Looking for a SAFE PLACE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a contemporary M/M romance from Jay Northcote. SAFE PLACE is the second book in his Rainbow Place series set in Porthladock, Cornwall. I really enjoyed BETTER PLACE MUD & LACE and HAPPY PLACE, so I’ve begun digging back in the series for more…

About the book:
Where do you go when your home is no longer a safe place?

Alex is about to turn eighteen and is firmly in the closet. He’s been biding his time, waiting to escape to uni, and finally come out away from the oppressive influence of his homophobic father. When he flunks his exams, he’s stuck in the small town of Porthladock—and what’s worse is that he’s working for his dad. The only thing that makes it bearable is Cam.

Cam’s comfortable with his bisexuality, but he doesn’t broadcast it. Young, free, and single, his social life revolves around playing rugby and hanging out with his mates. He’s attracted to Alex, but with the six-year age gap, Cam’s wary of getting involved. Plus, he thinks Alex needs a friend more than he needs a lover, and as their friendship grows, Cam decides he’s not willing to risk ruining it for casual sex.

When Alex’s dad finds out about his sexuality, Alex is suddenly both jobless and homeless. He finds work at Rainbow Place, the local LGBT-friendly café and Cam lets Alex stay in his flat for a while. But Alex would rather be sleeping in Cam’s bed than on his sofa. With them both living under one roof, their feelings for each other grow stronger, and the sexual tension is hard to ignore. Will giving in to it ruin their friendship and complicate things for Alex even more?

Although this book is part of a linked series, it has a satisfying happy ending, and can be enjoyed as a standalone.

My Review:
Alex and Cam are an odd couple who meet at Rainbow Place, an LGBTQ-friendly cafe due to soon open in Porthladock, Cornwall. Or, not open, as gay bashers have defaced the place and destroyed large parts of the interior to prevent the business from taking root. Cam is a 23 y/o bisexual man playing for the local rugby team, who also works as a landscaper. He recruits his rugby mates to help with the clean up or Rainbow Place.

Alex is 17, and it’s nearly time for his GSCE revisions to be due. He’s gay, but closeted, and his dearest friends are a transgirl and flamboyant gay pal who was once a boyfriend on the super down-low. Alex’s father is a well-to-do businessman and a fan of whomever trashed Rainbow Place, as he’s very much homophobic. Alex fears his dad will kick him out if he comes out, so he’s banking on moving away for college where he can finally live openly. Still, he’s got a major crush on Cam, and is excited that they get a little physical on Alex’s 18th birthday. Yet, he’s deflated when Cam puts the breaks on–Alex is so young, and likely to move away. He doesn’t want to get hung up on the boy, after all. They make a good friends situation and Cam doesn’t want to mess up yet another friendship with sex.

Still, it’s not all easy. Alex’s grades aren’t sufficient to bring him out of his parents’ home, and he ends up working for his dad all summer and then some, while his pals move away. His growing friendship with Cam is fraught with charged moments, and it’s not long before Alex’s desire for companionship blows his world to pieces. His dad finding out in the most embarrassing way possible leads to a physical confrontation that makes Alex flee for his safety. Good thing Cam’s immediately there to help Alex sort out his future. It’s a bit tricky bringing Alex into his rental with Wicksy, a rugby mate. Their close proximity only rallies the attraction between them, as much as Cam tries to apply the brakes.

I liked how this close-knit community rallied around Alex, who makes great strides at independence. Now that he’s on his own, he doesn’t see the point of Cam keeping him at arm’s length. Their attraction isn’t cooling off, in any case, and Cam’s best pals make it clear that he’s doing himself damage by denying what’s right in front of him. The Rainbow Place community is a bosom of support, even as all the folks there are making romantic connections, it seems. Well, it’s the place for meeting like-minded folk and feeling safe, so it lends itself to people who need that support and want to build relationships. Alex is one of those, and he thrives as a server in the cafe. Supporting himself and soon finding permanent lodging is all possible thanks to the support of the Rainbow Place folks.

I also was happy to see Alex find some reconnection to his family, in a way he hadn’t actually predicted. The ending is happy, especially as Alex and Cam find they are great friends and even better lovers. We get some glimmers of stories to come ahead, particularly Wicksy and Alex’s fellow server Dylan finding partners–though not with one another. I was glad to read this new adult romance, and find it so tender and supportive. It’s not as sexy as some of the other stories in this series, but it has enough tenderness and sexytimes for a new adult romance.

Interested? You can find SAFE PLACE on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.

One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has five books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.

You can find Jay on his website, Twitter, Facebook Author Page, and Amazon.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

signal boost

Unexpected Connection IN OVER OUR HEADS–Review & Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing my review for a newly-released contemporary M/M reconnection romance by CJane Elliot. IN OVER OUR HEADS is the second book in the Stories From the Shore series and I really enjoyed it.

Scroll down to read an excerpt, catch my review and enter the $10 GC giveaway!
About the book:
A second chance for romance on a scuba diving vacation plunges Anthony and Walter into deep waters—will they use love’s lifeline or go under alone?

Party guy Anthony Vallen believes in happy endings—just not for himself. He hits Key West for a vacation with friends, ready for some fun in the sun. To his horror, the owner of the local scuba dive shop is Walter Elkins—former scientist, meticulous control freak, and the guy who broke Anthony’s teenaged heart. Anthony throws up his shields with jokes and banter, but Walter draws him in by admiring him and listening to him like no one else has. Despite their painful past, Anthony’s defenses soften and his reasons for shunning romance no longer hold much water. But whether Walter will come on board remains to be seen. Walter has never gotten over brilliant, fun-loving Anthony, but he’s compelled to keep Anthony safe—not just from the ocean depths but from himself.

Soon Anthony and Walter are in over their heads, their love as unstoppable as the hurricane they find themselves in the middle of. To prevent their fears from pulling them under, Anthony needs to get serious—about his worth and his heart’s true desires, and Walter needs to trust—in himself, in fate, and in Anthony.

