Love In Service NO FLAG–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M military romance from Liz Borino. NO FLAG has been re-released and is the first book in the After Everything series. This story follows a gay military couple that weather Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Domestic Discipline, and major trauma after being injured in the act of service.

Drop down to catch an excerpt, my review and enter for a chance to win a $50 GC.

About the book:

Captain Mike Kelley does not ignore his intuition, so when sexy bartender Will Hayes captures his heart, Mike embarks on a mission to win him over to a Domestic Discipline relationship. Will accepts with one caveat: Mike must promise not to renew his army contract.

Mike agrees, until the army invokes the stop-loss military policy to involuntarily extend his commission and send him back overseas, rendering him powerless and threatening everything he and Will have built. Will, left alone to cope with a new café, must rely on the support of old friends who may no longer be trustworthy.

A horrific terrorist attack on Mike’s outpost changes everything, leaving them both at a loss.

Mike awakens in a hospital with a devastating injury and no recollection of the attack. As the only survivor, his memory may be the key to national security. Mike struggles to cope with his injury and Will struggles with his new role in Mike’s life.

For Mike and Will, “No Flag” meant “come home alive.” Will has Mike back rather than a folded flag, but in the aftermath of war, can they rebuild the life they had before?

How about a yummy taste?

Chapter One: The News

July 7, 2012

Bombs exploded on the evening news, one after the other. Body parts flew past the camera. The headline across the bottom of the screen read: “20 Army Intelligence Officers Dead.”

“Early this morning, a bomb exploded in the Army Intelligence building, killing twenty American soldiers from Platoon 518,” the blonde newswoman reported.

Will Kelley squinted as the fuzzy security images played behind the woman’s head, searching through the chaos for reassurance. Nothing. His heart pounded and he tried to swallow but found only dry air in his mouth and throat. The female reporter described the weapons used and structural damage done in vivid detail, which made for sensational television, but failed to answer any questions for the people at home. Victims’ families had to be notified before the media could release their names. So, Blondie would lose her job if she read the list in front of her.

“What the hell are you doing, man? We open in thirty minutes and you’re watching television?” Seth, his roommate, demanded from the doorway of the living room.

“Answered your own question, didn’t you?” Will responded.

“Are you ready?”

“No.” Will did not take his eyes off the screen. “I’ll drive myself.”

“When?”

The report flashed to an increase in allergies in children, so Will switched to another station while typing “Attack on American S2 Building in Afghanistan” into Google. It wouldn’t be that easy though. So, Will tried several more combinations of search terms before finding a video shot by an insurgent involved in the attack. The camera shuddered. Focused on different areas of the chaos. Men ripping clothes off soldiers. Looting. Bodies blown to bits. A man removing computer hard drives. And only one face. On the severed head of Major Evans.

“Will!” Seth jabbed him in the shoulder with a pen. Will forced his eyes away from the computer. “What happened?”

“Mike’s platoon was attacked. Twelve survivors.”

“Shit,” Seth said. “Can you call…?”

Will took a slug from the nearby water bottle. “Who? No one will talk to me. I’m not my husband’s family.”

Seth stared at him for a long moment and said, “I’ll have Casey cover for you.”

Will stood and shook his head. “Why? I can’t do anything here except watch the same videos over and over. May as well see if I can make some money.” He shut his computer and set it on the side table. “Meet you there. I won’t be too late. Promise.” He had to stop himself from scoffing as the meaningless word left his lips.

“Will…” Seth began.

“You wanted me to move, I’m moving! Go. I’ll be there.” He walked toward his bedroom, Seth’s gaze burning into his back. Stopping to throw a glance over his shoulder, he added, “Don’t tell Casey. I can do without her mother-henning me.”

“Will…”

“Please, Seth.”

“Sure.”

