Not Easy BECOMING ANDY HUNSINGER–Review & Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new near-historical M/M romance from Jere’ M. Fishback. BECOMING ANDY HUNSINGER is a coming-of-age story for a college student who’s inadvertently outed in 70s and hopes to find his true love without being shunned by his family. It’s a charming, and often bittersweet, story, and I really liked it.

Drop down to catch an interview, and excerpt and get in on the book giveaway, too!

About the book:
It’s 1976, and Anita Bryant’s homophobic “Save Our Children” crusade rages through Florida. When Andy Hunsinger, a closeted gay college student, joins in a demonstration protesting Bryant’s appearance in Tallahassee, his straight boy image is shattered when he is “outed” by a TV news reporter.

In the months following, Andy discovers just what it means to be openly gay in a society that condemns love between two men and wonders if his friendship with Travis, a devout Christian who’s fighting his own sexual urges, can develop into something deeper.

How about a little taste…

Chapter One
On my seventh birthday, my parents gave me a Dr. Seuss book, The Cat in the Hat.

I still have the book; it rests on the shelf above my desk, along with other Seuss works I’ve collected. Inside The Cat in the Hat’s cover, my mother wrote an inscription, using her precise penmanship.

“Happy Birthday, Andy. As you grow older, you’ll realize many truths dwell within these pages. Much love, Mom and Dad.”

Mom was right, of course. She most always was. My favorite line is this one:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

***

Loretta McPhail was a notorious Tallahassee slumlord. On a steamy afternoon, in August 1976, she spoke to me in her North Florida drawl: part magnolia, part crosscut saw.

“The rent’s one twenty-five. I’ll need first, last, and a security deposit, no exceptions.”

McPhail wore a short-sleeved shirtwaist dress, spectator pumps, and a straw hat with a green plastic windowpane sewn into the brim. Her skin was as pale as cake flour. A gray moustache grew on her wrinkled upper lip, and age spots peppered the backs of her hands. Her eyeglasses had lenses so thick her gaze looked buggy.

I’d heard McPhail held title to more than fifty properties in town, all of them cited multiple times for violation of local building codes. She owned rooming houses, single-family homes, and small apartment buildings, mostly in neighborhoods surrounding Florida State University’s campus. Like me, her tenants sought cheap rent; they didn’t care if the roof leaked or the furnace didn’t work.

The Franklin Street apartment I viewed with McPhail wasn’t much: a living room and kitchen, divided by a three-quarter wall; a bedroom with windows looking into the rear and side yards; and a bathroom with a wall-mounted sink, a shower stall, and a toilet with a broken seat. In each room, the plaster ceilings bore water marks. The carpet was a leopard skin of suspicious-looking stains, and the whole place stank of mildew and cat pee.

McPhail’s building was a two-storied, red-brick four-plex with casement windows that opened like book covers, a Panhandle style of architecture popular in the 1950s. Shingles on the pitched roof curled at their edges. Live oaks and longleaf pines shaded the crabgrass lawn, and skeletal azaleas clung to the building’s exterior.

In the kitchen, I peeked inside a rust-pitted Frigidaire. The previous tenant had left gifts: a half-empty ketchup bottle, another of pickle relish. A carton of orange juice with an expiration date three months past sat beside a tub of margarine.

Out in the stairwell, piano music tinkled—a jazzy number I didn’t recognize.

McPhail clucked her tongue and shook her head. “I’ve told Fergal—and I mean several times—to close his door when he plays, but he never does. I’m not sure why I put up with that boy.”

McPhail pulled a pack of Marlboros from a pocket in the skirt of her dress. After tapping out two cigarettes, she jammed them between her lips. She lit both with a brushed-chrome Zippo, then gave me one.

I puffed and tapped a toe, letting my gaze travel about the kitchen. I studied the chipped porcelain sink, scratched Formica countertops, and drippy faucet. Blackened food caked the range’s burner pans. The linoleum floor’s confetti motif had long ago disappeared in high-traffic areas. Okay, the place was a dump. But the rent was cheap, and campus was less than a mile away. I could ride my bike to classes and to my part-time job as caddy at the Capital City Country Club.

Still, I hesitated.

The past two years, I’d lived in my fraternity house with forty brothers. I took my meals there, too. If I rented McPhail’s apartment, I’d have to cook for myself. What would I eat? Where would I shop for food?

Other questions flooded my brain. Where would I wash my clothes? And how did a guy open a utilities account? The apartment wasn’t furnished. Where would I purchase a bed? What about a dinette and living room furniture?

And how much did such things cost? It all seemed so complicated.

Still…

Lack of privacy at the fraternity house would pose a problem for me this year. Over summer break—back home in Pensacola—I’d experienced my first sexual encounter with another male, a lanky serviceman named Jeff Dellinger, age twenty-four. Jeff was a second lieutenant from Eglin Air Force Base. I met him at a sand volleyball game behind a Pensacola Beach hotel, and he seemed friendly. I liked his dark hair, slim physique, and ready smile, but wasn’t expecting anything personal to happen between us.

After all, I was a “straight boy,” right?

We bought each other beers at the tiki bar, and then Jeff invited me up to his hotel room. Once we reached the room, Jeff prepared two vodka tonics. My drink struck like snake venom, and then my brain fuzzed. Jeff opened a bureau drawer; he produced a lethal-looking pistol fashioned from black metal. The pistol had a matte finish and a checked grip.

“Ever seen one of these?” Jeff asked.

I shook my head.

“It’s an M1911—official air-force issue. I’ve fired it dozens of times.

Jeff raised the gun to shoulder height. He closed one eye, focused his other on the pistol’s barrel sight. “Shooting’s almost…sensual.” Then he looked at me. “It’s like sex, if you know what I mean.”

I shrugged, not knowing what to say.

Jeff handed the pistol to me. It weighed more than I’d expected, between two and three pounds. I turned it this way and that, admiring its sleek contours. The grip felt cold against my palm and a shiver ran through me. I’d never fired a handgun, never thought to.