2nd book in the series but can be read as a stand-alone. Second Edition, revised and expanded.

How about a little taste?

Miles led us onto the boat and murmured to me as we were getting settled, “You guys are getting the special treatment. Walter doesn’t usually run the cruise excursions anymore. I’m kind of surprised he’s doing it.”
“Miles.” Walter frowned at him, jerking his head in a come here gesture.
“Oops. Duty calls.” Miles gave me a wink and went to help Walter with the jibs or sails or lines or whatever.
I tried to relax and get into vacation mode. What had I told Jonathan mere hours before? I wasn’t going to give Walter Elkins one more thought! It was hard to keep that vow, though, with Walter right there, his hunky body on display, muscles bunching and lengthening as he knelt and reached and got things ready with his usual fierce concentration. Though I knew fuck all about sailing, I was willing to bet that Walter’s preparations were being done rigorously, completely, and perfectly. Even Miles had grown serious and attentive, responding to his terse directions as though it was a military operation.
Meanwhile I became aware of something happening in my body. It was the oddest thing. I’m usually a bundle of nerves and on the manic end of the energy scale. But as I watched Walter, my muscles began to loosen, like they were letting down their guard. A memory darted in of Walter, at the end of high school chemistry class, restoring everything to order in his methodical way, me chattering nonstop as I watched him, and all being right with the world. It had felt safe being around Walter. He’d taken care of everything, slowly and patiently. I could be my fluttery self—a butterfly flitting all over—because I knew he would be there when I needed to land.
Suddenly Walter lifted his eyes and gazed right at me. To my horror, I found myself smiling fondly at him, still in the glow of that long-ago time. I was probably making stupid goo-goo eyes too. He went red and dropped something on the deck with a clang.
“Walter! Watch what you’re doing,” scolded Miles with a mock scowl. He laughed, no doubt pleased that the perfect Walter had been shown to be human.
“Sorry,” Walter muttered, reapplying himself to his task.
I sat still, shaken by how easily I’d slipped into rosy Walter memories. What on earth was wrong with me? Safe? Walter was the guy who’d left me not once but twice, and so callously that I’d been protecting myself from love ever since. Screw him!
I tore my gaze away and caught Sophia watching me with a small smile. She leaned forward and whispered, “Anytime you want to tell me what that’s all about, feel free.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, doll.”
“Okay. If that’s how you want to play it.” She leaned back and lifted her face to the sun. “Ah. It’s so awesome to be back in the sunshine.”
Marco lounged in his seat, looking fucking stupendous, his arm around Jonathan, who rested his head on Marco’s shoulder. I must have been rattled by Walter’s reappearance, because my walls suddenly cracked. Pain lanced through me, and I stopped kidding myself that I wasn’t pea green with envy. I so was.
I froze for a moment, stunned at myself. Could this be true? Could Anthony the Player be merely the facade, while underneath I wanted what Jonny had? Not that I wanted Marco for myself, but was I pining for a man to hold me like that and let me rest my head on his shoulder? All signs pointed to yes. How embarrassing! And how completely unlikely.

My Review:
Anthony Vallen’s is nearing 30 and looking for a lasting love–not that he’ll admit it out loud. He’s super jealous of the deeply committed relationship of his cousin Jonny, who’s marriage to Marco is fairy-tale-esque. Anthony had a love once, back in high school he fell hard for his nerdy, precise science partner, Walter Elkins. They were complete opposites, with out-going, expressive and artful Anthony cracking Walter’s timid shell. Their passion was cosmic, and they were set to be roommates in college, but a freak swimming accident put Anthony in the hospital and sent Walter running to a new school and new life. Anthony never got over this abandonment, and has had one-night stands since.

On vacation to the Florida Keys, Anthony unexpectedly encounters Walter–who owns the premier dive shop on the island. The one Marco has hired for their party’s snorkeling and scuba adventures. Anthony wasn’t planning on going snorkeling, he’s shy of the water since his near-drowning all those years ago. But, Walter stepping in and telling Anthony not to get into the water was just the challenge Anthony needed to break out of his fear. And, getting the attention of Walter’s gorgeous, 22 y/o half-brother Miles is unexpectedly gratifying.

Walter hasn’t had a romantic partner since that fateful day Anthony nearly died swimming back home all those years ago. Anthony was it for him, but Walter has a way of connecting with people who later get dead. It’s a miracle Anthony survived, and Walter would rather be celibate and know Anthony lives than take another chance on his heart at the expense of his love. That’s what he thinks, but the days of Anthony’s visits wear on him–and the taunts of both Anthony and Miles crack the iron shell he’s built around himself. He’s making all sorts of rash decisions, like being the divemaster for Anthony’s trips into the ocean, and following ihm into the water to ensure he’s okay. It’s sweet, and a little creepy, and Walter isn’t happy when Anthony calls him on his crap. So, he has to tell his deep dark history of loss and it’s a bit heartbreaking how isolated he’s made himself.

Thankfully, Anthony’s able to pry the walls apart and crawl deep into Walter’s heart, but as a hurricane sets in on the coast, love might not be enough to keep them together. Also, Anthony has a real life back in Boston, while Walter hasn’t been back there in years; his home and business are in Florida. Also, there are some big decisions to make if they are going to move past the “fling” stage.

I liked this one, it has a bit of danger and a daring rescue, and a separation that only make’s some feelings grow unbearably stronger. Anthony is a fast-talking guy, totally masking his pain and loss from Walter walking away. He’s Mr. Life of the Party, and Walter’s drawn to him just as much now as back in high school. He’s afraid to trust that he can have a good thing–like Anthony’s love–in his life without losing it. And, that fear drives his actions until Miles kicks him in the butt, metaphorically. The end is happy, and satisfying as these guys make plans to keep their lives connected despite the physical distance that would separate them. Anthony’s fun narration really keeps the story rolling, and Walter’s earnest passion is joyful to experience. It was a breezy read for me, and got me hankering for a trip to the coast.

