Building a Love With BEST LAID PLANS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Roan Parrish. BEST LAID PLANS is a sequel to BETTER THAN PEOPLE, and features an introverted adult virgin finding solace with a loner man teetering on homelessness. I loved the fun call backs to RIVEN the first book I’d read from this author.

About the book:
A man who’s been moving his whole life finally finds a reason to stay put.
Charlie Matheson has spent his life taking care of things. When his parents died two days before his eighteenth birthday, he took care of his younger brother, even though that meant putting his own dreams on hold. He took care of his father’s hardware store, building it into something known several towns over. He took care of the cat he found in the woods…so now he has a cat.

When a stranger with epic tattoos and a glare to match starts coming into Matheson’s Hardware, buying things seemingly at random and lugging them off in a car so beat-up Charlie feels bad for it, his instinct is to help. When the man comes in for the fifth time in a week, Charlie can’t resist intervening.

Rye Janssen has spent his life breaking things. Promises. His parents’ hearts. Leases. He isn’t used to people wanting to put things back together—not the crumbling house he just inherited, not his future and certainly not him. But the longer he stays in Garnet Run, the more he can see himself belonging there. And the more time he spends with Charlie, the more he can see himself falling asleep in Charlie’s arms…and waking up in them.

Is this what it feels like to have a home—and someone to share it with?

My Review:
Charlie Matheson has never had a life of his own. He may be deep into his 30s but he went from 18 year old on the verge of leaving his hometown for college football glory to raising his sullen little brother, Jack, in an instant when their parents were killed in a wreck. Charlie gave up his dreams that day, though he’s not sad about it. Now that Jack is grown, college-educated and living his best life with a loving, if shy, partner, Charlie wonders if he’s just going to die alone, in the rut his life has become. See, Charlie is a fixer. He knows how to pick up the pieces of a shattered home or life and keep on enduring until things work out. That’s why his legacy hardware store is the best one in several counties. And that’s how he notices the new man in town, and all the messes he’s making buying repair materials for a job he’s not nearly qualified to attempt.

Rye Janssen never knew his grandfather–barely knows his own parents truth be told–and has been on his own since his late teens. Life in Seattle is expensive and he’s about to lose his current sub-let shelter when he gets an unexpected call: his grandfather in rural Garnet Run, Wyoming, has left him a house. It seems too good to be true, and it is. The house is a shambles, not fit for habitation, but like the stray cat Rye adopts, it’s all he currently has. And, once he establishes that the overly helpful hardware store guy, Charlie, isn’t out to humiliate him he’s not too proud to accept the freely given and incredibly necessary help–and living quarters AND job–that Charlie is able to provide.

It’s amazing what some well-meant advice can do for both men, and as they share Charlie’s neat and homey abode, it’s clear that Rye has experience he’s more than willing to share–once they are able to confront Charlie’s huge shame, that he’s a virgin, unsure of his own desires, or attractiveness. Oh wow! I was so blown away with the tender and loving situation that develops between these two. Charlie’s struggle to articulate his desire is endearing to Rye. For the first time his life someone finds him worthwhile, and it’s heady, being the focus of Charlie’s earnest attention. Their romance has some hitches as both men struggle to discover what it means to be a boyfriend, or to be intimate. Their cats are more at ease then they are with one another, which is fun to see. I also loved the deeper connections that Charlie makes with his brother Jack, who has by default treated him like a parent, more than a brother. Both grown, they are able to make healthier choices in their relationship, once Rye shines a light on some of their unacknowledged dysfunction.

I honestly loved his book from beginning to end, connecting with both Rye and Charlie and experiencing their struggles like I was along for the ride. Each time Charlie coaxed Rye into making a good choice, or Rye’s care took a burden from Charlie’s shoulders was a moment to cherish. Rye is so fun in his young curmudgeon-y attitude that life is always going to be terrible, especially as he sees it’s no match for Charlie’s can-do, make-do, patient spirit and gumption. There are moments of sexytimes, but they are fraught with the tension that Charlie exists in, not wanting to ever mess things up, because he’s used to dire stakes and its hard for him to let that anxiety go. Rye does great work getting Charlie out of his head, and helping him see that mistakes are okay, too, because we learn from them and grow. The house that he and Rye rebuild is a perfect metaphor for their own relationship, that it’s harder than they ever dreamed, and probably going to cost them everything, but in the end it’s a beacon of hope and light and love that even the townsfolk can all support. I’d move to Garnet Run just to see these guys find the happiness they so deserve.

Interested? You can find BEST LAID PLANS on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. I read a review copy provided by NetGalley.

Want to start off with the first book? You can find BETTER THAN PEOPLE on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo.

About the Author:
Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia, where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre.

When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique. She is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary Agency.

You can find Roan online on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Weathering Change is THE GREATEST SUPERPOWER–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a Middle Grade LGBTQ story that really resonated with me from Alex Sanchez. GREATEST SUPERPOWER features twin middle school boys dealing with their father’s unexpected male-to-female transition. This is the second book I’ve read from Mr. Sanchez; check out my review of YOU BROUGHT ME THE OCEAN, a M/M teen graphic novel featuring Aqualad.

About the book:
As summer draws to a close, 13-year-old Jorge wants nothing more than to spend his days hanging out with his fellow comic book-obsessed friends. But then his parents announce they’re divorcing for a reason Jorge and his twin brother never saw coming—their father comes out as transgender.

My Review:
Jorge is a 13 year old incoming eighth grader at his Texas middle-school. He’s kind of quiet and artistic, the complete opposite of his sporty and outgoing twin, Cesar, who has a pretty girlfriend and is angling to be student body president. Their worlds were rocked at the beginning of summer when their parents split up somewhat unexpectedly.

See, Jorge new there was trouble in his parent’s marriage, but he didn’t think divorce was an option. And, when his mom and dad sit him and Cesar down to discuss why dad is moving out they are both dumbstruck. He’s transgender and transitioning to a female–and this means he needs to move out. Because, while he and his wife still love each other, they can’t really live together as spouses any longer. It’s unsettling for Jorge and Cesar on so many levels. Jorge depended on his dad for so much, since he had stayed at home, working freelance while his mom had a higher-pressure job outside the home.

