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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****GIVEAWAY****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW–A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch up with Shannon on her website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Big Changes Somehow LIGHTER–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a M/M YA contemporary romance from A. Aduma. LIGHTER features a high school senior, an immigrant from Kenya, coming to terms with his family issues and finding a boyfriend from a long-lost friend.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the GC giveaway!
About the book:
After a bad breakup, Rasheed is determined to spend his last year of high school focused on his course work and to finish it with as little drama as possible. But when disaster strikes and his grandma ends up in the hospital, the threads holding his life together start to slowly unravel. Now, Rasheed has to deal with the return of his absent mother and sharing a home with her despite their strained relationship.

With old hurts surfacing and family dynamics shifting, Rasheed finds comfort and humor from his best friends, the Herman twins he’s tutoring, and his crush, Adam Herman, who’s not as unavailable as Rasheed had once thought. With more time spent together, Rasheed finds his feelings for Adam may never have gone away. And the feelings may not be as one-sided. Except, Rasheed has to confront old mistakes and come to terms with his own issues first, and a relationship may just complicate everything.

How about a little taste?

Chapter One:
“Please tell me it’s mahamri,” I said enthusiastically when I saw Granma kneading dough that would hopefully be rolled, cut into little squares, dipped into deep frying oil, and covered in whipped cream to create a slice of heaven. Paired with hot chai, it opened the door to another dimension.

Granma pounded the dough, one-two, and flipped it over. “It is.”

“Should I start on the tea?”

“You should start by taking the trash out.” She straightened, wiped the thin film of sweat from her forehead, and pointed to the overflowing trashcan. I could have emptied it last night, but I had an assignment due and each second counted; the four minutes it would have taken had seemed like a lifetime.

“Okay.” I stepped farther into the kitchen and pinched some of the dough. Granma smacked my hand with her flour-covered one. I should have seen it coming; it was a dance we’d been doing since I was five­­—I’d pinch the dough, she’d slap my hand, and warn me about worms making my stomach swell.

Sure enough she said, “Tumbo lako litafura.”

I refrained from rolling my eyes. The way she used to tell it, when I was a kid my stomach would get as large as a balloon before it burst, spraying worms everywhere.

I tossed the dough in my mouth, grabbed a pot, filled it with water, and put it to boil for tea. One thing Granma and I liked was tea—tea in the morning, tea in the afternoon, tea before bed—and coming to America hadn’t changed that. As soon as she was done with the mahamri, she’d set herself up on her favorite floral armchair in front of the TV with her cup of steaming hot tea and catch up on some daytime soaps. Sometimes I joined her—TV dramas had some really cute guys.

“They finally gave up the dog,” Granma announced.

“Huh?”

“Mrs. Kyle and that dog. The pepo chafu will not be terrorizing us again.”

Mrs. Kyle lived on the other side of the street, one house down from us. Her bulldog, Teddy—a name that maybe shouldn’t be handed out so easily to slobbering dogs—had the bad habit of chasing and attacking people, and she refused to put it on a leash. Granma did not like her. The whole neighborhood didn’t like her.

“Paul was right,” she continued, “Soon as someone threw in the word ‘sue,’ she became more accommodating.”

There’d been a lot of that lately—Paul this and Paul that. It would have slipped my mind if I hadn’t noticed her FaceTiming him two weeks before, and then a day ago. Paul only lived a fifteen-minute drive away, so why not text? Anyway, what was so important that she needed to video call?

“I’m guessing some are for Paul?”

“Yes.”

“That’s nice.”

She pulled a drawer open and retrieved a rolling pin. “Why are you saying it like that?”

“How am I saying it?”

“Like you mean to say something else.”

“It’s nothing— Okay, you and Paul are…friendly,” I teased.

“I don’t have many friends; another one never hurts.”

“True, but I don’t know many people who go around fixing other people’s houses out of the kindness of their heart.”

Granma fixed her eyes on the dough and started to roll it. “It’s called kindness. Looks like you’ve forgotten the meaning of the word.”

“I remember,” I said quickly before it turned into a speech about undugu. Yes, yes, love thy neighbor, unless it was Mrs. Kyle, of course. Lines had to be drawn somewhere.

I added a cinnamon stick and some ginger into the pot and turned to head back to my room. Granma pointed to the trashcan. “Usitume nikwambie mara ya pili.”

Right, the trash. I sighed.

Her eyes bored into me as I bent to pick it up, which usually made me more self-aware. Like, had I brushed my teeth or cleaned my room? “I don’t know where your mind is nowadays.”

I paused. “Just tired.” Second week of school, Granma!

I was still trying to shake off summer vibes and find my back-to-school rhythm. It wasn’t going great. On top of the mound of piling homework and the early waking hours that turned me into a zombie—sometimes even with growling, and on really bad days, I could bite someone’s head off—I was trying to dodge Scott, my ex-boyfriend. Whenever he weaved his way into my thoughts, my chest would burn with shame, and my body would turn into a bundle of nerves. That chai and mahamri better come quick. I needed a pick-me-up.

“You put your shirt on backward on Tuesday and didn’t notice.”

“My mind was elsewhere.”

Her eyes narrowed. “And you’re not on drugs?”

I refrained from sighing. “No, I am not on drugs.”

“What is it, then?”

“Not enough sleep.”

“Why? What do you have to stress about?”

I slumped. Things were off, and I couldn’t shake the oddness. Before I could get that out, Granma shuddered, exhaled loudly, and reached for the counter, clutching it tightly.

I moved toward her. “You okay?” But she waved me off.

Her mouth opened, closed, opened again, but nothing came out. I frowned in confusion. Finally, after a few seconds, she said, “Trash.”

“Okay, okay.”

“And check for your keys.”

“Ha ha.” Again, I was tired that day.

I shifted my eyes to her hands, still gripping the counter and repeated, “You okay?”

“I…haven’t pounded dough in forever.”