“Thanks.” Will climbed the steps and closed his bedroom door. He leaned against the wood cutting him off from the rest of the world. His gaze roamed the four walls decorated with art prints, a whiteboard, and his wedding picture. Will strode over and fingered the golden frame. Behind the glass lay a photograph of Will and Mike in tuxes in the middle of their first dance. Their smiles easily outshone the gold on the frame. Mike had always been handsome with broad, built shoulders and muscular pecs, leading to abs you could grate cheese on.

But none of that stood out to Will, not on their wedding day of the year before. Mike’s blue eyes radiated a strength and hope. Will removed his wedding band to read the promise inscribed: No Flag.

Please keep your promise, Mike, Will thought as he took a deep breath and tore himself away from the picture and the crushing memories it brought. He had a job to do tonight.

My Review:

This book was originally published in 2013, and the second edition seems unchanged.

Captain Mike Kelley is a military intelligence officer and West Point grad who’s spent a lot of time in counterintelligence and translating threats. He’s near the end of his commission and has no plans to re-up. It’s 2010 and President Obama has instituted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a policy that is meant to somewhat protect gay servicemembers from dishonorable discharge.

Mike is an orphan, and he made his way through life carefully, using ideals like respect, honor, and sacrifice as cornerstones of his life. He’s looking for a submissive partner who would be interested in Domestic Discipline, which–in my woefully uninformed opinion–means that one partner has authority, and the other follows the rules of the home, which they could form together. Mike has very specific ideas about domestic tasks, in that he has a “right” way and all other ways are not acceptable. Mike meets Will while out at a gay bay in Philly. Will is a bartender, but he’d like to own his own place, more of a coffeehouse for LGBTQ folk to feel safe.

Will is intrigued by the Domestic Discipline, and attracted to Mike. He’s not so sure about Mike’s OCD habits, or punishments for not meeting Mike’s exacting standards. And, he’s REALLY not into the military, especially since Mike’s work is highly classified. Their relationship grows close pretty quickly, within months Mike asks Will to move in and, in early 2011 when marriage equality is still being debated, there are two months until the end of Mike’s commission he asks Will to marry him. Though their marriage isn’t recognized by the military, Will agrees on one condition: Mike does not re-up. Mike doesn’t, but with mere weeks before his commission expires a surly commander tells Mike he’s being deployed to Afghanistan.

An arcane bit of military regulations allows commanding officers to extend commissions for up to one year following the expiry of service. This Stop-Loss program makes a big rift for Mike and Will, who were just about to open a business together. They do their best to navigate a fledgling marriage, new business, and transglobal interaction via Skype. The discipline part of their marriage is tricky to navigate remotely, but it’s helpful for both men to keep this piece of normalcy. Will’s friends are highly skeptical, with his female best friend making all sorts of trouble, to interfere with Will and Mike’s marriage–with some unexpected chicanery and definite violation of personal boundaries.

During deployment Mike and Will have a mantra: No Flag, which means Mike commits to make every effort to come home alive. They say this to one another every sign-off from every call. Mike’s stress levels are high, and Will’s being as accepting as he can of all the secrecy, but once Mike’s base is bombed and he can’t tell if his husband is alive or dead it marks a new level in Will’s commitment to Mike.

I liked this one a bunch, and I was glad for the reminder of the rapid changes our society has undergone in the past 10-15 years. Repeal of the prohibition of gay service members, national marriage equality, and enhanced efforts to make veterans whole, be they amputees, or suffering depression/PTSD. Mike is the only member of his unit to survive the blast and subsequent raid, and he has vital information that could save thousands on American soil, if only he can remember/relive those horrific memories. It’s interesting that so much of the story (the first half) is told in flashback, and when we finally reach the “present” we experience flashback through Mike’s fractured memories. Both Mike and Will are compelling characters, though I will admit to loving Will more than Mike, whose OCD is a little nerve-wracking. I will admit to not quite understanding the nuances of Domestic Discipline versus a 24/7 D/s power exchange, but I think it was made adequately clear that both Mike and Will benefited from this experience. They seemed to have a deep connection that was only strengthened by their adversity.