Interested? You can find IN OVER OUR HEADS on Goodreads, Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
After years of hearing characters chatting away in her head, award-winning author CJane Elliott finally decided to put them on paper and hasn’t looked back since. A psychotherapist by training, CJane writes sexy, passionate LGBTQ romances that explore the human psyche. CJane has traveled all over North America for work and her characters are travelers, too, traveling down into their own depths to find what they need to get to the happy ending.

CJane is bisexual and an ardent supporter of LGBTQ equality. In her spare time, CJane can be found dancing, listening to music, or watching old movies. Her family supports her writing habit by staying out of the way when they see her hunched over, staring intensely at her laptop.

You can find CJane on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and BookBub.

Figuring Out THE MIXTAPE TO MY LIFE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a near-historical LGBTQ YA coming of age/coming out story from Jake Martinez. THE MIXTAPE TO MY LIFE features a closeted high school junior reconnecting with his middle school crush, who’d saved him from a beating years before.

About the book:
Justin Ortega might as well be starring in his very own coming-of-age 80s movie. If only he could find his dream boy to pull up in front of his house in a red convertible and sweep him off his feet, already! At seventeen years young, he isn’t quite Mexican enough for his South Texas town; isn’t manly enough for his father; can sometimes be too much of a smart mouth for his mother; and as for the other kids at school—let’s just say he’d be cast as the quiet nerd with a heart of gold…and an ear for music.

The one solace Justin has is his love of 80s hair metal bands, which he listens to on his beloved Sony Walkman. The songs, lyrics, and melody keep him just sane enough to escape the pressures of school and help navigate the hurdles life brings. Especially with the doozy this year is shaping up to be. Not only does he have to try out for a captain position which is rightfully his, but his best friend has found a new girlfriend, leaving Justin to fend for himself in a school where he’s mostly known as simply Coconut.

Enter Dominic Mendoza. Sweet, funny, and a blast from his past, the hunky football player has moved in next door. Justin could never forget how Dominic protected him in the eighth grade, nor the way Dominic made him feel, then…and now.

Except, this isn’t a movie. Confusion, friendship, and love won’t guarantee a happy ending unless Justin can learn to accept himself for who he truly is. Hair bands and all.

My Review:
Justin Ortega is a high school junior growing up in South Texas in the mid-1990s. He’s sure he’s gay, and has come out to his best friend Benny, who is an ally. Justin’s father is a high school football coach, and his hard-line stances clash with Justin who is the definition of non-confrontational. There’s a culture clash with Justin’s Mexican-American parents, who are religious and highly suspicious of his friendship with Benny. They also don’t make light-skinned Justin, or his younger brother, learn Spanish–thinking it’s more American to only speak English. This leads to struggle with Justin’s bilingual Spanish-speaking peers who accuse him of “playing white” call him a “coconut”–brown on the outside and white on the inside.

It’s the end of summer, and Justin’s vying for the cymbal captain post in his marching band. Band’s usually a place where Justin feels safe, despite a trio of percussionists who are bullies, one who is his primary competition for cymbal captain. Justin retreats into his 80s rock mixtapes on his Walkman whenever he feels stressed. He’s a little frustrated that Benny has been secretly dating Lila, a fellow percussionist, for a month or more. He’s always liked Lila, but they were never really close. This relationship with Benny brings them far closer, and she’s an ally as well. Justin’s parents are SO happy to see that Benny has a pretty girlfriend, and they encourage Justin to find one too. He’s overwhelmed, knowing he can never please them this way.

Justin has had bullies plaguing him for years. One, Ivan, is a big football player and almost beat Justin up back in eighth-grade, openly accusing him of being gay–which Justin had not come to terms with. At that time Dominic, a fellow student, came to his rescue. Dominic’s father was a huge homophobe and pulled Dominic from the school, fearing that associating with Justin would turn Dominic gay. Now, three years later, Dominic’s parents are divorced and Dominic and his mom have moved into the house next door to Justin. Justin’s really excited to reconnect–he never forgot Dominic’s kindness, and has had a crush on him since that time.

Dominic is eager to build a friendship, and is really protective of Justin from the beginning. Their friendship is growing into something more–especially when Justin confesses his sexuality, and his attraction. Dominic returns these feelings–he’s suffered physical and emotional abuse from his father, which led to his parent’s divorce. His mom knows he’s gay, and she’s supportive, if confused. Dominic is still playing football, and now his coach is Justin’s dad. He’s pleased they are friendly–thinking that a burly offensive lineman like Dominic is a manly friend, and far better for Justin than Benny.

The drama in band continues, though, and it leads to a big crisis. Within the final two weeks of summer, Justin gets his first kiss, first kiss with a guy, a boyfriend, and a situation that sends himself, Benny, Dominic and Lila on the run–temporarily. Justin and his parents have conversations that needed to happen years before. They recognize that Justin is the boy he is, and they love him even if they don’t necessarily understand. And, their support is so needed by Justin, who’s life was careening out of control for a bit there. With all this love behind him, Justin is ready to stand on his own feet, stand up to the bullies, and be a stronger man for it.

For me, this one was very interesting. But, I’m a child of the 90s and I understood the many, many pop-cultural references that Justin and his friends experience. Corded phones, MTV showing MUSIC VIDEOS (gasp!), the songs that speak to Justin’s heart, what a “mix tape” is–these are touchstones of my youth, but I wonder how they resonate with kids now. The music, especially. None of the songs Justin refers to are in frequent play today–and even listening to them with my kids, they associate that with “listening to old music with mom” moments, not the poignant, life-affirming experiences that will trigger nostalgia later. Music, and its dissemination, has changed considerably in the last 30 years, and kids do not seem to have as many emotional connections to it as the people of Justin’s generation would have. It’s cute that the author has built a Spotify playlist of the tunes referenced, to guide his readers into it, but I’m not sure if it will have traction for young readers. I was also a little troubled by the writing, with tense shifts that happen constantly, sometimes within sentences, throwing me off.