Her words were labored and breathy. She had been pounding away like an MFA fighter. Maybe that was it. Now I knew what I’d get her for Christmas—a stand mixer. Maybe that would encourage her to make mahamri more often and not break a sweat while doing it. I could do it, but I’d never gotten them right—soft and sweet but with a tinge of lemon and overwhelming taste of coconut. Mine usually came out too hard.

I lifted the bag and headed outside.

“And water my herbs for me.”

I huffed. I ought to have known going to the kitchen when Granma was there meant a one hundred percent chance I’d come out with a chore.

“Am I hearing you grumble?”

“No.”

“Good because that would be disrespectful to your elders.”

I held back the eye roll and made my way to the garbage bins. I dumped the trash and went to water her plants.

Granma had raised-bed planters for her herbs that Paul had made for her. The day he did it, Granma had prioritized keeping him company to watching her TV dramas even though she was religious about not missing episodes. Then there was that time Natalie had been over for their book club—they were the only two in the club, and they read one book a year, spent five minutes talking about how they didn’t get a chance to read it, and gossiped the rest of the time—and I overhead Granma describe Paul as a fine, fine man. Sure, there had been some wine involved, but still.

I winced when the scent of mint made me think of Scott. He loved mint-flavored ice cream and chewing mint-flavored bubblegum. I’d made it another week successfully avoiding him—thank you crowded hallways and different schedules. It was exhausting. I was constantly in flight mode. There had to be another way.

Apologize, a voice echoed in my mind. Apologize? As in, like, say sorry and stuff? Hmm.

Not that I hadn’t thought of it before, but how did people do that? The idea sounded foreign. Save for when I stepped on someone’s foot or bumped into them by accident; that was easy because they were accidents. Honest mistakes. What I had done had not been an honest mistake. So how did someone apologize for dumbness?

It was easier to stay clear of him, avoid any more drama, and focus on school.

If I ignored it maybe it would have no option but to magically—

“Eedy!” I paused, spooked by how she sounded—like a rusted engine trying and failing to come to life. As I put the watering can down, there was the sound of a body hitting the floor with a soft thud.

My heart leaped into my throat, and my stomach twisted with dread.

I rushed back to the house and found Granma lying on the floor—flat on her stomach and still as a rock. The world tilted and blurred together.

“Granma?” I said in a shaky whisper. I fell to my knees and with weak arms managed to turn her over. My breath caught at the sight of her. Her dark eyes were wide open, unfocused, and unblinking. A chill snaked down my back. I leaned down and felt her warm breath on my face. Oh, thank fuck.

I grabbed her hand and recoiled at its limpness. “Granma, are you okay?” Of course, she wasn’t okay.

She groaned.

“Tafadhali amka!” Please get up. I tried to pull her up and failed. Granma wasn’t small, and despite my size, I couldn’t get her to move. My pulse started to race and a heavy weight pressed down on my chest; breathing became difficult. I gasped for breath.

No. No. It would be alright.

“Musa?” she whispered roughly.

The hope I’d been holding on to sank somewhere to my toes. “No, Rasheed. Eedy.”

Musa was my babu’s name—my grandfather—a man we’d silently agreed to never speak of, ever. To Granma, saying his name was equal to calling on the devil, which wasn’t that far off from the truth.

I needed to call for help. She lay on the floor, immobile, her empty stare on me. I did not want to leave her. My eyes blurred. I stood on shaky feet and rushed to get my phone still buried under books from last night’s homework rush. My palms were sweaty enough it took a few swipes before I hit dial on the emergency contact. The person on the other end promised the ambulance would be coming soon.

I returned to crouch next to Granma and took her hand. She slurred something unintelligible that I failed to understand. “They’re coming.” I squeezed her hand.

She grumbled. It sounded like a mangled animal. I blinked to keep the tears from falling, but that only made them fall harder.

“It’s fine,” she slurred. Her hand twitched in mine.

It didn’t seem fine.

Last time she had ended up in hospital, it hadn’t been fine. Three weeks after I turned eight, and the world had turned upside down. I fought off the gnawing helplessness and tried to cling to positive thoughts. It would be alright.

Granma would be alright.

She didn’t really have a choice. She had her dramas waiting for her, Christmas was a few months away—Granma loved Christmas, all those sales and store decorations hyped her up—and I was going to graduate from high school.

My Review:
Rasheed is a Kenyan teenager living in the Dallas-area with his grandma, who has raised him. His mother is a filmmaker, and she’s been largely absent in his life, even before she got them out of Kenya. Grandma had been abused by her husband, and they had been in flight from his wrath before they were brought to the US. He’s always felt less than, because his mom never seemed to take an interest in him.

Rasheed is out to his grandma and friends, and has been for several years. It was the reason he pulled away from his close friendship with Adam Herman, a boy his own age and at his high school, for whom Rasheed had his first love. Adam is the fourth of six kids in a tight-knit family, with younger twin sisters and three older brothers. Adam’s mom and Rasheed’s grandma are good friends, and that is how he and Rasheed developed a friendship as children. When Rasheed’s grandma has a stroke the Herman’s take Rasheed in for a couple of nights, so he doesn’t have to be alone.

And, that was when his mom returned.

Rasheed’s world is in a tailspin, it seems, as he struggles with his fears over his grandma’s health, her deepening relationship with a local man called Paul, when his mom will take off again, and what’s up with his reconnection with Adam. The whole family seems to embrace Rasheed, and he’s grateful for the space and connection–what he’s been lacking at home. It’s a sweet story, with Rasheed being so awkward about most things, dodging an ex that he did wrong, and fearing the growing attraction that he feels for Adam–at least until Adam confesses his own secrets.

This is a YA romance and the physical affection between Rasheed and Adam is commensurate with the genre. It’s really a lot about figuring out the struggles and giving Rasheed the ability to mend relationships that should have been more strong to begin with. I love Rasheed, his cultural roots, and how he gains the strength to hold himself and others accountable for their actions. The Herman’s are an awesome family, and a great support, as is grandma and Rasheed’s other close friends: Mo and Peep. It’s a fun story and I loved it from start to finish.