“Is it loaded?” I asked.

Jeff bobbed his chin. “One bullet’s in the firing chamber, seven more in the magazine; it’s a semiautomatic.”

After I handed Jeff the gun, he returned it to his bureau’s drawer while I sipped my drink, feeling woozier by the minute. Jeff sat next to me, on the room’s double bed. His knee nudged mine, our shoulders touched, and I smelled his coconut-scented sunscreen.

Jeff laid a hand on my thigh. Then he squeezed. “You don’t mind, do you?”

I looked down at his hand while my heart thumped. Go on, chickenshit. He wants you.

I gazed into Jeff’s dark eyes. “It’s fine.”

And that’s were I cut the offered excerpt, folks, because I keep it PG-13 here, and the next few lines are a sex scene. Plus, there’s lots of Andy reminiscing about sex with Jeff, too. Let’s just say that Andy opts to rent this crummy apartment so he can have the privacy he needs to be a sexually-active gay man in 1976.

And some thoughts on the story from author Jere’ M. Fishback:

Was there any particular part of this book that was difficult to write? If so, what made it so difficult?
There’s a scene where Andy decides to explore the world of BDSM, and winds up getting beaten and sexually assaulted by a man he shouldn’t have trusted. The scene was very disturbing to write, especially because Andy’s such a lovable guy who doesn’t deserve what happens to him.

How about the part of the story you had the most fun writing?
I especially enjoyed writing about Andy’s family’s acceptance of his sexual orientation, despite their conservative views on life. Andy’s extremely close to this parents and his younger brother, and it was fun to write about the day (Easter Sunday) when Andy comes out to his family at the dinner table. There are some pretty tense moments, especially when Andy talks alone with his younger brother, Jake, about homosexuality.

How did you come up with the title?
I went to school with a friend who has the last name Hunsinger, and I always thought it was a cool name, so I used it for my main character. I titled the book Becoming Andy Hunsinger because the book’s about Andy emotional and sexual evolution.

My Review:
Andy Hunsinger unequivocally recognizes that he’s gay the summer before his senior year at Florida State University. His hidden escapades with a closeted airman confirm this, and when he returns to school in August of 1976, he seeks a small apartment for himself knowing he can’t bring a man back to his room in the frathouse.

It’s not as difficult a transition as Andy first imagined. He likes decorating his space and teaching himself to cook. Now, however, he’s lonely. It’s not like there’s a lot of options for entertainment at this time. He finds a gay-friendly bar which he cruises and he sometimes has luck finding a one-night guy, but he truly desires a steady partner. He thinks he does, but when Andy joins a rally against bigoted Anita Bryant’s “Save The Children” crusade Andy gets “outed” on local television. He soon finds himself single again. But, he’s not entirely alone. He’s met lots of gay men who’ve come out in this time, and made allies who assist him in his life as he copes with the fall out of his public status. His job as a caddie at a prominent Tallahassee golf club is at risk, which would be a big financial blow for Andy. Meanwhile, he’s making new friends, and new allies by the day. Still, he worries about how his family will take the news. And, he wonders about a closeted friend, Travis, who’s struggling with his family’s decree that he remain celibate.

This is a really interesting book. It’s told in an almost memoir fashion which generally bothers me, but didn’t in this case. The cast of time is clear and the historic details are amazing. I grew up in the 70s/80s and could easily envision this story unfolding through the lens of my memories. There are times, because this felt memoir-y, when I was a little overwhelmed by asides and description, but then the author looped all that fab detail into a point I hadn’t expected, and it made great sense. I really liked how open, honest and caring Andy was, for all the isolation and personal despair he suffered. He was never too busy to help a friend, or too hurt to mend a relationship.

I loved the slow unfolding of his love story with Travis. These guys have had traumatic outings, and Andy embraced himself, with the help of his friends and family, while Travis had a much different experience. Andy’s no stranger to violence, and refuses to let another suffer if he has a means to help. We experience about 18 months of Andy’s life in the book, and it’s time well spent. He’s a character worth knowing, and his story is remarkable in its commonness; it’s approachable and interesting, with curves that come just when the reader thinks Andy’s finally got everything going in the right direction. The resolution is what I’d call a HFN, or Happy For Now ending, though it was upbeat enough that I felt confident Andy and Travis would be alright on the other side of the page. It’s not a strict romance, though. More a coming out/coming-of-age story that has romantic elements, and a quiet love story that only builds in the last quarter of the book. That said, I really enjoyed the story as a whole, and admired Andy as a man and a character throughout. I enjoyed his journey and recommend the book.

Interested? You can find BECOMING ANDY HUNSINGER on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Jere’ M. Fishback is a former journalist and trial lawyer who now writes fiction full time. He lives with his partner Greg on a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast. When he’s not writing, Jere’ enjoys reading, playing his guitar, jogging, swimming laps, fishing, and watching sunsets from his deck overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.

Catch up with Jere’ on his website, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Love and Loss for THE NEXT COMPETITOR–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary New Adult sports M/M romance from Keira Andrews. THE NEXT COMPETITOR isn’t a Christmas book, but it features fantastic male figure skaters, and that’s wintry to me! Plus, I’ve recently gotten hooked on YURI!!! ON ICE, a lovely new anime with respectfully-portrayed gay characters, so I was jazzed to read this one.

And that cover! #Swoon…

tncAbout the book:
If he risks his heart, can he keep his head in the game?
To win gold, figure skater Alex Grady must train harder than the competition morning, noon, and night. He’s obsessed with mastering another quadruple jump, and due to the lack of filter between his mouth and brain, doesn’t have a lot of friends. As for a boyfriend, forget it. So what if he’s still a virgin at twenty? The Olympics are only every four years—everything else can wait. Relationships are messy and complicated anyway, and he has zero room in his life for romance.

