5 Stars, Drama, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, John Goode, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: When I Grow Up by John Goode

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Title: When I Grow Up (Tales from Foster High: Book Eight)

Author: John Goode

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 284 Pages

At a Glance: John Goode makes it laughably easy to say, “I highly recommend this novel to you.”

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: After graduation, Kyle Stilleno and Brad Graymark move to California to pursue their dreams. But high school sweethearts are called that for a reason, and their love rarely stands up to the test of time. As money, school, sex, and jealousy test their relationship to the breaking point, Kyle and Brad fight to hold on to the love that brought them together.

But when a frantic phone call sends them back to Texas, they discover love and understanding might not be enough this time.

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Review: Holy expletive, Batman, what just happened? Okay, I had to, sorry, but to start a review for this one any other way would just feel wrong! Let me try again. First, if you are a Tales from Foster High series fan, get ready, because, in the immortal words of Bette Davis, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!” Oh dear. All right, before any credibility I have as a reviewer dissolves into some other applicable quote, let me begin to discuss with you When I Grow Up by author John Goode.

I am afraid I must begin by stating that if you have not read this series, this novel will lose quite a bit of its impact without the background story those previous seven novels will provide. I should also mention here that I highly recommend you read Robert Halliwell’s book A Way Back to Then prior to diving into this one so that you are up to speed on what has happened to the character of Robbie, and have met his new boyfriend Sebastian. Finally, if you are looking for a lengthy synopsis on Mr. Goode’s latest gem, you will not find it here, for to give you that would mean giving away too much of a story that you must read and savor.

So, what can I tell you about When I Grow Up? I can relate that the novel picks up with Kyle and Brad as they arrive in California and begin life after high school in a tiny apartment above a family run Chinese restaurant. Kyle is convinced of three things: One, that he will do anything to be successful in his pursuit of a degree from Berkeley. Two, that he is so far out of his league in almost every aspect of his new life that he is doomed to fail. And three, Brad will most assuredly be dumping him for someone else before the week is out. In other words, welcome to Kyle and his ongoing insecurities.

Brad, on the other hand, remains clueless as to why his love for Kyle and his ever impossibly positive outlook about his and Kyle’s future will never be near enough to weather the storm that is about to hit the pair of them. Growing up is one mother of a disturbance for most, but for these boys it will be the near undoing of everything they hope for and love. You will watch as their lives spiral out of control, and just want to leap into the story and shake them both in the hopes they wake up before they destroy each other.

John Goode has this uncanny ability to create stories that have that gloriously scary yet exhilarating feel of being on a runaway roller coaster. You love the ride but pray you survive the end of it. This latest Foster High installment nearly did me in. Every character you love, and some you hate, is in this story. They converge in a town that is still able to destroy a person with its inability to move forward, to see all the dark and nasty secrets that are covered in that sweet home town persona it gives off. Each character has their part to play in supporting Kyle during one of the toughest chapters in his life, and all of them will do whatever it takes to protect one of their own. The problem is that Kyle is nearly beaten by none other than himself. He has used up every get out of jail free card he has with Brad, and there really may be no way to salvage what he has come so very close to destroying on the path to growing up.

So, I offer this advice to you. Read every single word and chapter of this novel; trust me, it is vital you do so. Revel in how this author creates such an imperfect world, peopled with very flawed characters, and reveals through their interactions with each other how much those who society marginalizes can love and support one another. Delight in the idea being offered that while life can be so very hard, it can also contain such impossibly perfect moments that it gives a person the strength to carry on despite the odds being stacked against them. Finally, enjoy every single second that you can visit with these amazing characters once again.

When I Grow Up is told in multiple parts, narrated from the perspective of several characters, and is such a gripping story that you will not be able to put this one aside before hitting the very last page. This author, his writing, his stunning ability to weave a story just gets better each time, never fails to leave me shaking my head at the truth and compassion his novels impart. John Goode makes it laughably easy to say, “I highly recommend this novel to you.”

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You can pre-order When I Grow Up here:

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Sammy, Robert Halliwell

Review: A Way Back to Then by Robert Halliwell

Title: A Way Back to Then (A Tales from Foster High Story)

Author: Robert Halliwell

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: Mr. Halliwell not only makes this story his own but presents to his readers an exciting, witty, smart and deliciously snarky voice that could never be mistaken for anything other than genuine and fresh!

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Robbie DeCaro leaves Foster, Texas and returns to Long Island, searching for the life he had before the tragic loss of his only love.

Snarky yet good-hearted Robbie DeCaro made his first appearance in the pages of Tales from Foster High: End of the Innocence, years after the loss of his first and only love. A New York transplant, Robbie now decides that his work is done in the town of Foster, and the time has come for him to leave Texas.

Returning to his childhood home on Long Island, Robbie reunites with his family members. Each using their own unique methods, they try in vain to help Robbie reset to a life he knew before he left it all for the fairy-tale love he found, then tragically lost.

As he remembers some of the darkest moments from his past, Robbie wonders if he’ll ever find the “after” in “happily ever after.”

Dividers

Review: Before I begin my review, I want to speak to something very important when it comes to new authors such as Robert Halliwell. It’s not often that an author establishes such a solid “voice” in his first novel. Just so we are on the same page, the author’s voice, as it is described on Writeability, is as follows: “Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character.”