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

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Aduma is an economics major at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, and the type of person who feels incomplete without a book in hand. When not reading or writing, Aduma can be found lost in spreadsheets and graphs with music for company.

You can catch up with them on twitter.

Now Available: WE GO TOGETHER–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m so excited to share a review and giveaway for a LGBTQ YA romance from Abigail de Niverville. EXPOSED features an innocent man marked for death, and the mysterious vigilante who saves him.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the giveaway!
About the book:
The beaches of Grand-Barachois had been Kat’s summer home for years. There, she created her own world with her “summer friends,” full of possibilities and free from expectation. But one summer, everything changed, and she ran from the life she’d created.

Now seventeen and on the brink of attending college, Kat is full of regret. She’s broken a friendship beyond repair, and she’s dated possibly the worst person in the world. Six months after their break-up, he still haunts her nightmares. Confused and scared, she returns to Grand-Barachois to sort out her feelings.

When she arrives, everything is different yet familiar. Some of her friends are right where she left them, while some are nowhere to be found. There are so many things they never got to do, so many words left unsaid.

And then there’s Tristan.

He wasn’t supposed to be there. He was just a guy from Kat’s youth orchestra days. When the two meet again, they become fast friends. Tristan has a few ideas to make this summer the best one yet. Together, they build a master list of all the things Kat and her friends wanted to do but never could. It’s finally time to live their wildest childhood dreams.

But the past won’t let Kat go. And while this may be a summer to remember, there’s so much she wants to forget.

How about a little taste?

There was blood on my sheets.

“Not again,” I sighed, pulling the covers off me. Right at the top of the covers was a smattering of reddish-brown smears, prominent and angry.

I held my arm over my head and assessed the damage. The eczema that covered my inner arm burned bright against my pale, freckled skin. A few sores had broken, but no trace of blood. I lifted the other arm to check. The back of my hand was also flaring up, the knuckles bursting open.

“Goddamn,” I moaned, pressing my broken knuckle to my lips. Kissing wouldn’t make it better, but at least it was something. Months ago, my skin had been smooth and cold to the touch. Now, it was red, dry, and hot. All because one thing in my life had changed. Skin was so weird.

One big thing. But still. One thing.

I dragged myself out of bed and pulled the sheet off the mattress. This needed some serious stain removal. No dabs of water with a washcloth could save this mess.

I passed a brush through my hair, working out the knots, from the top of my head to the tips. I never brushed it back. I never put it up. Not anymore. The box of hair accessories stayed closed on the top of my dresser, the bows I’d collected over the years forgotten.

They had to go. But parting with them proved difficult. Every time I tried, I’d remember where they came from. Some were gifts, some were bought on significant days, some I’d worn on nights that held meaning. They all mattered to me in some capacity. Not enough for me to wear them without question, but enough that I’d hesitated whenever I tried to throw them in a donation bag.

The hair bows weren’t me. They used to be. I used to love vintage dresses and paper bag curls tied in a bow. Used to get all dressed up in blouses with lace and frills. It was my thing, the ultra-girly retro aesthetic. But since Christmas, wearing those clothes hadn’t given me the same joy it used to. The bows became young and kiddish, the clothes a caricature.

I was trapped between two versions of myself, and I didn’t know how to cross over from one to the next. I didn’t know how.

The bedroom door creaked open as I stepped into the hall, the smooth, painted wooden floorboards cool on my feet. Kay always left the stair window open, though nights were cold in Grand-Barachois. She said the air was good for us, and there was something refreshing about waking up in a chilled room.

The bathroom window had also been left open, and I went to it to lower the pane. Below, the water from the bay lapped on the beach. The cool air sifted into the small bathroom and hit my face. I pushed the pane down so it was only open a crack and moved to turn on the water at the tub.

I opened the cupboard below the sink, grabbed the box of baking soda, and shook some in, not bothering to measure the amount. When a small mound formed under the water, I considered that a success. Swishing my hand back and forth, I watched it dissolve and cloud the water.

This was my morning routine.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I usually cried. It was hard to not, to let it all go. The love I’d had for him still lingered, but a hurt did too. An abandonment. And something else I couldn’t name yet, something that drove me to tears every day.

You need to move on.

My friend Gianna had told me that a few weeks ago, done with my pity party, with my lack of interest. Done trying to make me feel better. So, she snapped.

And who was I? What right did I have to be this upset, this…whatever? Gianna had had her heart broken three times. She had mastered the art of steeling herself, of being strong in the face of heartbreak. I was crying over a first love because I was naive enough to think we’d be together forever.

For the record, I never thought that.

I was crying because it hurt so much to be left the way Aaron had left me. Like I was nothing, and I didn’t matter. I was crying because he’d been nearly my first everything, and it had all happened the way he wanted it to. I was crying because…

Now, I was actually crying.

I slipped into the tub, holding my breath, as though that’d stop the tears. I splashed my face with water, rubbed it into my eyes. A melody hung in the air above me as I cried, the words repeating in my head over and over.

How did I end up here?

If you cried in the tub, were you really crying? Or was it water in your eyes? Or leftover soap on your hands making the tears well up?

If you cried in the tub, the water swallowed your tears. Like they were never there at all.

My Review:
Kay is an 18 year old out bisexual girl who is planning to leave her hometown for college in Toronto. She’s staying with her great-aunt Kay in a house near the beaches of New Brunswick, an area called Grand-Barachois, for this last summer before college. Kat has a long history of adventure and fun staying with Kay and catching up with old friends, it some of them are missing this summer, notably Reagan, with whom Kat shared her first kiss and realized she was attracted to women—for better or worse.

