Now Available! BEFORE I DIE by Nikki Ash

Hi there! I spreading the word on a new contemporary romance out today from Nikki Ash. BEFORE I DIE is a heart-stopping and intense stand-alone romance.

Five Dark, Decadent, and Delicious Stars!” – K Webster, USA Today Bestselling Author

“This book is one of the most gut retching, captivating books that I have read in my life” – Goodreads reviewer

About the book:
Things I want to do before I die:
Go to a club
Get drunk
Kiss a stranger
Go on a mission trip

I’m drowning. Trapped beneath my mother’s expectations. Suffocated by my religious upbringing. My life has been full of well-crafted decisions—none of them made by me.

On the outside I play by the rules, but on the inside… I have dreams. A list. A tattered scrap of paper tucked away from the world, only I know about.

Some items were easy to check off. Others, though, will require me to take a huge leap out of my comfort zone.

One night changes everything. While at the club for my birthday, so I could check off another item on my list, I did something I never imagined I would have the guts to do: I got drunk and kissed a stranger.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how that one kiss would change the course of my life, making me realize life is more than a list to be checked off. It’s about living in the moment so you don’t miss the ones not on the list—the ones you didn’t even know you wanted.

Interested? You can find BEFORE I DIE on Goodreads and it’s on sale at $2.99 for a limited time + FREE in Kindle Unlimited!!! Kindle US, UK, CA, AU.

About the Author:
Nikki Ash resides in South Florida where she is an English teacher and mom by day and a writer by night. When she’s not writing, you can find her with a book in her hand. From the Boxcar Children to Wuthering Heights to the latest Single Parent Romance, she has lived and breathed every type of book.

Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out. – Pam Allyn

While reading and writing are her passions, her two children are her entire world. You can probably find them at a Disney park before you would find them at home on the weekends!

Connect with Nikki on Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Unsure How to Become BOYFRIEND MATERIAL–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a brand-new contemporary M/M romance from Alexis Hall. BOYFRIEND MATERIAL is a sweet and sassy love story for a tangentially-famous man and a bit of neurotically-ethical barrister who agree to be temporary fake boyfriends.

About the book:
Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

My Review:
Luc O’Donnell is in his late 20s and son of 80s rockers. His parents never married, and he never actually met his father, Jon Fleming, who’d moved on and toured with a different band, making a tabloid nuisance of himself for the most of Luc’s youth. His last serious boyfriend sold stories of their relationship, including compromising pictures, for an interview, and it’s left Luc feeling emotionally violated and preternaturally suspicious of any man who might take an interest. Now, Jon Fleming is back on the British music scene as an advisor to rock wannabees on a reality show. And, Luc’s many foibles are prime for the tabloids to print. Luc works as a fundraising manager for an obscure dung beetle charity, and this miserable job is in jeopardy when some of the usual donors take offense to the sensationalized antics that Luc hasn’t really committed, but are now in the papers.

He’s got to find a respectable boyfriend to win back the snooty donors, or find a new job. But who will hire this pariah? Better yet, who would really date him?

Luc’s friend sets his up with Oliver Blackwood, a decent and ethical vegan barrister who Luc is sure looks down on him from his moral high ground. Oliver is in dire need of a partner for his parents’ anniversary luncheon, and he’s willing to become part of Luc’s circus life to make this onerous occasion palatable. Luc tells the story so we get a lot of his emotional issues, but he begins to see that Oliver’s seemingly perfect life is a carefully constructed facade to paper over the isolation he’s long felt in his family.

Luc and Oliver are the sweetest men, both needing love and reassurance that they aren’t making horrible messes of their lives. Fleming’s not only on the telly, he’s making in-roads with Luc’s mum and seems to want to make amends to Luc, as well. Luc’s horrified by the tawdriness of the situation, and leans heavily on Oliver’s steadfastness to survive some of these encounters. Oliver is a great guy, noble yet a little sanctimonious, but he treats Luc better than a boyfriend, and Luc strives to be even half as good. Their communication becomes more necessary than perfunctory, and they develop a bond that neither wants to acknowledge in total–because they believe this is a meant to be temporary.

I love fake boyfriend tropes, and this one is extremely well-done. The friends and family drama is on point, and Luc’s self-deprecating humor is a constant delight. His sensitivity and emotional vulnerability are so raw, and I was glad that a good man like Oliver was there to help him patch himself up. Their sexytimes are tentative, at first, but tender and loving as they gain a keen interest in one another.

I honestly fell hard for Luc, and his quest to live a decent life and have a decent guy was so engaging. He’s got a brain that never shuts off, and it was a bit of a thrill ride as his feelings for Oliver ramped up. It was hysterical how Luc figuratively and literally cleaned up his life–including his apartment, because he wanted to be someone that Oliver could admire–not even realizing how much Oliver admired him already. I loved how he stood up for Oliver, especially against Oliver’s own family who all treat him rather shabbily. There’s a big conflict near the end, where Luc needs to make a grand gesture and it surely goes to heck in a handbasket, but he still ends up winning Oliver back for a happy ending.

I finished reading this a couple of months ago, but re-read it so it would be fresh for the release. It’s a book worth reading over again, and I still laughed out loud repeatedly as I absorbed Luc’s deep-seated self-consciousness for the second time. I loved these guys and was only sad to see the book end.

Interested? You can find BOYFRIEND MATERIAL on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.

He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.

Catch up with him on his website, twitter and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Now Available! DRIFTER by Eden Winters–Excerpt and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m spreading the word for a new M/M contemporary romance from Eden Winters. DRIFTER features a rocker in hiding helping out a castaway musician.

Scroll down for an excerpt and enter the giveaway for a free copy of the book.
About the book:
Some legends never die…
Killian Desmond met his end in the fiery crash that killed his band, or so the newspapers say. Now a nameless drifter, he plays one pick-up gig after another in a haze of pain and regret, moving on the minute someone says, “You sound like that guy from Trickster.”

Getting outed cost Mike Rose his musical family. A bassist without a band, he’ll play any kind of music to earn a paycheck, but Trickster’s music provides light during the darkest moments of his life.

