop up one of these terrific authors today.

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TNA_Signature_SadonnaThis is a great series and tells the love story of Kyle and Brad over a number of books.  The first few books cover the main characters finishing their senior year of high school.  There is both an M/M series and a YA version of the first three books, so you can take your pick.

Kyle Stilleno and Brad Greymark are high school students in Foster, TX.  Kyle is keeping his head down trying to get out of town without being noticed.  But it turns out that Brad has noticed him.  He’s the star baseball player and he needs help in History so he gets Kyle to tutor him.  But history is not the only thing they study. :)  This series, much like my last Flashblack Friday, really is a beautiful story of the building of a relationship between these two very different guys.  There are lots of rough moments and very typically teenaged angst-filled drama, but so worth the time to savor these books.

Kyle is probably my favorite YA character that I’ve read so far in M/M.  He’s smarter than most of the adults in this series. :)  He’s raised himself, for the most part – his mother is a bit lost in the parenting department.  The opening lines of Maybe with a Chance of Certainty are some of my favorite lines I’ve read ever in any book.  These words I think speak to so many kids on so many levels.

Brad, in many ways, is Kyle’s opposite. He’s high school royalty, comes from a family with some money (although, as we see, that doesn’t guarantee anything except a roof and three squares a day).  His family is dysfunctional as well, but in a different way.  He’s just as lost in some ways at Kyle, but somehow he knows that if he doesn’t go for this, he will regret it for the rest of his life.  Sometimes he acts without thinking things all the way through, and Kyle is his anchor and his touchstone.

There are wonderful secondary characters, realistic and funny dialogue, tragedy that will make your heart ache and truths that will make you want to punch somebody in the throat.  Just brilliantly written and I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves very well-written and emotional stories.

Maybe with a Chance of CertaintyKyle has worked hard at being the invisible student, toiling through high school in the middle of Nowhere, Texas. Brad is the baseball star at Foster High. Both boys are damaged in ways that the rest of the world can’t see. When they bond over a night of history tutoring, Kyle thinks that maybe his life has taken a turn for the not so lonely.

He finds out quickly that the promise of fairy-tale love is a lie when you’re gay and falling for one of the most popular boys in school, and if being different is a sin in high school, then being gay is the biggest sin of all. Now Kyle and Brad need to come to an understanding amidst the scrutiny of their peers or their fledgling relationship will crash and burn before it ever gets off the ground.

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TNA_Signature_CHRISUnintended is one of those rare books that does flashbacks really well. Those flashbacks are what power the story around two of the sweetest boys who unintentionally become friends and then fall in love. This story starts out in the present and goes back to ten years prior. The story shows the start of their relationship ten years in the past, and their lives now as they’re moving into their first house.

While this isn’t a very long story, coming in a just 100 pages, there is a lot of relationship and emotions packed into that space. Both Taylor and Alex are ordinary young men going through the motions of life and end up meeting each other in very normal circumstances. Their relationship, though, is a bit extraordinary because both boys realize almost immediately that they have met someone very special to them. Even though at first they can’t define just how special this person will be in their lives.

I really loved how M.J. O’Shea shows the little things that matter between Taylor and Alex because so many times that’s glossed over in romances. That doesn’t mean they have an easy journey, because they do make some mistakes along the way, including one major one that hurts both of them. It’s how they come out in the end that matters the most, though.

I can’t really tell you how much I enjoyed this book and want others to read it and meet these two awesome characters. Alex will melt your heart, and Taylor will make you want to hug him to death by the end of the story.

**Note:** This titles is available only via Amazon

UnintendedTaylor thought he had everything together. He just got into the college of his choice and all he had to do was coast through the rest of the year, enjoy his friends, and wait for freedom. He hasn’t really participated in the gossip about the mysterious and beautiful new boy who just showed up in school, but he had to admit the guy was intriguing.

Alex was completely lonely. His family moved so often that he’d never had a chance to really fit in anywhere. The new guy in town, gorgeous and rich, he was the object of envy, the subject of stares. But he dreamed of having one real friend in a sea of shallow acquaintances. Somebody who actually knew him, not just what he looked like.

They met by accident, when Taylor stumbled into Alex’s room at a party. It only took them one night to decide they were meant to be best friends, and not much longer after that to realize that they were in love.

Taylor, who’d never been with a boy, was afraid of what would happen when he finally admitted to the world that he was in love with Alex. Alex, who wasn’t willing to be a secret much longer, was afraid that his family would pack up and move again before he had the chance to convince Taylor that their love was worth any pain it might cause when it was brought out in public.

In a sweet and sometimes painful story of true love, Unintended answers the question:

“Would you change who you were to be with the one person you were meant to love?”

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TNA_Signature_JenniferThere are so many amazing YA titles out there right now, especially in the last few years. Beyond that, however, it does get a little difficult. When I first started reading LGBT fiction, there was a dearth of books for teens with gay themes. The books that were out there were good, but they just weren’t enough.

The Twilight Gods by Hayden Thorne hits so much of what is right with the YA genre. It’s historical, it’s touching, and it’s beautifully written. I’ve reviewed it for The Novel Approach before because it’s a rerelease, but the book actually came out in 2009. Honestly, I’m disappointed I hadn’t read it when it first came out, because this book is just phenomenal.

Norris is a sympathetic character. The youngest of four, his family struggles financially. Between his older brother trying to save enough to propose to the girl he loves and his older sisters squabbling every chance they get, and trying to outdo each other on the marriage market, Norris is often forgotten. In fact, he’s so forgotten that he doesn’t even go to school; instead, the family has one of their tenants tutoring Norris with old books that are falling apart. And Norris just wants an education. He wants to learn science so he can properly tinker with things and make them work.

When Norris begins to start seeing shadow people, everything in the book starts to slowly fall into place. New characters emerge and Norris begins his journey that is simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking.

Just writing this review for Flashback Friday makes me want to go back and reread this book! I have no doubt you’ll love it as much as I do!

thetwilightgodsLondon during the Great Exhibition of 1851 is a new world of technological advances, eye-popping inventions, and glimpses of exotic treasures from the East. For fifteen-year-old Norris Woodhead, it’s a time of spectral figures mingling with London’s daily crowds and an old rectory in a far corner of the English countryside — a great house literally caught in time, where answers to curious little mysteries await him.

Confined by his family’s financial woes, Norris suffers a lonely and unsatisfying time till the day he (and only he) notices “shadow-people” in the streets. Then a strange widow appears, rents a vacant room in the house, and takes him under her wing. She becomes his guardian, slowly revealing those shadows’ secrets, Norris’ connection with them, and the life-altering choices he has to face in the end.

The Twilight Gods is a retelling of the Native American folktale, “The Girl Who Married a Ghost.” Set in Victorian England, it’s an alternative perspective on a gay teen’s coming-out process, with Norris’ journey of self-discovery couched in magical and supernatural terms and imagery.

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TNA_Signature_LisaI’m going to start out with a little backstory about this week’s choice.

On August 28, 2012, my mom passed away. For the three weeks she was in the hospital and, ultimately, in hospice care, I was driving three hours round-trip, four to five days a week, to sit at her hospital bedside. To top it off, I’d just lost my sister to cancer five months earlier, I missed my childrens’ first day of school, I missed a lot of time with my own family while taking care of a developmentally disabled brother and a father with dementia—who didn’t understand, and needed frequent reminders, that his wife of 62 years was dying. Suffice to say, the only thing that kept me sane at the time was escaping into books during those long and mind numbing hours sitting and listening to monitors beeping, while wondering when my mom was going to take her final breath.

Now, for the honesty part: I don’t remember much of what I read during this time, but I very much do remember one gorgeous and lyrical Young Adult novel—it resonated so deeply in its beauty and simple truths that during a time when most of what I recall is that the stress was almost too much to bear, I remember this book. The book is Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

On August 14th, I wrote a simple review of this book. I’m going to steal a snippet from that review because, at a time in my life when not much made sense, this book spoke to me. Aristotle and Dante made sense of a universe that’s full of mystery and wonder of so many things yet to discover.

Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe taught me that there’s such a thing as too much, and that it’s possible for a book to be written sparely and still be full and abundantly powerful.

Ari Mendoza narrates this story, the story of a fifteen year old loner who meets Dante Quintana in the summer of 1987 and is suddenly not so lonely anymore, though he still feels very much alone with his anger and frustration. This is the story of a boy on the verge of evolution and the slow and sometimes painful discovery that being ashamed of how he feels doesn’t make those feelings inevitably shameful.

• I learned that feeling small and insignificant and inadequate doesn’t make it true.
• I learned it’s possible to run away from something and not even realize you’re running or understand exactly what it is you’re running from.
• I learned that feeling sorry for yourself is the quickest path to loneliness.
• I learned silence can be just as powerful and destructive as anger.
• I learned it’s possible to wear the scars of battle without ever going to war.
• I learned that the most crippling scars of war are the ones that live inside of you.
• I learned there’s a difference between feeling real and feeling valid.
• I learned that a face can be the light in an otherwise dark world.
• I learned that it’s possible to love someone more than you think you’re capable of ever bearing.
• I learned that we all are in a constant state of discovering who we are, no matter our age.
• I learned it’s possible to look for something but not know exactly what it is you’re looking for.
• I learned that love is an instinct and is sometimes directed not by what we say but what we do.
• I learned that hiding from yourself is easier than hiding from the people who see you for who you truly are.
• I learned it’s possible to be so near to someone that it’s impossible to see all they mean to you.
• I learned it’s possible to be ashamed and have no idea why.
• I learned that all the mysteries of the universe can be found in a kiss and can be solved just by holding someone’s hand.

I can’t say for sure whether or not this book would be as impactful if I reread it today as it was at that time in my life, but I can say that at the time, it was a book that moved me deeply.

And the cover…the cover is everything.

Aristotle and DanteAristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common.