A new friend, Tristan, is playing a big role in the fledgling happiness building in Kat. Tristan is trans, but Kat has long admired him…especially while she struggled with her mixed feelings over her ex-boyfriend, Aaron. One thing the blurb doesn’t mention is Kay’s depression or anxiety surrounding her relationship with Aaron, who was an older man she met while performing in the musical theater chorus.

Kat was 16 then, and an innocent girl, shielded by her parents and friends from the ugliness and activity of life. Aaron preyed on her naïveté and their sexual relationship was not as consensual as Kat truly wishes. This summer, Kat is investigating her actions with Aaron over the course of their time together, and trying to determine if she was in an abusive, codependent relationship, and what that might mean for her new relationships going forward. She’s his so much of her feelings and truth away, she isn’t really sure if her hindsight is coloring her feelings, or if she is finally able to objectively understand the situation, now that Aaron is long gone. The time spent with Tristan, and her dearest childhood pal—who have all grown but are still kind and dear—is helping Kat heal and grow into an independent person for the first time in her life.

I really liked this story, and the bits of mystery surrounding the missing friends was a draw to keep on reading. Kay’s deep symptoms, panic attacks, night terrors, and general struggles to stay in the moment, hinted that PTSD was a real consequence of her experiences and her silence. Through small flashbacks and vignettes we learn how abusive Aaron was, and the strength Kat must develop to get past her trauma. I liked the story, but I felt the pacing was a little slow for me. Kat’s ruminations on Aaron felt repetitive at times, and it was frustrating that she refused to talk with anyone about it for so long.

There’s a tiny hint of romance here, with a low-key attraction simmering between Kat and Tristan. I loved Tristan, and all the beach pals really, and was glad to see Kat become the assertive and more confident girl she’d wished to be while spending time with them. It’s sweet, but serious, with real issues of consent and control that are dealt with in a thoughtful manner.

Interested? You can find WE GO TOGETHER on Goodreads and on Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Abigail de Niverville is an author and composer based in Toronto, Canada. Born on the East Coast of Canada, Abigail draws inspiration from her experiences growing up there. When she’s not writing frantically, she also composes music and holds an M.Mus from the University of Toronto.

Catch up with Abigail on her website, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest.

They are THE EXTRAORDINARIES–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing the love for a YA LGBTQ romance that’s out today from a long-time fave author, TJ Klune. I’ve mostly reviewed Klune’s paranormal Green Creek series (WOLFSONG, RAVENSONG, and HEARTSONG) on Joyfully Jay, but THE EXTRAORDINARIES I got for myself. I fell hard for BEAR, OTTER, AND THE KID years ago, and I pick up Klune’s books whenever I can, now.

About the book:
Some people are extraordinary. Some are just extra. TJ Klune’s YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is a queer coming-of-age story about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes he loves.

Nick Bell? Not extraordinary. But being the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom is a superpower, right?

After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, Nova City’s mightiest hero (and Nick’s biggest crush), Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’ll do it with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, Nick’s best friend (and maybe the love of his life).

My Review:
Nick Bell is a 16 year old out-gay boy who has a fierce group of queer friends. There’s Seth, who is likely gay but never dated anyone. He’s Nick’s oldest and dearest friend–Nick expects to spend a lifetime of friendship with Seth. Then, there’s Gibby, a take no crap baby butch black girl in her senior year. Gibby is in a committed relationship with Jazz, head cheerleader of their high school. And, Nick is sort-of friends with Owen, his rich and popular ex who relishes needling Seth.

Nick’s world is a little richer by virtue of true superheroes, dubbed “the Extraordinaries,” who save people with their superpowers. Nova City, where Nick lives, is home to Shadow Star, a superhero that can pull shadows to do his bidding, as well as his arch nemesis, Pyro Storm, who uses fire to wreak havoc. Nick is unabashedly crushing on Shadow Star, and has written literally hundreds of thousands of words in fanfic celebration of a possible love between Shadow Star and everyday boy “Nate Belen”. This mission and crush has helped lift Nick from the depression he suffered when his mother was tragically killed two years ago.

Nick’s dad is a cop and his only remaining family. They have a good relationship, but Nick struggles to connect with people in general due to his ADHD and neurodiverse situation. This is likely why he cannot see that Seth is actively pining for Nick–and it’s soon clear that Nick is missing the biggest secret in Nova City: he’s actually friends with the Extraordinaries that he idolizes.

Nick’s mission is to be normal at school, allaying his father’s fears for his future, but also to join the ranks of Extraordinaries, so he can:
1. get Shadow Star to fall in love with him, and
2. protect his dad from harm.
Much of the story is Nick strategizing hare-brained plans to unlock his Extraordinary potential. His awkwardness and complete obliviousness to reality is shake your head funny, but Nick isn’t the butt of jokes. His sincerity and desperation bring a gravitas to him, even when it’s clear that most everyone can see the bigger picture while Nick’s trapped in minutia.

Nick’s anxiety, depression and ADHD are a huge part of his character’s personality, and I really enjoyed the mental rollercoaster that Nick lived in. I felt how deeply it encompassed his worldview, and how frustrating it was to struggle with these hurdles minute-by-minute and pill by pill. Nick’s impulsive nature is further rattled when his dad gets injured while protecting people from the increasingly more dangerous battles between Shadow Star and Pyro Storm.

This is the first story in a series, and I seriously could not stop turning the pages. I was charmed and intrigued throughout, only slightly discombobulated by the fanfic opening. I adored Nick, and his narration is a masterstroke of YA voice. His one-sdied love afair with Shadow Star morphs into something much greater, and more satisfactory as he gains both knowledge and perspective. Expect some boys kissing!

We get some solid leads on the direction of the next story by well-placed clues about previous Extraordinaries that have disappeared, and the startling occurrences that shield Nick when Shadow Star and Pyro Storm are involved in battle. It’s a coming of age story, in many ways, but it’s also a coming to terms story, with Nick being a (lovable) petulant teen, confused why his dad now insists that Nick “leave the door open” when Seth visits his room. He clearly doesn’t get that they are only best pals! He’s also mortified by his dad’s “protection” demos involving items like bananas and vague threats of talks with his service pistol handy. There is so much awesomeness packed in this story, I can’t believe my iPad didn’t explode with cape-wearing kittens and chocolates filled with rainbow ganache.