So it’s ridiculous when Alex finds himself checking out his boring new training mate Matt Savelli. Calm, collected “Captain Cardboard” is a nice guy, but even if Alex had time to date, Matt’s so not his type. Yet beneath Matt’s wholesome surface, there’s a dirty, sexy man who awakens a desire Alex has never experienced and can’t deny…

Note: This gay romance from Keira Andrews features opposites attracting, new adult angst, sexual discovery, and of course a happy ending.

This new version has been extensively rewritten, updated, and expanded into a new adult romance with explict on-page sex.

My Review:
This is a strongly-written New Adult M/M sports romance which features elite amateur skaters.

Alex Grady is a taciturn skater determined to win gold at the Olympics. He came to skating late, but has worked really, really hard to make it to the top, winning US Nationals in the previous season. He has a new coach, Mrs. C, who is a former Russian champion, and gives Alex the tough instruction he needs. It’s an Olympic year and he’s training in Toronto, isolated from his family in New Jersey, making few friends of his training mates.

Matt Savelli, one-half of a partners team, is an attractive man, one that Alex can’t help but notice. Looking is all Alex really wants. He’s known he was gay for most of his life, but he’s never had a boyfriend. Alex’s out to his family, but he keeps his sexuality private, fearing some judges may lower his scores out of prejudice, especially with hypermasculine skaters tearing up the ice with all their huge jumps. Plus, dating someone would just take time away from training, and Alex can’t afford it. His family’s financial situation is very much dependent upon Alex’s performance.

Still, as Alex interacts with Matt, he recognizes that Matt’s not the model of perfection he projects. Their friendship grows, a bit. And, when a tragedy occurs on the ice and Matt’s partner is injured, Alex is there to pick Matt up from his depression, encouraging him to skate singles for the first time in years. Not only that, they connect in a way Alex never has with a man before. The competitive atmosphere is exciting as Alex and Matt both strive for their personal Olympic dreams. At the end of the day, however, Alex is focused on winning gold, and he messes up with Matt, big time.

I really enjoyed all the skating bits. I’m (at best) a casual figure skating fan–I appreciate its beauty, but it’s not really my thing–yet I didn’t feel lost, or overwhelmed with the sport bits. The story is one of setting goals, and reaching for them over all other parts of life, and that self-sacrifice is something I do really connect with. Alex’s life has a combustive energy, with his no-filter mouth and his solitary habits. He’s socially-awkward and abrasive, as a result. Matt stayed away at first because of that, thinking the Alex was a big jerk. He isn’t, really, but his shell is tough to crack, and he’s petulant at times with a horrid habit of lashing out when frustrated. That said, he does make amends, and his tender heart is revealed in lovely ways over the second half of the story.

There’s also a sweet bit of sexual exploration here, because Alex begins the book as a virgin, and Matt takes care of that bit of business. Both sweet and tender, and hot and dirty, loving are on the menu, folks. There’s also some heartbreak, and a lot of personal growth in store for Alex. I loved that he began the book as a prickly young man, and ended as a freaking teddy bear.

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

Keira AndrewsAbout the Author:
After writing for years yet never really finding the right inspiration, Keira discovered her voice in gay romance, which has become a passion. She writes contemporary, historical, paranormal and fantasy fiction, and—although she loves delicious angst along the way—Keira firmly believes in happy endings. For as Oscar Wilde once said, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Tough Love Learning YOU ARE NOT ME–Review & Giveaway!

you-are-not-me-bannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a New Adult coming-of-age story from Leta Blake. YOU ARE NOT ME, the sequel to PICTURES OF YOU, is set in Knoxville, Tennessee, and follows a newly graduated, newly out teen looking to find his tribe. There’s a dash of romance, but it’s bittersweet.

Catch the excerpt below, and be sure to enter the giveaway to win one of two copies of PICTURES OF YOU.
you-are-not-me-coverAbout the book:
Follow Peter into the summer following his senior year to face new beginnings, new friends, and old baggage.

After a tumultuous final year of high school, Peter Mandel needs a break. It’s the summer of 1991, and his secret relationship with his ‘best friend’ Adam Algedi is put on hold as Adam goes away to Italy for the summer. On the cusp of adulthood, Peter has a couple of months to explore who he is without Adam at his side.

Enter Daniel McPeak, a slightly older, out, responsible college guy with a posse of gay friends and an attraction for Peter. Drawn into the brave new world of the local gay club, Peter embarks on a whirlwind of experiences—good and bad—which culminate in a hotel room where he has to make the ultimate choice.

But Adam will come back eventually, and there are promises that have to be kept. As autumn draws near and college awaits, can Peter break free of the binds of twisted first love? And what exactly is Daniel’s role in his life – a brief temptation, or something more?

Join Peter in the second book of this four-part coming of age series as he struggles to love and be loved, and grow into a gay man worthy of his own respect.

How about a little taste?

The stool next to me wasn’t empty for long. Minty dropped onto it, his purple tutu rubbing against my chinos and his thin, white arms curled up to rest on the bar. He stared at me for a long, curious second. “I’ve met you before, right?”

“Yeah.” I shook off my disappointment and gave him my attention. “Last spring, up on campus.”

“Did we fuck?”

I almost choked on my soda. “No.”

“Right.” Minty frowned. “Did I suck you off?”

I stared at him.

“Well?”

“My car was broken down,” I said slowly. “Daniel helped me.”

Minty grinned. “Oh, right! I remember now. You looked amazing that night. Made of moonbeams. Everyone was made of moonbeams.” He tilted his head. “You look all right now too.”

“Thanks?”

Minty laughed and fluffed his tutu. He turned away from me to hammer his fists on the bar. “Jolly Zima, Barry! Watermelon! Hit me!”

Barry rolled his eyes, but he pulled a Zima out from the fridge and popped the lid, then reached under the counter and came out with a watermelon Jolly Rancher, unwrapped it, and dropped it into the drink. Minty slapped three dollars down and took a dainty sip.

“Ah! Perfection!” He turned to me with his eyelashes lowered flirtatiously. “Anyway, back to what you were saying. We haven’t fucked yet?”