Justin is sweet kid, a bit over-emotional at times, with a huge inferiority complex. He’s too light-skinned, not bilingual, and lacks the machismo to integrate well with his peers. His love of American rock music is another point of separation, not to mention his sexuality. Justin’s tendency to shut people out with his Walkman creates a further barrier to overcome in terms of connection. It is through opening up, with Benny, Lila and finally Dominic, that allows him to grow into a functional kid. He makes even more friends as as result, finding at least one friendly bisexual boy he can relate to, and another straight boy who doesn’t care about his sexuality. The moral seems that being honest, open and out will help Justin navigate his life. And, that’s a valuable idea in our current time. Justin and Dominic do recognize–and this is driven home by the parable of Justin’s Tio Mando–that they exist in a society where threats to them exist because of their sexuality. They are careful to whom they reveal themselves as safety measure, and that stands as a touchstone for teens who might have similar home or societal pressures even today. I liked the story, and would recommend it for readers who enjoy coming out stories and near-historical, teen gay romances.

Interested? You can find THE MIXTAPE TO MY LIFE on Goodreads, Deep Hearts YA, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo and Smashwords. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Jake Martinez is a former South Texas resident who has found a new home in Chicago. He has been writing all his life, but has only recently sought to be published. His debut novel, The Mixtape to My Life, reflects on life as a gay teen growing up in South Texas. Jake holds an MFA in Creative Writing and loves to write plays and screenplays. Aside form writing, you can find him hanging out at home with his husband, their newborn son, and an eclectic group of fur babies.

Catch up with Jake on his website, twitter, and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Growing Up Wondering WHY CAN’T LIFE BE LIKE PIZZA–Review & Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ YA coming of age story from Andy V. Roamer. WHY CAN’T LIFE BE LIKE PIZZA? is the first book in the Pizza Chronicles and features a high school freshman questioning his ethnic heritage, his friendships and his sexuality.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to get in on the $10 GC giveaway!
About the book:
RV is a good kid, starting his freshman year at the demanding Boston Latin School. Though his genes didn’t give him a lot of good things, they did give him a decent brain. So he’s doing his best to keep up in high school, despite all the additional pressures he’s facing: His immigrant parents, who don’t want him to forget his roots and insist on other rules. Some tough kids at school who bully teachers as well as students. His puny muscles. His mean gym teacher. The Guy Upstairs who doesn’t answer his prayers. And the most confusing fact of all—that he might be gay.

Luckily, RV develops a friendship with Mr. Aniso, his Latin teacher, who is gay and always there to talk to. RV thinks his problems are solved when he starts going out with Carole. But things only get more complicated when RV develops a crush on Bobby, the football player in his class. And to RV’s surprise, Bobby admits he may have gay feelings, too.

How about a taste?

Why can’t life be like pizza?

I’ve been asking myself the question a lot lately. I love pizza. Pizza makes me feel good. Especially since I discovered Joe’s. Joe’s Pizza is quiet and out of the way and allows me to think. And Joe’s combinations are the best. Pepperoni and onions. Garlic and mushroom. Cheese and chicken. And if you really want that little kick in the old butt: the super jalapeno. Mmmm, good. Gets you going again. And lets you forget all your troubles.

What troubles can a fourteen-year-old guy have? Ha! First of all, I’m not a regular guy, as anyone can guess from my taste in pizza. My parents are immigrants who are trying to make a better life for themselves here in the United States. Besides the usual things American parents worry about, like making money and having their kids do well in school, my parents spend more time worrying about the big things: politics, communism, fascism, global warming, and the fact they and their parents survived violence and jail so I-better-be-grateful-I’m-not-miserable-like-kids-in-other-parts-of-the-world.

Grateful? Ha! As far as I’m concerned, life is pretty miserable already. Instead of thinking about the World Series or Disneyland, I worry about terrorists down the street or the dirty bombs the strange family around the corner might be building.

I don’t know why I worry about everything, but I do. It’s probably in my genes. Other guys have genes that gave them big muscles or hairy chests. I got nerves.

And then there’s my name. RV. Yeah, RV. No, I’m not a camper or anything. RV is short for Arvydas. That’s right. “Are-vee-duh-s.” Mom and Dad say it’s a common name in Lithuania, which is the country in Eastern Europe where my parents were born. A name like that might be fine for Lithuania, but what about the United States? Couldn’t Mom and Dad have named me Joe, or Mike, or even Darryl? My brother, Ray, has a normal name. Why couldn’t they have given me one?

I even look a little weird, I think. Tall and skinny with an uncoordinated walk because of my big feet that get in the way and make me feel like a clod. Oh, yeah. I’ve been getting some zits lately, and I wear glasses since I’m pretty nearsighted. Not a pretty sight, is it? At least the glasses are not too thick. Mom and Dad don’t have a lot of money to spend, but they did fork up the money to get me thin lenses, so I don’t look like a complete zomboid.

What can I do? I try my best, despite it all. I’m lucky because I’ve done well in school, so at least my genes gave me a half-decent brain. Hey, I’m not bragging. It’s just nice to feel good about something when most days I feel pretty much a loser at so many things. When I was in grammar school, there were enough days when I came home from school and cried because some big oaf threatened me, or I got hit in the stomach during my pathetic attempts to play ball during recess.

Mom always tried to comfort me. “Nesirūpink,” she would say. “Esi gabus. Kai užaugsi, visiems nušluostysi nuosis.” We talk Lithuanian at home. Translated, that sentence means, “Don’t worry. You’re smart. When you grow up, you’ll show them.” Actually, not “you’ll show them,” but “you’ll wipe all their noses.” Lithuanians have a funny way of expressing themselves. Not sure I aspire to wiping anyone’s nose when I get older, but that’s what they say.