But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

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Giveaways, Naomi MacKenzie

Guest Post and Giveaway: The Lodestones Blog Tour with Naomi MacKenzie

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Today we’re pleased to welcome first time visitor Naomi MacKenzie to The Novel Approach. Will Parkinson asked Naomi a few questions, so enjoy and then be sure to enter for the chance to win a $25 Gift Card from Interlude Press OR one of five available e-copies of Lodestones.

Good luck!

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WP: Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Naomi MacKenzie author of Lodestones.

Hi Naomi, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your current book.

NM: Hi there! Thanks for having me.

I’m a Canadian from the east coast, currently living in the Toronto area and pining for the sea. I’ve been writing for myself since I was very young, mostly poems and short stories. I have several novels on the go at all times, but Lodestones is my first completed novel.

Q: What are your ambitions for your writing career?

A: I would love to someday write full time. It would be a dream come true to have an entire shelf of my own books.

Q: How many published books do you have? Can you tell us something about them?

A: Lodestones is my first published book. It’s a YA novel with a large cast of characters: new friends, old friends, lovers, potential lovers. I think it’s a lot of fun.

Q: Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

A: There are really two main characters in Lodestones: Robin and Charlie. They’ve been best friends since their first year of college, and now going into their final year are starting to realize, or maybe simply admit to, feelings that run deeper. Their relationship is very sweet. They’re affectionate and supportive of each other. Robin grew up in a cold family, and Charlie with just his mom, so they’ve both been a bit affection-starved their whole lives. Neither of them have had a friendship like they share with anyone else. So they’re always learning. But I think they’re better at it than either of them believe themselves to be.

Q: What are you working on at the moment? What’s it about?

A: I have a few things in progress. One is an adult novel about a young woman reconnecting with her outcast uncle after discovering that he is dying. And also a LGBT YA series with supernatural elements. Haunted hotels and all kinds of spooky fun.

Q: Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

A: I usually set a goal of a thousand words per day, but I honestly rarely follow that rule. Sometimes I can’t manage more than a few paragraphs, and other times I will finish an entire chapter or more in one sitting. My muse and my energy levels are unpredictable. I think the most important thing is to work every day, no matter how much I accomplish. It forms a sort of routine. Even if my routine isn’t exactly routine.

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Lodestones 1600px COVER-FrontBlurb: On the eve of a new school year, several groups of college students cross paths as they seek out a secret end-of-summer lake party—including Robin and Charlie, two inseparable friends who discover of the course of the twenty-four hours that their relationship is something much deeper than simple friendship.

Buy Links: Interlude Press || Amazon || Smashwords || IndieBound

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Author BioAbout the Author: Naomi MacKenzie is a writer and photographer from the eastern coast of Canada. She considers herself a Maritimer first and a Canadian second, or so she told the standardized testing people in essay form during the eleventh grade. She enjoys vegan baking, walks in the woods and, contrarily, hiding from the sun. Lodestones is her first novel.

Where to find the author: Connect with Naomi MacKenzie at her Website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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4 Stars, Amy Jo Cousins, Genre Romance, New Adult, Reviewed by Jules, Samhain Publishing

Review: Level Hands by Amy Jo Cousins

Title: Level Hands (Bend or Break: Book Four)

Author: Amy Jo Cousins

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 293 Pages

At a Glance: With Level Hands, Amy Jo Cousins shows us once again how well she can write young guys.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: When it comes to love, there’s no such thing as smooth sailing.

Rafael Castro is so far out of his element he can’t even see it anymore. Carlisle College in Massachusetts is a long way from his Chicago home, even farther from his Dominican Republic roots.

The only thing keeping him attached to his last nerve is the prospect of seeing Denny Winslow again. The first time they met, Denny taught Rafi to fly across the water, rowing hard in a knife-like boat. Now, two years later, on the wings of a rowing scholarship, Rafi is attending Denny’s elite college.

Even before the excitement wears off, Rafi is struggling with classes and fending off rumors that Denny’s family, not Rafi’s talent, won him his spot. To quash the gossip, Rafi tries to steer clear of the man he wants. A plan that evaporates in the fire of renewed attraction.

But Carlisle’s academic pressure cooker has Rafi barely treading water. And when a family crisis hits, both Rafi and Denny must pull hard to keep their relationship from capsizing in rough waters.

Warning: Contains a surly Dominican-American guy determined to show no weakness, a golden boy who knows his soft spots, some seriously dirty bachata dancing, and an excellent excuse for voyeurism in the locker room.

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Review: Rafael Castro definitely feels like he’s in over his head when he arrives at Carlisle to join the rowing team, and take advantage of the opportunity he’s been given to attend such a prestigious college. He feels he has to constantly show his gratitude, and to prove his worth, which ends up almost being his downfall. No matter how much he kills himself for the team, or works at his studies, he never allows himself to simply appreciate the gift he’s been given.

Denny Winslow desperately wants to help Rafi. Wants to share some of his burdens and help him reduce his stresses at school. Denny has wanted Rafi since he was seventeen, and Rafi was the first boy he ever kissed – but not until he turned eighteen, at Rafael’s insistence. Unfortunately, things don’t start out like he hoped they would when he found out Rafi was coming to Carlisle.

These guys drove me bonkers. Ok…Rafi drove me bonkers. Ha! But, you know what?? I liked them. I like how authentic they feel. How imperfect they are. How much their indecisiveness and refusal to pull their heads out of their asses at times made me want to throw my Kindle. Because that’s real life. Sometimes it takes a while to figure shit out. Sometimes the road is bumpy, and you can’t see the forest for the trees. But, our stubborn Rafaelito got there, man. He got there.

With Level Hands, Amy Jo Cousins shows us once again how well she can write young guys. The dialogue is sharp, and the crew scenes, as well as the scenes of Rafi and his roommates just hanging out, felt very natural. I really dug all of the rowing stuff, actually, more than I thought I would. Cash, who we initially met in Off Campus, the first book in the series, is completely awesome and hilarious, of course, and stole every scene he was in. And the chemistry between Rafi and Denny is fantastic. Sexy bachata dancing scene? Check. Hot as hell hiking scene? Check and check. When these guys are not needing to be smacked upside the head, and are clicking romantically, it’s ON.

There were a few little inconsistencies that threw me, the big one being Rafi all of a sudden referring to himself as ‘a black guy’ about halfway through the book. It was definitely mentioned that he was mixed race, but he had clearly been identifying as Dominican for the ENTIRE book up until that point, so it just seemed very strange to all of a sudden change that up.

It takes him a while – and thank God Denny is basically a massive sweetheart with an extremely long rope and high tolerance for taking Rafi’s shit – but Rafi finally starts to figure things out. In spite of his stubbornness and the ridiculous notion that he needed to push Denny away, I found myself rooting for Rafi throughout the book, and I’m sure you will be, too! And, don’t forget to click the link at the end of the book to subscribe to Amy Jo’s newsletter to get a bonus chapter!

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You can buy Level Hands here:

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2.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Karen Stivali, New Adult, Reviewed by Sadonna

Review: Moment of Clarity by Karen Stivali

Title: Moment of Clarity (Moments in Time: Book Three)

Author: Karen Stivali

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 114 Pages

At a Glance: A slightly disappointing final chapter to this story that I wish I had enjoyed more.

Reviewed By: Sadonna

Blurb: Spending the summer together on Fire Island brought Collin and Tanner closer than ever, but back in their conservative college town, challenges confront them at every turn.

As they search for their new normal in their old environment, Collin’s brother Sean surprises them with help when they need it most. But when word about their relationship gets out, trouble erupts with friends and family. When Collin’s relationship with Tanner becomes an issue in his brother’s custody battle and Tanner struggles with his feelings for a heartbroken Wendy, Collin wonders if everyone he cares about would be better off without him in the picture.

In order to save them both, Tanner must make it clear to Collin that their love for each other is all that matters.

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Review: Note: This is the final installment of a three novella arc, and as such, is full of major spoilers for the first two books. Definitely not recommended to read out of order.

In this last chapter of Collin and Tanner’s story, the boys return from their angst-ridden summer on Fire Island. They have spent some time at Tanner’s mom’s place and haven’t been alone for a week! Then, they get to their college and discover that they will not having housing for a couple of weeks because of a fire. They really don’t want to be stuck in a crowded gym on cots, and it just so happens that Collin’s brother, Sean, decides to reach out to him. He is experiencing a marital separation and along with having plenty of room, feeling guilt over how the rest of Collin’s family has treated them, and needing some help with his kids, he volunteers a place for the guys to stay until their dorm is ready.

All is well until the wife who cheated on him decides she hasn’t made Sean and Collin suffer enough, and decides to try to turn the situation to her advantage. I found this character to be a bit cartoonish, and she is only a vehicle to move the story along with the guys once again facing a housing crisis. Wendy has not forgiven them for the events on Fire Island (which I had a hard time with her blaming them, anyway), but she does come through.

Eventually the guys make their way back to the dorm, and then, of course, there is some overblown drama there as well. Honestly, unless it’s a Bible College, I found this kind of reaction from fellow students did not ring very true to what I am led to believe to be the case (by my nephew and other college students of my acquaintance). Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I kind of was rolling my eyes at the events of the dorm confrontation. Most colleges have a nondiscrimination policy, and if ANY student reacted this way, they would be asked to leave. Even when I was in college – back in the dark ages – and granted I went to a music and liberal arts college (although there was also a big science and business colleges as well), it wasn’t a big deal and everybody got on with their lives.

As a result of the some of the backlash, then Collin decides that he has to do something to try to make things right. This is where I had the most trouble with the story, I guess. No spoilers here, but Collin’s plan and Tanner’s reaction just seemed pretty trite to me. I did, however, love Tanner’s mom. She’s a lovely character and I would have liked more interaction with her and the boys.

I’ve really struggled with this entire series. I’m not a fan of these novellas being strung together over the space of several months. I also think with the pricing of $4.99 for each, it’s a lot to pay for what is essentially one novel length story told in three parts. When you compare it to something like Amy Lane’s Beneath the Stain, it rather pales in comparison from a volume/price standpoint.