A chance meeting brings together two lost souls who spark enough heat to set their guitars on fire. Their chemistry, both onstage and off, feels like something written in the words of a song and gives them courage to face life again.

But to seize their future, they have to confront their past.

Every damned, ugly inch of it.

How about a little taste?

The throbbing beat blended with screams from the crowd; a crowd hidden by bright lights. Sweat and cologne and beer filled Killian Desmond’s nose. Familiar sounds. Familiar scents.

Home.

Did he love this life or hate it? Who cared, he’d never known another. Back to back with his brother Elliot, he shredded his electric acoustic guitar, improvising for the fans. The strings bent to his callused fingertips, note after note falling from his guitar.

Elliot kept up. Elliot always kept up. Others might get lost in Killy’s musical fantasies, but El gauged Killy’s intentions by the way he moved, held his shoulders, or gestures, like pausing to flip his sweat-dampened hair out of his eyes.

The drummer and keyboardist faded away, letting El set the tone with a deep bass beat.

Killy strutted to the front of the stage. Hot lights illuminated him from behind, shining on sweat-soaked skin. “What you wanna hear?” He didn’t need the words to know they’d be sticking to their prearranged lineup. At their manager’s urging, he’d saved the best for last.

Highway!” roared through the arena.

He grinned and cupped a hand to one ear. “What’s that? I can’t hear you.”

Highway!” roughly six thousand voices cried out in unison, louder this time.

“Aw, c’mon, now,” Killy teased. “We’ll play whatever you want, but you gotta tell us.”

The thunderous chant of “Highway! Highway! Highway!” threatened to blow the roof off the building.

Strolling over a few paces and throwing an arm around his brother, Killy said, “Well, I reckon we better do as they say.”

“Since when have you ever taken orders?” Elliot shot back.

Faster than most could follow, Killy slung his guitar back into place and launched into their best-known riff.

The screaming nearly deafened him. He tried again. On his sixth attempt the crowd settled enough to begin.

He grinned. Adoration and energy flowed from the crowd, straight into his veins, to gather strength and escape through his fingers and his voice.

His deep growl purred through the arena, pouring out the melody he’d written in a single night in a hotel room God knew where. High on life, cheap vodka, and the rush of their first big show, he’d settled onto the bed in the dark, except for the flickering image of a black and white movie on the TV, sound turned down, and began strumming.

The words flowed out of him unbidden, leaving him raw, shaken, and in possession of a number one hit.

He didn’t sing or play Highway—the melody made him its bitch, possessing him, demanding release into the world.

Who was he to refuse?

“Some were born to sand and wind, on the sea they make their home

Some may live a hermit’s life, on a mountain all alone

Or in a glass and metal cage, high up in the sky

Packed in tight with a thousand souls, all trying to get by

Nine to five may work for some, but that don’t work for me

Saddled to day in day out, no, I need to be free

Living a life all on my own, free of family, lover or friend

On the highway I was born, it’s there I’ll meet my end.”

Alone, just him and the highway, until the chorus.

“On the highway I was born, it’s there I’ll meet my end.”

Elliot’s sweet tenor wrapped around Killy’s pack-a-day growl, blending together seamlessly.

The audience joined in, chanting, “Highway! Highway! Live and die on the highway!”

Rob kept pace on the drums, a musician not really worthy of the band they’d become, and Ace, a friend and one hell of a musician, wound his way through the twists and turns on his keyboards.

“The only home I’ll ever know stretches from sea to sea

No start, no end, no in between, just miles of road and me

Living a life all on my own free of family, lover or friend

On the highway I was born, it’s there I’ll meet my end

Highway! Highway! Live and die on the highway!

Highway! Highway! Live and die on the highway!

Highway! Highway! Live and die on the highway!”

The mass of humanity might have started chanting again for all Killy knew. His world boiled down to this moment, the music, his brother, his friend, and the life laid out for him long ago, the first time his mother brought him and Elliot onstage.

They’d stayed. She’d gone.

Here they still stood, though she didn’t.

Never would again.

Nope, no bad thoughts. Just the music.

Note after note poured from him like rain, blocking thought and feeling.

He crashed to his knees, striking a chord and letting his guitar speak for him. Caught in the spotlight, he leaned back in a signature move his manager made him practice, making his shirt ride up to show some skin, while his hair fell back, glittering like gold in a strategically placed spotlight.

The blue streak, his own addition, voiced his defiance at being a commodity.

He should’ve been exhausted after the show they’d put on, but in that moment, he swore he could go all night.

He jumped to his feet, racing across the stage and running through part of the guitar solo for those seated to the left of the stage, then reversed course to the right, repeating the solo.

Arms reached for him, a thousand voices calling his name.

Rejoining Elliot centerstage, he launched into the chorus and let the others join him.

After extending the song by two more choruses, he finally wound down.

An announcer stepped up on stage, to catcalls, whistles and ear-splitting shouts. “Let’s hear it for Trickster!”

Interested? You can find DRIFTER on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win one of 5 ebook copies of DRIFTER!
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
You will know Eden Winters by her distinctive white plumage and exuberant cry of “Hey, y’all!” in a Southern US drawl so thick it renders even the simplest of words unrecognizable. Watch out, she hugs!

Driven by insatiable curiosity, she possibly holds the world’s record for curriculum changes to the point that she’s never quite earned a degree but is a force to be reckoned with at Trivial Pursuit.

She’s trudged down hallways with police detectives, learned to disarm knife-wielding bad guys, and witnessed the correct way to blow doors off buildings. Her e-mail contains various snippets of forensic wisdom, such as “What would a dead body left in a Mexican drug tunnel look like after six months?” In the process of her adventures she has written twenty gay romance novels, has won Rainbow Awards, was a Lambda Awards Finalist, and lives in terror of authorities showing up at her door to question her Internet searches.

When not putting characters in dangerous situations she’s a mild-mannered business executive, mother, grandmother, vegetarian, and PFLAG activist. Her natural habitats are airports, coffee shops, and on the backs of motorcycles.

Catch up with Eden online on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Bookbub.