I’d honestly read this story over and over, and highly recommend it to YA readers, and fans of superhero or LGBTQ stories. Like every Klune book I’ve ever read, I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel.

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

About the Author:
TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

You can catch up with TJ on his website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Land of Confusion for BOYS OF ALABAMA–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA romance with magical elements from Genevieve Hudson. BOYS OF ALABAMA features a German teen moving to rural Alabama where he discovers friendships and confides in the genderqueer witch-boy about his powers that heal the dead.

About the book:
In this bewitching debut novel, a sensitive teen, newly arrived in Alabama, falls in love, questions his faith, and navigates a strange power. While his German parents don’t know what to make of a South pining for the past, shy Max thrives in the thick heat. Taken in by the football team, he learns how to catch a spiraling ball, how to point a gun, and how to hide his innermost secrets.

Max already expects some of the raucous behavior of his new, American friends—like their insatiable hunger for the fried and cheesy, and their locker room talk about girls. But he doesn’t expect the comradery—or how quickly he would be welcomed into their world of basement beer drinking. In his new canvas pants and thickening muscles, Max feels like he’s “playing dress-up.” That is until he meets Pan, the school “witch,” in Physics class: “Pan in his all black. Pan with his goth choker and the gel that made his hair go straight up.” Suddenly, Max feels seen, and the pair embarks on a consuming relationship: Max tells Pan about his supernatural powers, and Pan tells Max about the snake poison initiations of the local church. The boys, however, aren’t sure whose past is darker, and what is more frightening—their true selves, or staying true in Alabama.

Writing in verdant and visceral prose that builds to a shocking conclusion, Genevieve Hudson “brilliantly reinvents the Southern Gothic, mapping queer love in a land where God, guns, and football are king” (Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks). Boys of Alabama becomes a nuanced portrait of masculinity, religion, immigration, and the adolescent pressures that require total conformity.

My Review:
Max is a sophomore in high school, so about 15 or 16 and his father has moved him and his mother to a tiny Alabama town. Max is looking fro a fresh start after losing his best friend and love of his life, Nils, to disease. Max has a secret power to raise dead things back to life–plant or animal–and he feels torn by guilt that he never tried to resurect Nils–and fears he may have accidentally done this just before Nils was buried.

Max is a fast runner and he gets recruited to the football team of his small private high school, God’s Way. The team and their friends are especially holy, Lorne’s father the Judge is a prophet of sorts. Max doesn’t understand the subtext, but there’s talk about giving over sins and using snake venom or rat poison to purify the spirit. There’s a huge current of “Jesus saves” and God-loving, which clashes with teenaged binge-drinking and what seems to be non-consensual sex perpetrated on the MC by his friend and fellow teammate. Max is both captivated by, and scared of, Pan the genderqueer witch of town. Pan discovers Max’s power and serves as a confidante for Max, and his soft place to land when he needs one. Pan is a tentative sexual partner for Max and at least one other boy, it seems.

The prose is odd with nary a quotation mark to be found. It took a while for me to become accustomed to this. It is lilting and lyrical, told through Max’s confused point of view, struggling to code-switch between his German roots and the Americana tableau of Alabama southern pride, guns, God, and football. It’s the first time Max is seen as a boy worthy of friendship, his oddity is his foreignness, not his powers which he has fought to hide for years. Just as he’s fitting in, he’s giving away the only part of him that’s special and unique, and that seems a pretty hefty metaphor. The end trauma is a hate crime–and it’s brutally couched in trying to “save” a friend’s immortal soul. I’m pretty sure that’s what parents who send their kids to conversion therapy think, too. The snake-charming, possible poisonings were true cult action, and it seemed virtually no one was speaking out. There are only a few people who talk sense in the story, and they are relegated to the outer edges and diminished as accessory, or occult. Max venerates cultists and whack-jobs because they want him to belong to their arcane secret society. It’s a dangerous paradigm that Max falls prey to, and Instead of calling it out, the end falls completely flat. It’s written to be a Southern gothic, but the story landed off the mark to me.

Interested? You can find BOYS OF ALABAMA on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. I read a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
You can find Genevieve Hudson online on their website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Learning WHY CAN’T FRESHMAN SUMMER 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 FRESHMAN SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA? is the second book in the Pizza Chronicles and features a high school freshman questioning his ethnic heritage, his friendships and his sexuality. I adored WHY CAN’T LIFE BE LIKE PIZZA? and I highly recommend reading it first.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to get in on the $10 GC giveaway!
About the book:
RV, having successfully completed his freshman year at the demanding Boston Latin School, is hoping for a great summer. He’s now fifteen years old and looking forward to sharing many languid summer days with his friend Bobby, who’s told him he has gay feelings too. But life and family and duties for a son of immigrant parents makes it difficult to steal time away with Bobby.

Bobby, too, has pressures. He spends part of the summer away at football camp, and his father pushes him to work a summer job at a friend’s accounting firm. Bobby takes the job grudgingly, wanting to spend any extra time practicing the necessary skills to make Latin’s varsity football team.

On top of everything, RV’s best friend Carole goes away for the summer, jumping at an opportunity to spend it with her father in Paris. Luckily, there is always Mr. Aniso, RV’s Latin teacher, to talk to whenever RV is lonely. He’s also there for RV when he inadvertently spills one of Bobby’s secrets, and Bobby is so angry RV is afraid he is ready to cut off the friendship.

How about a taste?

Chapter One—Summer Solstice
I used to love summer. The long, languid days. No school. No homework. Sleeping late. Going to the beach. Staying out later in the evenings and watching the sun set over the hills into the darkening glow of the horizon.