 

You can buy Moment of Clarity here:

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5 Stars, Nash Summers, New Adult, Reviewed by Jules, Self-Published

Review: Maps by Nash Summers

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Title: Maps

Author: Nash Summers

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 71 Pages

At a Glance: Go read this, guys. SO. Cute.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: If Maps ruled the world, his best pal Benji would be court jester, and every day would celebrate a new experiment.

No, scratch that.

If Maps ruled the world, his best pal would still be living next door, and there wouldn’t be any gap-toothed new guy staring at him as if he’s bonkers.

Pity Maps doesn’t rule the world . . .

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Review: Omigosh, this book. Feels, you guys. So many good feels! Wonderful friendship moments, wonderful family moments, wonderful learning moments, and wonderful first-love moments. All wrapped up in the near-perfect seventy-one pages that is Maps by Nash Summers.

Mattie Wilson, aka Maps, is extremely bright, quirky as hell, neurotic, and HILARIOUS. And, I completely adored him. He and his best friend Benji have grown up next door to each other, but Benji has to move a few blocks away, leaving Maps vulnerable to dealing with…dun dun dunnnn…new neighbors. He is pretty sure his life is over – but, he’ll soon find out that perhaps it’s just beginning.

One of the new neighbors is a boy just a year older than Maps, a handsome jock for whom Maps starts having confusing feelings. Lane is incredibly sweet and kind. He really sees Maps, and as they get closer, he starts developing some confusing feelings of his own. I loved how, at first, he didn’t know what to do about his attraction to Maps – but, as soon as he realizes how much he misses him, and that he might lose him, he knows exactly what to do—whatever it takes to make Maps his. Including giving unbelievably creative, thoughtful, and romantic gifts that will leave you in a puddle right along with Maps.

The writing is so sharp. There were quite a few scenes, and what quickly became ‘classic Maps moments’ – his many “very manly” squeals/shrieks/squeals, for example – that had me laughing out loud. All of the characters were wonderful. The friendship between Maps and Benji was fantastic. The whole thing was adorable and sweet (but, not toothache, blergh sweet), romantic as heck…and, did I mention FUNNY? Oh! And, there is a sequel in the works!!! Can’t wait for Diamonds. :)

Go read this, guys. SO. Cute.

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You can buy Maps here:

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3.5 Stars, Audio Book, B.G. Thomas, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Narration Rating - 5 Stars, New Adult, Reviewed by Amy

Audio Review: Anything Could Happen by B.G. Thomas – Narrated by Charlie David

Title: Anything Could Happen

Author: B.G. Thomas

Narrator: Charlie David

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Run Time: 7 Hours and 32 Minutes

At a glance: This was a good read but I didn’t think it was a great read. Charlie David, on the other hand, brought this book to life.

Reviewed By: Amy

Blurb: Moving to Kansas City could be the best thing Austin Shelbourne has ever done. For a start, he can stop living a lie and finally come out of the closet. And there’s a chance, though slim, that he might be able to locate the love of his life, Todd Burton. It had seemed like a good idea when he seduced his friend, but Todd freaked out and vanished. Austin hopes to find Todd, make things right between them, and win his love. But when he meets actor Guy Campbell, things get even more confusing.

The moment Guy sets eyes on Austin, he knows Austin is The One. But Austin makes it clear he feels a responsibility to Todd, and Guy has some dark secrets of his own. He’s found redemption in acting and directing, but worries that if Austin learns the truth, he might not be able bear it. And what if Todd accepts Austin’s apology and the love Austin offers? Guy wants Austin desperately, but he also wants him to be happy. In the play of life, with the happiness of good men in the balance, anything could happen.

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Review: I am so torn about this book. On one hand, I love the coming-of-age story that is Austin. I adore the support cast of Uncle Body and the people of the apartment complex. I adore Guy and wanted to wrap him up and take him home. I also really like the idea of the book. In theory, I think this book works. On the page, I had a bit of a hard time with it. Everything just wraps itself up into this neat little bow. I felt like it needed some messy. Overall, I wasn’t disappointed. I just felt like this was a good read but didn’t think it was a great read. I’d give the book itself 3.5 stars.

Narration: Charlie David, on the other hand, brought this book to life. From Uncle Body and his dog to the drag queens at the Steel Magnolia’s play, David makes this a bright and new experience. His Southern accent has just the right touch, and the innocence he inflects in his voice for Austin was perfect. I look forward to more books narrated by Charlie David.

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You can buy Anything Could Happen here:

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5 Stars, Audio Book, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Jacob Z. Flores, Narration Rating - 5 Stars, New Adult, Reviewed by Amy

Audio Review: Being True by Jacob Z. Flores – Narrated by Mark Westfield

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Title: Being True

Author: Jacob Z. Flores

Narrator: Mark Westfield

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Run Time: 8 Hours and 40 Minutes

At a glance: This book hit all the right notes in all the right places.

Reviewed By: Amy

Blurb: Truman L. Cobbler has not had an easy life. It’s bad enough people say he looks like Donkey from Shrek, but he’s also suffered the death of his policeman father and his mother’s remarriage to a professional swindler, who cost them everything. Now dirt poor, they live in the barrio of San Antonio, Texas. When Tru transfers to an inner-city high school halfway through his senior year, he meets Javi Castillo, a popular and hot high school jock. Javi takes an immediate liking to Tru, and the two become friends. The odd pairing, however, rocks the school and sets the cliquish social circles askew. No one knows how to act or what to think when Mr. Popular takes a stand for Mr. Donkey. Will the cliques rise up to maintain status quo and lead Tru and Javi to heartbreak and disaster or will being true to who they are rule the day?

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Review: Being True hit all the right notes in all the right places. First, let’s talk about Truman. How I adore this young man. He is the underdog that everyone roots for. In the opening sequence, I just wanted to take Rance and beat him. Javi Castillo, the boy/man we all hope to find and fall in love with—could he be more perfect?

What makes this story work is the well-built, believable relationship between Javi and Tru. Flores does an amazing job of telling this story through Tru’s eyes, but allows you to see Javi fall in love too. He weaves a wonderful supporting cast in the Castillo’s, and Tru’s mother, and a mouthy Goth chick who befriends Tru. Take all of those things, add the pressure of high school and just the basics of growing up, and what you are left with is a memorable coming-of-age story where the buildup and crescendo are well worth the wait. I would love a revisit of this couple in the future and even would love an update on Rance, who is the villain but also just a scared young kid, not sure of his place in the world.

Narration: I adored this book and when I saw that Mark Westfield was narrating, I was so stinkin’ excited. I am familiar with Mark from the THIRDS series, and know of his narration skills. He definitely brought his A-game for this book. He is such a talented narrator. Something as simple as a scene between Javi and Tru, where they are throwing the ball, is made more authentic because Westerfield makes Javi sound like he is farther away than Tru. I have heard a lot of great narrators of late, but Mark is by far my favorite, and he took this story to the next level.

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You can buy Being True here:

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, John C. Houser, New Adult, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Billy Goat Stats by John C. Houser

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Title: Billy Goat Stats (A DIY Family Story)

Author: John C. Houser

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 246 Pages

At a Glance: An outstanding novel, and one I’m delighted to share with you.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Back from summer basketball camp and starting at Hoosier State on an athletic scholarship, Billy is looking forward to playing basketball free of pressure from his overbearing, bigoted father. Too bad he’s trading one set of problems for another. His boyfriend Jonah dumps him, expecting he’ll want to spread his wings now that he’s away from home, and the basketball program at State proves harder to navigate than he imagined.

Despite his hurt at Jonah’s treatment, Billy is not ready to give up on a relationship with the out-and-proud musician. Their geographical distance isn’t Billy’s biggest problem, since it makes it easier for him to stay in the closet. In fact, when the press starts sniffing around the basketball team, it turns out he’s not the only one with a secret. Every member of the team must choose where, and with whom, they stand. The success of Billy’s season may depend as much on the depth of his character as his physical endurance.

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Review: Billy Goat Stats is a sequel to John C. Houser’s novel Music Box, the first in his DIY Family series. I am just going to be up front here and say this author is a must buy for me. I love this series, and reading about these boys just makes me happy! The story is cleverly written and delightfully realistic. Life is not easy and Mr. Houser never sugarcoats the pain that can be associated with coming out, nor the danger inherent in declaring you are gay while trying to be a rising star in the sports arena. This was an outstanding novel, and one I am delighted to share with you.

The story picks up with Billy going off to college on a full scholarship. His relief at leaving his father’s heavy-handed and often demeaning critique of his ballgame is palpable from page one. Also apparent is Billy’s nervousness at remembering the kiss he shared with Jonah before he left for school. While Billy is eager to see where that kiss may lead, Jonah has decided he will simply be holding Billy back now that he is away from home and, in essence, writes Billy a “Dear John” email saying so.

But life is not easy in college, and Billy needs his friend Jonah more than ever. His teammates have secrets they hide deep, and the coach, along with others on the team, think Billy should be the one to bring peace where there is real discord. Billy struggles mightily with his freshman position on the team, and not overstepping his boundaries on or off the court. He misses Jonah fiercely and has to somehow make sure that Jonah knows he feels for him as more than a friend. When an admission made in the heat of the moment draws unwanted attention to Billy, it is time to either put up or shut up—and that may mean losing his family…and gaining a boyfriend.

This story…wow. Coming of age? Check. Coming out? Check. First love? Check. Humor, intelligent dialogue, fast paced action, honest emotions, realistic consequences, no easy fixes, beautifully heart wrenching relationships? Check Plus! The development of both Jonah and Billy’s characters that takes place in this sequel was all one could hope for and then some. Here is the place these young men begin to really grow up and make life choices that will map out their futures either together or apart. As coming-of-age novels go, Billy Goat Stats was handled expertly and carefully, making it as realistic a story as possible and yet still remain fiction. Actions had consequences, friendships were developed—sometimes painfully so, and teenage boys made their first steps toward being mature and responsible adults. Intermixed with all this was a burgeoning love story that simply swept you away in waves of humor and vulnerability.