Living Through Tragedy THE SECRETS WE KEEP- Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THE SECRETS WE KEEP features two grieving men connecting at the funeral of a woman they both loved and lost. It’s an odd-couple romance, and the age and wealth gap pose interesting conflicts. If you liked LEGALLY WED, or THE PERILS OF INTIMACY you’ll like this one, too.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Jasper Warren is a happy-go-lucky young man in spite of the tragedy that’s marred his life. He’s on a road to nowhere with his roommate, Lacy, whom he adores, and a dead-end retail job in Chicago.

And then everything changes in a single night. Though Jasper doesn’t know it, his road is going somewhere after all. This time when tragedy strikes, it brings with it Lacy’s older, wealthy, sexy uncle Rob. Despite the heart-wrenching circumstances, an immediate connection forms between the two men.

But the secrets between them test their attraction. Will their revelations destroy the bloom of new love… or encourage it to grow?

How about a little taste?

Prologue
“Hey! I don’t think you should go through that,” Rob said, barely audible because he didn’t want his fear to show. He sucked in a breath and clutched his suitcase close to him, as though it were a child—or a flotation device. Or a boy he loved and didn’t want to lose…

The water spread out on the road under the overpass like a black mirror. It could have been a few inches deep or a few feet. From just a visual, there was no way to gauge how deep it was. No person with any sense would drive into it.

His Uber driver, a sallow-complexioned man in his forties wearing a black baseball cap, gave out a low whistle. “We’ll be okay,” he said cheerfully, with a confidence Rob simply didn’t have. “Just sit back and let me worry. We’ll be fine.”

Rob wished he had the nerve to speak up, to command, “No! Don’t! Just turn around.” After all, this driver was putting them both in danger. But he felt like protesting would make him seem insane or, at the very least, silly. So what’s worse, he wondered, seeming crazy or drowning? He cursed himself for the ridiculous lengths he went to so as to avoid confrontation.

A thunderclap as loud as an explosion sounded then, and Rob swore the black Lincoln Continental shuddered under its vibration. Lightning turned the dark, cloud-choked dawn skies bright white for an instant, as though day had peeked in, seen the weather, and then ducked back out.

“This baby can get through it,” the driver said, giving the car a little more gas.

Rob tightened his lips to a single line and furrowed his brows as his driver set off into the small lake stretching out before them. As the driver moved completely under the overpass, the drumming sound of the rain on the roof suddenly ceased, and the silence was like the intake of a breath.

“C’mon, c’mon,” the driver urged almost under his breath as he sallied farther into the water, giving the car more gas.

Even before the engine started to whine in protest, Rob knew they were in trouble by the way the water parted to admit the Lincoln. Waves sloshed by on either side.

Rob thought again he should speak up—like maybe to suggest that the driver could attempt to back up—but held his tongue. The guy was a professional, right? He knew what he was doing.

They’d be okay.

And the driver continued, deeper and deeper into the water standing so treacherously beneath the overpass.

The engine made a lowing sound, like a cow’s moo, as the flood rose up the sides of the vehicle.

Rob gasped as brackish, foul-smelling water covered his loafered feet, pouring in through the small spaces around the doors.

The driver eyed him in the rearview mirror. There was a defeat in his voice as he said, “You better open your door and get out while you can.”

Rob wondered, for only a moment, why he would want to. Then it struck him with the adrenaline-fueled clarity born of panic that if he didn’t open his door now, he might never get another chance. The rising water and its pressure would make it impossible to open the door.

If it wasn’t already too late…

Rob leaned over and pressed against the door. The engine stalled at that moment, and his driver reached for his own door handle up front.

For a brief moment that caused his heart to drum fast, Rob feared his door wouldn’t open. He slid over and leaned against it with his shoulder pressed against the black leather, grunting.

The door held and then suddenly gave way.

Granted access, water rushed into the vehicle. The icy current rose up, covering his ankles and his calves. It was almost over his knees when he managed to slide from the Lincoln.

Outside the car, he stood. The water rose up almost to his neck. He felt nothing, only a kind of numbness and wonder. His driver was already sloshing forward toward the pearly light at the other side of the overpass. He didn’t give Rob so much as a backward glance.

Rob started moving against the water, wondering what might be swimming in it.

Thunder grumbled and then cracked again. The lightning flared, brilliant white, once more. And the rain poured down even harder.

He looked back for a moment at the Lincoln Continental, thinking about his TUMI bag on the seat. There was no hope for that now!

He slogged through the water and progressed steadily forward, feeling like a refugee in some third-world country, bound for freedom. In his head he heard the swell of inspirational music.

After what seemed like an hour, but was really only about five minutes, Rob reached dry land at the end of the overpass, where the entrance ramp veered upward toward the highway. Cars whizzed by, sending up sprays of water, the motorists oblivious.

His driver eyed him but said nothing. He was out of breath.

Rob stood in the rain and remembered his iPhone in the front pocket of his khakis. He pulled it out, thinking to call for help. But when he pressed the Home button, the screen briefly illuminated and then blinked out, the picture of an ocean wave crashing toward the shore first skewing weirdly, then vanishing.

“Shit,” he whispered and then replaced the phone in his soaking-wet pants pocket.

He needn’t have worried about calling for help, however, because it seemed the universe had done it for him. On the other side of the overpass, a fire truck, lights on but no siren, pulled up to the water’s edge. Then two police cruisers. And finally, surprisingly, a news van with a satellite antenna on top brought up the rear.

The rest was kind of a blur. Through a bullhorn, one of the firemen advised them to come back toward them but to use the median instead of slogging through the flood. The concrete divider was only a few inches above the sloshing water.

Somehow, Rob and his driver managed a tightrope walk across the lake the underpass had become, balancing on the concrete divider.

When they reached the other side, one of the newscasters, a guy in a red rain slicker, stuck a microphone in his face and asked him to tell him what happened. Was he afraid? Stunned, Rob shook his head and moved toward the cop cars. Behind him, he could hear the driver talking to the reporter.

At the first police car, a uniformed officer got out from behind the steering wheel. She shut the door behind her and held a hand above the bill of her cap to further shield her from the rain. She was young, maybe midtwenties, with short black hair and a stout and sturdy build.

“You okay, sir?”