This book is so sweet and so poignant, with a lot of layers. Jorge watches as his father (deadname: Norberto) becomes Norma, weathering the animosity Cesar lashes out each time he returns from a visit. Also, he’s struggling with inadequacy as a Mexican-American; he’s fair like his white mother, while Cesar is dark like their Mexican-American father, and Cesar’s clearly unhappy with his dark skin–to the point it kind of drives a wedge between them. Cesar won’t spend any time with Norma, and threatens Jorge not to reveal their secret. Thing is, they live in the same neighborhood and Norma, who is out-and-about in her female experiences. Jorge knows it’s only a matter of time before she is recognized by his friends. And, as he’s coming to terms with it, but it’s still so awkward and there is still so much hurt and betrayal. It was interesting to see Jorge positioning himself with his friends to write a comic about a trans character–who’s superpower is defeating the bullies of the world…rather fabulously. And, their support really is a balm when Jorge needs it.

Jorge also develops a big crush on a new girl whose sensibilities are aligned toward acceptance and equality. They have a connection, but it’s hard to be real while also hiding a huge secret. Through this girl Jorge’s befriending a genderqueer person in his middle school. It’s enlightening, seeing this person’s struggle and relating it to his father’s experience. Jorge’s attempts to keep his father’s transition a secret are jeopardizing the friendships he’s so desperate to hold onto. Meanwhile, his relationship with Cesar is deteriorating.

I really loved how Jorge processed the struggle of his parents’ marriage ending, his father’s pain and difficulty in living his truth, the recognition that relationships are hard–even in middle school. It’s so tenderly rendered, with such love for Jorge whose emotional challenges are intense. These months in his life mark a huge turning point in his growth, and I loved that the character really acted as a kid does, and with a kid’s sensibilities. Jorge gets mad with his dad, doesn’t understand the bone deep ache Norma experiences and then really listens to the situation.

This is a special kind of book. I would highly recommend it for LGBTQI children, families that support them, and anyone who loves a good family-centered realistic middle grade story.

Interested? You can find THE GREATEST SUPERPOWER on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

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.
target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Goodreads.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Unexpected Afterlife DAMNED WHEN I DIDN’T–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’s sharing a reviwe and giveaway for a YA paranormal romance from a friend and fellow author, Cherie Colyer. DAMNED WHEN I DIDN’T features a newly-deceased human girl who’s not sure WHY she’s now a succubus, and really would do anything to reunite with her family.

About the book:
Death isn’t the end for eighteen-year-old Avery Williams, and her final resting place isn’t beyond the Golden Gates. No, the Queen of the Damned has plans for her and, unbeknownst to Avery, fought hard to gain possession of her soul.

As Hell’s newest succubus, Avery is expected to siphon life from the living. It only takes a long, meaningful kiss, but for a virgin like Avery, kissing guys she barely knows isn’t something she’s comfortable doing.

Avery focuses on the upside of her fate—she’ll be returning home, or so she thinks. When the Queen of the Damned cuts her off from her old life, Avery is determined to find a way back to her family and friends, even if it means facing Hell’s fury if she’s caught.

My Review:
Eighteen year old Avery Williams is dead. She doesn’t figure it out right away, but it kinda tips her off when Lilith, the Queen of the Damned, sends her off with her incubus chaperone, Cole. And those rivers of burning souls truly open Avery’s eyes to her dangerous new predicament. Go to one high school party and end up in Hell? Even Avery isn’t sure why. Cole isn’t thrilled to have a succubus partner, especially one so clueless and unwilling to do even the basic things necessary to keep her strong and virile in the human realm: like make out with people and mark their souls for Hell. It’s a lot for a virgin to take, though few of the folks Avery encounters can actually tell she’s still a virgin.

Thing is, she’s a bit of a prude, and some well-placed rumors had Avery’s schoolmates believing she was less wholesome than she truly was. And now, as a succubus she’s meant to feed of the life force of strangers…through acts of intimacy she’d barely tried as a living person. In fact, Avery’d like to just give the whole thing up except Cole makes it clear that doing so would result in swift and gruesome punishment from Lilith. More pressing is Avery’s immense need to learn if her sister died in the same accident that ended her own life. If Gracie still lives Avery has some important messages about living a good life and saving a mutual friend from a Hell-damned fate. If only she could contact Gracie! Lilith severed every connection Avery can make to her past life, and it’s up to Cole and a band of misfit paranormals to help Avery breach her own wake to say her final goodbyes–without Lilith finding out. Because she didn’t become Queen of the Damned without frying a few souls. And, Avery’s soul won’t survive Lilith’s wrath.

This was an unexpected treat of a contemporary paranormal romance, with Avery being a conniving and petulant succubus whose attitude problems are redeemed by her aversion to marking souls and stealing even hours off the life of unsuspecting humans. Cole is a stable presence, and their attraction is both unconventional and unprecedented. Cole and his chums can see the good in Avery, to the point they aren’t sure why she’s not in Heaven. Unfortunately, being reborn in Heaven would not necessarily facilitate Avery’s plans–which do include getting some contact with her family. It’s a bit of a caper, actually, how she and Cole enlist his contacts to do the unthinkable–hide her transit from Hell just long enough to get her message across. I liked it lots, and the connection between Avery and Cole has a slow build that suits Avery’s sensibilities surrounding love and how to make it.

This is a YA suitable read, with a fun and dynamic cast of characters I’d love to experience more adventures with. Can an incubus and a succubus find love with one another? Well, Avery sure is willing to find out.

Interested? You can find DAMNED WHEN I DIDN’T on Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Apple Books and Kobo. I received a review copy of ht is book from NetGalley for an honest review.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click this Rafflecopter giveaway link to enter a giveaway for a $10 Amazon gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Cherie Colyer is best known for her young adult, paranormal romance thrillers, including the Embrace series (featuring witchcraft) and Challenging Destiny (a story about outsmarting heaven and hell.) She usually has several book projects in the works. She enjoys helping budding writers improve their craft and learn more about the publishing industry. Cherie lives in Illinois with her family. She happily visits schools and libraries and is a member of SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators).

Catch up with Cherie on her website, Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Bookbub, Amazon, and Goodreads.