As a coming out story, there were passages in this novel that made me wring my hands and sadly shake my head. To watch how Billy and Jamal were treated by their parents was painful at best. However, it was just this dose of reality that made the story stronger and better overall. Author John C. Houser never shies away from letting us understand how heartless we can be as a people when it comes to a bigoted outlook. Yet, while never wrapping the story up neatly, but rather, allowing it to run more true to life, this story manages to convey such hope for a better future.

I cannot say enough about this novel. Billy Goats Stats is an impeccably written piece of new adult literature. I highly recommend it to you!

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You can buy Billy Goat Stats here:

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4 Stars, Annabelle Jacobs, Blanket Fort Press, Genre Romance, New Adult, Reviewed by Lisa, Short Story

Review: Toy With Me by Annabelle Jacobs

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Title: Toy with Me (The Secrets Collection)

Author: Annabelle Jacobs

Publisher: Blanket Fort Press

Pages/Word Count: 11000 Words

At a Glance: Toy with Me earns a solid “A” in the short story telling department.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Aaron is hiding something in his drawers—but that’s not his only secret.

When he moves in with his new housemates, Aaron intends to tell them about his sexuality from the outset. But a large pink item of a personal nature, given as a joke, scuppers his plans and he misses his chance.

Fellow housemate Rob is out and proud. He guesses Aaron is gay, and when he finds Aaron’s other secret concealed in his sock drawer, he takes it upon himself to help Aaron out with a little sexual experimentation.

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Review: Short stories—it seems readers either love them or don’t, and understandably so, but I do happen to respect them as a time honored storytelling medium. And sometimes I just love the immediacy of the good feelz you get from diving right into the heart of a romance without a lot of angst to build up to it. It’s the get in/get happy/get out that I adore, when all’s said and done.

Annabelle Jacobs’ Toy with Me is a feel-good-romance that, in my humble opinion, works perfectly. As a New Adult story in a collegiate setting, Aaron and Rob aren’t posed as guys who’d have a dense and troubled life history behind them anyway, so the immediacy of their falling in lust with each other in a less-is-more way was not only sweet but believable too.

I loved Aaron’s innocence, the blushing and the trepidation he feels about revealing his sexuality to his new flatmates, even though it’s not at all likely to be an issue. I loved the contrast of Rob’s no nonsense approach to figuring out if Aaron, like Rob himself, is gay, and then leading Aaron to the story’s inevitable conclusion but doing so in such a subtle yet irresistible way.

Toy with Me ticks all the boxes required of a short story. It’s a romantic little tease that brings on more than a few smiles along the way, and, while it didn’t spell everything out for me, it did leave me with the belief that Aaron and Rob will look back quite fondly, decades from now, on their years together as college sweethearts.

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You can buy Toy with Me exclusively at Amazon:

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5 Stars, New Adult, Perie Wolford, Reviewed by Tina, Self-Published

Review: Sam Dorsey and His First Days in College by Perie Wolford

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Title: Sam Dorsey and His First Days in College (Turning 16: Book 3.1)

Author: Perie Wolford

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 140 Pages

At a Glance: Fun, funny, and melancholy—this series should be labeled Required Reading in its genre.

Reviewed By: Tina

Blurb: Part 1: THE FIRST DAYS IN COLLEGE

Sam worked so hard to get a chance to go to Boston Film Academy but never in his darkest nightmares could he imagine that he would hate it there from day one.

Part 2: CHRISTMAS WITH MITCH

One thing that Mitch dreaded the most was coming out to his family but now he is being forced to do it because his mother is relentless trying to set him up on a date with a nice girl, just one date, or maybe two, or a dozen; and that is driving him crazy.

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Review: Sam Dorsey’s story is told through a collection of short stories and novellas that make up the Turning 16 Series. Each book is loosely based on an angsty teenager movie from the 1980s. The first two were each an accounting of two of Sam’s birthdays. The first, his sixteenth, held hints of Sixteen Candles, the Molly Ringwald movie that came to be part of a collection of films representing a generation of young people, myself included.

The second book told the story of Sam’s seventeenth birthday, and Mr. Wolford included a nod to Dirty Dancing. Poor Sam believes his birthday is cursed, and the only way to avoid calamity on that one day each year is to avoid acknowledging the actual day of his birth as a special day. The days before and after are okay to celebrate, just not the day itself.

Eventually, Sam had to graduate high school and go to college, right? Sam Dorsey and His First Days in College is made up of two short stories: The First Days in College and Christmas with Mitch. Sam has wanted to go to the Boston Film Academy since he can remember. He is shocked to discover that while he had an image in his mind of what college life would be like, the actuality is vastly different.

In the first two books, Perie Wolford dealt masterfully with Sam’s coming out and the conflict he suddenly faced, having to choose between his BFF Mitch and Mr. Popularity, Jake. The title of the second story included in this volume is a spoiler if you don’t know which guy Sam chose. That information is available in the book descriptions everywhere, though, so I’m not responsible for giving it up!

Reading Sam Dorsey and His First Days in College kind of felt like reuniting with old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. It was having coffee with Sam and catching up on what I had missed in the last year or so. I slipped right back into his world, easily and comfortably. Mr. Wolford has written these characters and their stories in a way that makes you feel like you’re a part of their universe, not just watching from the outside of your e-reader.

Sam’s stories are short and sweet, even when they’re full of teen angst. I had looked forward to this book to see where Mr. Wolford would take me—I mean, Sam—next. I wasn’t disappointed. It was fun, funny, and melancholy. I felt pride at how far Sam has come.

The next book in the series, Such a Grown-Up (Turning 16 #3.2), is expected in November. Just in time for Sam’s sophomore year in college? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out. In the meantime, I highly recommend that you take the time to read the first three books in this delightful series. You won’t be disappointed.

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You can buy Sam Dorsey and His First Days in College here:

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5 Stars, Genre Romance, Hayden Thorne, Historical Romance, New Adult, Reviewed by Lisa, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Self-Published

Review: Primavera by Hayden Thorne

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Title: Primavera

Author: Hayden Thorne

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 57 Pages

At a Glance: Haunting and beautiful, Primavera will make you believe in the infinite power of love.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Images of a young man who died in a dreadful manner suddenly haunt the dreams of eighteen-year-old Adam Cassidy. Even more disturbing are Adam’s suspicions regarding those dreams’ significance. They started the night he came out to his parents, and, somehow, Adam once knew that boy and had something to do with his death.

The situation’s compounded when the shy and cloistered Adam turns to the church and prayers for guidance and solace. He sees the boy from his dreams, who, in turn, leads him to an old church that feels familiar to Adam. The feeling deepens once he enters the church and meets a nameless man who appears to be waiting for him in its shadows.

The longer Adam grapples with his religious parents’ shame and disappointment, the more elaborate and disturbing his dreams become until he realizes they’re relating a story that happened centuries ago. One that ended in tragedy and yet offers hope for a second chance at happiness if only Adam could unravel the tangled mystery of the church and its lonely caretaker while struggling under the pressure of denying himself to appease his parents.

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“Blessed be the day, and the month, and the year, and the season, and the time, and the hour, and the moment.” – Francesco Petrarca

Review: Gorgeous. Hayden Thorne’s Primavera is simply that: gorgeous.

In a departure from her young adult fiction, this novella takes on a new adult tone in both its themes and its sexual content, telling a story of redemption and second chances set within both the contemporary and historical backdrop of 21st century California and 18th century Venice. This contrast works to set up not only the mysticism of the story but also to juxtapose the climate of the past—when Andrea and Paolo met and became lovers—and the present—when Luke and Adam met and went on to fulfill a destiny that’d been forged centuries before.

Adam’s coming out to his conservative and devoutly Catholic parents is the catalyst for their son’s journey, as they encourage him to “pray the gay away” and confess the sin of his desires in order to get beyond what certainly must be a simple crisis of faith. The story’s concurrent and conflicting themes of disapproval and acceptance cross the boundaries of time defy the laws of possibility, and broach the subject of the ingrained and dogmatic teachings of religion. In Adam’s confronting his sexuality, and accepting it in spite of his parents’ best efforts to subvert him, he is led to church. But, it’s a church unlike any he’s ever been to before. It’s the place where Adam finally meets Luke (outside of his own dreams), yet the church is itself a waking dream. It is the place where both young men will meet a mysterious stranger, a man who is looking for his own sense of peace and the forgiveness of a son he’d lost long ago. He will find that absolution by orchestrating a miracle.

The tone of this novella is bittersweet from start to finish, a contradiction of melancholy and happiness, as in life we all eventually learn that to gain we sometimes must lose. But through Adam’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance, there is also a thread of hope and optimism that love is, and will always be, the legacy of those who embrace it in all its forms—from the love of a father for his son to the love of one young man for another.

There is joy experienced through tears in Primavera—yes, you may want to have tissues handy while reading this beautiful story of a love that defies the physics of the universe. It is sensual and romantic, fantastical yet fully grounded in the reality of the expression of its message—that forgiveness and acceptance can heal, that faith in something that can’t be explained can be a leap well worth taking.

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5 Stars, Ai Press, D.H. Starr, Genre Romance, New Adult, Reviewed by Jackie

Review: Wrestling With Passion by D.H. Starr

Title: Wrestling With Passion

Author: D.H. Starr

Publisher: Ai Press

Pages/Word Count: 247 Pages

At a Glance: Wrestling With Passion is a great continuation to Scott and Derek’s story.

Reviewed By: Jackie

Blurb: Scott and Derek’s epic passion continues into sophomore year with new challenges to face and overcome. There is one problem: How can you fight an adversary you can’t see?