Rob nodded. “Yeah, I guess.” He smiled. “Didn’t expect a swim this early in the morning.”

The officer didn’t laugh. “Where were you headed? We might be able to take you, or at the very least, we can summon a taxi for you.”

And Rob opened his mouth to say, “To the airport” and then shut it again.

One thought stood out in his head. I could have drowned. He looked toward the Lincoln, which was filled now with water up to the middle of the windshield.

“Sir? You need us to get you somewhere?”

Rob debated, thinking of a young man, perhaps out in this same rain, getting almost as drenched as he was. He opened his mouth again to speak, unsure of how he could or should answer her question.

What he said now could very well determine the course of the rest of his life.

My Review:
Jasper and Lacy are the best of friends living in a vintage courtyard one bedroom apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. They both work retail jobs, and they adore one another, but Jasper is openly gay, and Lacy is his subtlely enamored wingwoman. Jasper and Lacy make up each other’s “chosen family” since Jasper’s emotionally-closed father hardly calls to talk; his pregnant mother and younger sister were murdered when Jasper was a young child and his father never crawled past his grief. Lacy says her family are a bunch of liars and she wants nothing to do with them, so they support one another and have done so for the past few years as roomies and friends. Jasper knows Lacy wants a sexual relationship with him, but its beyond his ability, and he’s comfortable being her best friend anyway.

They are out for drinks one night and Jasper hangs out later than usual, hoping to find a sexy man for the night, but he gives up and goes home alone, where Lacy convinces him to cuddle with her following a bad dream. Jasper awakes in his own bed the next morning, unsure how he got there and unsettled by the stillness of the apartment. Lacy should have been up long ago, and his morbid curiosity leads him to find Lacy in her bed, cold and past saving.

Jasper is wrecked. Lacy was his lifeline, and he’s unable to do more than visit the funeral home where her detested parents have the wake arranged. “Lacy” was her chosen name, and he doesn’t recognize the goth girl he knew in the brown-haired pink-dressed Heather who fills Lacy’s coffin. Jasper is intercepted by Lacy/Heather’s uncle, Rob, a 40ish silver fox who seems desperate to know something of Heather’s life over the past five years, since she’d broken off all contact with her family. Lacy’d urged Jasper to move on, and not wonder about the darkness of her family, and how they broke her spirit, but he’s willing to console Rob for a bit.

The secrets of Lacy/Heather’s family begin to unravel in ways that Jasper couldn’t have expected. Turns out Rob is a famous mystery/suspense author that Jasper has been a fan of for years–and Lacy never shared that secret. Rob convinces Jasper to correspond with him via text and email, to keep Lacy alive between the two of them, and Jasper is reticent, but determined to share the truth of his dearest friend. This tentative communication begins to build more of a bond between the two men, and Jasper is kind of shell shocked. He’s never sought out older men, or fancied himself a gold digger, yet he’s difinitely attracted to Rob who is nearly 20 years older, and wealthier than God. This inequality is unsettling and a big barrier for the growing intimacy that Jasper and Rob are developing. It’s not until Jasper finally accepts Rob’s request to come visit his Palm Springs mansion that Jasper learns the true nature of Rob’s place in Lacy’s life–the huge secret that cut Lacy’s ties to her family.

This story had a lot of spooky-ish moments that seemed like sinister foreshadowing, but turned out to be more introspective than at first glance. I didn’t really know what to expect about the tragedies Jasper has faced, and I was sad for his losses. He’s a decent guy, but not nearly as happy-go-lucky as the blurb indicates. Losing Lacy really exposes Jasper’s depression, and he’s not sure he’s worthy of love, in many ways. It obstructs his ability to build strong relationships, but he works through his grief, and his confusion about Rob–who has his own secrets to share and grief to survive.

The end is truly a happy one, however, with Rob and Jasper living honestly, and supporting one another emotionally. I liked how Jasper repaired his relationship with his father, and made the effort to connect with Rob, who really needs a loving partner. The harrowing moments didn’t result in further tragedy, but there were certainly enough breadcrumbs out there to keep me on edge for the next shoe to drop.

I liked the story and enjoyed watching the love that grew through patience, honesty and communication between Jasper and Rob. They each deserved a caring lover, and they helped each other grieve and move on from the pain that first united them.

Interested? You can find THE SECRETS WE KEEP on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Friends Band Together THE RIDDLES OF MULBERRY ISLAND–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today, I’m sharing a review for a new YA historical mystery with LGBTQ romantic elements from new-to-me author Huston Piner. THE RIDDLES OF MULBERRY ISLAND features a teen with two good friends who help him figure out the eerie lights and strange sights on abandoned Mulberry Island.

Scroll down for your chance to win a $10 GC, catch the excerpt and pick up a copy for yourself.
About the book:
While out fishing one bright summer day, fifteen-year-old Tommy Oakley is startled to spy what appears to be a giant fish surfacing in the inlet near Mulberry Island. Confused and a little fearful, he returns to Bayside, the tiny village where he lives, and recruits Wendy to help him solve the mystery.

A few nights later, Tommy goes camping with his best friend John, and they’re alarmed to see ghostly lights floating above the water and movement inside the island’s abandoned mansion.

Everyone in Bayside knows the island is uninhabited, but they also think it’s haunted, so Tommy and John are more than ready to stay away. But the strong-willed Wendy convinces the reluctant boys to investigate the source of the lights, thereby setting in motion a harrowing adventure that has them dodging bullets and running for their lives, all the while struggling to sort out their conflicted feelings for one another.

One thing is certain—if they survive the summer at all, things will never be the same between them again.

How about a little taste?

The Great Bird and the Big Fish
Summer 1952

Tommy Oakley dashed through the woods, stumbling over roots and ducking low-hanging branches. He knew they might get in trouble snooping around Mulberry Island, but he hadn’t bargained on this. Now all he could do was hope he was going in the right direction and that John and Wendy would be ready to sail as soon as he got there.

He swerved around thorny bushes and jumped over spiny brambles, gulping air, desperate to get away from his pursuer. It wasn’t easy. For every branch he ducked or squeezed past, two or more scratched him and tore at his sweat-drenched clothes. And all the while, his pursuer’s cursing and stumbling grew louder behind him. Somehow, the man was getting closer.