Opposites Connect BUSINESS AND THE BEAT–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a M/M contemporary rock romance from Kellum Jeffries. BUSINESS AND THE BEAT features a prankster rock god falling hard for the strait-laced financial planner tasked with helping him diversify his holdings. It’s a fun and sweet romance.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
Rutherford Fitzhugh, shy, repressed financial advisor, is happy to stay in his professional and personal rut. But his world gets shaken up when his new boss insists the firm take on more exciting clients and assigns Rutherford to Mak, the brilliant bassist and chief songwriter for the mega-popular rock band, Memo to Myself.

Mak Makana, extroverted prankster goofball, hasn’t had a serious or lengthy relationship in years. He learned early on in his band’s meteoric rise to fame that a lover he’d fallen hard for was more interested in his fame than him.

The sparks between the two men are immediate and intense, despite their disastrous first meeting when Rutherford walks into a gooey prank Mak meant for a bandmate. Rutherford discovers that Mak isn’t the spoiled, shallow rock star he expected, and Mak finds that Rutherford has a hidden artistic and quirky side. They can’t keep their hands off each other—even as they work to convince themselves it’s just a fling.

Rutherford’s never been able to please his conservative, traditional Virginian parents—or get them to accept his sexuality—and the sudden paparazzi attention brings their disapproval on full force. Mak’s got a supportive family back home in Hawaii and another one in his bandmates, neither batting an eye at his pansexuality. But that early experience with a fame-collector makes him wary of opening up to anyone who’s not birth family or band family.

Mak and Rutherford’s very different lives threaten to pull them apart, but could it be they’re different enough to be perfect together?

How about a little taste?

Rutherford’s morning started off with a reassuring sameness—same boiled eggs for breakfast, same dogwalk around his neighborhood, same quick skim of the Financial Times during his morning Lyft ride—and there was absolutely no warning that by noon he’d be flustered, turned on, and temporarily dyed blue.

He arrived at work his usual half hour early. It was calm and quiet then, and he had a few peaceful moments to sit with his first cup of tea of the day and start looking through his portfolio of clients, making sure he’d checked in with each of them recently enough to keep them well informed and happy. (This was a tricky balance; some clients were annoyed by frequent contact, some enraged by any lengthy absence of contact, and, of course, there were a few who would find something to be peeved about regardless.)

Rutherford wrote up a schedule of check-in calls to make and started looking through the first client’s current investments, checking on the returns and pondering the fact that said client had a child reaching college age soon. Would tweaking her portfolio in light of that be advantageous? And just when he was settling into deep thought, doodling flowers on his legal pad as his brain ticked over possibilities, Hurricane Jen blew into the office.

He winced—he liked Jen, somewhat reluctantly, but she was loud.

“Heeeeeeeeeey you!” she bellowed, and he sighed as his mental train of morning productivity not only derailed but fell spectacularly off a cliff, hit bottom, and caught fire.

“Hello, Jen.”

He’d wondered, the first few times she greeted him with a “Hey you,” if she was being intentionally rude to him since she seemed to remember everyone else’s name. But when he’d reintroduced himself after several weeks of this, she’d wrinkled her nose and said, “I swear I know your name, I’m sorry, I just— It just doesn’t seem like you! It’s so stuffy! Sorry, I don’t mean to insult your name, you probably love your name, and it’s certainly elegant and everything, and argh, I’m a dick.”

He’d blinked at her, astonished she thought his name too stuffy for him—he was well aware most people thought of him as, well, stuffy. (He was also astonished she felt comfortable blurting “I’m a dick” by way of apology, but the boss’s daughter had certain prerogatives.)

“I, uh, I don’t love my name,” he’d said. “‘Hey you’ is…rather nice.” And since then, he’d been oddly fond of her.

Today, though, in addition to completely ruining his concentration, she was making him nervous. She didn’t come into the office all that often; she was in charge of schmoozing prospective clients, which kept her on the road a good deal. When she did come in, it tended to be for all-hands-on-deck things: staff trainings and the like. Rutherford snuck a look at his online calendar, but he knew before he checked there was nothing like that today. So why was she here?

“What brings you here today?” he asked, but she added to his worry by grinning and making a lock-turning gesture in front of her lips, then striding off to her dad’s office.

“Oh god,” Rutherford murmured to his computer screen. There’d been rumors flying around lately about the old man’s retirement. Rutherford had tried to discount them, but…he wasn’t so sure now.

MacKenzie from the next office stuck her head in his doorway, pointed the way Jen had gone, and did some frantic gestures he assumed were mime for “what is happening?” He shrugged, and she frowned and popped back out again.

He slid down in his chair, put his hands over his face, and whispered, “I hate change” into the dark of his palms.

And sure enough, a few seconds later, an “Everyone to the meeting room” alert popped up on the office IM.

Rutherford grabbed a pad and pen and headed for the hallway; bad news was always a bit more palatable when he had some paper to cling to. He met MacKenzie on the way, leaned down, and murmured, “Two pencils,” in her ear.

“Crap, thanks,” she said and grabbed the pencils out of her short Afro. Sometimes by the end of the day, she had five or six.

They reached the meeting room and grabbed seats. And once everyone had filed in, Jen patted her dad’s shoulder and said, “Don’t leave ’em hanging,” and Rutherford barely managed not to groan aloud.

Mr. Wozniak stood up, said, “Yep, I’m retiring. Nope, we’re not letting anybody go. Yep, I am going to do a shitload of fly-fishing,” and sat down.

As bosses went, he’d always been admirably succinct.

The room was silent for a moment, awkwardly so—what did one say in response to that? And then Jen stood up and talked about how her father had founded the firm on the principles of emphasizing ethics, hiring the best people, and treating them very well. How their employee retention rate (“and our long tradition of not getting caught up in hideous scandals!”) proved these principles worked, and how she planned to continue on the same path.

Oh, good, it was going to be Jen. Rutherford had worried the firm would be sold. Jen, while noisy, was at least familiar and liked.

He’d begun to relax a little when Jen’s speech took a turn.

“While most of you will keep your same client load, I do plan to shake things up a bit. I’m planning to start pitching clients in the entertainment industry—we’ve got a longstanding industry halo for ethical business, let’s add a little buzz as well.”

That certainly got a buzz going in the room at least, but she held up a hand. “I’ll share details with those of y’all who are gonna be involved. Meanwhile, let’s start planning a massive retirement party.”