Derek has always helped others, often placing himself in risky situations. Scott has lived with instability his entire life, moving from place to place, never able to set roots. Surviving the obstacles set in place by Scott’s unloving father and overcoming the threat of an unstable fellow student their freshman year, they start their second year of college believing they’ve overcome all of the barriers blocking their future happiness.

All that changes when a troubled student, Tim, enters their lives. Derek can’t help but reach out to the drug-abusing freshman. Scott can’t suppress the paralyzing fear of losing Derek, the one stable thing in his life. As they compromise their own internal needs in an effort to support each other, resentment builds and guilt festers.

Is this new obstacle, the demons that live deep inside each of them, the one that might tear them apart?

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Review: I have loved following Scott and Derek since they met in their senior year of high school. It was great watching Derek grow and come into his true personality with the love he finds in Scott. Scott, though, was a little trickier to like. But, once he finally came clean about everything in his life, he quickly became an all-time favorite character. When the boys went away to college, they faced some of the same growing pains all couples face, but they came through it stronger than when they began.

With the summer almost over, and Derek and Scott getting ready to head off to college for their sophomore year, they take a short weekend trip to have some alone time before the pressure of wrestling and classes and all the other time consuming tasks begin. During this trip, the boys share everything: their hopes and fears and, of course, plenty of smexy times. There are promises made, and both of them feel more secure together than ever.

The first day back at school brings their dorm-mate, Tim, into their lives, and it seems that is where the problems begin. After the issues Derek had their freshman year, after reaching out to someone in need, they are both leery of getting too close to this troubled young man. This situation by itself wouldn’t be a problem, but throw in Scott’s fear of losing anyone else in his life, and Derek’s feelings that Scott is trying to change him, and it leads to some troubled times for our two favorite guys.

As usual D.H. Starr takes us on a journey with Scott and Derek, both of them having to dig deep and be up front with each other about their deepest, darkest fears. Once they lay all their cards out on the table, though, it seems like they are better than ever. Wrestling With Passion is a great continuation to Scott and Derek’s story. I truly love the fact that these two haven’t just had an easy path to happiness, but have had to work hard to get where they are today. Their sexual chemistry is off the charts, and the love they feel for each other is one that seems to be able to overcome any obstacle that comes their way.

The believability of their relationship, and the fact that their love leaps off the page, is the direct result of the author’s writing ability. With every one of his books I read, I am more and more impressed with the way he brings his characters to life. His characters always seem to be able to overcome anything that comes their way, and what I appreciate most is that the obstacles they face are very believable and not contrived or over the top.

I completely adore Scott and Derek and if you haven’t read their story yet, I highly recommend getting to it right away. Begin at the beginning and love these boys just like I do. I don’t know what is next for them, but I will be first in line to witness it.

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3.5 Stars, Genre Romance, Kimberly Gardner, Loose Id, New Adult, Reviewed by Sadonna

Review: Straight from the Heart by Kimberly Gardner

Title: Straight from the Heart: Exception to the Rule 3

Author: Kimberly Gardner

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count: 208 Pages

At a Glance: An engaging story of an athlete and a dancer who help each other out, and, on the way to being friends, become something more, with the predictable accompanying sturm und drang.

Reviewed By: Sadonna

Blurb: College student Kyle diStefano is having trouble paying his tuition. So when he hears about a job as team mascot with the accompanying full scholarship it seems like the perfect solution. Except he knows nothing about football. But why should that stop him?

Known as the Big Cock on Campus, Dave Masterson never lets his antics with the ladies interfere with his true love, playing NCAA football. But when his coach suggests the team do some off-season conditioning at the ballet barre, most of the guys scoff. Only Dave takes him seriously.

With Dave’s knowledge of football and Kyle’s knowledge of ballet, it seems each has exactly what the other needs, except they play for different teams. Or do they?

Kyle knows one sure path to heartbreak is falling for the straight jock who’s teaching him the rules of the game. Dave falling for another man is going to mean nothing but trouble. But neither man can seem to help himself.

When a public display of affection casts doubt on Dave’s NFL dream, he is forced to make a choice. Stay with the game plan or call an audible straight from the heart.

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Review: I enjoyed this fast read about Kyle, the ballet dancer, and Dave, the hunky quarterback. I was surprised to realize that I’ve only read one other story by this author, even though I apparently own several others – including the other stories in this series, which I haven’t read yet. This book can be read as a standalone, though, and I don’t feel like I missed anything by not reading the others first.

Kyle is a very fun character – so lively and snarky and brazen in some ways. His voice really keeps the story moving along. Dave is a little bit of a stereotypical jock at the beginning of our story. He really wants to take his game to the next level, and his coach tells him he needs to take Ballet. Kyle is trying out for the team mascot gig, which comes with a full scholarship that he is in need of since his financial aid has been cut. But, he doesn’t know anything about football. His roommate’s boyfriend suggests he ask Dave, and so Kyle barges in and does just that.

They reach a mutually beneficial arrangement, with Dave coming to the ballet studio where Kyle teaches. Dave then attempts to teach Kyle football, and practically flattens him while doing so. There are some bumps in the road, but they come to be friends, even though they are each struggling with the attraction simmering just below the surface. Kyle realizes how dangerous it is to fall for a straight guy, and Dave knows, as the BMOC, his college and possible professional football career would be in jeopardy.

There are some distractions in the way of Dave’s relationship with his on again/off again girlfriend, who is one of the cheerleaders, and also the backup quarterback, who would love to have a go at Kyle. Finally, after Dave has too much to drink at a party, an Kyle comes to the rescue, their friendship crosses a line. Neither of them are really ready for it, and afterwards, they spend some time apart.

Things come to a head again at a summer weekend party at the seashore, and Dave can’t seem to resist Kyle, who can’t seem to say no. The weekend teaches them both about who they really are, and Dave knows he wants Kyle more than he ever thought he would, but he’s also a little bit freaked out by what this might mean for his future.

Once the final season of Dave’s college career gets underway, and Kyle’s mascot duties take over, both guys focus on what needs to be done. But Dave is feeling really restless. He misses Kyle, and since his old roommate is Kyle’s roommate’s boyfriend, they hang out at Kyle’s sometimes. Dave doesn’t know exactly what it is he feels for Kyle, but he knows it’s not just friendship.

Then, when they attend a wedding together and a picture ends up on social media, the college coach and Dave’s family decide it’s time to do damage control. I have to say I didn’t like Dave’s father much in parts of the story, but he tried to be a standup guy as the story moved towards its conclusion.

Kyle is, of course, also unsettled about the media story – mostly because he knows he’s in for heartbreak and denial. Dave is put in the crosshairs, and he isn’t sure what to do about it. Luckily, he comes to his senses before it’s too late.

Overall I enjoyed this story, although I found parts of it rather unrealistic, and some of the characters pretty unlikable. I particularly loathed Dave’s father at one point in the story – especially the way he treated his other son. And the thing that probably annoyed me the most was that this author didn’t know how to spell Lynn Swann or Herschel Walker’s names. That made me pretty skeptical as to how well the story was going to be told. Luckily the focus was away from the football aspect and more on the relationship, which is probably a good thing. I’m thinking that I’ll go back and read the other stories in this series now to see what I missed.






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Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Karen Stivali

Blog Tour: Moment of Clarity and Moments in Time by Karen Stivali

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The last installment of Karen Stivali’s Moments in Time series, Moment of Clarity, has just been released. At the same time, the paperback Moments in Time that contains all three novellas in the series has also been published!

Moment of Clarity hires (1)Title: Moment of Clarity
Author: Karen Stivali
Length: novella
Genre: gay romance, contemporary, new adult, college.
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Blurb: Spending the summer together on Fire Island brought Collin and Tanner closer than ever, but back in their conservative college town, challenges confront them at every turn.

As they search for their new normal in their old environment, Collin’s brother Sean surprises them with help when they need it most. But when word about their relationship gets out, trouble erupts with friends and family. When Collin’s relationship with Tanner becomes an issue in his brother’s custody battle and Tanner struggles with his feelings for a heartbroken Wendy, Collin wonders if everyone he cares about would be better off without him in the picture.

In order to save them both, Tanner must make it clear to Collin that their love for each other is all that matters.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Dreamspinner Press | All Romance eBooks | Barnes & Noble

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MomentsinTimeFSMoments in Time – Series Paperback:

Contains books 1, 2, and 3 – Moment of Impact, Moment of Truth, and Moment of Clarity.

Dreamspinner Press

Haven’t read books 1 and 2? Then hurry up as Moment of Impact and Moment of Truth will be on sale for 99 cents for a limited time (May 5 -18).


Moment of Impact:

Outside Collin Fitzpatrick’s dorm room is a dangerous place. Beyond his door the students of his small, conservative college think he’s straight, as does his Catholic family who’d disown him if they learned the truth. Inside, he’s safe with his incredibly sexy roommate Tanner D’Amico. Their room makes a perfect place to hide away and fall in love. The moment they cross the line from roommates to lovers, Collin becomes caught between their heavenly passionate encounters and the hellish reality that someone might find out and destroy everything. Tanner’s not used to being so confined, and wants to show the world how much he loves Collin. But Collin’s not sure he’s ready for the impact stepping outside will make.

Buy Moment of Impact: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | All Romance eBooks

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Moment of Truth:

Collin expected to spend another summer fixing cars and working at the college pizzeria. Instead, he’s living in a beach house on Fire Island, waiting tables at a hip seaside restaurant and, for the first time since he and Tanner got together, they can publicly be known as boyfriends. Being “out” takes some getting used to, but with the help of new and old friends, Collin is happier than he ever imagined. And more in love. But newfound freedom brings unexpected challenges, and when friends get flirty, old insecurities arise. Moments of doubt and jealousy threaten their happiness, and Collin and Tanner must confront the truth or risk losing it all.

Buy Moment of Truth: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | All Romance eBooks | Barnes & Noble

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Want more? Moment of Silence and Moment of Fate, featuring secondary characters in Collin and Tanner’s story, will be released in late 2015 and early 2016.