Mike is a different man when he’s returned to Will, mostly due to his lack of confidence following amputation. He is not sure he can be the man that Will needs, that Will will find him less attractive, and that his disability will render him unable to exert his discipline. This seems to be mainly resolved by the end of the book, but it’s still early days of his recovery. Also, this is the first book in a series, so I’m left with the feeling that there will be further conflict and PTSD moments for Will and Mike to weather. I would definitely read on.

Interested? You can find NO FLAG on Goodreads, NineStar Press and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter Giveaway link for your chance to win a $50 NineStar Press gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:

Liz Borino has been telling stories of varying truthfulness since she was a child. As an adult, she keeps the fiction on the page. She writes stories of human connection and intimacy, in all their forms. Her books feature flawed men who often risk everything for their love.

When Liz isn’t writing, she’s waking up early to edit, travel, and explore historic prisons and insane asylums—not (usually) all in one day. Liz lives in Philadelphia with her two cats.

Love at the End Times FRANKLIN IN PARADISE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a brand new YA post-apocalyptic LGBTQIA romance from John Patrick. FRANKLIN IN PARADISE is the first book in his Paradise series. Two young men, survivors of a disease that has decimated populations worldwide, find comfort, safety and unexpected love with one another.

Drop down to catch an excerpt, my review and enter for a chance to win a $50 GC.

About the book:

Life is good for eighteen-year-old Franklin. He lives on the spectrum, structuring and organizing his days, avoiding messy situations and ambiguity. But what he really wants is a boyfriend.

Twenty-one-year-old Patrick has a past he can’t seem to shake, and a sexual identity that’s hard to describe—or maybe it’s just evolving.

When a manmade virus sweeps the globe, killing nearly everyone, the two young men find themselves thrust together, dependent on each other for survival. As they begin to rebuild their world, their feelings for each other deepen. But Franklin needs definition and clarity, and Patrick’s identity as asexual—or demisexual, or grey ace?—isn’t helping.

These two men will need to look beyond their labels if they are going to find love at the end of the world.

How about a yummy taste?

I finished cleaning my bedroom before lunchtime. Not that it needed it. I’m not the kind of guy to leave his dirty socks and shorts lying around. But I dusted behind the headboard and vacuumed the corners of the ceiling in my closet, removing the neatly labeled boxes from the top shelf first, before dusting those, too, and restacking them in alphabetical order: beads, crystals, fly hooks, etc., all the way down to screws.

I tugged the bed aside and vacuumed the carpet underneath, carefully nudging the bed frame back into the existing carpet indentations when I was finished.

I was ready.

Right after my parents left that morning, I even shaved. Not that there was any real need for that either. Even though I’ll be eighteen in a couple weeks, I’m hardly rocking the facial hair, just a few soft black wisps curling under my chin.

Nothing to do now but wait for Tyler.

I walked to the picture window in our living room and stared out into the gloomy March evening. Across the dirt road, Mrs. Knudson’s front porch lights came on. If I leaned forward and craned my neck to the right, I could almost see the intersection with State Highway 27. I waited at the window until I saw a sweep of headlights illuminating the deep forest along the road, silhouettes of oaks and pines picked out one by one as Tyler’s pickup bounced through the ruts.

I stepped away from the window and moved to the front door. The throaty rumble of his truck died, and a moment later a door slammed. Footsteps on the side deck were followed by a shout of “Yo, open up.” I silently did a slow three-count, then opened the door.

“Dude, here, take these. Back in a sec.” Tyler thrust three large pizza boxes into my arms and headed back to the driveway. I carried the boxes across the living room to the counter separating it from the kitchen, the scent of hot cheese, tomatoes, onions, and pepperoni filling the air. By the time I laid out each box in a neat row on the counter, Tyler was back, kicking the door shut behind him.

He had a gym bag looped across his shoulders, and he was carrying a case of Sam Adams.