Rutherford tuned out for the rest of the talk, sketching tiny birds in the margins of his legal pad while he mulled over what this might mean for him. He had every intention of staying. Surely, his job wouldn’t change significantly since there was zero reason for Jen to drag him, of all people, into the new “entertainment industry” focus. However, someone his own age taking over the company would certainly send his parents into another “We can’t believe you’re happy with this career…plateau” rant.

He sighed and then startled, realizing only when Jen’s hand landed lightly on his shoulder that people were starting to clear out of the room.

“Hey, you,” she said, grinned, and patted his shoulder. “Let’s talk.”

Oh no.

My Review:
Rutherford Fitzhugh is a proper and staid financial advisor who’s a bit afraid of life thanks to his overbearing and meddling parents. He works for a respectable company and is trying hard to roll with the new high-profile client his new, sassy and young boss, Jen, has lined up for him. Jen is the company founder’s daughter, and her contacts range the eclectic. So, Rutherford is suitably unnerved when Jen proposes to connect him to Mak Makana, lead singer of Memo to Myself, a hot band. He can’t imagine that Mak really knows one end of a portfolio from another, and his reception upon arrival is nothing less than mortifying.

Mak and his bandmates are notorious pranskters, and since they all live together in neighboring houses on a gated compound it’s not usual to have unexpected visitors. So, it’s a huge surprise when Rutherford steps into Mak’s epic booby trap. And, it’s an intriguing mess. “Ford” as Mak starts calling him, is an amazing good sport, thinking that losing Mak as a client, no matter how humiliated he is, is a surefire way out of his ordinarily comfortable job. Mak is an equal-opportunity lover, finding attraction in people, but never really connecting. So, he’s genuinely impressed with Ford’s unflappable demeanor and professional insights.

Mak isn’t willing to be tied down, but he’s really into Ford, and Ford is more than a little attracted, himself. With a few weeks before Memo to Myself is due to begin touring, both men think this could be a lighthearted fling, something Rutherford has never done while it’s Mak’s standard operating procedure. The business part really gets cut off rather quick; as Rutherford’s ethics are unimpeachable he steps aside on the portfolio management so that he can begin this fling. The sweet and fun vibe grows as Mak and Ford spend more and more personal time together–gaming, hanging out for pool parties with the band. Ford likes who he is with Mak, but he’s also a little afraid that he’s losing himself, and setting himself up for a big heartbreak, because he knows he won’t tie Mak down. Meanwhile, Mak is really scared that he’s going to lose a piece of himself with he leaves on tour and Ford is left behind. Without recognizing it, both of these men have forged a deep bond, and despite their initial promises, they are not prepared to forgo it, even if it’s difficult.

I loved the intimate moments as much as the group chill sessions with the band, and the concerts that are a little bittersweet as Ford and Mak expect these to be endings–though they do not get that far. The end is so sweet, and funny as Ford gets a little of his own back as he pranks Mak–and their romance comes full circle. Expect a bit of sexytimes and a lot of sweetness.

Interested? You can find BUSINESS AND THE BEAT on Goodreads, NineStar Press and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Authors:
Kellum Jeffries is a bisexual Southern librarian, lucky enough to have a supportive fellow-writer partner and a fabulous dog. She knits socks, gives excellent shoulder rubs, and can touch her nose with her tongue. She loves to write about all kinds of people finding themselves, finding love, and finding the nearest Waffle House.

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Teen Love THE NEW NEXT ONE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a Teen M/M contemporary romance from life- and writing-partners Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood. THE NEW NEXT ONE features two closeted hockey teammates and best friends finally revealing their true feelings, and finding love they never had expected at an all-boys college prep high school. This book is a bit of a prequel to NICE CATCHING YOU, a New Adult hockey romance which I really liked. Other stories from these authors that I’ve enjoyed include WHAT HE REALLY NEEDS and TOO CLOSE TO THE FLAME.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the giveaway for a $25 GC.
About the book:
How much are you willing to give up for the man you love?

Best friends Nick Johnson and Tyler Jensen seem to have the world by the tail. The eighteen-year-old stars of their school’s hockey team are looking forward to playing in college and hoping for careers with the pros.

Nick and Tyler know a lot about each other, but there are a few important details they haven’t discussed. To start with, neither man knows the other is gay. Making things interesting, Nick has a massive crush on Tyler, something he’s kept to himself for a long time. And although he’s never said a word about it, Tyler has wanted to date Nick since they met.

On a cold Minnesota night after a big win, Tyler finds the courage to confess his feelings to Nick. When Nick admits his attraction to Tyler, their relationship turns on a dime. As they fall in love, they skate around the challenges of a secret romance in an all-male boarding school, but what will happen when the stakes rise dramatically in a sport not known for being gay-friendly? Will Nick and Tyler make the easy choice or the hard one?

The New Next One is a 20,000-word, new adult, friends-to-lovers romance featuring young athletes, plenty of steam, and a lot of emotion. The events of this book precede those told in the authors’ book Nice Catching You.

How about a little taste?

The two of us bundled up and walked south along the lakeshore. We talked about different things—school, what was going on in the NHL, and the big celebration of our championship that would happen the next week when everyone was back on campus. Ty reached for my hand after we passed the cabin. Even with both of us wearing mittens, it felt incredibly good to be out walking on a beautiful day, openly showing affection with my boyfriend. By the time you’re eighteen, holding hands with somebody you’re dating probably doesn’t seem exciting to most people; for me, it was huge, and I wanted to shout out loud. Instead, I pulled us to a stop and kissed him.

Afterward, he tweaked my nose. “I know everybody we play against thinks you’re a real bastard, but you’re actually a sweetheart.”

I gave it right back to him. “They all think you’re a bastard too. Haven’t decided where I stand on that.”

“What do you mean?” He turned his head to the side, looking very cute with tufts of hair sticking out from under his Penguins beanie. “I’ve always been nice to you.”

“I guess so.” I gave him another peck. “Why’d you make me wait all these years?”

I made you wait? Hell, I’m the one who finally worked up enough courage to do something about it.”

Turning him loose, I backhanded his arm and made a silly face. “I guess I’m glad about that.”

His jaw fell into an open-mouthed smile, and he shook his head. “Every man for himself, Johnson!”

He took off running, and I laughed hard as he bent over to pick up a fistful of snow. Quickly shaping it into a ball, he threw it at me and missed by a mile.

“You throw like a girl, Jensie!” I followed that up with a snowball of my own, hitting him in the middle of the chest.