Karen StivaliAbout the Author: Karen Stivali is a prolific writer, compulsive baker and chocoholic with a penchant for books, movies, and fictional British men. She’s also the multiple award-winning author of contemporary and erotic romances. Her lifelong fascination with people has led her to careers ranging from hand-drawn animator, to party planner, to marriage and family counselor, but writing has always been her passion. Karen enjoys nothing more than following her characters on their journey toward love. Whether the couples are m/f or m/m, it’s guaranteed that Karen’s novels are filled with food, friendship, love, and smoking hot sex—all the best things in life.

When Karen isn’t writing (and often when she is), she can be found on Twitter attempting witty banter and detailing the antics of her fruit-loving cat, BadKitteh. She loves to hear from readers (and other writers), so don’t hesitate to contact/follow/like her at:

Website | Twitter | Facebook

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3 Stars, Edie Danford, New Adult, Reviewed by Lisa, Samhain Publishing

Review: Uncovering Ray by Edie Danford

Title: Uncovering Ray

Author: Edie Danford

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 309 Pages

At a Glance: I liked this book, even in spite of some rather clichéd secondary characters and what I feel was a detractor to its message about destroying labels and gender stereotypes.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: When the right love uncovers the wrong secrets…

Hey, man–you a chick or a dude? Dealing with the same old boring question is a downer for college drop-out Ray Fayette, especially when it’s asked by the low-tipping, over-privileged students at the Ellery Diner.

When six-foot-five, muscle-bound straight arrow Wyatt Kelly publicly smacks down a fellow frat bother for caveman behavior, Ray’s interest is sparked. Wyatt’s not-so-subtle attraction sparks a few other things too.

But getting to know Wyatt proves dangerous. His sexy smiles and smart questions slide under even Ray’s prickliest defenses. Worse, his academic mentor happens to be Ray’s ex-stepfather, the dictatorial jerk who just kicked Ray out of his house. Again.

Wyatt suggests a housing arrangement that has surprising appeal—there’s space available at his frat house—but he’s unaware just how complicated Ray’s “identity issues” are. Ellery College kicked out Ray for a reason—a reason that could deep-six Wyatt’s academic career and Ray’s newly hopeful heart.

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Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers

Review: Let me start by saying on the whole, I try to be ultra-sensitive of spoilers in my reviews, but there really is no way to discuss this book in a way that doesn’t at least give you a good guess about a significant plot point, so read no further if you’re considering reading Uncovering Ray.

Okay, now I feel as if I’ve done due diligence, so let me start by saying I offer huge kudos to Edie Danford for tackling such a thoughtful subject in her freshman contribution to the LGBT genre, especially in writing a gender fluid character the reader is deliberately intended not to know at the beginning of the story as either male or female, or, both male and female, whichever the case may be.

Uncovering Ray works beautifully at the outset. Is Ray a feminine boy or a masculine girl? Though there is a natural curiosity, Danford also makes us not care one way or the other, and this succeeds because we simply see Ray as Ray—no pronouns, no labels necessary—the only thing that matters is that we’re allowed to know Ray as a person apart from the cisgender definition of male or female. Seeing Ray as gender non-specific allows us to concentrate on the challenges of Ray being Ray, and this non-specificity is integral in establishing the relationship between Ray and Wyatt, the guy who charms his way into Ray’s life, because the very thing that makes Ray such a strong character makes Wyatt strong too. This straight guy is attracted to Ray not because he’s certain of Ray’s gender but because he’s drawn to Ray’s outward projection of who Ray is inside: a mix of confidence and sass, anger and vulnerability.

Danford’s writing style is fresh and vibrant, a good complement to her twenty and twenty-three year old protagonists. Ray’s tough exterior is exposed while at the same time revealing all of Ray’s tender spots: the family issues, the things that make Ray a dichotomy—brittle, sensitive, strong, and simply wanting to be accepted. The author succeeds in helping us to understand and empathize with Ray’s character, even though Ray’s prickliness won’t allow us to get too close.

Wyatt, on the other hand, is the steadfast and determined hero ready to champion Ray at every turn, complete with Ray insisting upon referring to him as Sherriff Earp. Wyatt is the man who means to be the agent of the change he wants to see in the world, and in many ways he becomes Ray’s touchstone. They both deliver the author’s message loud and clear—that coming down on the right side of history means tearing down walls, destroying labels, upsetting the status quo, and being the instigator of progress in the Greek system at Ellery College. Wyatt is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy and is immediately likeable for his confidence and kindness.

Now, the downturn. Where Uncovering Ray lost all credibility for me, where its overarching message of rejecting gender normative labels failed just before the halfway mark, is in the revelation of Ray’s biological gender. “Hey, man—you a chick or a dude?” It’s directly established in the blurb that this is a tiresome question for Ray, it’s the crux of Ray’s personal challenges and struggles, and is the core of Ray’s identity as neither, or both. The author establishes a powerful visual image of Ray’s androgyny from the start, only to obliterate that image by revealing Ray’s genitalia on page in an overt sexual way, creating for the reader the impossible task of recovering the ability to see beyond Ray’s anatomy, and leaving me with the distraction for the remainder of the book of trying to figure out why it was important to establish that visual. In my opinion, it wasn’t important at all and entirely contradicted Ray’s characterization at the outset of the story.

How did this impact the novel’s overall message? It also took a good bit of the sheen off Wyatt’s shining armor, to be honest, in ways that are complete spoilers to the book, but suffice it to say, the only thing we can end up crediting Wyatt with is seeing past Ray’s androgyny and accepting the way Ray chooses to dress. Not a bad message, but again, I feel this book could have made a much greater impact if Ray’s genitalia had been kept completely off the page so the reader could embrace Ray’s fluidity without influence from the mental picture the author provides.

Having said all that, little is resolved at the end of Uncovering Ray, but it is an otherwise sweet story; ambitious, angsty and optimistic, with a pivotal scene that redirects the tide of events in Ray’s life, and just might bring around some of the changes Wyatt is working toward. I liked this book, even in spite of some rather clichéd secondary characters and what I feel was a detractor to its message about destroying labels and redefining gender norms.

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4.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Mickie B. Ashling, New Adult, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Chyna Doll by Mickie B. Ashling

Title: Chyna Doll (Horizons Series: Book Four)

Author: Mickie B. Ashling

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 320 Pages

At a Glance: The hope that endures through the pages is the absolute best reason to pick this story up and delve into the world Mickie B. Ashling has created.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Lil Lampert’s forty-fifth birthday turns the effervescent architect into a brooding mess, and his partner, Grier Dilorio, takes him to Italy to help him regain his zest for life. The timing is bad—almost-fifteen-year-old Luca has just started high school, and his mother and stepfather are also traveling. Luca is left in the care of Chicago Bear, Clark Stevens, and his partner, Dr. Jody Williams.

Growing up with two dads and two gay uncles has given Luca a unique perspective on gender roles, but not all the answers. He’s had a secret crush on his straight best friend, Chip, for years. Suddenly, Luca finds himself attracted to Chyna, Chip’s twin sister. Now he’s wondering if this means he’s bisexual.

Born with a sexual development disorder, Chyna should have been raised as a male, but due to an epic parenting fail, is being raised as female. Hiding the truth becomes more difficult when Chyna hits puberty, and crushing over Luca adds another element to Chyna’s struggle to fit in.

Is Luca’s moral compass strong enough to guide him successfully through this period of discovery or will he succumb to peer pressure and shatter Chyna’s dreams for happiness?

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Review: Wow! This was an intense book to read. I had read all of the previous books in the series, and had concerns about a book with a teenaged MC, what with the backdrop this series is based on. I really shouldn’t have worried, though. There was no squick about Luca at all. The teenage angst was appropriate to his age, and more importantly, was felt to be realistic and protective at the same time.

Jody and Clark, and Greer and Lil, were both further explored. Their relationships grew, and the effects of time on those relationships were exposed and defined to allow Luca to grow up to be the teenager he is in the story. If it wasn’t for the solid carryover of these very adult relationships, I might define this as a YA novel. The issues discussed: gender identity, bullying, peer pressure and family responsibilities are classic YA topics and are handled in an impressive manner. But…this is not a YA book. We are carried into the story as adults, protecting the young, nurturing their growth and allowing them to blossom safely, with our compassion at the forefront of our awareness as we read.

I have so much respect for this author for freely visiting topics that most would be wary of. I am a curious reader, and I love learning new things about people and places, and at no time when reading one of her books do I ever not learn something. Kinks and fetishes are a delight to learn about in the privacy of my own home, but the difficult topics she covers, like bullying and self-identity, are also explored, and these are emotionally felt by the reader as we are so immersed in her books that the events almost seem to happen to us. I would not say that Chyna Doll is an easy book to read, but it is now one of my favorites. The ability to force her readers to see things from multiple sides, and learn about new things in a balanced way, is a pretty awesome talent. It speaks to amazing research and world building, as well as character development which invests us in her work. We want the resolutions to work, and the characters to be happy, but we also want hope for the future, and she always delivers.

I would love to have parts of this book be compulsory for high school English classes, or maybe social studies, if that is still in the high school curriculum, but either way this is a book that should be read; for knowledge and awareness and personal growth. It is not a casual story to be enjoyed on a whim, but is an engrossing tale that will sustain you in ways I can’t describe. It manages to draw on so many emotions; it’s sexy, it has some great dialogue that’s funny and full of wit, it has moments that are disgusting for the portrayal of bullying at their worst and made me angry at parental powers that had been abused. And yet, the story still ended with hope. There are so many reasons to read this book, but I think the hope that endures through the pages is the absolute best reason to pick this story up and delve into the world Mickie B. Ashling has created.

Do yourself a favor and check out the first three books first, though: Horizons, Taste, and Daddio, to see the series journey so far and then tease your senses even more with Chyna Doll.