Startled, nervous laughter bubbled out of my mouth.

“Minty,” Barry said. “Drink your Zima and leave Peter alone.”

“Sure thing. You’re the boss.” Minty sighed and leaned toward me conspiratorially. “He won’t fuck me either. What’s a girl gotta do these days? I mean, I look good, don’t I?”

I looked him over—white, though scuffed, ballet slippers, purple tutu, toned, pale, lithe arms, and his made-up face. “Sure. You look really pretty.”

Minty grinned. “Aw, you know how to make a girl feel nice.”

“Didn’t I just see you downstairs with two guys, though?”

“Two? Please. That’s just a warm-up.” He sniffed.

Renée appeared at my side, dropping an arm around my shoulder. “Minty, doll baby, I need you backstage in an hour. You’re my naughty boy tonight.”

“Okay, but I want to wear my tutu.”

“You’ll be gorgeous.” Renée grabbed hold of Minty’s face and looked him over. “We need to put some eyelashes on you too.”

“And red lipstick.”

“Yes! Every man in this room will ache to be in that pert ass of yours.” She glanced at me and then back at Minty. “Except Peter here.”

“He catches?” Minty asked.

“Like Johnny Bench, baby.”

I didn’t like my positional preferences being discussed like it was any of their business, but I was mystified that Renée seemed so certain about it. Was there something about me that screamed loves it up the ass?

“How do you know who Johnny Bench is, woman?” Barry handed Renée a milky-looking drink topped with brown liquor.

“I listen!”

“I’ve never mentioned baseball to you and you know it.”

“Of course not. You’d never do that to me. Earl at Ringo Comics, though, he babbles on and on about it when he’s trying not to come. Earl says I catch like a pro.” She patted her ass.

Daniel was right last spring when he said Robert and Renée were the same but different people. Robert could be sassy and forthright about his sexual shenanigans, but raunchy details rarely left his mouth. My face burned.

“Hear, hear!” Minty cried, throwing back his head to draw a long swig from his Zima.

Barry frowned. It was the first time I’d seen Barry look even moderately unhappy about Renée—or Robert’s—indiscretions.

“What?” Renée asked defensively.

“Earl’s positive.” Barry’s gaze bore into her. “You used a condom?”

“Of course!” Renée licked her lips and shifted nervously to her other foot, her hip cocking out. “I always do. You know that.”

Minty bit his purple-painted thumbnail, eyes going distant. “I’m probably positive. I should get tested. My mom wants me to get tested.”

Barry nailed Minty and Renée with a frustrated glare. He reached under the counter and pulled out two condoms. Then his gaze shifted to me and he pulled out a third. “For fuck’s sake, use these. Every time. Every damn time.”

Renée stuffed the condom in her bra. Minty held it up in front of his face and then gave it a kiss before lifting up his tutu to tuck it into the waistband of his white briefs. Nodding, I pocketed the one Barry handed to me, even though I wasn’t going to need it. Adam was in Italy and the casual sex Minty and Renée played with was something I’d never risk.

My Review:
This is the second book in a series and best enjoyed when read in order. It’s June 1991, and the AIDS epidemic is at it’s peak, as is tension with Middle Easterners, as we’re in the midst of the Gulf War.

Peter Mandel is nearly nineteen, and just graduated from high school in Knoxville, Tennesee. He’s gay, and out to his parents and a few friends, notably his boyfriend, the BF’s siblings, and his drag queen boss. Peter otherwise keeps a low profile because he’s been attacked for his sexuality, and to spare his mother pain; as a child she’d seen her elder brother brutally killed for being gay.

Peter’s boyfriend Adam thought he had a fool-proof plan to shield them from scrutiny: he got a girlfriend, Leslie, who he maintains a sexual relationship with, as well as with Peter. It killed Peter for their time together in senior year, but now it’s summer and Adam’s gone to Rome to live with his parents until college begins in the fall. His letters and calls to Peter all describe the big changes that will happen when he’s back, but Peter’s not so convinced. He’s not comfortable being a piece on the side any longer, and he cares for Leslie, too–feels like a big jerk for lying to her, in fact.

Peter meets Daniel through Robert/Renee, the lovely black drag queen he works for. See, Peter’s a photographer, and he does Renee’s publicity, as well as helps edit his filmography of famous drag queens. Daniel is a college student at UT, just like Peter, and they develop a good friendship, as well as an attraction. Daniel doesn’t want to make a move, though, knowing Peter is holding out hope the he and Adam will build a stronger relationship when Adam returns–despite the fact that they’ll attend different colleges in different states–and Leslie will be with Adam.

So, yeah. There is a bit of romance, as Daniel and Peter spend more and more time together. Peter gets to know all of Daniel’s close friends, and he sees how important it is to live his truth. Plus, he’s filling out of his gawky-awkward stage, and finding that men are very much attracted to him whenever he gets out to the gay clubs. Should he wait for Adam? Is he only prolonging the heartbreak?

This book is really rich with description of the times and occurrences. I love the throwbacks of corded phones, answering machines and film cameras. Developing!! Argh! There’s also some really poignant moments regarding HIV/AIDS because Daniel is an outreach volunteer, and he gets Peter involved in some home care visits with a man who’s dying of AIDS. Wow! That was so freaking intense, and I only expect it’ll get more so in the next book. The context of HIV/AIDS is such a strong element of the book, with every person advising Peter on his safety, and some serious problems when risks are unnecessarily posed.

Emotionally, Peter struggles with doing what he believes is right, and what is right for him. So many times I wanted to just pull him in for a long hug, and tell him to Get Rid Of Adam!!! Alas, I’m but a reader, and I must follow the path he chooses. The good part is: all of it. It’s gritty, and scary, and captivating living life through Peter’s opened eyes. He finds unlikely allies, and builds true relationships–even repairing a lot of the damage within his own family. His parents’ benign neglect was more damaging than they realized, and they do a lot of soul-searching and reconnection in this book. That was fabulous. Peter does make mistakes, and I think he gets pretty lucky in some parts–particularly dealing with some substance use he wasn’t quite ready for. While the romance is almost incidental to the story, it does exist. Expect it to be bittersweet. The end is upbeat, and I’m eager to see how Peter takes to his first semester in college.