That is a very powerful statement, and sometimes it takes authors several stories before they find their way. In this case, where the novel in question, A Way Back to Then, is actually a spinoff featuring a character from a highly popular and established series, Tales from Foster High, it was pretty imperative that Mr. Halliwell establish his own voice so as not to merely imitate John Goode, the author of the aforementioned series. I am so excited and delighted to report that Mr. Halliwell not only makes this story his own but presents to his readers an exciting, witty, smart and deliciously snarky voice that could never be mistaken for anything other than genuine and fresh!

What an incredible first novel this author wrote for us. Jumping right from the Foster High series, A Way Back to Then seamlessly picks up on the life of Robbie DeCaro, the Long Island transplant who’d moved to Foster with his boyfriend Riley a few years previous. When Riley was killed during a hit and run hate crime, Robbie began on a self-destructive path, embracing and unleashing his “inner Diva,” and erecting a wall so high and thick around his heart that it is doubtful he will ever love again.

Plagued by panic attacks and a pain that runs so deep, he is finally able to come to terms with a friend who watched the accident but did nothing to help as Riley lay dying in his arms. Prior to his packing up and heading home to his mother’s home in Long Island, Robbie finds a restless peace with the town of Foster, and leaves the dregs of his bitterness over their quiet bigotry behind. Once home, he feels so lost, and while he tries to reconnect with former friends (and I use that term loosely), he finds that he can’t bring himself to do the cruising bar scene again. It takes his sister, Nicole, and her crafty blind date set up to finally bring Robbie back into the dating scene, with near disastrous results. The real question becomes, can Robbie ever find the strength and bravery to let that wall he is so safe behind crumble and let someone in? Could this blind date, Sebastian, be the one who can finally break through?

I could give you paragraphs about the supporting cast, the main characters, the wit and humor of the rapier sharp dialogue, and the incredible journey that Robbie finally begins once he allows himself the luxury of being happy, and trusting that emotion again. I could remark on Robbie’s family and their love/fighting/bitchery that makes them some of the most interesting and hilarious secondary characters ever to grace a novel. I could tell you that while this novel draws its origins in the Foster High series, it is a completely different animal and could indeed be the anchor for a new series by Robert Halliwell—should he choose to continue Robbie and Sebastian’s story (by the way, I vote a BIG YES on that idea). Finally, I could tell you that this new author, this amazing new “voice,” is never run-of-the-mill, overdone or trite, but dynamic, humorous, heartbreaking and incredibly well written.

Instead, I will say just this: buy this book. Don’t miss out on what I believe could be one of the freshest new voices in the M/M genre. This story will make you feel a gamut of emotions, and, each time, leave you breathless and hungry for just a little more of this marvelous story.

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You can buy A Way Back to Then here:

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Dreamspinner Press, John Goode

Taking A Chance On John Goode’s “Taking Chances” Is A Sure Bet

“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” – Denis Waitley



Tyler Parker knows very well what it’s like growing up gay in Foster, Texas, the town where Brad Greymark and Kyle Stilleno have begun to redefine what it means to be out and proud in the one place where being different means being an outcast.

Being the handsome All American Boy and a star athlete in high school came with certain expectations for Ty, and with those expectations came the fear that the secrets he kept would mean the end of him. The closet he’s hidden in is a difficult and lonely place to live, but he doesn’t know any other way to be after all those years of hiding. Though thanks to Brad and Kyle, Ty has cracked the door open, only now beginning to wonder what might be waiting for him on the other side.

Matt Wallace is the youngest of the three Wallace boys, all football players, all larger than life in high school, where they were idolized. Matt spent his teenage years working at doing little more than fitting in, laughing in all the right places, dating girls, hiding his true feelings and wants as best he could in spite of the fact his feelings and wants led him past Ty’s house nearly every day just to try and catch a glimpse of the Golden Boy Matt had fallen in love with from a distance.

Matt’s secret crush on Ty wasn’t a fleeting high school love affair. No, Matt’s feelings for Ty as a teenager have shaped who Matt has become as an adult, comparing every guy he meets to the image of the boy he’d spied on as Ty leaned against his back door and read, barefoot and beautiful and unattainable.

Matt’s life in San Francisco is empty and, truth be told, he’s a little bitter. He’s got the money and the career, but that’s hollow compensation for the fact that he doesn’t fit in there any better than he did in Foster. He’s got a best friend named Sophia, a shrewish harpy who seems happy to see Matt stay just as miserable as she is, and he’s got his memories of Ty that he uses as the measuring stick against which he compares every man he dates, finding that they all fall short.

John Goode has handed the world of Foster, Texas over to the grownups in Taking Chances, proving that adults don’t have all the right answers and falling in love is not an instant fix for a lifetime of denial.

This is a story of second chances. And third chances. And fourth. It’s a story of love and of fear and of things from the past that can never be forgotten. It’s a story of revisiting the past and making huge mistakes, and is a story that shows sometimes wisdom has nothing to do with the years a person has lived and everything to do with perspective gained over the amount of life lived in those years. Taking Chances is a story of finding the courage to love yourself so you can finally love someone else.

There’s a reason this series is a favorite of mine, which has everything to do with the fact that the people who populate this town are people that I know, people that I could know, people that I might not want to know but who could be neighbors just the same. John Goode writes with humor and heart and with a realism that touches something beyond entertainment and becomes a story that I want to read again and again.

This book crosses over into End of the Innocence, so if you haven’t read that book in the “Tales From Foster High” series do that first to avoid spoilers. But make sure to have plenty of tissues handy, because not only does Mr. Goode know how to tell a great story, he also knows how to tug at the heartstrings.

Reviewed by: Lisa

You can buy Taking Chances (A Tales From Foster High Story) here:

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