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4 Stars, Anna Martin, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, New Adult, Reviewed by Jules

Review: Signs by Anna Martin

Title: Signs

Author: Anna Martin

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: I continue to be a big fan of Anna Martin – an absolutely fantastic storyteller.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: After spending most of his life in special schools, Caleb Stone now faces public high school in his senior year, a prospect that both excites him and threatens to overwhelm his social anxiety. As a deaf teenager, he’s closed himself off to the world. He speaks a shorthand with his parents and even finds it hard to use American Sign Language with people in his local deaf community. But Caleb finds comfort in his love of photography. Everything he can’t express in real life, he posts on his Tumblr.

Struggling to reconcile his resentment for his father’s cruelty with the grief of losing a parent, Luc Le Bautillier scrolls through Tumblr searching for someone who might understand his goth look and effeminate nature. When Luc reblogs a photo by Caleb, sparking a conversation, they both find it easier to make friends online than in person.

Luc and Caleb confront their fears about the opinions of the outside world to meet in New York City. Despite Caleb’s increasing confidence, his parents worry he’s not ready for the trials ahead. But communication comes in many forms—when you learn the signs.

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Review: There is a lot to love about Anna Martin’s newest release, Signs. At the top of the list are Caleb and Luc. I adored these guys. They were refreshing and real, and just had a really lovely innocence about them. The more I’ve thought about this story in the last few days since finishing it, the more I realize how much I liked it, and how much of that has to do with them.

Caleb is an eighteen-year-old high school senior who is passionate about photography, and starts a Tumblr account to share some of his pics. He also happens to be deaf. I liked that he wasn’t a ‘typical’ deaf kid. He isn’t a superstar at sign language, and only begrudgingly attends meetings of a local Boston chapter of Deaf Youth to appease his parents, who want him to try to interact more. Being deaf isn’t the only issue keeping him from having a more normal teen life; unfortunately, he also suffers from social anxiety, making it even more difficult to make and keep friends. He gains a few followers on Tumblr, though, including catching the eye of a teen boy from New York City named Luc.

Luc is a goth kid who doesn’t really relate to his family, and though he does have a few friends at his new school in the city, he’s also a bit of a loner. Luc lives with his sister, Ilse, and his mother, who is never home. She stays out drinking and hanging out with her socialite friends, leaving Ilse to do most of the parenting for Luc. But, something about Caleb’s work speaks to Luc, and he ends up sharing and commenting on a couple of his posts, sparking conversation between the two.

The story mostly consists of watching Caleb and Luc become closer, and grow and mature together. The only drama coming from a bit of push-back against the parents – typical kids testing boundaries and exerting their independence – and also when Caleb applies to be in a trial for a new type of cochlear implant. But, sweet was the exact right feel for this story. They didn’t need a ton of angst or drama, it was simply enough to enjoy watching them fall in love, and decide what direction they want their lives to go.

Things get a little off track in the middle of the book. It definitely started out strong, but I felt like it wandered a bit through the midsection. There were a couple of awkward scenes, some unanswered questions – one being what happened to Jay? Luc had a best friend who disappeared, seemingly for no reason, which begged the question, why even include him in the story at all? And I think the cochlear implant stuff was maybe a bit drawn out.

That being said, however, there were even more things I loved: Luc helping Caleb work on his speech techniques (swooooon), the letter Luc wrote to the people in charge of the implant trial (amaaaaazing), the fact that even with all the communication barriers, these two were better at communicating than most adults I know. So much good stuff. We never learned what Luc’s aspirations were, but in the post-book story in my head, he studies to become a speech therapist. :)

From Tattoos & Teacups to Cricket and Jurassic Heart, and now a wonderful NA book about two fantastic young men in Signs, I continue to be a big fan of Anna Martin – an absolutely fantastic storyteller. I can’t wait to see what she gives us next!






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4.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, HT Pantu, New Adult, Reviewed by Chris

Review: I Hate Summer by HT Pantu

Title: I Hate Summer

Author: HT Pantu

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 264 Pages

At a Glance: I recommend this one for those who like new adult stories served by snarky, pretty boys, with a frenemies to lovers storyline.

Reviewed By: Chris

Blurb: Out since he was fourteen, Idrys grew up hating summer, mostly because of Trystan Jackson, the gorgeous eldest son of his parents’ holiday friends. After avoiding the joint holiday for five years, Idrys must now face Trystan again… or risk the wrath of his parents. Like Idrys, Trystan isn’t exactly the guy he was the last time they met, but Idrys has more to worry about than Trystan’s odd sleeping habits. He has to steel his—usually nonexistent—morals against the advances of the cute and innocent Josh, Trystan’s younger brother.

It’s only ten days, right? And afterward he doesn’t have to see either of them for another year.

If only it was that simple.

Two months after the holiday from hell, Trystan gets a last minute placement in the city where Idrys lives, and suddenly both brothers are back in Idrys’s life. Idrys is determined to carry on regardless, but sooner or later he might have to face the fact that summer doesn’t last forever.

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Review: Summer is supposed to be your escape when you’re young. When your family spends it with people that taunt you, then it becomes something you no longer enjoy. Idrys Bjornson has come to hate summers with his family, and even though he still enjoys camping and the outdoors, he just can’t tolerate the Jackson boys any longer. So, he decides to take time away from their summer vacations.

Four years later, Ide is sucked into going back out on vacation with his family. For the most part he’s okay with it, until he finds out the Jackson family is there, too. This vacation ends up being more difficult than he expected, between sharing a tent with oldest son, Trystan, and the younger brother, Josh, totally crushing on Idrys. Ide just keeps telling himself it’s only a short time to get through and then he’ll not have to see them again for another year.

Unluckily for Idrys, a year turns into two months, with Trystan ending up looking for a place to live in the same town Ide is working. These two love to hate each other, until they end up lusting over each other. Even then, they’re snarky and bitchy to each other.

I actually enjoyed the snarky banter between these two because to me, it was totally about sexual tension. Even when it seemed like they hated each other, it was that fine line of hate=love. And they played it off well, even if sometimes it did fall on the hurtful line instead of just teasing banter. The sex was off the charts hot between these two young men, and I literally cheered for them to figure out that they really did like each other.

I will admit the younger brother Josh having a major hard on (literally) for Idrys was a little bit much, but I think that’s because he seemed less mature than Ide and Trystan. I just didn’t see a connection with Josh and Idrys, not like the one with him and Trystan. The story was well written, it wasn’t rushed, didn’t down play any of the characters feelings, and had good supporting secondary characters.

Idrys is a character some will love, and some will definitely not enjoy, but that’s what makes each character stand out. Ide and Trys are both those types of characters—Ide just tends to use his modeling as a shield to keep people away. I will give the heads up to readers that the publisher has this labeled as a m/m/m and more. At the start of the book, neither are in a relationship together, but both are in, or have been in relationships, or have sex with others prior to getting together. There isn’t any threesome action for those who do not enjoy that type of storyline.

I thoroughly enjoyed I Hate Summer and I look forward to other books by this author in the future. I recommend this one for those who like new adult stories served by snarky, pretty boys, with a frenemies to lovers storyline.






You can buy I Hate Summer here:

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4.5 Stars, Genre Romance, J.A. Rock, Loose Id, New Adult, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Take the Long Way Home by J.A. Rock

Title: Take the Long Way Home

Author: J.A. Rock

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count: 225 Pages

At a Glance: J.A. Rock serves up an edgy and twisted story that is a journey so important I think each of us will find a small piece of ourselves in Dresden.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Dresden Marich has failed out of high school three months shy of graduation. He’s infatuated with his online friend, Evan, alienated from his family and former classmates, and still trying to recover from his father’s death six years ago. He’s also keeping a troubling secret about his older brother, Gunner, who is away at boot camp.

Then Dresden meets Caleb, a judgmental environmentalist who’s hardly Dresden’s fantasy come true. But Caleb seems to understand Dresden’s desire for rough sex, big feelings, and, ultimately, safety. As Dresden becomes embroiled in a farmers market drama involving Caleb, a couple of bullying tomato enthusiasts, and a gang of vigilante vegans, he discovers he might be willing to trade a fantasy relationship with Evan for a shot at something real with Caleb.

But Dresden fears telling quick-to-judge Caleb his secret, and the news that Gunner is coming home sends him fleeing to California for a chance to meet Evan in person and hopefully fall in love. When the encounter doesn’t go as expected, Dresden faces a choice: stay in California and carve out a new life, or take the long road home to his family, Caleb, and a past he must face if he has any hope for a future.

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Review: Dresden Marich spends each waking moment second-guessing everything he does, feels and says. Due to both the trauma of losing his father, and his brother committing abuse that went well beyond normal brotherly rivalry, Dresden is locked in a downward spiral that finds him failing school three months before graduation. Not only must he contend with a mother who holds herself aloof at the best of times, he must also grapple with spiking and flagrant emotions that bring up such harsh anger and self-hatred inside him that they leave him breathless. Every day he logs online to not only have online sex with Evan, who lives in California and is shadowy at best, but he hooks up with older men and performs degrading acts just to see how far he can push himself. He is, in a word, wounded and out of control.

Then he meets Caleb. Caleb who reclaims old wood and carves it into something new and fresh. A young man who himself is equally trapped in a house full of memories that hold him captive. These two young men come together and something happens…Dresden gradually realizes he wants more from life, he wants more for himself. He can beat the anger and sadness if only Caleb can put up with him long enough for him to become a better person…a person who can accept and, in turn, give love. And Caleb realizes it is time to let go of the past and its regrets and live in the moment where love awaits him.

I would like to assure you that this brief synopsis along with the author’s own blurb gives you enough of this incredible story to make sense of all that goes on in Dresden’s world. But, I am afraid I can make no such claim. Each page of this story is a moment of decision, a second of truth, and Dresden must adjust to each thing that happens or lose himself irrevocably. The damage done by his mother in refusing to acknowledge what happened between Dresden and his brother, Gunner, serves to be the rotten core from which springs most of Dresden’s own self-loathing and anger. But Caleb, sweet, lost Caleb, will be the one to finally break through to Dresden and make him see what potential lies within him and help him to discover he is worthy of love and happiness.