Whatever. I’m determined to put all that behind me. I’m starting a new life. My new life. Today was the first day of high school. I’m going to Boston Latin School. You have to take an exam to go there, so it’s full of smart kids. Besides smart kids, it has heavy-duty history too. It was founded in 1635, a year before Harvard. They already gave us a speech about that.

And about pressure. The pressure to succeed with all this history breathing down our necks. Pressure, ha! Doesn’t scare me. I know all about pressure. I’ve gotten pressure from cretinous bullies at school. I get it from cretinous Lith a-holes, who Mom and Dad keep pushing me to hang around with because they say it’s important to be part of the immigrant community. And I even get pressure from cretinous jerks in the neighborhood.

Cretinous. A good word. That’s something else about me. I like words. Real words and made-up ones. There’s something cool about them. Yeah, yeah, I know what people would say. You think words are cool? Kid, you’ve got more problems than you thought.

Well, I’m sorry. I do think words are cool. There’s something fun about making them up or learning a new one. Kind of unlocks something in the world. And I like the world despite all my worrying. It can be an okay place sometimes.

Okay, okay, I’m getting off track. I want to write about my first day of school. Mom and Dad gave me this new—well, refurbished, but new to me anyway—computer for getting into Latin school, and they keep after me to make good use of it. So, I’ve decided I’m going to write about my new life. My life away from cretins—Lith, American, or any other kind.

The first person I met at school today was Carole. Carole Higginbottom. She’s in my homeroom. She was sitting in the first row, first seat, and I was sitting right behind her. We started talking. She’s from West Roxbury, too, which is where we live.

West Roxbury is part of Boston. You have to live somewhere in Boston in order to go to Latin school. West Roxbury is a nice neighborhood, for the most part, with houses, trees, grass, and people going to work and coming home. Kind of an all-American place, I guess. We used to live in a different, tougher part of Boston, but Mom and Dad moved away from there because they said the neighborhood was getting too rough. They promised I wouldn’t get beat up so much in West Roxbury. I don’t know. West Roxbury is better, but I still have gotten a few black-and-blue marks with “made in West Roxbury” on them, so as far as I’m concerned it isn’t any perfect place either.

Carole lives in another part of West Roxbury, near Centre Street, which is the main street in the area. People like to hang out there. Mom says that part of West Roxbury is a little dicey. (Mom thinks a lot of neighborhoods are too dicey. Maybe that’s where I get my worrying from.) Anyway, Carole sure doesn’t seem dicey. As a matter of fact, she’s a little goofy. Tall and skinny with red hair, red cheeks, and a million freckles. And she has a really sharp nose that curves up like those special ski slopes you see in the Olympics. But I get the feeling she’s smart. She says she likes science. That’s good because I might need help with science. I’m better with other subjects like history and English.

Our homeroom teacher is Mr. Bologna, Carmine Bologna. He’s a little scary with slicked-back dark hair and even darker eyes that stare at you forever. He looks like he’s part of the organization we’re not supposed to talk about—you know, the scary one from Italy that’s into murder, racketeering, and drugs. Two guys were horsing around in the back of the class and Mr. Bologna came right up to them, said a few words under his breath, and just stared at them. Boy, did they settle down fast. I’m no troublemaker, but I’ll really have to watch myself. Don’t want to deal with the Bologna stare if I can help it.

Today was mostly about walking around, learning about our subjects, and meeting teachers. Besides all the regular subjects, I have to take Latin. I don’t have anything against it per se, but is it really necessary to learn a dead language? And then there’s the teacher, Mr. Aniso. He’s kind of light in his loafers. That’s another new phrase I learned recently. It refers to gay guys, and Mr. Aniso is so gay it hurts. I just hope he can’t tell anything about me. I don’t wave my wrist around the way he does, do I?

Yeah, that’s something else I have to come to terms with. I might be heading in that direction. Yeah, me. I can hardly believe it. Me! Why? It can’t be true, can it? I’ve been praying to God, asking Him not to make me gay, but I don’t think He’s listening. If He exists, that is. Maybe He’s not answering because He doesn’t exist.

I don’t know. People on TV and in books say being gay is okay. Movie stars and rock stars are gay. There are gay mayors and other gay political types. That’s fine for them, but they don’t live with my family. Mom’s a heavy-duty Catholic. Dad’s a macho, “what-me-cry?” kind of guy. And my younger brother, Ray, well, Ray probably doesn’t care one way or another, but he doesn’t count anyway since he hates everybody. And then there are all those Lith immigrants, the community that’s so important to Mom and Dad. Most of them are so Old World and conservative. I don’t think being gay would go down well with them.

Not that I am gay for certain. I’m just saying it’s crossed my mind because…well, because I think about guys sometimes. And I notice them. Notice how they look when they’re coming down the street. Notice their eyes or their hair or the way they move. Just notice them.

Oh, I notice girls, too, but something about guys is different. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think about them as much or maybe more than girls. And I want to be with them. Is that normal? What’s normal anyway? To be honest, I’m so inexperienced. Never dated. Never even kissed anyone. Not like that anyway. No, I’ve spent my time worrying about communism, terrorism, and global warming. Like I said, I’ve always felt a little out of step with the rest of humanity.

Dealing with all this is just too much. To be nervous about things the way I am. To be speaking a language most people haven’t heard of. To have a strange name. To wear glasses and look nerdy. And now I might be gay? It’s all too confusing. I might as well start on antidepressants, or something stronger, right now.

But no. I try to look on the bright side of things. Take Carole for instance. She seems nice and fun, and maybe we’ll be friends. And if she likes me, I can’t be too weird, can I? I guess I’ll find out. I better not think about it. There’s enough to worry about as it is. I just have to take a breath and focus on my homework. Yeah, we got homework already. At least that’s one thing I’m good at. And when I go to Joe’s, well, life’s not so bad, at least while I’m eating my chicken and cheese or super jalapeno slice.