He came around the counter and into the kitchen, put the beer on the table, and dropped his bag on the floor by the counter. “Woo-hoo! Sweet Sixteen!” he said, as he shrugged out of his jacket.

Sweet Sixteen? What…? Oh, right. March Madness. Sweet Sixteen round. That’s what we’re doing tonight, right?

“Your folks get off okay?” he asked.

“Yep, they got there already and texted me an hour ago. It’s 75 degrees in Puerto Rico right now.”

“Good for them, man.” Tyler used the opener on his key chain to pry the caps off two bottles. He handed me one. “And they’re good with us doing this?”

“Yeah, of course. You’ve slept over lots of times.” Even as I said that, I felt a blush rising in my cheeks. I hoped tonight would be different than all those other times. “Besides,” I continued, “Mrs. Knudson will be keeping an eye out. She knows I’m alone this weekend, and my folks told her I wasn’t allowed to have any parties.” I was embarrassed my parents had asked our eighty-year-old neighbor to spy on me. “How about your folks? They know you’re staying the night, right?”

“Right. No problem. They just don’t know we’re alone.” He waggled his eyebrows.

*

Tyler and I have been best buds since fourth grade, but lately, I’ve been thinking about him in a…well, I guess romantic way would best describe it. I was pretty sure he felt the same about me, too, because more and more, Tyler has been lightly touching me. A pat on my head, a tap to my arm. He knows touching is a “thing” for me, and he’s been really good about too. Signaling it would happen so I could be prepared without making a big deal about it.

Two years ago, my first and only girlfriend, Maya, let me know I was gay. I hadn’t thought about it, one way or the other, up until then. I didn’t like the whole idea of dating. Turns out she was right, of course. She was so pushy when it came to the physical stuff, even though she knew I was…sensitive…to that kind of thing. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” she’d say. But then she’d try to kiss me or grab my hand.

One night, the last time I saw her, we were sitting in her parents’ basement, and she asked if she could hold my hand. I didn’t want to, but I knew this was what boyfriends and girlfriends did, and I was trying so hard to be normal, so I let her. Before I understood what was happening, though, she guided my hand down to her thigh and under her skirt. When I discovered she wasn’t wearing underwear, I’d gasped and yanked my hand away, waving my fingers in the air as if they’d been burned. I might have gagged a little too.

“Uh-huh. I thought so,” she’d responded immediately. “You’re gay, you know, Franklin. Right? You do know that? I’d hate to see you waste the next couple of years ‘struggling’ to understand yourself. You should just blow your buddy Tyler right now and get it over with.”

Fair enough. But I didn’t blow Tyler, and as much as I was convinced we had a future together, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to blow him, or at least not yet. But I’d been thinking about kissing him, and although it made me a little uncomfortable, I thought I might be ready for that.

My Review:

Franklin is a young gay man on the autism spectrum. He’s never really outed himself, but he’s been told–by his one and only girlfriend–that he’s gay. He lives in rural Maine with his parents, who have left him alone for a week’s vacation to Puerto Rice. Franklin is weeks from turning 18, and his best friend, Tyler, is coming over to spend the weekend at his house. Tyler seems to want a physical relationship with Franklin, but Franklin’s issues with over-stimulation and touch aversion are an obstacle to Tyler’s lusty ideas.

Just before Tyler leaves the following morning, after a night that should have been awesome but was mainly uncomfortable and awkward, Franklin catches a new report of a deadly virus spreading from Asia. He gets the “shelter in place” warning and advises Tyler to stay with him, but Tyler’s too frustrated to stick around. And when the power goes out and his parents do not return, well, Franklin makes the best of it–for weeks. Until Patrick sees the smoke coming from his chimney and knocks on his door.