He’s still gaining on me? Doesn’t he ever get tired?

A glimpse of marsh confirmed Tommy was going in the right direction and would soon get to the safety of the boat. The thorny bushes were giving way to more open ground, and he was finding it easier to run in a straight line. But that also meant the man chasing him would find it easier too.

Up ahead, he spotted the area where they had hidden the dinghy. Just a little more and he’d get away. Panting, he tried to find the strength for a final burst of speed.

Bang!

The shot seemed to echo all around him.

Tommy gasped and froze in his tracks, listening, as fear of capture gave way to a more deadly alarm.

From somewhere came the loud click of a rifle being cocked.

As if fired from a gun himself, Tommy took off running in a complete panic.

The second bang was so loud it was deafening.

Then the whole world fell silent.

Tommy fell to the ground.

A branch gashed into his forehead, and he collapsed onto a bed of fallen leaves.

Blood oozed from his wounds.

He saw a fading image of the great bird.

And then darkness took him.

*

One month earlier

Tommy was sitting in his boat on a beautiful sunny afternoon, the handle of his pole loosely resting in his hand, his mind wandering. It was the first time his father had ever allowed him to go out fishing by himself.

As various thoughts crept across his mind, he happened to glance up, and there it was, soaring on the edge of the heavens.

The great bird stretched its wings and floated in wide swirling spirals. As Tommy watched it, a light breeze floated over him. The briny air filled his lungs, and he sighed, pushing sandy brown locks out of his eyes.

It had been a perfect day.

Well, almost perfect. He’d wanted it to be special, one to remember—and normally, he would have invited his friends John Webster and Wendy Harris to come along. The trouble was, lately, John and Wendy always seemed to be getting on each other’s nerves. And if Tommy only invited one of them, it would hurt the other one’s feelings. So, he’d snuck out by himself and spent the whole day fishing and thinking while the hours drifted by like the water all around him.

He glanced at his watch. It was four thirty.

“Keep an eye on the time,” his father had said.

“You be sure to get home early for supper,” his mother had added.

They always treated him like a child.

He looked up again at the great bird.

Probably on the prowl for a rat or fish or something.

He imagined having wings and sailing through the air. He’d soar and dive across the sky like he did underwater when he was swimming. He’d float up high like the great bird. He’d be free.

He smiled at the thought. Then, as he lowered his gaze, something caught his eye. It emerged in the inlet between Mulberry Island and the peninsula.

Tommy blinked and leaned forward, squinting into the distance. It looked like some kind of fish, but it was huge—it had to be for him to see it from all the way out in the middle of the bay.

For a moment, it sat there, and then, in the same unexpected way it had surfaced, the giant fish made a slow descent, vanishing below the surface.

Wow. That was incredible! But what was it—a whale? It would be very odd if it was. They never came this far inside the sound. And this fish had a large dorsal fin that looked more like some kind of weird top hat than a fin. He’d never heard of a whale that looked like that.

It was so strange, and all the more so because of where it was. But then again, everything strange seemed to be connected to Mulberry Island somehow.

“They’ll never believe it.” They never do anyway.

Tommy’s parents never took him seriously. His teacher said he had a “vivid imagination.” But as far as his family—and most of the people in Bayside, the tiny village where they lived—were concerned, he was either absentminded or just plain dumb.

It’s not fair. Mom and Pop treat me like a child.

It was like this boat. It had been a thirteenth birthday present, but he’d never even been allowed to use it on his own before today.

“Come on, Pop,” he’d pleaded over a year ago. “It’s embarrassing. I’m almost fourteen. It’s been nearly a year since you gave me the thing. I mean, why even call it mine?” Here he was begging for permission to do something his friends had been allowed to do for at least a year, if not longer.

“What a joke,” he had muttered under his breath.

“Yeah, Pop,” his brother Jacob had said. “Give the kid a break. He’ll be okay.”

Tommy would have been grateful for the moral support, but then Jacob had tousled his hair and added, “Won’t you, little guy?”

It was something Tommy positively despised. At twenty years old, Jacob wasn’t a bad guy, and he often sided with Tommy. But he had the uncanny knack of treating him like a silly but lovable little puppy, which irritated him to no end.

But it didn’t matter anyway. In the Oakley house, a “no” was a “no.” His fourteenth birthday came and went, the school year started, and winter passed into spring. Finally, it was the beginning of his last summer before high school and tenth grade. He had just turned fifteen.

They were all listening to the radio, and the news had just finished with a report about President Eisenhower’s remarks on the war in Korea. Tommy took the opportunity to ask his father one more time, only to be told no yet again, and he had despaired of ever being treated like anything more than a child.

Then, last night, his father had surprised him and said if he wanted, he could go out in his boat without adult supervision in the morning. At first, Tommy had thought he was joking, but his father assured him he was serious.

Of course, there had been a few “ifs” to go along with this bestowal of generosity: He could go if the weather was promising, if he made sure to return before suppertime, and if his mother didn’t need him for chores. That last “if” was almost a deal breaker. Tommy’s mother was famous for making up excuses to keep him under her wing—something the other boys at school often teased him about.

But somehow, he’d managed to get away. And despite not having John and Wendy with him, it had been the best day of his life.

And then he’d seen that big fish.

My Review:
It’s the summer of 1952 and Tommy Oakley is 15, preparing to enter the 10th grade at a big-ish high school. He’s best friends with John Webster who is also 15. They live in Bayside, what sounded like a coastal Virginia (my guess, because it’s never stated) community which has few residents and fewer opportunities. Most of Bayside’s residents are fishermen, and life had been prosperous back when the Mulberry’s ran the fishery, but they closed it down long ago and only their Great House remains. Wendy Harris is also a resident of Bayside, though she’s a year older and already in the high school. Wendy likes Tommy and John likes Tommy and Tommy’s tired of their bickering.

Tommy got a boat for his 13th birthday, but his parents didn’t trust him to captain it until this summer, when he turned 15. He’s out in the boat alone, fishing and sailing, when he sees what appears to be a giant fish in the inlet between abandoned Mulberry Island and the peninsula on which Bayside sits. He knows John and Wendy won’t believe him, but he confesses his vision to them. Wendy wants to explore, to see if there is anything to it. She’s clearly smitten with Tommy, and he’s a bit shy of her advances.