Interested? You can find YOU ARE NOT ME on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win on of two ebooks of PICTURES OF YOU.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Author of the best-selling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.

You can find out more on her website, Facebook and twitter.

IndiGo

New Young Love: PICTURES OF YOU–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a mature YA/New Adult M/M series from Leta Blake. PICTURES OF YOU is the first in a four-part series about young gay people coming of age in 1990s Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s not exactly a romance, though there are certainly lots of sexytimes.

poyAbout the book:
Growing up gay isn’t easy. Growing up gay in Knoxville, Tennessee is even harder.

Eighteen-year-old Peter Mandel, a private school senior—class of 1991—is passionate about photography. Peter doesn’t have many friends, preferring to shoot pictures from behind the scenes to keep his homosexuality secret.

Enter Adam Algedi, a charming, worldly new guy who doesn’t do labels, but does want to do Peter. Hardly able to believe gorgeous Adam would want geeky, skinny him of all people, Peter’s swept away on a journey of first love and sexual discovery. But as their mutual web of lies spins tighter and tighter, can Peter find the confidence he needs to make the right choices? And will his crush on Daniel, a college acquaintance, open a new path?

Join Peter in the first of this four-part coming of age series as he struggles to love and be loved, and grow into a gay man worthy of his own respect.

This new series by Leta Blake is gay fiction with romantic elements.
Book 1 of 4.
Warning! These books contain: New Adult fiction, ‘90s gay life, small city homosexual experiences, Southern biases, sexual exploration, romance, homophobia, bisexuality, and twisted-up young love. Oh, and a guaranteed happy ending for the main character by the end of Book 4.

How about a little taste?

“Should I apologize for earlier?” Adam asked, turning down the stereo.

“It isn’t your fault she showed up.”

Adam grinned at me. “I meant, should I apologize for the kiss, but I guess the answer is ‘no.’”

I twitched nervously in my seat and took a deep breath “I’m gay.”

“No shit.”

I stared. “What?”

“I mean, yeah. You’re gay. I figured that out.”

“So—” I stopped. “Wait. How?”

“I can always tell. I don’t know how.”

“But I thought you said you weren’t gay.”

“I never said that.” Adam frowned. “Honestly, I don’t know what I am.”

My heart trip-hammered for a ton of reasons, but the scariest of them was hope. “What’s the deal then? Uh, with us?”

“Us? We’re friends. Like I said, friends kiss.”

My hope settled into a knot of anxiety.

“Then why hasn’t a friend kissed me before?”

“I don’t know. I mean, who wouldn’t want to kiss you?”

To me, it was definitely more of a question of who would want to kiss me, and, more specifically, just exactly why he had. Especially when I knew how everyone else would view me once we got to school. Maybe living all over the world hadn’t taught him the social skill of self-preservation required to make his way in a small city like Knoxville.

I decided to tell him. He really did deserve to know, and besides, if it was going to be an issue, I wanted to be hurt now, not later.

“I’m a huge loser, you know.”

Adam glanced over at me like I was insane. “What?”

“I’m not popular. In school. In life. In anything.” I turned my head and looked out the window, worrying my lower lip. “I just thought you should know. I mean, you don’t want to start out at a new school being friends with someone who’s just going to drag you down.”

Adam actually laughed. “You’re crazy. Did you know that?”

My throat tightened. It hurt he wasn’t taking me seriously. “I’m telling you why I’ll understand when you decide we can’t be friends anymore.”

“Look, you haven’t even started at this school and you’ve already decided that as a friend you’re not worth being first string? What’s up with that?”

I shrugged. “I’m just being realistic. I mean—look at me.”

In my peripheral vision I saw Adam do just that. He looked at me long enough that I worried about the car staying on the road. “Yeah. I’m looking. I still like what I see.” He lifted his hand to the back of my neck and squeezed. “I’m serious.”

A strange rush of emotion flooded my stomach and chest, and I wanted to tuck my face between my knees. Instead I just crossed my arms and frowned.

Adam brushed his fingers through my hair, catching in my frenzy of curls. It felt intimate and almost more real than the kiss. I shivered when he let go to grip the steering wheel again.

“But enough of that,” he said sternly. “Get my book bag out of the backseat. I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Happy to be leaving the uncomfortable topic of my gay dorkitude behind, I reached around and grabbed the blue, nylon book bag.

“Open the front pocket.”

I unzipped it, fished around, and pulled out a driver’s license. It was Mo’s, and I had to stifle a laugh at the typical bad license photo that made him look like a serial killer.

“I’ve got a fake ID that Sean got for me, but I liberated that one for you.”

I tapped the picture. “You think this will get me into the club? I look nothing like your brother!”

“Don’t be such a defeatist! You just hold your thumb over the picture when you show them your ID.”

“Adam, that isn’t going to work.”

“We can always try,” he said, lifting his shoulders dismissively.

“They’ll confiscate the ID. How’s Mo going to feel about having to get a new license made?”

That got through to him. “Oh. So, huh. I guess that won’t work after all.”

I snorted. “Uh, no.”

Adam just smiled. “We’ll figure something out.”

“We could see what’s going on at the under-21 shows on The Strip.”

“No. I want to go to Tilt-a-Whirl. I read it’s the best gay bar in town and has, and I quote, ‘the best drag queens in the area.’”

“If the area is East Tennessee, then yeah, it probably does. And why do you want to go to a gay bar so much? I mean, this is a small city. Word gets around.”

Adam narrowed his eyes. “This last-minute resistance is futile, padawan.”

“Trek and Wars in the same breath. That is very wrong. Very, deeply, truly wrong.”