Patrick is a 21 y/o demisexual man whose spent the last three weeks watching nearly everyone in his small Maine town die. He holed up in the town library, which had some primitive living quarters in part of the original 200 year old structure. He’s shell-shocked and so happy to see another living person he’s in dire need of human physical contact–even if Franklin struggles with this at first. He also has the hard job of explaining to Franklin, who is a very literal person due to his autism, that the world is overwhelmingly devoid of humans, and that Tyler and his parents are likely dead, too. Their interactions are fraught with so much anxiety, but they each know they need to shelter together to make it through this nightmare.

Over the next several days Patrick and Franklin develop a camaraderie, and a budding attraction. It’s hard for both of them to connect emotionally and physically, but time and isolation help fuel their needs. And, they are respectful of one another, although Franklin really does not understand “gray ace” or “demisexual” as concepts, and that creates issues. Patrick continues to explain that he’s not usually attracted to anyone, but if he develops an emotional connection that he could become sexually attracted, and he’s starting to feel that way about Franklin, who is attracted to Patrick, but lacks the emotional-savvy to express himself in all the ways he might like. He gets overwhelmed, and when they meet others he’s afraid that Patrick might start feeling sexual to them, as well.

This story is really about communication and survival. Franklin and Patrick need to communicate with one another, but also with the few new people that they meet. They see new opportunities, and they have to weigh and discuss options, to ensure that they are going in a good direction–while also giving up the hopes of returning to any part of a ‘normal” pre-virus life. Allusions are made to the COVID crisis, and how that informed the populace to “shelter in place” in the opening scenes, maybe saving Franklin’s life. It’s unclear how the virus worked, or who would have been spared, but one thing is apparent: survivors are not going to have an easy go of things in this after-virus period. So many automated processes are going offline: water, sewage, electric, gas production. All the dead lay in heaps around the streets and towns. Food in stores is rotting, bringing forth swarms of scavengers and vermin. This was all well-detailed in Franklin’s precise, orderly point of view. I really loved how Franklin continued to use the skills he learned in therapy to help him cope with non-verbal cues, and context cues, to really demonstrate his empathy and help him cope better.

Patrick is a good guy with some dark secrets. Some of the folks they meet are wary of him for those reasons, though Franklin’s love for him grows to be strong and steady. They will not be separated–at least if Franklin can avoid that he will. Theses young men have some off-page sexual relations, where the focus is always on building their emotional bonds tighter. And, by finding new survivors, the stage is set for further stories, with a coalition of people growing in a stable living area–an old Shaker commune in the woods of Maine called “Paradise”. Franklin grows to be a leader there, his analytical brain facilitating learning how to operate the long range Ham radio equipment to connect with other survivors, as well as managing the livestock barn. He and Patrick seem to be front and center with the new civilization that’s growing up there, but there are shadows of marauders on the horizon, as well as natural predators returning to the area, now that people are no longer encroaching.

This is the beginning of a series, and I would definitely read on.

Interested? You can find THIS VOW on Goodreads, NineStar Press and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter Giveaway link for your chance to win a $50 NineStar Press gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:

John Patrick lives in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, where he is supported in his writing by his husband and their terrier, who is convinced he could do battle with the bears that come through the woods on occasion (the terrier, that is, not the husband).

John is an introvert and can often be found doing introverted things like reading or writing, cooking, and thinking deep, contemplative thoughts (his husband might call this napping). He loves to spend time in nature—“forest bathing” is the Japanese term for it—feeling connected with the universe. But he also loathes heat and humidity, bugs of any sort, and unsteady footing in the form of rocks, mud, tree roots, snow, or ice. So, his love of nature is tempered; he’s complicated that way.

John and his husband enjoy traveling and have visited over a dozen countries, meeting new people, exploring new cultures, and—most importantly—discovering new foods. After such travels, John invariably comes down with a cold. During a trip to Japan in 2019, he was amazed by how many people wore surgical masks in public to protect both themselves and others from viruses. “Gosh,” John thought, “wouldn’t it be great if we’d do this in the US?” John sometimes regrets the wishes he makes.

You can reach out to John on his website, or Facebook.