“That’s it, you’re really gonna get it now!”

An epic snowball fight followed as we whooped and hollered, tossing chirps back and forth almost as fast as we volleyed snowballs. We worked our way into the woods as we ran. Ty was a good shot, and we played like little boys on recess after a hard morning at school. When we were both covered with snow and out of breath, Tyler stared at me until my heart raced with anticipation. Finally, he broke into a run. His hug was bone-crushing, and the hungry kisses were messy and delicious. The moment was all fire and promise, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the dorm. He pulled away from my mouth and mumbled, “You’re the most beautiful thing I ever saw, Nick.”

I huffed in cold air while my heart tried to hammer through my ribcage. “Not as beautiful as you.” I pulled him closer for a slow, deep kiss, and when that finally broke, he got a naughty gleam in his eye.

“We’re already covered with snow, so—” He pushed hard, and I tumbled backward into a snowbank. He jumped on top of me, and we wrestled around, making out while we laughed and played. My scarf slipped out of place, and Ty kissed my throat over and over, making me as hard as one of the trees surrounding us. After more rolling around, I was on top, and we lay humping in the snow. We had on heavy parkas, and it was too cold to take off any clothes, so our game was destined to end in frustration. All the better for a mind-blowing first time later that night.

We’d long since removed our mittens, and when we stilled, I wiped some snow off his cheek. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve never felt this way before.”

“Nothing’s wrong, Nick. Everything’s right for once. We’ve got each other.”

My Review:
Nick and Tyler are both seniors in high school at a Catholic boys prep in Minnesota. They play on the once lauded hockey team, and are both closeted–even to each other. They are so afraid of letting anyone know their secrets, that they are both emotionally isolated.

Tyler finally drops some rather ribald hints that turn Nick’s thoughts in the direction that he might be interested in more then their deep friendship. Could Tyler be interested in him…that way? Nick is nervous to have any contact that could harm their relationship, but what if they could have something special… And how can they keep it on the down-low from the rest of their teammates?

This book felt really more upper YA than New Adult, with the students being in high school, and them looking forward to college. Their schemes to find alone time and practice their sexytimes felt appropriately juvenile to the ages of the characters. There is a little complication with a teammate who is inordinately inquisitive, but it doesn’t take long to sort those out. We have a heads up that this boyhood romance is not built to last, because Nick is the protaganist of a fully NA M/M romance that came out a few months back. It was sweet to see him actually find connection, and it was clear how much Nick really needs to live his truth–to have a boyfriend who truly cares for him, to feel whole.

Expect first times and heart-felt confessions. Expect promises made and plans to change. For an athlete-based romance there isn’t an enormous amount of sport in the book, more along the lines of athlete-adjacent situations like training facilities and locker rooms and sweaty encounters. The plans Nick and Tyler make are those of boys, hopeful and irrepressible, and totally unsuited to the new and unexpected paths they are meant to walk. It’s bittersweet watching their romance build, and then wane, as they come of age and enter college. There is a good resolution, and knowing that Nick does find a solid partner later into college, helps take the sting from first love.

Interested? You can find THE NEW NEXT ONE on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Authors:
Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood met in law school and were married in 2017. They live in a suburb of Washington, DC, and enjoy travel, friends, dogs, and advocating for causes dear to their hearts. Josh and Ryan love writing, and the romance they were so lucky to find with each other inspires their stories about love between out and proud men.

You can catch up with Ryan and Joshua on their website, Goodreads, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

A World of Struggle THE DUBIOUS GIFT OF DRAGON’S BLOOD–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA LGBTQ fantasy romance from J Marshall Freeman. THE DUBIOUS GIFT OF DRAGON’S BLOOD features a teen boy with a secret gift being sent off to another realm to save it from conquest.

About the book:
High schooler Crispin Haugen already has so many identities to sort through—Asian, Scandinavian, not to mention gay. Then a messenger from another world arrives to tell him he also carries the blood of dragons in his veins.

Transported to the Realm of Fire, where dragons and humans live in harmony, Crispin falls for Davix, a brooding, nerdy scholar. But dark mysteries threaten the peace of Crispin’s new world. Without warning, dragons from the Realm of Air unleash a bloody war.

With everything he cares about on the line, Crispin must find the courage to fight…for justice and for love.

My Review:
Crispin is a high school senior and out to his friends, but not his parents, and he’s secretly hooking up with his long-time friend, who happens to be dating the coolest girl in school. Crispin thinks he’s falling hard for his buddy, but he’s clearly not comfortable or interested in coming out–or even reciprocating.

Crispin is stunned to learn that he is one of 20 beings on Earth who hold the sacred Copper blood of dragons. That there are realms of beings beyond Earth where dragons and magic exists. It’s overwhelming, but it’s also and unexpected escape hatch when his personal life explodes in spectacularly embarrassing fashion.

The Realm of Fire is a very different experience filled with pomp and etiquette that is unfamiliar. The People of this realm had been hand-picked and curated by the Five dragons that remain in the Realm. There are also dragons in the Realm of Air and the Realm of Water, but there are few connections between the Realms–especially on account of battles between these realms. In the Realm of Fire, Crispin is meant to be the stud to the Queen of the dragons, and he’s not sure how he will be able to do this…being an avowed gay person. And, he’s definitely interested in males. He’s so into Davix, an Atmospherics apprentice who is linked into some intrigue that might reveal a significant threat to the Dragons and life in the Realm.

This is a carefully constructed fantasy, with intense world building and unique situations and language creation. Crispin’s adventure truly schools him into maturity, taking on the mantle of pseudo-power that stems from his position as the Dragon Groom, fighting the tyranny of zealots in the Realm who eschew any growth in their religion. There is interesting technology, and the sense that the dragons serve as somewhat disconnected god-custodians who have interesting and unique gifts and roles. The People are not allowed to copulate to produce more offspring than their world can sustain, and it’s very common for same-sex “fleshmates” to provide comfort and sexual release for their friends who are not currently paired. There is community rearing of the young People, which allows for alliegance to be built to the Dragons rather than family groups, which was really interesting to me–and Cripsin.