“It is,” Adam readily agreed.

“You’re a total dork.”

“Shh. It’s a secret. Don’t tell the jocks when school starts. I wouldn’t want my nerdiness to drag us down and all.”

I started to laugh, but stopped, struck by an uncomfortable thought. I picked at my blue jeans a little, toying with a loose thread, before asking quietly, “So the kiss is a secret?”

Adam looked over in obvious surprise. “Of course. I mean, like you said, this is a small city.”

“And it’s the South. And the Bible Belt. And generally homophobic, yeah.”

I bit down on my lip. I didn’t know what I was expecting. It wasn’t like he was wrong. We couldn’t be boyfriends—not here, not now. Not out in the open or anything. It was just that I wanted so much more already. And he’d kissed me.

Adam’s hand clasped the back of my neck again. “Hey, listen. You’re my friend. And you happen to kind of turn me on with your glasses, and your camera, and the way you walk.” He gripped his fingers in my hair again and gave my head a little shake. “That’s enough, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. So—the drag show. How do we get in?” I hoped my voice sounded light because if in Adam’s world friends kissed, I didn’t want to do anything to ruin our friendship before I found out what else he thought friends might do.

My Review:
Peter Mandel is an 18 y/o closeted gay teen growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1990. He’s a new transfer to a small private school because he’d been terrorized by bullies for being queer. His parents seem to ignore all the evidence of homosexuality, instead believing him to be a late bloomer. He is, rather, being small and slight, unfit for sports and artsy in photography, but Peter is still only for the dudes.

Peter meets twins Adam and Sarah at orientation. They are half-Iranian, and their parents have some type of consulate business that keeps them in Jordan at the moment. Fomenting aggression caused their parents to send Adam and Sarah to the states to complete high school; their elder brother, Mohammed, is a college student at UT and their custodian.

Adam wastes no time connecting with Peter, who’s never even kissed a person before. He’d hoped to fly under the radar, but beautiful, skilled, sexy Adam is more that willing to school Peter in sex. Their courtship is fraught with issues–mostly keeping everything on the super down-low. Sarah and Mo know immediately that Adam and Peter are having sex, and they aren’t happy about it–mostly because they know how their strict father will react if he learns of this unnatural behavior.

When school starts, Sarah is determined to get them all well-situated into the best social strata. She’s aggressive and Adam’s charismatic and soon they cobble a tight group of friends, including Leslie, who’s overjoyed to be Adams’ girlfriend. Yep, the best way to hide Adam and Peter’s sexytimes is to get a beard–and Adam’s bisexual, so he pulls this off. But the rumors don’t stop.

The book spans a nine month period–all of senior year. It’s not a happy time for Peter. He’s captivated by Adam, who wants him terribly, but upset at hiding his love affair from everyone. Plus, he likes Leslie. She’s a sweet friend, and Peter dies a bit inside when he sees them cuddling, and knows they a real and true couple, having just as much sex as he and Adam do.

During this time Peter relies on unlikely friends, notably a drag queen that he met while out on his first date with Adam. Renee/Robert knows about staying closeted, and he’s a sweet and caring person. He offers Peter a job helping with his drag shows, and taking pictures for publicity. It’s through Renee/Robert that Peter meets Daniel, an architecture student at UT. There’s an immediate connection, but Daniel won’t get involved with a high school student.

The book, as a whole, is really bittersweet. It’s about yearning and choices and the struggle for love and acceptance in a time that was rife with homophobia, in a place that’s not eager to embrace homosexuality now–twenty-five years later. It’s the height of the AIDS epidemic, and Peter’s (mostly disinsterested) parents are just as scared of gay cancer killing him as they are of homophobic bigots killing him. They have some experience with the latter, as Peter learns close to the end of the book. It’s not a typical romance, and Peter’s mostly broken-hearted accepting a half-love from Adam, who won’t just let him go. For his part, Peter knows that he’s not able to protect himself from the bigotry inherent in his world, but he makes a grudging peace with it, until he can walk away clean: graduation.

There’s a bit of hope on the horizon, with Daniel, who may be willing to be monogamous and not hide Peter. His parents are resigned to his sexuality, and seem to be supportive; his father in particular. His mother suffers depression and struggles to care for herself, let alone her son. Peter’s a good kid, and the stage seems set for him to have a better life within a tribe of his choosing who will care for him. Being that this is more a gay fiction series, I’m sure we’ll have more ups-and-downs as Peter learns to navigate his dangerous world. There is a promised happy ending for Peter, I suspect, in the fourth book. Until then, we have a really rich world with regular historical touchstones for readers to connect.

It’s always fun to read a book set in a time that has just faded from our collective consciousness. It’s an era of no cell phones, landlines, people walking out their door and being unreachable, film cameras, developing rooms, word processors… Peter is a contemporary of mine, being one year older, chronologically. So his experience is mine–from a cultural standpoint. He and I share those moments, watching GHOST on the big screen, contemplating The Cure, even photography–though I was limited to a point-and-shoot due to being broke. I got Peter, and I struggled with him. I wanted Adam to stand up for them–even if it wasn’t coming out. Even if it was them still hiding, but hiding together. The conflict was really tense, and I hope that we’ll get some respite–though it’s the dawn of the Iraq War, and Adam, being half-Iranian, has many struggles to come. As for the book, and series, I think readers who enjoyed the Something Like series by Jay Bell will enjoy it. I liked it lots, and enjoyed the immersive experience of suddenly being back in high school.

Interested? You can find PICTURES OF YOU on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Author of the best-selling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.

You can find out more on her website, Facebook and twitter.

IndiGo

Cephalopod Coffeehouse Sept 2016–Banned books galore!!