My Review:
Arvydas–called RV for short is the eldest son of Lithuanian immigrant parents. His parents emigrated when they were barely teens to escape the Soviet occupation and the hard life of the Old Country, but they haven’t forgotten their Lith roots. RV and his younger brother Ray have been taught to speak Lithuanian in their home–though Ray rarely does. RV is a bit embarrassed of his parents, to be honest, because their broken English makes them sound illiterate, and RV is really a literate kid. He’s been accepted into the Boston Latin School–a high honor–and he loves English probably the most of his classes.

RV has some deep secrets, though, most especially that he likes boys that way he thinks, even though he prays to God about it all the time. He’s pretty sure God doesn’t hear his prayers, much. RV goes to Lith church and has to hang with Lith kids, including the wealthy sort-of cousins that are some far relation to his mother’s family. RV’s parents fight a lot, mostly about money, but sometimes about RV and his “odd” ways. RV tries to be as quiet as possible so he won’t attract attention. He’s close friends with Carole, and army brat who’s moved a lot. Carole puts the moves on RV, and he’s kinda glad that she is willing to kiss him, but he’s not sure about how he feels when they make out. Is it weird that he’s sometimes thinking about his biology lab partner, Bobby, who is an attractive, black, super-athlete, when Carole kisses him?

Bobby is new to school and he’s friendly with RV, which is so confusing! They hang out at the same pizzeria sometimes, and Bobby is always asking for RV to look over his writing homework–which RV is so happy to do. It gives him more time to hang with Bobby after all. But, as the year wears on RV’s feelings about boys are really solidifying. He and Carole aren’t really working out. Bobby’s dating a really popular girl and RV’s dealing with jealousy, struggles at home, and the news that his effeminate Latin teacher has been hospitalized for was seems a gay bashing. Mr. Aniso was “swishy” in a way that RV feared appearing, and his students often made fun of him–RV included. But, RV does see Mr. Aniso’s extraordinary bravery, and he’s compelled to visit Mr. Aniso in the hospital where he learns about the man, not the teacher. Their visits help RV learn more about himself, too, and Mr. Aniso’s ready acceptance of RV’s questioning situation provides the support and context that RV really needs.

This coming of age/coming out story is tender and poignant, with a character who had many challenges to discover and overcome. RV’s family life is unstable, and his culturally bigoted parents will likely not accept his sexuality. RV’s large father, whose temper is often volatile, makes him feel unsafe to live his truth, but he is able to find allies in his life, including Mr. Aniso, Bobby, and Carole. The narrative is told through RV’s journal, so readers can be sure they are getting RV’s truest thoughts, and accurate representations of his emotional state, even when he’s confused and pondering. I honestly adored RV, who is so earnest and so nervous. He’s in an almost-constant state of panic, afraid to say the wrong thing to everyone. As his relationships grow, however, he learns who he can trust, and how to navigate the difficult conversations. He gains confidence, and with that comes some sparks of happiness.

I liked how Bobby and RV are able to carefully reveal that they both might like boys to one another, and how they might also like each other in that way. RV’s courage, and frustration, help this happen and it works out so well for him. There’s a TOUCH of romance here, in the most YA-friendly manner. I would gladly follow RV into more adventures.

Interested? You can find WHY CAN’T LIFE BE LIKE PIZZA? on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Andy V. Roamer grew up in the Boston area and moved to New York City after college. He worked in book publishing for many years, starting out in the children’s and YA books division and then wearing many other hats. This is his first novel about RV, the teenage son of immigrants from Lithuania in Eastern Europe, as RV tries to negotiate his demanding high school, his budding sexuality, and new relationships. He has written an adult novel, Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon, under the pen name Andy V. Ambrose. To relax, Andy loves to ride his bike, read, watch foreign and independent movies, and travel.

Catch up with Andy on his website and Facebook.

Surviving a MURDER AT PIRATE’S COVE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M cozy mystery from Josh Lanyon. MAINLY BY MOONLIGHT is the first book in the Secrets and Scrabble series, and I jumped in with both feet, even if it’s not a romance… I’ve also enjoyed MAINLY BY MOONLIGHT by Lanyon, which is a M/M paranormal romance, and will be posting about the sequel soon.

About the book:
Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, Scrabble champion and guy-with-worst-luck-in-the-world-when-it-comes-to-dating, is ready to make a change. So when he learns he’s inherited both a failing bookstore and a falling-down mansion in the quaint seaside village of Pirate’s Cove on Buck Island, Rhode Island, it’s full steam ahead!

Sure enough, the village is charming, its residents amusingly eccentric, and widowed police chief Jack Carson is decidedly yummy (though probably as straight as he is stern). However, the bookstore is failing, the mansion is falling down, and there’s that little drawback of finding rival bookseller–and head of the unwelcoming-committee–Trevor Maples dead during the annual Buccaneer Days celebration.

Still, it could be worse. And once Police Chief Carson learns Trevor was killed with the cutlass hanging over the door of Ellery’s bookstore, it is.

My Review:
Screenwriter Ellery Page has inherited his great-greataunt’s mystery bookshop, the Crow’s Nest, and crumbling estate in idyllic Pirate’s Cove–where everything is a pun on the historical founders of the town. It’s a big change from NYC, where he was floundering after his boyfriend left–taking their mutual friends with him. What seems to be a great chance at a fresh start is really just a step away from misfortune, as the bookshop had hardly any customers, and his home, Captain’s Seat, which was maybe built form the timbers of an old pirate vessel, is very aptly called a death trap.

Ellery is making the best of it, and he’s frustrated by the persistence of a motivated buyer for the bookshop, Trevor Maples. Trevor has been land-grabbing all he could in Pirate’s Cove, hoping increased tourism might help him turn a profit. He’s also up for mayor, and his bullish ways haven’t made Trevor many friends in town. Ellery isn’t willing to kowtow to a bully, but he’s suspect number one when Trevor Maples ends up dead on the floor of the Crow’s Nest the very evening after Ellery was overheard to vehemently promise to never sell. And it looks like the murder weapon was the now-missing antique cutlass that hung over the shop’s door.