It’s a bit of an epic, with battles and intrigue and love growing between Crispin and Davix, even while each is struggling to NOT be banished from the Realm. Davis loves the dragons of the Fire Realm, but in order to save them he makes an unforgivable choice, one that could cost his life. And Crispin’s solution is immediate, but less well thought out than it needed to be. Be ready to tuck into this one over the course of some days as it’s long. And, though the story resolves it’s not the end of the mayhem. Expect all sorts of magical and fantastical beasts, battles, unexpected double-crosses, chimeric beasts and prophesy that put both Crispin and Davix in the crosshairs of fate for their respective Realms. I liked it, and would recommend this book for readers who enjoy high fantasy, YA with super LGBTQ-friendly themes and representation, and a plethora of hyphens, because this book might could have the World’s Record on those.

Interested? You can find THE DUBIOUS GIFT OF DRAGON’S BLOOD on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I read a review copy provided by NetGalley.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Maturing Together OUT IN WINTER–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new New Adult M/M romance from Lane Hayes. OUT IN WINTER is the eighth book in her Out in College series, and features a gorgeous waterpolo player falling hard for the manager a coffee shop owned by his former teammates. Catch my reviews for OUT IN THE DEEP END, OUT IN THE END ZONE, OUT IN THE OFFENSE, OUT ON THE ICE and OUT IN SPRING for more on this sweet and sexy series. This book features Drew, who we briefly met in OUT ON THE SERVE, finding a real love with an athlete he’d written off as “too young”.

Scroll down to catch an excerpt and enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card.
About the book:
The grad student, the jock, and some winter fun…
Drew
My new job at the bistro is fun. The owners are good guys, and the staff is made up primarily of boisterous water polo players. I know nothing about the sport except there’s a Speedo involved, and Liam likes to wear his everywhere. Yes…Liam—the chatty, handsome, utterly charming waiter I can’t seem to stop thinking about. Ugh. Note to self—do not fall for another younger man.

Liam
Getting Drew to notice me hasn’t been easy. He’s a little intense, and he knows how to keep his distance. Something tells me he’s not immune—he’s just stubborn. Maybe a weekend of bonding on the ski slopes will win him over. And if I can get him to come out in winter, I might be able to convince him that we have a chance at something special.

Out in Winter is a low-angst MM, bisexual romance starring an oh so serious grad student, a goofball water polo player, and a little winter magic. This story is part of the Out in College series, but each book can be read as a stand-alone.

How about a yummy taste?

The stunning winter wonderland panorama was dotted with impossibly tall evergreens flocked with snow and the pristine hills glistening in the morning sun. It was so quiet, I could almost imagine we were alone in the world. That was precisely the kind of thought that freaked me out sometimes. But not today. Today the idea seemed…promising. Maybe even cleansing, like a new start.

“It’s beautiful,” I said reverently.

“This is one of the reasons I like coming out here early. The light is so brilliant. It looks like a postcard or the photo in the dictionary next to the word ‘hope.’ ”

“That’s a nice thought.”

We shared a smile; then he adjusted his goggles and inclined his head meaningfully. “Ready?”

“Yeah, but…you go first.”

“C’mere.” Liam crooked his finger.

I shuffled forward until I stood beside him with our skis pointing in the opposite direction, expecting him to impart some advice about the terrain or maybe remind me how to stop. Both might have been helpful, actually.

“What is it?”

“Hold on to my sleeve. Stay still. That’s perfect.” He stroked my chin before leaning in to press his lips to mine. “You taste like cherry ChapStick. I like.”

I grinned. “Thanks. So do you.”

He kissed me again, twisting his tongue with mine and leaving me breathless. “Mmm. I’m making it my personal quest to make sure you get down this mountain safely and that you have fun doing it.”

“Good luck with that,” I sighed, aware that my voice had taken on a dreamy quality.

“I don’t need luck. I’m an expert,” he bragged playfully. “I’m going to give you a couple of tips. Listen up.”

“I’m listening.”

“Bend your knees and stay loose.”

“Like this?” I bent my knees and wiggled my arms like a rubber band.

Liam chuckled. “Something like that. We’re gonna take it slow, moving from side to side, making wide turns. I’ll go first. Follow me and remember to keep your gaze forward.”

“As opposed to?”

“Looking at your skis. You don’t look at your feet when you’re walking, so don’t look at your skis when you’re skiing. It’ll fuck with your balance. Ready?”

“Yeah.” I licked my lips and nodded.

Liam glided smoothly down the incline, veering sharply to the right. He stopped with a flourish, sending a plume of powdery snow skyward before raising his poles triumphantly. I snickered at the silly display. He made it seem fun and relatively easy. All right, then. I could do this.

I grasped my poles in a vise grip and dug into the snow, propelling myself forward. I aimed my skis in Liam’s general direction and honestly, it felt pretty damn good. I was in control, a cool breeze on my face, and a light wind at my back. Best of all, I appeared to be closing in on my correct destination. A hot guy was waiting for me in front of a huge pine tree with—

Oh, fuck.

I couldn’t stop. I picked up speed and barreled forward, trying to remember his advice. Knees bent. Check. Don’t look at your skis. Check. Stay loose…

Nope. Not possible.

I was wound so tight my head felt like it might pop off. Every muscle in my body was rigid as I zoomed closer to Liam…and the tree. It occurred to me as my life began to flash in front of my eyes that if I turned downhill, I could avoid the tree and move in the right direction. I might not have control of my skis, but Liam seemed to know what he was doing. No doubt he’d catch up easily and offer tips on how not to kill myself along the way. A comical vision of him doing circles around me while I tumbled into a giant snowball flashed in my head.

And that might have been when things went sideways.

My Review:
We met Drew in OUT ON THE SERVE because he is Elliot’s ex-boyfriend who was hoping for a reunion. It didn’t work out, and Drew swore off dating younger men, especially athletes. Especially closeted athletes. Since then he’s been working two jobs, and going to grad school. He’s managing a newly-opened cafe and bistro run by two former Long Beach State waterpolo players (we met them in Book 1, OUT IN THE DEEP) and he’s pretty close to quitting the bartending gig–if the bistro takes off he will be able to make ends meet. Most of the waitstaff at the bistro are current waterpolo players and that includes Liam, who is big and burly and everything Drew wants to avoid in a man. He’s flashy and free spirited and hopefully quitting the bistro soon.