Tommy and John plan a sail and a camp-out to go shrimping, and they see lights in the Great House–and they know it wasn’t the caretaker, old Mr. Hess, because he shows up later. Who’s in the mansion? And, does this have anything to do with the giant fish? John doesn’t want to investigate, because he’s afraid it will lead to trouble and get Tommy hurt. And, there is no one in the world that John cares for more than Tommy. (I’m going to pause here and mention that John is regularly beaten and emotionally abused by his father, and his mother doesn’t speak up about it because she’d likely be beaten in his stead.)

This is a mystery and adventure with just a little bit of romance. Tommy and Wendy and John make a quarrelsome triad in friendship, but there seems to be a connection between Tommy and John that John is beginning to explore. With the elements of danger, and the riskiness of the situations, John is the bold one, taking deeper risks to ensure Tommy’s safety–because he feels like Tommy is the only person in his life who truly cares for him.

I can honestly say this is an engaging, and thoughtful YA LGBTQ read. The bad guys are not immediately apparent and the stakes get ever higher as the action plays out. We have mercenaries, and insane men planning insane plots, and a hurricane blowing in. Tommy and company don’t know who to trust, but Wendy is ever-forceful in asserting what their trio should do–and how to do it. This causes conflict with John, who wants to back out completely, but he won’t leave Tommy to fend for himself. In the end, there are some unlikely heroes and some really spectacular fireworks–which thankfully take out the bad guys’ big plans. I liked the pacing, and the storytelling, and was especially grateful to see how the fathers of Bayside finally do what’s right and ensure John has a loving home and the care he deserves.

The blurb didn’t prepare me for either the slightly historical setting, or the descriptions of physical abuse and overt emotional/verbal abuse John suffers. His connection to Tommy is what eventually saves him. Tommy’s father won’t stand for Mr. Webster’s abuse of his John–or Tommy–when slurs get flung. Beyond this, the adventure and mystery are engaging, as are the glimpses of physical love between Tommy and John.

Interested? You can find THE RIDDLES OF MULBERRY ISLAND on Goodreads, NineStar Press Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on the Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 GC to NineStar Press. Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Huston Piner always wanted to be a writer but realized from an early age that learning to read would have to take precedence. A voracious reader, he loves nothing more than a well-told story, a glass of red, and music playing in the background. His writings focus on ordinary gay teenagers and young adults struggling with their orientation in the face of cultural prejudice and the evolving influence of LGBTQA+ rights on society. He and his partner live in a house ruled by three domineering cats in the mid-Atlantic region.

Catch up with Huston on his website Facebook and twitter.

Sniffing Out a Traitor: GE-MI: PART TWO–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M paranormal romance from Mell Eight. GE-MI:PART TWO is the second book in the GE-MI universe; this time Taylor tells the story. These stories take place in a post-apocalyptic world where Ge-Mi’s, animal-human hybrids, try to co-exist with humans in territories that escaped the carnage of war. Catch my review of GE-MI: PART ONE to catch up on Nevada and Taylor’s love story.

About the book:
A hundred years ago, evil scientists spliced human genes with those of animals, creating a genetic mutation passed on through the generations. Hated because of their differences, these Ge-Mis live on the fringes of society where they scrounge and scrape to get by.

Taylor Reyes was born to privilege, but despite that has always been considered an abomination. He was the child that should never have been born and has spent his life trying to prove his worth to the world to no avail. As a red wolf Ge-Mi, humans look at his furry ears before his accomplishments, and no matter how hard he continues to work Taylor knows that will never change. Still, he has a grandfather that loves him and a pack of his own to lead. The life he created for himself is not a bad one, until one day a pair of adorable cat ears derails everything.

The thought of finding a mate had never crossed Taylor’s mind, but suddenly he can’t stop thinking about Nevada. There’s no time for the distraction, though, as people are moving to unseat his grandfather from the city’s throne. The fight has just begun, but ending it might mean Taylor will lose Nevada forever.

My Review:
Nevada and Taylor Reyes are Ge-Mi, human-animal hybrids, living in a post-apocalyptic world. All the major cities crumbled following the Great Wars, and warlords–or just Lords–rule the territories that remain. Ge-Mis were the result of scientific experimentation about 150 years prior. The object of the gene splicing was to eradicate human illness with enhanced animal genes–though some entities took this way too far, trying to create supersoldiers.

Taylor is wolf Ge-Mi and heir to the Reyes rule in the territory in which they live. His grandpa is human, and some of the humans in his family are angry that he would choose his half-breed grandson to take over when he should die. And, recent events have made it clear that someone is willing to speed up that process–and maybe kill Taylor, too, so another heir can ascend to power.

This episode is told from Taylor’s POV, and he’s totally gone over his beau Nevada, a snow-leopard waiter who raises stray cats for fun. When the book opens we learn that one of Taylor’s cousins has been killed–purportedly because he was a traitor. And, the eye-witnesses are shadier than a willow tree. Taylor’s pack is on the case, but they’ve been infiltrated by bad elements. Nevada becomes a target, and it’s clear that the plot to unseat both Taylor and his grandpa is farther reaching than anyone had expected within their family.

I liked the action, and I like how things are developing between Taylor and Nevada; romantically, Nevada wants to take things slow, and Taylor is willing to make each step an adventure–except he’s running himself ragged. I do love that these shifters have so much fun petting one another! The story is interesting, and I’m intrigued about the new characters and how they will fit into the next story.

Interested? You can find GE-MI: PART TWO on Goodreads, currently on sale at NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo.

About the Author:
When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.

You can catch up with Mell on her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Now Available! PROMISE Audiobook by RJ Scott

Hi there! Today I’m spreading the work for a newly released audiobook for a M/M romance from RJ Scott. PROMISE is the third book the Single Dads series, and features an ex-con trying to save his daughter from druglords while also falling hard for the cop that comes to his rescue. You know I loved SINGLE, so I kept on with this series.