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Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

stand-up_facebook2This week marks the annual BANNED BOOKS WEEK “celebration” highlighting books that are the most challenged within the ALA, American Librarian’s Association. As many may remember, I’ve been on a mission to read banned books in 2016. I think I’ve done rather well! I cried reading PERSEPOLIS. I smiled reading AND TANGO MAKES THREE with my sons. I’ve looked at the 2015 Top Ten banned books and saw John Green’s LOOKING FOR ALASKA (read this years ago, before I got into Goodreads or blogging!) is in the top spot again, followed by EL James’s FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (read the book, own the movie), and David Levithan’s TWO BOYS KISSING rounded off the list. Food for the thought, the Bible is on the list again this year…

part-time-indianAnyhoo, I decided to pick up THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, which was the top of the 2014 banned list-and required reading for my son in 2011, I’ll add. I read half the book with him, and liked it. He still remarks that it’s the only English book he finished in high school. (Jane Eyre, he claims, broke his soul, but I digress…)

Sherman Alexie’s unflinching story of Junior, a dirt-poor Spokane native teen growing up on the rez is really a fantastic look into a world most Americans forget exists. It discusses poverty, and opportunity, and hope, and despair. Showcases parents who try hard, but still fail. Highlights the stark differences between kids who dwell in a world with no expectations–versus those who have a lot going for them, and dreams that might actually come true. It’s practically a treatise on institutional racism, and how it keeps some classes of people down…forever.

Are there problems? Yes. Junior’s attended forty-two funerals in his fourteen years. His parents are alcoholics. Close friends and family die for insensible reasons, usually related to alcohol abuse. White people think he’s trash. That’s a reality of life on the rez. It’s as inescapable as his dark skin and black hair. But. Junior seeks a way out–leaving the rez to go to the nearby white high school, and he’s labeled a traitor as a result.

Honestly, this was an eye-opener. I hate using the term “Indian” for Native Americans/First Nations persons, but it’s how Junior sees/calls himself. He stands up for himself when he can, and recognizes that the white world of his white school is a very different place. There, kids have so much more, and they don’t fight, and some of them really will make something of themselves. It’s almost a foreign country compared with his rez-life 22 miles away. And yet, this community also lacks closeness and camaraderie. Junior, walking between his two worlds, remarks that he’s Half-Indian in the white world and half-white on the rez–despite being a full-blood Spokane. These subtle cultural distinctions underlie the deep prejudices in his life. He’s brave, though, and succeeds in building friendships in both places.

Why is this book on the banned list? Cited reasons include: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying.” Well, I that “sex education/sexually explicit” complaint is pretty weak, considering Junior makes a couple references to masturbation. And anti-family? Junior loves his family, despite their dysfunction. I saw fantastic bonding moments, in all their tragedy. Regarding cultural insensitivity: There are some gay slurs, and I’m not super thrilled about that–though there are other moments when Junior talks honestly about homosexuality in the Native community. Also, it was others calling Junior “gay” as a slur, and he rolled with it; bigots were always painted as such. There’s violence, and bullying, none of which seemed extreme. Junior was a target, and he endured some rotten moments, sure. Offensive language falls out of my 14 y/o son’s mouth on the regular–if you hang around boys you’re not gonna be shocked by the few F-bombs on the page.

Ultimately, this book opens a window on contemporary life in Native reservations, and the view isn’t good. I think it’s honest, and troubling, and it makes me want better for all these folks. My great-grandfather escaped reservation life in the 20s. He lived to be 36, dying after several bouts of pneumonia and leaving behind his widow and my grandmother–aged 8 at the time–at the outset of the Great Depression. The stories I’ve heard from family painted a bleak picture, but Junior’s world is even more despairing. Though his experience isn’t the same as that on all reservations, because his sister finds another rez that’s better off. That said, the whole book is an emotional rollercoaster that I rode for the span of a day. The story is completely accessible, with evocative language and fearless art, and I’m glad it was required reading for my eldest. I expect my other boys to pick it up in their turn, and have a copy on my shelf awaiting them.

Interested? You can find THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores and libraries everywhere. It’s a National Book Award winner, a best-seller, and a banned book.

I hope you’ll tell me if you’ve read a banned bookrecently–or if you’re inspired to do so, now! Be sure to check out the best books from my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers below. Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Cephalopod Coffeehouse November 2015–NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST

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Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

This month I’m reviewing a contemporary YA story that’s due to release next week, NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST from Eric Lindstrom. Put it on your list of books to get for anyone who enjoys a well-told story about a girl just making her way through life, and getting into some scrapes along the way. Oh, and the main character, Parker, well, she gets into more scrapes than most because…she’s blind.

Not If I See You FirstAbout the book:

The Rules:

Don’t deceive me. Ever. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public.

Don’t help me unless I ask. Otherwise you’re just getting in my way or bothering me.

Don’t be weird. Seriously, other than having my eyes closed all the time, I’m just like you only smarter.

Parker Grant doesn’t need 20/20 vision to see right through you. That’s why she created the Rules: Don’t treat her any differently just because she’s blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances. Just ask Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart.

When Scott suddenly reappears in her life after being gone for years, Parker knows there’s only one way to react-shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough on her mind already, like trying out for the track team (that’s right, her eyes don’t work but her legs still do), doling out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn’t cried since her dad’s death three months ago. But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened–both with Scott, and her dad–the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem. Maybe, just maybe, some Rules are meant to be broken.

My Review:

Parker Grant lost her mother and her eyesight in a car crash when she was 8. She developed strong friendships and an even stronger bond with her father in the last 8 years. Unfortunately, Parker’s father died three months ago and her aunt’s family has moved across the country to live in her home, with her. Parker’s developed some tough rules, meant to protect her heart, and also her mind–especially after Scott–her former best friend and maybe first love, crushed her back in eighth grade.

It’s junior year and Scott has returned to Parker’s high school. Their small town has combined two schools into one, actually, which means there are lots of new people and new situations for Parker to encounter. She meets a new “buddy” Molly, a chaperone who helps her navigate the school day. Parker and Molly strike it off, mostly because Molly’s willing to be honest with Parker–whose default setting is brutal honesty. Parker wants to be treated like a regular kid, and she strives for this. It’s what draws her to Jason, a decent guy who treats her decently.