Liam has definitely noticed Drew and desired him for a bit of time. Liam is closing in on the end of his senior year and trying to make decisions that will carry him into the future. He’s got some immediate job prospects, but thinks he’d be better off career-wise looking into a master’s degree in engineering. While Drew is attracted to Liam, he doesn’t want to mess around with a coworker, and Liam takes this as a challenge to push Drew out of his comfort zone.

When it turns out the Drew and Liam have booked time on the ski slopes in the same mountain town, Liam makes sure to use his athletic skills to thaw Liam’s uptight heart. Liam is a natural skier and snowboarder and Drew is…a danger to himself and others. But Liam has patience and his unique humor and flirty ways get Drew down the runs faster and faster than ever before. Their connection on this weekend idyll kindles a fire from that flame of attraction, and neither Drew nor Liam want to call it quits.

I liked this one. I didn’t have a great feeling about Drew from the previous stories, and I was glad to see he was redeemable. He liked Liam a lot, but he was also afraid to hold him back, keeping him in Long Beach when he really should be moving on to a career path. It was thoughtful, if a little self-serving. Because Liam would have loved to know that Drew had fallen so hard for him, reciprocating his own feelings. They didn’t have a lot of angst, mostly keeping their relationship on the down low because Drew didn’t want to make things weird at work. The pace is quick and the sexytimes are hot, with a few silly sexcapades that had Drew really thinking over his life choices. I liked how they made it work, and figured out their futures were moe in line than they had previously anticipated. Very sweet.

Interested? You can find OUT IN WINTER on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Lane Hayes is grateful to finally be doing what she loves best. Writing full-time! It’s no secret Lane loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. These days she prefers the leading roles to both be men. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and won First Prize in the 2016 and 2017 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.

You can reach out to Lane on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Getting Woke as JULIET TAKES A BREATH-THE GRAPHIC NOVEL–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ graphic novel from Gabby Rivera and illustrated by Celia Moscote. features a Latinx young woman navigating a path to independence coming out and finally exploring her lesbian and feminism facets of her life.

About the book:
A NEW GRAPHIC NOVEL ADAPTATION OF THE BESTSELLING BOOK!
Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But don’t worry, Juliet has something kinda resembling a plan that’ll help her figure out what it means to be Puerto Rican, lesbian and out. See, she’s going to intern with Harlowe Brisbane – her favorite feminist author, someone’s who’s the last work on feminism, self-love and lots of of ther things that will help Juliet find her ever elusive epiphany. There’s just one problem – Harlowe’s white, not from the Bronx and doesn’t have the answers.

Okay, maybe that’s more than one problem but Juliet never said it was a perfect plan…

Critically-acclaimed writer Gabby Rivera adapts her bestselling novel alongside artist Celia Moscote in an unforgettable queer coming-of-age story exploring race, identity and what it means to be true to your amazing self. even when the rest of the world doesn’t understand.

My Review:
Juliet Palante is a young, Puerto Rican college student in the Bronx and discovering herself as a Latinx feminist, acknowledging for her own self that she is a lesbian and fearing that her family will not accept her. She has a lot of family around her the love and support her–but her mama’s really devout. I loved her little brother, and how sweet and loving he was. Juliet is excited to gain a summer internship working directly with famed feminist Harlowe Brisbane, who lives in Seattle. Juliet ends up crashing in Harlowe’s house, nursing the wounds from her mama’s reaction to her leaving, and her sexuality.

Juliet is reeling a bit, surrounded by queer culture in Seattle. It’s an awakening, but she’s also politically woke by the people of color who are befriending her. As Harlowe reveals some internal prejudice, it sends Juliet further on her journey to reconnect with her cousin and aunt in Miami. It’s another big experience as Juliet finds unexpected kinship with fellow queers.

I did not read the original work, but I feel the graphic novel was beautifully rendered, and truly evocative of Juliet’s joy and struggle on every page. She’s a glorious Latina and her encounters with strong female, trans and other LGBTQ characters really shapes Juliet’s outlook, path and summer experience. I think readers who enjoy contemporary stories of queer culture, and coming out stories and stories of people of color from own voices, will probably love this graphic novel version of the best-selling novel.

Interested? You can find JULIET TAKES A BREATH on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:
Gabby Rivera is a Bronx-born, queer Puerto Rican author on a mission to create the wildest, most fun stories ever.

She’s the first Latina to write for Marvel Comics, penning the solo series America about America Chavez, a portal-punching queer Latina powerhouse. Rivera’s critically acclaimed debut novel Juliet Takes a Breath was called “f*cking outstanding” by Roxane Gay and was re-published in September 2019 by Penguin Random House. Currently, Gabby is the writer and creator of b.b. free, a new original comic series with BOOM! Studios. Stay tuned for her podcast joy revolution coming in 2020!

When not writing, Gabby speaks on her experiences as a queer Puerto Rican from the Bronx, an LGBTQ youth advocate, and the importance of prioritizing joy in QTPOC communities at events across the country.

Gabby makes magic on both coasts, currently residing in California. She writes for all the sweet baby queers, and her mom.

Catch up with Gabby on her website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Brutal Battles Await THE NAVIGATOR’S TOUCH–A TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a LGBT fantasy from Julie Ember. THE NAVIGATOR’S TOUCH is the second book in the Seafarer’s Kiss series. I did not read the first book, but I felt it was fully enjoyable on its own.

About the book:
After invaders destroyed her village, murdered her family, and took her prisoner, shield-maiden Ragna is hungry for revenge. A trained warrior, she is ready to fight for her home, but with only a mermaid and a crew of disloyal mercenaries to aid her, Ragna knows she needs new allies. Guided by the magical maps on her skin, battling storms and mutiny, Ragna sets sail across the Northern Sea.

She petitions the Jarl in Skjordal for aid, but despite Ragna’s rank and fighting ability, the Jarl sees only a young girl, too inexperienced to lead, unworthy of help. To prove herself to the Jarl and win her crew’s respect, Ragna undertakes a dangerous expedition. But when forced to decide between her own freedom and the fate of her crew, what will she sacrifice to save what’s left of her home?

Inspired by Norse mythology and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, this companion novel to The Seafarer’s Kiss is a tale of vengeance, valor, honor, and redemption.

My Review:
This is a fantasy with an LGBTQ MC with inspiration from Old Norse legends.