About the book:
Leo Byrne is a cop, Jason Banks is an ex-con. Even after one stolen kiss, something has to give before Leo can convince Jason that falling in love is even an option.

Adopted at a young age, Leo is part of the sprawling Byrnes family. With his dog Cap, three siblings and a whole mess of nieces and nephews, he is never lonely, and his life is full. Love is the last item on his to-do list, but seeing his best friends Sean and Eric happy and making new families makes him want things he doesn’t think is possible. Kissing Jason at an event to honor his bravery was one thing, but anything other than that is off limits. Until Jason has no one left to turn to, and it’s Leo who helps him at his lowest. Taking Jason and his daughter into his home is one thing, but falling for the ex-con is something else altogether.

Jason made a deal to keep his daughter safe and spent years behind bars as a result. Volunteering as a convict firefighter was as much about helping the community as saving his sanity, but now that he’s out, he doesn’t even have that. He’s lost his future, his self-respect, and has no friends or a place to call home. Worst of all, even after rescuing his daughter he still can’t keep her safe from the man who wants to use her as a bargaining chip for money. Meeting Leo might give Jason a way to keep Daisy safe, but falling for the stubborn cop means the truth has to be revealed, and he could lose everything all over again.

I’m nearly finished with the audiobook, so you can expect a review soon.

Interested? You can find PROMISE on Goodreads, Amazon and Audible.

About the Author:
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

Catch RJ on her website, Facebook, Goodreads, twitter and LibraryThing.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Coping With Fatherhood SINGLE–Audiobook Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance from RJ Scott. SINGLE kicks off the Single Dads series, and features a gay man raising his surrogate daughter and unexpectedly falling for his sexy new neighbor.

About the book:
Reeling from the painful rejection of a man he thought he loved, Asher is left holding the baby.

Ash wants a family, and is determined to continue with a surrogacy he’d begun with his ex. Bringing baby Mia home, he vows that he will be the best father he can be. Nothing in this world matters more to him than caring for his daughter, not even accidentally falling in lust with the doctor next door. Challenged by his growing attraction to Sean, and confronted by painful memories of his family, Ash has to learn that love is all that matters.

When ER doctor Sean moves in with his friends next door to sexy single father Ash, he falls so quickly it takes his breath away. The sex they have is hot, but Ash is adamant
his heart is too full with love for his daughter to let anyone else in. Why is Sean the only one who sees how scared Ash is, and how can he prove to his new lover that he desperately wants the three of them to become a family?

My Review:
I am sharing a review of the audiobook, narrated by Sean Crisden which lasts just over 4.5 hours.

Asher Haynes is a 31 year-old freelance computer web designer living in the San Diego suburbs who’s just become a father. He’s gay, and he began a surrogacy route with his former partner, Darius, long before Darius took a hard look at their life and hit the road. So, Ash still wanted to be a daddy and he fathered baby Mia on his own. He spent the first few weeks of Mia’s life at his twin sister Siobhan’s home learning the finer points of baby care. He’s recently returned to his one home, and thoroughly exhausted after finally getting Mia to sleep when his drunk neighbor Eric nearly knocks his door down by mistake. Eric’s bestie and housemate Sean soon arrives to chaperone Eric to their next-door house.

Sean Roberts is an ER doctor who lives with Eric–a firefighter–and Leo–a cop–in what was once known as the “party house” because of their awesome patio and in-ground pool. Sean is really, really attracted to Ash, and he’s super happy to learn that Ash is single and gay. He’s also happy to help out Ash when Mia seems to be sick, but it’s a situational error. Ash is a mess, fearing that he’s messing up all the time and wanting so desperately to be a great father. His own relationships have been a struggle–with a deceased father and a mother who barely speaks to him on account of him being out and proud. Ash has a LOT of mommy issues, but this book gives them time to reconcile in the best way.

Sean’s so excited to get to know Ash, he orchestrates a couple of “inadvertent” run-ins with Ash and Mia while out on their walks. And it isn’t long before Ash finds Sean’s help to be important and essential, despite the bad timing.

This audiobook is really a great listen. Narrator Sean Crisden has a great range for the many male characters and the few female characters in the story. The angst and exhaustion that Ash feels over his nascent fatherhood is well-voiced. Sean’s no-nonsense timbre underlays his labors in self-deprecation and medical expertise. The story has a LOT of daddy time, as Ash works through his struggles in single fatherhood with online and in-person support groups. Though the story has dual-narration, it really feels mostly like Ash’s story.

There are a couple bits of sexytimes, and a happily ever after that unites the neighbors in a way that ignites interest in the couple that will find love in the next book.

Interested? You can find SINGLE on Goodreads and was recently marked FREE for Prime members on Amazon. I listened to the audiobook from Audible.

About the Author:
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

Catch RJ on her website, Facebook, Goodreads, twitter and LibraryThing.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Now Available: THE REDEMPTION OF RIVER! Promo and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Eli Easton. THE REDEMPTION OF RIVER is the fourth book in the Sex in Seattle series and is fully enjoyable as a standalone. You will meet Jack from THE TROUBLE WITH TONY as he’s Michael’s boss at the Expanded Horizons sexual health clinic. THE ENLIGHTENMENT OF DANIEL and THE MATING OF MICHAEL follow a patient and a sex surrogate from EXPANDED HORIZONS. This new book follows a widower who is trying to get past his grief, and River is the Reiki and Tantra expert that helps him heal and find love again.

Scroll down to catch my review and enter to win a $20 Amazon GC.
About the book:
River Larsen is a world traveler, truth-seeker, and tantric healer. He’s a master of loving all—and no one. Both his past and his spiritual path warn him against attachment. When he falls for his surrogacy client and coffee magnate, Brent McKay, River tells himself it’s a temporary idyll, a beautiful encounter they’ll both enjoy and move on from like two ships passing in the stream of life. Except his heart misses that memo.

Brent McKay hasn’t been interested in sex since his wife died two years ago. When he goes to Expanded Horizons sex clinic in Seattle for help, he meets River Larsen, a sex surrogate specializing in reiki massage and tantric sex therapy. Brent never expected to be interested in a man, but River’s light-filled spirit, inner peace, and electric touch bring him back to life. Brent’s loyal heart is ready to commit again. But how can he convince River that love can last forever—if you just have faith?