Wow. Am I starting to sound like a poet or just a pretentious a-hole? What’s wrong with the paragraph I just wrote? There are no pretentious words in it, are there? Well, maybe “languid” is. I like “languid.” I don’t know where I picked it up, but I think it perfectly describes summer. Where everything is a little more s-l-l-o-o-w-w-w and easygoing. Where life seems good and there’s no homework. Yup, I’ll stick with languid. Hey, there has to be a benefit to liking words the way I do. I’m not just a nerd, but a poetic nerd.

Ha ha ha. Maybe it has something to do with being bilingual. I never used to think about it much before, but I guess I am officially bilingual. Talking Lithuanian at home. English in the outside world. Just kind of always accepted it, didn’t I? But I wonder what speaking two languages does to someone. Kind of like being split into two people. My Lith life and my English life. Are there really two people inside me? Scary thought. One of me is bad enough.

Luckily, Bobby Marshall doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, so why should I be?

Ahh, Bobby Marshall. I still can’t believe we’re friends. Or should I say “special friends”? I’m still afraid to even think about it. Me, RV Aleksandravičius—nerd extraordinaire, spawn of Lithuanian immigrants, word lover, nervous worrywuss, possible gay person—friends with one of the biggest jocks in school. The world truly is an amazing place.

But, as I was saying, I used to love summer. That was before I had to work. This summer I’ll be toiling away like the rest of humanity. And I’m not just talking about working with the Computer Fix-It company I started last year with Carole. That business has been kind of rocky lately. I’ll blame it on the bad economy, since everyone always blames everything on a bad economy.

No, I’m working at my first real job. I turned fifteen last week. I used to love my birthdays. The end of school. The start of summer. But not anymore. Dad has a friend at work, Mr. Timmons, whose brother, Ed, owns a garage and gas station. Dad was talking to him and lo and behold (another pretentious choice of words?), Mr. Timmons told him his brother was looking for someone to help with chores around the place. Since I’m not sixteen yet, I’m not supposed to work in the garage itself. But I can dispense gas and work around the store that Ed has attached to the garage. Nothing heavy duty, Mr. Timmons said. Ed just needs someone fifteen to twenty hours a week helping in the store and cleaning around the place. A great way to earn a little pocket money.

Fifteen to twenty hours! Dad, bless his parental heart, volunteered me. Said it was a great way to learn about “real” life. And to “round out my skills.” What, my skills are too flat or something? But Dad doesn’t stop. “Too much time with your nose in a book isn’t healthy.” “Develop some skills.” “A young man needs more than book learning.” On and on and on. Says it in the Mother Tongue, of course, but that’s how it translates into English.

Except it sounds more serious in Lithuanian. “Per daug laiko praleidi su nosim knygose.” “Išmok ką nors naudingo.” “Jaunam vyrui ne tik knygos naudingos.” Wonder why that is. Because it’s what we talk at home? Our “real” language? To Mom and Dad, English sure isn’t real. Even though they speak it, Mom much better than Dad. What is real to me, then?

Oh, well. In whatever language, I think Dad wants to have a macho son like the other guys at work brag about. Well, sorry, Dad, not all of us can be macho. And not all of us can be like Bobby Marshall either. A jock. Smart. And nice. Yeah, nice. He likes me. I still can’t believe it sometimes. He says I’m fine the way I am. Okay, Bobby, if you say so. I’ll believe you. I have to believe you. Have to believe someone likes me the way I am.

Oh, RV, stop feeling sorry for yourself. There are people who like you besides Bobby. Mom, for example, though Mom doesn’t really count because moms usually love their kids no matter how screwed up they are. But then there’s Mr. Aniso, my Latin teacher last year. Good old Mr. Aniso. He’s been great, especially when I’ve told him my worries about being gay. We’re becoming real friends. But he’s an adult. Adults only go so far for a kid. We need our peers to like us.

So what about Carole? You’ve gone through a lot with her, RV, and she’s still sticking by you. Yeah, that’s true. She’s a good egg. No, a great egg! I love you, Carole Higginbottom!

And what about Ray? Brothers are usually close, aren’t they? But not Ray and I. Too bad. He’s just off in another world. I’m sure he thinks it’s a cooler world than the one his nerdy older brother inhabits.

So there’s Bobby. He’s a guy. A regular guy. Something I’ve always wanted to be, but will never be, alas! (Another one of those words! Where are all these pretentious words coming from?). Anyway, if Bobby really likes me that would be amazing. I still can’t believe it happened.

There I am thinking about him again. But that’s okay, right? I mean, after all, we kissed and everything.

!!$$#*&!! Did I just write that? Yes. GET OVER YOURSELF, RV! YOU KISSED A GUY AND YOU LIKED IT. What’s wrong with that? You’re not hearing thunder from heaven, are you? This computer isn’t blowing up because you wrote those words, is it? So you might be gay. Chill out. Or you might be bi. After all, you enjoyed making out with Carole until she started falling for that zit-faced Tim— Whoa! Whoa!

I have to stop worrying about everything. Maybe Dad’s right. Maybe too much time on the keyboard, writing down my thoughts, isn’t good. But I like keeping this journal. Helps me sort things out. When Mom and Dad gave me this computer they said they wanted me to make good use of it. I think I have. Maybe not the way they’d want me to, but I think they’d be proud of me for writing so much. And I kept it up all school year. That’s good, isn’t it? Even if Mom and Dad would be shocked at some of the stuff I wrote here. I hope I keep up the writing during the summer. After all, I should have more time in summer, even if those languid days are cut by fifteen to twenty hours a week.

My Review:
This is the second book in a series and I’m going to sum up a bit of stuff that many be spoiler-y if you haven’t read the first book.