While Parker’s life is filled with people, she’s still rather solitary. She spends a lot of time with her young cousin, Petey, and none at all with her other cousin, Sheila, despite them being the same age and being in school together. All the school politics are on display, and despite a spark between Parker and Jason, it’s clear that Scott is still in the picture, too. Always on the fringes, Scott’s filling in the gaps he knows were left behind with Parker’s father died.

I really admired Parker. She’s brash, with the understanding that it’s not easy being disabled, and it’s even worse to be considered ‘less than’ because of her disability. She makes new and unlikely friends, and tries even more unlikely feats, including running. It’s refreshing to see how she navigates the world around her, and the high school foibles–including first dates and kisses. For all her outward strength, she’s a deeply thinking girl, and willing to own up to her mistakes–when she’s able to confront them. Her unflinching honesty can be abrasive, but she applies that to herself just as much as to others.

In a litscape filled with ordinary people, Parker shines in her extraordinary will to be as normal as possible. This is a story that doesn’t have a sweeping grand gesture, more like a series of realizations that don’t lead to reconciliations. Which was perfectly acceptable. As Scott and Parker recognize: they are not their 8th grade selves anymore, and what they had then is very different from what they have now. There is 2+ years of animosity and betrayal to overcome, and it’s not flipping a switch to turn back time and reconnect. That was a striking moment for both Parker, and the reader.

So many times YA stories are too convenient, with some mid-level conflict that is easily resolved. Nothing in this book is convenient or contrived. Parker’s cousin Sheila isn’t kind. Parker’s friends are a mixture of races, genders and sexualities with really different personalities. Parker’s aunt is rigid and easily offended–not able to cope with Parker’s need for autonomy. So, it’s all a big trial for Parker, to cobble all this scrip-scrap bits of life together into a patchwork quilt of people to support and love her. Including Scott.

Interested? NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST releases Dec 1st, but you can find out more about it on Goodreads, and pre-order it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Powell’s Books. This first 9 chapters are up on Amazon and B & N for a free preview, in case you want to just check it out…

Thanks for popping in. Don’t forget to check out the other reviewers on this month’s blog hop. They always have great books to discover.

Reaching the BREAKING UP POINT–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing my review for BREAKING UP POINT, a contemporary M/M romance out today from Brian McNamara. I reviewed the previous book in the series, BOTTLED UP SECRET, and liked it, so I jumped into the sequel when it came on offer.

Breaking Up PointAbout the book:
Brendan Madden is starting his freshman year of college and, although excited, he is sad to say good-bye to his high school boyfriend, Mark. After a rough transition, Brendan carves out a place for himself at school, where he has new friends and newfound independence. With the added strain of distance, however, he now finds it hard to maintain his relationship with Mark, especially due to the fact that Mark still must hide the relationship from most of his friends.

Brendan’s college life allows him to be open and honest about who he is. He debates whether he is willing to compromise this for Mark, especially since staying in the relationship means forgoing the possibility of finding new romance at college.

My Review:
This book is the sequel to BOTTLED UP SECRET, and better enjoyed if the books are read in order.

To sum up from the previous book:  Brendan came out to his mother, one of his five sisters and his cadre of friends seven months ago. He has a closeted boyfriend, Mark, who is a senior in high school–though Brendan is just entering his freshman year at the Ohio State University. Mark and Brendan had shared some intimate experiences in the previous book, and Brendan is not eager to move things farther as he’s rather set on saving his virginity for marriage, but he’s not happy keeping the secret of Mark from their mutual friends, or in general.

As Mark begins his new life away from home he is open about his sexuality–to everyone, with positive results. He joins a musical theater group and slowly makes friends. At times I felt the prose dragged. For teens, this may seem like a roadmap regarding the initial college experience, but it was too telling, with little advancement. I struggled to emotionally connect with Brendan until the second half of the book.

Brendan does come out the rest of his family in this book–with mixed results. Three of his sisters are cool with it, two are NOT cool, bordering on homophobic, and his mom is on the fence. She still thinks his “situation” is a phase. I really began to engage with the book when all this started happening. Brendan’s interactions with Mark show advancement in terms of physicality, but not emotion. They are separated by distance, and different objectives. Brendan gets the (accurate) sense that Mark will never “come out” and he fully acknowledges that Mark had only dated girls before him.

As Brendan flails in his relationships, his new friendships thrive. In particular, Andres–a project partner from his business class–becomes a close confidante. It turns out that Andres provides very good counsel, and helps Brendan through the rocky issues with both Mark and his family. I liked Andres quite a bit. He’s a little older, and more mature than Brendan, but very compassionate and fun.

There are two sexy scenes in the book that are a little more graphic than fade-to-black, but they are not hot-and-heavy. Mark is exploring himself, and his boundaries. He talks a bit about the physical features of guys he likes (most specifically penis features), but this seemed in keeping with the character’s age and did not feel inappropriate for the audience. (Straight teen guys get graphic about the female body features they enjoy after all…)

I think I did enjoy this book more that the first, but it ends on a more bittersweet note. It explores the morass of coming out, and dealing with disapproving friends or family. It felt very honest, if a little naive. Brendan certainly owns his feelings regarding his family’s response to his news–and this was very engaging. The writing, at times, seems a little clunky, with stilted dialogue and too much description of stuff that was not central to the plot. That said, I do like Brendan, and I am intrigued about his future.

Interested? You can find BREAKING UP POINT on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  I received a review copy via NetGalley.

McNamara, BrianAbout the Author:

The youngest of six kids (and the only boy!), Brian McNamara was born and raised in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. His favorite hobbies growing up were tennis and musical theater. He obtained a degree in finance in 2009 and moved to New York City shortly after to work for a management consulting firm. While pursuing his true passions of writing and acting on the side, he decided to quit his corporate job to focus all his energy on what he loved.

Brian can be contacted at BrianMcNamara.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!