The Redemption of River features a widower who surprises the hell out of himself, a gorgeous hippy who thinks he’s a dandelion puff, an age gap, midlife discovery of bisexuality, foodie Seattle, a houseboat, dogs, a trip to Mumbai, and tantric secrets. (You know, the ones that let you have sex for hours. Those secrets.)

I look forward to sharing my review in the coming days. I did finish reading the book, and I loved it!!

Interested? You can find THE REDEMPTION OF RIVER on Goodreads or Amazon.

You can also find book 1, THE TROUBLE WITH TONY, on Goodreads and Amazon.

Or, check out book 2, THE ENLIGHTENMENT OF DANIEL, on Goodreads and Amazon.

Book 3 THE MATING OF MICHAEL is available on Goodreads or Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link and enter for a chance to win a $20 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

Eli EastonAbout the Author:
Having been, at various times and under different names, a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, and organic farmer, Eli has been a m/m romance author since 2013. She has over 30 books published.

Eli has loved romance since her teens and she particular admires writers who can combine literary merit, genuine humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, bulldogs, cows, a cat, and lots of groundhogs.

In romance, Eli is best known for her Christmas stories because she’s a total Christmas sap. These include “Blame it on the Mistletoe”, “Unwrapping Hank” and “Merry Christmas, Mr. Miggles”. Her “Howl at the Moon” series of paranormal romances featuring the town of Mad Creek and its dog shifters has been popular with readers. And her series of Amish-themed romances, Men of Lancaster County, has won genre awards.

Catch up with Eli on her website, Facebook, and twitter.

A New Beginning: YOU BROUGHT ME THE OCEAN–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ YA graphic novel from the writing team of Alex Sanchez, Julie Maroh and the DC Universe. YOU BROUGHT ME THE OCEAN is a creative re-imagining of Aqualad’s origin story, falling for a boy while growing up in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

About the book:
Jake Hyde doesn’t swim––not since his father drowned. Luckily, he lives in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, which is in the middle of the desert, yet he yearns for the ocean and is determined to leave his hometown for a college on the coast. But his best friend, Maria, wants nothing more than to make a home in the desert, and Jake’s mother encourages him to always play it safe.

There’s nothing “safe” about Jake’s future—not when he’s attracted to Kenny Liu, swim team captain and rebel against conformity. And certainly not when he secretly applies to Miami University. Jake’s life begins to outpace his small town’s namesake, which doesn’t make it any easier to come out to his mom, or Maria, or the world.

But Jake is full of secrets, including the strange blue markings on his skin that glow when in contact with water. What power will he find when he searches for his identity, and will he turn his back to the current or dive headfirst into the waves?

My Review:
Jake Hyde is an African American high school senior growing up in land-locked Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. His best friend, and next-door neighbor, Maria has a deep and unrequited crush for Jake. Jake suspects this, and tries to maintain some distance, because he really cares for Maria but he’s pretty sure that he’s got his own crush…on Kenny Liu, a green-haired swimmer at school. Kenny is out and proud, fighting back against bullies Jake doesn’t really want to tangle with.

Jake has no knowledge of his father, and his overprotective mom works long hours as a nurse, so he spends a lot of time bonding with Maria’s father. Jake has secretly applied to Miami University to study marine biology, his real passion. This is antithetical to Maria’s plans to attend the Univ of New Mexico together–and to stay far from the ocean–his mom’s dearest wish.
The essential conflicts are clearly elaborated in the limited writing format of the graphic novel, and well-supported by the evocative illustration. It’s easy to read the youthful yearning of Jake, Maria and Kenny. Their expressions and body language translate the story without confusion The bullies are ever present, and Jake is about to discover the true nature of the odd markings on his arms.

I enjoyed the story, which has a predictable, yet affirming, coming-out story. For me, knowing that this was a coming-out story, as well as an origin story, meant the plot needed to encompass a lot of changes in a little time. Jake has to navigate the difficult conversations with Maria, Kenny, and his mom about his plans, his attractions and the startling powers he’s discovering by accident. I felt the combined written story and illustration did manage to support the many points of intersection between youth, sexuality, coming of age, and development of Aqualad’s powers.

I read a preview copy and couldn’t stop turning the pages. I enjoyed the artwork, felt it conveyed all the descriptions a traditional novel would describe. It’s a compelling story, and I appreciated the inclusive character drawings. Kenny’s Asian-American, and Maria has Mexican descent. The youthful struggles Jake experiences are only magnified by the increased inadvertent development of his water-bending powers. The secret of his paternity is a heavy burden to carry, and I liked how that solidified his resolve to make better choices. He’s able to best his bullies, using good sense and a little bit of humor. The resolution demonstrates Jake’s willingness to do the right thing, taking his place in the DC superhero pantheon. He’s true to himself in all the ways possible.

Interested? You can find YOU BROUGHT ME THE OCEAN on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and wherever graphic novels are sold. I read a review copy provided by NetGalley.

About the Author:
Alex Sanchez has published eight novels, including the American Library Association “Best Book for Young Adults” Rainbow Boys and the Lambda Award-winning So Hard to Say. His novel Bait won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Book Award and the Florida Book Award Gold Medal for Young Adult Literature. An immigrant from Mexico, Alex received his master’s in guidance and counseling and worked for many years as a youth and family counselor. Now when not writing, he tours the country talking with teens, librarians, and educators about books, diversity, and acceptance. He lives in Penfield, New York.

You can find Alex on his website, twitter, Facebook.

About the Illustrator:
Julie Maroh is a cartoonist, illustrator, feminist, and LGBTQ+ activist from Northern France. They wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Color, about the life and love of two young lesbians, which was adapted into the award-winning film of the same name.

About DC’s YA Graphic Novels:
DC’s young adult graphic novels introduce DC’s most iconic Super Heroes to a new generation of fans with stories told by some of the most successful authors from the young adult publishing space. The YA titles are standalone stories, not part of DC’s ongoing continuity, and completely accessible to new readers who have no previous knowledge of DC characters.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!