Arvydas “RV” …… (sorry I don’t have the tenacity to write his last name) is the eldest son of Lithuanian ex-pats living on green cards in Boston. RV’s parents have worked hard for their modest American existence; it’s not the American Dream they had envisioned upon emigration. They are up for citizenship, if they can pass their tests, but RV’s dad is a bit sour on the idea. RV also struggles to connect with his younger brother Ray, who seems like a “cool kid” while RV is an avowed dweeb and total book scholar.

It’s the summer following RV’s freshmen year at the prestigious Boston Latin School. RV is a real scholar and thinker, and he’s a bit nerdy if he does say so himself. He struggles to fit into his Lithuanian role, and he doesn’t fit in well at school. He has two good friends: Carole who was his first girlfriend, and Bobby who is somewhat of a boyfriend. Bobby had asked RV for tutoring help in the first book, but they both feel an attraction that leads to discussing their fluid sexuality. Bobby thinks he’s gay, but he doesn’t want ANYONE to know. RV struggles to understand his sexuality, but he’s thinking he’s gay because he’s really generally attracted to men. He worked on these ideas while visiting his dear Latin teacher, Mr. Aniso in the hospital last winter. Mr. Aniso is clearly gay, and was brutally bashed one weekend. Their mentor-friendship has grown over the course of the summer when RV has felt more and more isolated. Carole is in Paris with her dad, a military man with a new appointment, and Bobby spends more and more time at football camp.

Bobby is black, Mr. Aniso is gay, and RV is the child of immigrants, and potentially gay–or bisexual. They each experience prejudice in their lives and RV documents this with the kind of unflinching honesty only a confused child can bring. Mr. Aniso and Bobby both agree that RV is innocent, but in different ways. Mr. Aniso affirms RV’s goodness and willingness to see the best in people, and Bobby is a little on the pressuring side, willing to explore their sexuality in a way that’s a bit too fast for Bobby.

I really liked the side characters here, even Ed, the garage and gas station owner that RV works for. Ed is without question the embodiment of white American male supremacy, but RV is able to talk to him in ways that diffuse his inherent racism. He’s a product of his environment like many unacknowledged racists, and RV is able to shift his bigoted paradigm. RV also grows the strength to stand up for his family, and his feelings, once he figures out the depth of them.

This 15 year old’s digital journal is the meat of the story, and RV’s private thoughts really cut to the heart of racism and prejudice over several classes. In a time when there is heightened awareness of the institutional racism and racial inequity in America, RV’s insight is a welcome call out for people to just be more human, and understand that their personal experiences does NOT invalidate the injustices experienced by others.

I adore RV and will follow him on his quest for truth, justice and the American experience. Trigger warning for incidences of gang behavior, teen drug use, and a shooting.

Interested? You can find WHY CAN’T FRESHMAN SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA? on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo. 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.

Figuring Out That SCARLET GAZE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA M/M romance with magical elements from Foster Bridget Cassidy. SCARLET GAZE features a boy following a cryptic vision to a college where he’s astounded to learn he can wield magic. If only he can use it to save his boyfriend…

About the book:
After a paranormal encounter in his youth with someone from his future, Collin Frey sets his sights on getting to Marke Staple University. Now eighteen and with a full scholarship to the prestigious university, Collin hopes to find an explanation to that life-changing event. Unfortunately, it only leads to more questions.

Finding out he’s there to study magic is the first surprise. The second is his roommate, Terrence, looks identical to the person who started him on the path to Marke Staple.

Collin’s more than willing to sell his soul to get closer to Terrence and uncover all the secrets hidden there. Can knowing a man will change after making a horrible mistake ease the pain of betrayal? Collin is going to find out.

My Review:
Collin Frey has an encounter at the age of 11 or 12 that determines his life path going forward. While on a skiing trip with his family, Collin meets a sobbing man with shining red eyes he doesn’t know, yet who seems to know Collin intimately. This man begs Collin’s forgiveness, and has a gold coin minted with Collin’s name and face on it’s front and “Marke Staple University” on the reverse. He cannot forget the pain in that man’s scarlet gaze, and it drives Collin not only to discover this tiny, private, British university, but to study his booty off and get a full scholarship.

Collin’s also one of only five first year students admitted to the prestigious literature program at Marke Staple. Every student not in the literature program is a business major, like Collin’s roommate, Terrence, who IS the man from Collin’s youthful vision. He’s not sure if he should tell Terrance of their meeting years ago, or if Terrence will think he’s insane. Terrence doesn’t have shining red eyes, and he’s avid about getting to know–and maybe shag–Collin. Terrence is also the son of Collin’s Dean of students–and Collin soon learns that all the literature students and teachers possess magic–including himself. Most of the students in the business program are rudimentary practitioners, but Terrence has a lot of innate talent. He was banished from using his magic years before when he tried to summon a demon in a fit of pique. When a practitioner allies with a demon, their vision goes red–so Collin knows this must be what happens before Terrence goes back in time to meet his child-self.

Collin doesn’t know how to manage the magical world, but the instructors are very sympathetic. His cohort are nice enough, though they wonder how Collin got admitted without knowing he was magically-talented. Collin’s mission is now two-fold. To keep Terrence from making whatever mistake leaves him demon-possessed, and to figure out his talent in magic. Meanwhile, he’s falling steadily for Terrence, who’s bravado is all subterfuge to hide the pain of his youth, his estrangement from his father and his deep longing for connection. And…a little bit of delusions of grandeur. Collin’s talent seems to be in teleportation, a rare gift, and he’s wondering if he can teleport both space and time. He practices the space dimension, using the newly minted pure-gold coins that help practitioners harness and focus their magical abilities. He isn’t allowed to, but he takes Terrence on his teleporting forays. He even teaches Terrence how to teleport, and helps Terrence research how to seek the help of a demon, hoping that he can convince Terrence it’s the worst possible idea. He give Terrence all the rope he needs to hang himself, praying that he will use it to climb back from the abyss he’s manifesting.