Ragna’s family has been murdered and her town on a hidden island ransacked by invaders, and she’s sworn vengeance. As a teen girl, even one imbued with a gift from the gods, she needs help from many quarters, and she must pledge her fealty to secure the allies who could deliver her island from occupation. Ragna is a Shield-Maiden, a valiant fighter, battle-tested and trained but struggling with the loss of her hand, and the need to see her tormentor and former boss, Haakon, dead.

The Old Norse legends are constantly reinforced in the use of language and terms that harken directly from the Old Norse. Ragna is a compelling heroine, negotiating with her intellect and her magical gifts, and striking bargains with Loki and a female chief of the area, to gather the supplies and troops who could help her to free those few survivors of the attack. Ragna grieves the loss of her young brother, her mother and father, but hopes against hope that her cousin may have survived–among a fraction of others.

Ragna has a female companion, Ersel, a shapeshifting mermaid who’s been cursed by Loki. Striking a bargain with the wily god is an affront to Ersel, but it’s one of only few paths that Ragna has to vengeance. It’s a tough experiences, scheming and struggling to save her land and not allow Loki to wreak further harm on Ersel. I loved Ragna’s fierce heart and determination. Her mission to get back her land is worth sacrificing everything, including her own freedom, so to speak, turning herself into a mercenary to a degree. It’s a companion story to The Seafarer’s Kiss, but focusing on Ragna’s story and how she recovers her peace of heart after Haakon destroyed her world. It’s not a lovestory, though there is a bit of love expressed between Ragna and Ersel. I expect we might see some more of Ragna, especially, as she scours the globe for what Loki has required as a condition of their cooperation.

Plenty of LGBTQ characters here, with little fanfare; these persons are just ordinary people of this world, which was good to see and especially affirming. I think if you are a fan of stories that celebrate and re-consider mythology, as well as strong females, will likely enjoy this one. Make no mistake that this story contains dangerous adventures, murder and killing: the bad guys get their just desserts.

Interested? You can find THE NAVIGATOR’S TOUCH on Goodreads, Interlude Press Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Julia Ember’s books include The Seafarer’s Kiss duology, a Norse myth inspired retelling of The Little Mermaid, published by Interlude Press (Duet Books), and Ruinsong, a standalone high fantasy reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera, published by Macmillan Kids (FSG) in November 2020.

Ember’s work has been featured in USA Today, Bustle, Book Riot and Autostraddle, among many others. The Seafarer’s Kiss was named a “Best Queer Book of 2017” by Book Riot and was a finalist in the Speculative Fiction category of the Bisexual Book Awards. Julia has a lifelong appreciation for history and classic literature, and holds an MLitt in Medieval Literature from the University of St. Andrews.

A world-traveler who has visited almost seventy countries, Julia currently lives in Seattle with her wife and their city menagerie of pets with literary names.

Catch up with Julia on her website, twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA romance with supernatural elements from Sharon Takaoka. EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW features a girl coping with the physical and emotional upheaval in her life following a heart transplant.

About the book:
A teenage girl wonders if she’s inherited more than just a heart from her donor in this compulsively readable debut.

Seventeen-year-old Chloe had a plan: work hard, get good grades, and attend a top-tier college. But after she collapses during cross-country practice and is told that she needs a new heart, all her careful preparations are laid to waste.

Eight months after her transplant, everything is different. Stuck in summer school with the underachievers, all she wants to do now is grab her surfboard and hit the waves—which is strange, because she wasn’t interested in surfing before her transplant. (It doesn’t hurt that her instructor, Kai, is seriously good-looking.)

And that’s not all that’s strange. There’s also the vivid recurring nightmare about crashing a motorcycle in a tunnel and memories of people and places she doesn’t recognize.

Is there something wrong with her head now, too, or is there another explanation for what she’s experiencing?

As she searches for answers, and as her attraction to Kai intensifies, what she learns will lead her to question everything she thought she knew—about life, death, love, identity, and the true nature of reality.

My Review:
Chloe is a senior in high school, on the cross-country team and in the AP classes. It’s fall and she’s prepping her applications. She’s made all the right academic and social moves to guarantee her admission to an amazing college of her own choosing, but a heart defect puts all her many and detailed plans on hold. Near Christmas she is saved by a donor heart, and we fast forward to the summer, because her recovery blotted out the majority of her senior spring and she is now in summer school to complete her courses and graduate. Chloe’s friends are moving on, planning a summer of fun before they start college, and she’s adrift. Nightmares claim her giving her glimpses of a tunnel and crash. Is this a memory of her own? Or one from her donor?

She’s never made time for recreation, but she feels inexplicably called to the ocean, and surfing. She finds a private instructor and plans lessons for a time when she’s supposed to be at the library. She also befriends Jane, another senior whose failed school because she just doesn’t care. Her family life is broken and she’s in need of attention however she can find it. Jane’s a party girl and she doesn’t mind bringing the staid Chloe on her adventures in San Francisco. But, most importantly, she begins to connect deeply with her surfing instructor, Kai, who has his own secrets.

Chloe’s growing strength and independence lead her to reach out to her donor’s family–who wants no contact. Seeking closure, and a reason behind the nightmares and memories that are not her own, causes Chloe to impinge on the privacy of the grieving, and alienate herself from those few people who have stood with her. It’s a 180 from her “before” life, and it’s in ways both empowering and self-destructive.

This story is like others written and reported from organ donors, of the liminal spaces between life and death, memory and experience. There are some odd and different twists here, and I think I struggled with the final reveal of Chloe’s true donor. For me, it crossed boundaries that brought in the supernatural–which was beyond what the plot supported. I thought I was getting a romance with soul-searching, but once the twists started to unravel I couldn’t shake the feeling those coincidental clues just didn’t all add up. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good read. I think that it was, and there were lots of powerful and poignant moments of connection that teens and adults who like teen reads could appreciate. It’s sex-innocent, though there are situations of excessive drinking and getting high, so I wouldn’t call it “clean” per se. I recommend it with the caveat that end is not “happy” in the YA romance-sense though the resolution is complete.

Interested? You can find EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:
Shannon Takaoka is a young adult fiction author who loves books (of course) and all things nerdy. (Time travel? Weird science-y stuff? Alternate realities? Yes, please.) She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two children and one very needy dog. Her debut novel, EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW, about a 17-year-old girl questioning everything about who she is and who she wants to be following a heart transplant, will be published by Candlewick Press in 2020 and Walker UK in 2021.

Catch up with Shannon on her website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!