J.A. Rock serves up an edgy and twisted story that is a journey so important I think each of us will find a small piece of ourselves in Dresden. He embodies those moments where we cannot seem to find our own goodness, our own worth. In equal moments of sadness and joy, Take The Long Way Home leads us on a trip that systematically sheds all our safety nets and leaves us bare, ready to be remade, to discover our own value and that we can love despite how we feel.






You can buy Take the Long Way Home here:

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Dreamspinner Press, Giveaways, Mickie B. Ashling

Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway: The Chyna Doll Blog Tour With Mickie B. Ashling

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Many thanks to The Novel Approach for hosting my Chyna Doll blog tour visit. This is the fourth novel in the Horizons series. We’ve jumped ahead several years since Daddio ended. Luca has just started high school, Lil and Grier are in Italy, and Clark and Jody are the official “babysitters” for a month. Here’s an exclusive excerpt for you. I’ve also brought along some goodies to give away: a $20 Dreamspinner gift certificate, one of five ecopies of Chyna Doll, any two ebooks from Mickie’s backlist, or a signed paperback of Chyna Doll!

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ChynaDollLGBlurb: Lil Lampert’s forty-fifth birthday turns the effervescent architect into a brooding mess, and his partner, Grier Dilorio, takes him to Italy to help him regain his zest for life. The timing is bad—almost-fifteen-year-old Luca has just started high school, and his mother and stepfather are also traveling. Luca is left in the care of Chicago Bear, Clark Stevens, and his partner, Dr. Jody Williams.

Growing up with two dads and two gay uncles has given Luca a unique perspective on gender roles, but not all the answers. He’s had a secret crush on his straight best friend, Chip, for years. Suddenly, Luca finds himself attracted to Chyna, Chip’s twin sister. Now he’s wondering if this means he’s bisexual.

Born with a sexual development disorder, Chyna should have been raised as a male, but due to an epic parenting fail, is being raised as female. Hiding the truth becomes more difficult when Chyna hits puberty, and crushing over Luca adds another element to Chyna’s struggle to fit in.

Is Luca’s moral compass strong enough to guide him successfully through this period of discovery or will he succumb to peer pressure and shatter Chyna’s dreams for happiness?

Buy Links: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon US | All Romance eBooks

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Excerpt: Clark got out of the car gingerly, putting most of his weight on the cane he was still using to hobble around. His fracture had healed, but he was being cautious and hadn’t been given clearance to rejoin his team yet; the unwanted hiatus had taken its toll on his normally good humor. Luca hoped he’d be able to get back to the sport before the season ended, or he’d turn into a cranky old bear over the winter. “Put your gear away and come back to help with the dogs.”

“Okay,” Luca said, happy for the reprieve. He took the stairs two at a time and threw his gear into the bedroom they’d assigned him. It was the same room he’d stayed in since he was a youngster, except it had been redecorated recently. The Disney wallpaper had been removed, replaced with posters of popular singers like Taylor Swift, OneRepublic, and his current favorite, Macklemore. The first time he’d heard “Same Love” by the thirty-year-old rapper, he knew he’d have to add him to his playlist. The ode to same sex love had become a national anthem to many in the LGBT community, and Luca was very vocal about gay rights and alternative families. Ironically, he hadn’t made a public stand on his own orientation. In fact, none of his friends knew for sure if he liked boys or girls, and they didn’t dare ask. In truth, Luca wasn’t sure either. He was attracted to both sexes, and flattered when they flirted with him, but once in a while, Chip would look at him in a certain way, and he’d get this feeling deep in the pit of his stomach that made him wonder if he could be bisexual.

It seemed like his body was developing much faster than his brain, and he was plagued by inconvenient boners that were a part of growing up, according to his dads, and nothing to be ashamed of. Every guy gets them, they’d said reassuringly. I’m sure you know how to deal with them, right? Right—what? How awkward was that? Did he even want to say the word? It sounded so dirty when he said it out loud, but it felt so good in the privacy of his room. How could anything that was so awesome be wrong? Wouldn’t it feel that much better with a partner? Why did he have to choose sides? Or did he? Didn’t most people automatically know if they were attracted to men or women?

Two guys kissing was nothing unusual to Luca, likewise, the affectionate nuzzling that went on between his mother and Tito Ali. One didn’t seem more normal than the other. Because of the nine year age difference between him and his half-sister, Gemma, girls remained somewhat of a mystery. He had a tendency to treat them like they were precious Christmas ornaments that might shatter at any minute. Chip wasn’t too far off the mark when he’d accused Luca of handling the girls in school with extreme care. The few he’d been around had been very sweet, and he didn’t see the horns that supposedly lurked beneath their bouncy curls. Perhaps his best friend was jealous. Did that mean Chip was gay and jonesing for him? Christ, growing up was such a pain sometimes. He wished he were eighteen so all his doubts could be put to rest.

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Author BioAuthor Bio: Mickie B. Ashling is the alter-ego of a multifaceted woman raised by a single mother who preferred reading over other forms of entertainment. She found a kindred spirit in her oldest child and encouraged her with a steady supply of dog-eared paperbacks. Romance was the preferred genre, and historical romances topped her favorites list.

By the time Mickie discovered her own talent for writing, real life had intruded, and the business of earning a living and raising four sons took priority. With the advent of e-publishing and the inevitable emptying nest, dreams were resurrected, and the storyteller was reborn.

She stumbled into the world of men who love men in 2002 and continues to draw inspiration from their ongoing struggle to find equality and happiness in this oftentimes skewed and intolerant world. Her award-winning novels have been called “gut wrenching, daring, and thought provoking.” She admits to being an angst queen and making her men work damn hard for their happy endings.

Mickie loves to travel and has lived in the Philippines, Spain, and the Middle East but currently resides in a suburb outside Chicago.

Connect with Mickie: Email | Facebook | Website | Blog | Goodreads and Ask the Author

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THE GIVEAWAY (*Contest open internationally/Must be 18 or older to enter*):

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Tour Schedule:

March 2 – The Novel Approach

March 3 – Cup o’ Porn

March 4 – Hearts On Fire

March 5 – WoW…from The Scarf Princess

March 6 – MM Good Book Reviews

March 7 – Book Reviews & More by Kathy

March 9 – Prism Book Alliance

March 10 – Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

March 11 – On Top Down Under Book Reviews

March 12 – Sinfully…Addicted to All Male Romance

Tour and materials organized by PAS Promotions

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3.5 Stars, Genre Romance, New Adult, Reviewed by Kathie, Self-Published, Wade Kelly

Review: Misplaced Affection by Wade Kelly

Title: Misplaced Affection

Author: Wade Kelly

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 380 Pages

At a Glance: I felt there were too many balls in the air in this plot.

Reviewed By: Kathie

Blurb: Clichés are overrated and loving the boy next door may not be as genuine as the love Flynn sacrifices along the way.

Knowing he’s gay and acting on it were two separate notions to Flynn Brewer until he’d met Keith, his first boyfriend, in high school. Before then, being gay wasn’t as real as the pain of living day-to-day. Flynn’s fear of coming out to his religious best friend Zach in their conservative community destroyed his relationship with Keith, but Flynn rationalized his avoidance and bottled up the truth until it was regrettably too late.

Zachary Mitchell was the perfect son and role model as far as the outside world could tell. Active in his church while attending college, Zach had a personality that could sell anything, do anything, or be anything. Except, he couldn’t sell the truth to himself. Just when he was ready to reveal his internal conflict to Flynn and expose the darkness lurking in his heart, and in his “perfect” family, Zach met a girl and got sucked deeper into his chasm of deception.

Caught in a living Newton’s Cradle of his own design, Flynn must choose between idealistic childhood fantasy, or a tempestuous passion that could ignite the very air he breathes.

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Review: I really struggled with this book and review. On the one hand I am a big fan of Wade Kelly and have enjoyed many of her books and audiobooks. On the other hand, I was taken aback by how much religion played a role in this book. Just for my obsessive-compulsive tendency, I counted how many times the words God, church, and religious/religion were used in Misplaced Affection. God, as a proper noun, and god, as in “oh my god,” were mentioned at least 140 times; the word religion, or a variation of it, 31 times; and church, 73 times. I admit I have not been comfortable in a church lately, mostly due to the religious fanatics who feel they have a right to judge my family and not allow my son the right to marry if he makes that choice. Coming from that place, it was hard to lay aside my beliefs and review the book on the merits of the writing and character development alone.

Wade Kelly tells us this story from the point-of-view of the three main characters, each having his own voice to tell his side. We first hear from Flynn and how he’s coping with being seventeen, having his first boyfriend, and watching his closest friend pull away from him. To make life a little more crazy, he is also working through the grief of losing his mother and brother in a car accident.

Zack was the hardest character for me to read. Zack is in the center of the circle, so to speak, and is the center of the book. He lives with an abusive parent who justifies his abuse and control with religion. Zack struggles with his identity and because of this, and many other struggles, his parents take advantage of those weaknesses, controlling Zack’s every move.

Keith, who brings up the rear, is the most balanced of the three characters. He has a good family that supports him, but Keith’s biggest problem is he is in love with Flynn. And not only does he want a sexual relationship with Flynn, which Flynn is all for, but he wants Flynn to come out, and that means more than just to his dad.

There is a lot to Misplaced Affection: coming out to family, times two; trips to the desert, almost weddings, and many trips to the hospital. I felt there were too many balls in the air in this plot, and they start falling one by one until finally, all that’s left are three—Flynn, Zack, and Keith. The question is, who ends up with whom, and is there a happy ending?

I liked the characters in Misplaced Affection, the families, and their friends–they all played a role in shaping the story. My only wish as I was reading this book was for fewer mentions of God, religion, and church. It would have tightened up a story that was already really long.






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