An outsider in the town, Ellery’s sure Police Chief Carson will make 1 + 1 = Ellery’s arrest, adn the local paper is surely hounding both Ellery and Carson over the fact that Ellery isn’t immediately taken into custody. Fact is, the chief has seen Ellery having a meal in a pub minutes before the body was found…by Ellery. And as the evidence keeps getting found…by Ellery…it seems ever more likely that Ellery is being set up as a patsy. Ellery’s unwilling to get railroaded, however, and starts investigating a bit on his own. Which only brings him more confrontation. Especially when the second murder happens.

This is a really intriguing cozy mystery, with just a HINT of a budding romance. Ellery and Chief Carson are developing quite a nice rapport, even if Ellery’s not sure the lawman bats for his team. Well, until more than halfway in. Carson is a good investigator, and he’s frustrated that Ellery keeps taking daring chances to help prove his own innocence, choices that put Ellery in harm’s way more than once. The town and townspeople are as fun and quirky as one might hope, staging their Pirate Days festival that brings few visitors, but lots of gags for the locals.

The end is satisfying, with the red herrings and dead ends all knotted up tightly. It’s the beginning of a series, which makes me nervous for more death in this quaint hamlet! But, it also seems to promise a little bit of romance for Ellery, who’s finally got his life on track. I adored Ellery and his deadpan narration, with his constant predicaments and hope for just keeping it all together. I’m all in for more of this, hoping we get some Scrabble to go with our secrets.

Interested? You can find MURDER AT PIRATE’S COVE on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Josh Lanyon is the author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure and unapologetic man-on-man romance.

Her work has been translated into eleven languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first male/male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan’s annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place). The Adrien English Series was awarded All Time Favorite Male Male Couple in the 2nd Annual contest held by the 20,000+ Goodreads M/M Group. Josh is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), an Edgar nominee and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads Favorite M/M Author Lifetime Achievement award.

Josh is married and lives in Southern California. Catch up with Josh’s new on her website, Facebook or twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Falling For His PRETTY MAN–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a contemporary M/M erotic romance from Ryan Field. PRETTY MAN is a gay erotic love story LOOSELY based on Pretty Woman.

About the book:
Roland Marcus—rich, handsome and pushing 40—is still not over the fact that his 20-year relationship has ended, and desperately needs someone to distract him while he attends a bevvy of charity events in New York. With all eyes upon him, including his ex’s (who left him for a younger man), Roland accidentally bumps into a hot young guy in a used book store…a strapping male hustler whom he decides to hire for one week to accompany him to his social events. He offers him $5,000, with no strings attached, to just stand by his side and look pretty.

Josh Holden, a young guy who is helping to support his son and saving money to buy a business with his best friend and ex-wife, is only too happy to escort Roland anywhere he wants to go that week. And he’s not doing it just for the money…

Roland learns in less than a week’s time that his future can still hold both earth-shattering sex and a love of real substance.

My Review:
This gay erotic romance is LOOSELY based on the movie Pretty Woman. The author has re-written many het romances with a sexy gay slant, and this is no exception.

Roland is a wealthy businessman whose lover of the past 20 years, Kenneth, had recently left him for a younger man. Despite being trim and eligible, Roland feels unsexy and unlovable as a result. He’s due to show up at Kenneth’s at the end of the week for some charity functions, and he wants some sexy eye candy on his arm to help bolster his emotions.

Josh is in his mid-20s. He’s divorced but still sharing custody of his young son with his ex-wife, who’s a sweet gal and Josh’s best friend. They both work as a bookstore, and want to buy it to save it from closing down, but neither has enough capital. Roland learns of their predicament, and he’s totally attracted to sexy and virile Josh, so he offers him $5000 to spend the week as his escort–especially to Kenneth’s society parties. Josh is down–and he’s willing to expand Roland’s sexual horizons is myriad ways.

If you are looking for a dewy-eyed monogamous love story…keep looking. Josh gets up to some very dirty business with Roland, sexying him six ways from Sunday. This includes barebacking, and sharing him with some hardbodied pals, and public sex in an East Village sex shop. Roland’s libido is on fire, and he knows that Josh’s commanding presence is the reason. Plus, Kenneth is all jealous, wanting a piece of Josh the moment they meet.

It’s raw and raunchy and down and dirty fun, but there’s a sweet ending that resolves Josh’s money woes and brings he and Roland together in a new venture. I honestly laughed at some of the meaty descriptions and the aromatic experiences–oniony armpits and musty jockstraps–that turn Roland on. He’s so deliriously happy being Josh’s play-partner it was easy to accept some of their “shocking” sexcapades. I highly recommend if you are looking for an erotic gay romance and don’t mind multi-partner playtimes.

Interested? You can find PRETTY MAN on Goodreads, Riverdale Avenue Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.

About the Author:
Ryan Field is a hybrid author of over 100 published modern romance novels and stories, including AN OFFICER AND HIS GENTLEMAN, FANGSTERS, THE RAINBOW DETECTIVE AGENCY and best selling VIRGIN BILLIONAIRE SERIES. RfieldJ@aol.com

You can find Ryan on his website, Twitter, or Facebook Author Page.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Navigating Life’s Pitfalls: KISS ME AGAIN–An Audiobook Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing an audiobook review for a contemporary M/M romance from Garrett Leigh. KISS ME AGAIN is a sweet story of connection for a self-isolating man and the manic-depressive friend he makes while they’re in hospital together. I’ve really liked MISFITS, WHAT REMAINS, HOUSE OF CARDS, JUNKYARD HEART and FINDING HOME, so I was eager to experience this one.

About the book:
Tree surgeon Aidan Drummond is content with his own company. He works alone, and lives alone, and it doesn’t occur to him to want anything else until a life-changing accident lands him in hospital. Then a glimpse of the beautiful boy in the opposite bed changes everything.

Ludo Giordano is trapped on the ward with a bunch of old men. His mind plays tricks on him, keeping him awake. Then late one night, a new face brings a welcome distraction. Their unlikely friendship is addictive. And, like most things in Ludo’s life, temporary.

Back in the real world, Aidan’s monochrome existence is no longer enough. He craves the colour Ludo brought him, and when a chance meeting brings them back together, before long, they’re inseparable again.

But bliss comes with complications. Aidan is on the road to recovery, but Ludo has been unwell his entire life, and that’s not going to change. Aidan can kiss him as much as he likes, but if he can’t help Ludo when he needs him most, they don’t stand a chance.

My Review:
Aidan is a gruff and surly tree surgeon who prefers his own company, along with a whiskey. He’s working on a tree when a drunk driver crashes into it, knocking Aiden into a 20+ foot fall that breaks his leg, some ribs and concusses him greatly. He’s confused on the hospital ward, muddled with pain, when another patient, Ludo, attempts to help him find his morphine drip, and a bucket to vomit into.

Ludo is no stranger to hospital. He’s manic-depressive, and his manic trips often end in injury. At the moment, he’s in to have some pins in his wrist replaced–from an earlier “flying” attempt gone wrong. Ludo’s also having his meds updated to keep him more on and even keel, but he’s not taking well to them. He’s intrigued by Aidan, who is big and sexy and struggling to make sense of his injuries. Ludo is a bit of a mother hen, and Aiden seems to allow it, which pleases Ludo. This is in contrast to Aiden’s rough treatment of his cousin Michael, his only family–and only visitor. Not that Ludo has any visitors; his family gave up on him long ago.

Over the course of about 10 days, Aiden and Ludo learn a bit about one another, and strike up the closest thing to a friendship either has experienced in their adult life. Both in their early twenties, they have only the sense to take care of themselves–not anyone else. And, when Ludo is transferred off the ward, Aiden misses him–a feeling that plagues him upon his own release.

Aiden’s cooped up in his squalid bedsit (like a studio flat but smaller) drinking away his days and nights. He struggles to walk with his cane, even as his leg is healing. He might never be able to climb trees again, one of his his only pleasures in life. He’s a bit drunk, and hankering for some outdoors time, so he takes a walk into the nearby woods and there he runs into a man who resembles Ludo greatly–because Ludo is out walking the therapy dog he’s only just gotten. Turns out, they don’t live that far from one another, and Aiden’s inexplicably unwilling to let Ludo escape him again without a word.

Ludo was almost sure that his memories of Aiden were all imaginary. It wouldn’t be the first time his brain tricked him into grave misunderstandings, after all. His meds got switched around a bunch during his stay in hospital, and Ludo’s pretty sure Aiden was a really lucid fever dream, or something. Right? But seeing him in flesh-and-blood re-boots something in Ludo’s mind. Their first reconnection is tenuous, but they continue to see one another, cautiously exploring the other’s real world. Ludo makes Aiden home-cooked meals, eager to lavish him with care, while Aiden begins planting an herb garden for Ludo–so he’ll have fresh herbs to cook with. THey take walks and cuddle close, spending time with Ludo’s dog and the cat that ‘s adopts Aiden. Their closeness solidifies their attraction, and tiny steps toward physicality begin with a bit of kissing. Over time, Aiden heals enough for light duty work, and Ludo’s meds have his mood stabilized. This brings more issues, though, because Ludo’s so happy he’s not sure if he’s becoming dependent upon Aiden–and the more he feels regularly “happy” and “normal” the more he struggles to remember to take his meds.

Aiden wonders and worries when Ludo’s behavior becomes erratic. Is he doing something wrong that pushes Ludo away, or is Ludo struggling within his mind again? Could Ludo do himself harm? It’s happened before, Aiden thinks. Their connection is strong, now that they’ve been seeing one another for a couple of months, but can Aiden help Ludo find himself again, once the mania seems to set in?

This is a really sweet and tender story, with so many moments of just awesome human connection. I loved how Aiden came out from his shell–his life had been hard: his mom died when he was 6 and his dad was a drunk Aiden took care of more than the other way around. His dad kicked it a couple of years back from liver disease, and he’s been mainly on his own since a young age. To open up and embrace Ludo–who is sweet and charming and kind–is a big step for guarded Aiden, but it seems he’s fallen head over heels for Ludo. And, that’s important because Ludo needs someone who will love him steadily, especially when Ludo can’t remember to slow down and love himself.

The audiobook was really captivating. At just over 5.5 hours, the pace seemed right. The narrator, Dan Calley, was able to capture Aiden’s gruff tones and Ludo’s more melodic voice admirably. I could sense the pain and urgency in Aiden’s thoughts as well as the subtle confusion and blank expanse of Ludo’s musings in the recording. I’ve listened to it at least twice now, and I know I’ll listen again. This story is heavy on connection and light on sexytimes, but the romance is strong, and the moves both Aiden and Ludo make to be better men for their partner is all I could have hoped to find. Definitely recommend!

Interested? You can find KISS ME AGAIN on Goodreads, Amazon, Audible audiobook or iTunes audiobook.

About the Author:
Garrett Leigh is an award-winning British writer and book designer, currently working for Dreamspinner Press, Loose Id, Riptide Publishing, and Fox Love Press.

Garrett’s debut novel, Slide, won Best Bisexual Debut at the 2014 Rainbow Book Awards, and her polyamorous novel, Misfits was a finalist in the 2016 LAMBDA awards.

When not writing, Garrett can generally be found procrastinating on Twitter, cooking up a storm, or sitting on her behind doing as little as possible, all the while shouting at her menagerie of children and animals and attempting to tame her unruly and wonderful FOX.

Garrett is also an award winning cover artist, taking the silver medal at the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards in 2016. She designs for various publishing houses and independent authors at blackjazzdesign.com, and co-owns the specialist stock site moonstockphotography.com with renowned LGBTQA+ photographer Dan Burgess.

Otherwise you can find her on her website, twitter or Facebook.