This is an interesting romance, with lots of fantastic magical elements. Some of it felt a little convenient, and I wondered if Collin was simply the most gullible man in Great Britain the way he gave all his secrets away. His faith in Terence is almost unbelievable, but I think the most interesting piece of all of this was the connections that Collin made with his cohort and professors–people who wanted to help him save Terrence from himself and his unyielding ambition. There’s a decent amount of family drama, too, with all these high-flying magical teens having very prestigious families and uber high expectations. The way they all leaned on one another was fresh and engaging. For me, I was entertained, and enjoyed how the magical elements worked. I’m a big fan of Harry Potter, so this one scratched that M/M romance + magic + college life itch. It has a little bit of sexytimes, but not overwhelming for an upper YA/New Adult read.

Interested? You can find SCARLET GAZE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo. I read a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
FOSTER BRIDGET CASSIDY is a rare, native Phoenician who enjoys hot desert air and likes to wear jackets in summer. She has wanted to be a fiction writer since becoming addicted to epic fantasy during high school. Since then, she’s studied the craft academically—at Arizona State University—and as a hobby—attending conventions and workshops around the country. A million ideas float in her head, but it seems like there’s never enough time to get them all down on paper.

Her main support comes from her husband, who reminds her to laugh. Mostly at herself. Their partnership may be difficult to grasp when viewed from the outside, but seen from the inside they are a perfect match. He’s helped her though surgeries and sicknesses and is always willing to wash her hair when she can’t do it on her own.

Their children have four legs and fur and will bite them on occasion. One snores loudly.

For fun, Foster likes to take pictures of her dachshunds, sew costumes for her dachshunds, snuggle her dachshunds, and bake treats for her dachshunds. In exchange for so much love and devotion, they pee vast amounts on the floor, click their nails loudly on the tile, and bark wildly at anything that moves outside. Somehow, this relationship works for all involved.

While not writing, Foster can usually be found playing a video game or watching a movie with her husband. While not doing any of those things, Foster can usually be found in bed, asleep.

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Infatuated With HOW TO QUIT YOUR CRUSH–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA romance from Amy Fellner Dominy. HOW TO QUIT YOUR CRUSH features an adopted girl striving for perfection, and a boy grieving the loss of his dad planning a memorial quest. And the summer after graduation can start, just as soon as they get over one another…

About the book:
Mai Senn knows Anthony Adams is no good for her – no matter how hard she might crush on him. She’s valedictorian; he’s a surf bum. She’s got plans, he’s got his art. Complete opposites in every way. Vinegar and baking soda, they once joked. A chemical reaction that bubbled.

Yeah, they bubbled. Maybe still do.

Good thing Anthony’s got the perfect plan: two weeks to prove just how not good they are together. Whoever can come up with the worst date—something the other will seriously hate, proving how incompatible they truly are—wins.

Like taking a snake-phobe to the Reptile House at the zoo (his idea).

Or a cooking class where they don’t even get to eat the food (her idea).

It’s all about the competition, and it’s meant to help them finally crush their crushes. But it wasn’t supposed to be so hot. Or so fun. And when Mai’s future becomes at stake, will she be able to do the right thing and quit Anthony forever?

My Review:
Maya “Mai” Senn is the valedictorian of her Phoenix-area high school. She was adopted by two high-flying parents, people who are highly educated and want their children to be highly educated as well. Mai’s older brother was also a valedictorian and attends an ivy league college out east. Mai is accepted to a prestigious college in California, and has a great summer research internship all lined up to being in a few weeks. First, she’s going to spend two weeks grooming a trail in the Phoenix area as part of her parents’ philanthropy. Oh, and she’s also going to get over the baseball jock that she inexplicably connected with during spring break. To Mai’s mixed feelings Grant, a family friend she’s had feelings for off and on, has joined her work crew. Grant is getting over the break up of a long-term relationship, but he and his girlfriend are going in different directions. It’s smart to break up now, right?

Anthony Adams watched his dad die of cancer in his sophomore year. Since then, he’s stopped trying to really connect with people, or plan out his future. Why, when that future could easily be dashed by illness or injury. Better to go with the flow. He has friendships, especially with his teammates, so it’s really odd how drawn he was to Mai back in spring break. Their connection was short-lived though. Mai broke it off, knowing that Anthony was not the kind o boy her parents would accept. And now, with the end of school Anthony’s only mission is to make a biking pilgrimage to the campsites his dad had wanted make in the years prior to his death. Anthony is planning to take his bike, and his dad’s ashes, and find the right place to leave the ashes. Instead of heading right out, though, Anthony makes the impetuous decision to join Mai’s work crew just to spend some time with her. And, Mai’s mad.

Mai is a girl who has planned out her whole life based on her family’s high expectations. She lives in fear of getting lost, and being left behind–in part due to a traumatic experience as a child, and in part because of insecurity due to being an adopted child. Anthony refused to plan much beyond the next few days or weeks. He’s an artist, using recycled and reclaimed bits and turning them into sculpture is one way to pass his time. It’s not like it’s a lucrative skill, right. They are complete opposites, so why does stepping away feel so hard? Mai decides they need a plan to get over one another. Over the course of the two weeks they remain in the area they will meet at the library parking lot–because Mai’s parents think she’s going to study in advance of her summer research internship–and go on dates that are sure to be terrible. They won’t tell anyone, and they surely won’t kiss. They should be over one another in no time…

Except they aren’t. And their perfectly planned “terrible dates” get them deeper into one another than before. Mai’s parents keep pushing her to connect with Grant, and don’t understand why she won’t. Anthony is a force of his own, and instead of pulling away, he wants to pull Mai closer. Two weeks might not be enough time for Mai and Anthony to quit this crush.

I really liked this romance. It’s sweet and sassy. Neither Mai nor Anthony can figure out why they can’t move on, but they can’t. They get jealous, and they make impetuous choices. Like sneaking around and confessing their deepest secrets. Their bond strengthens and soon enough they are changing plans, or making plans to keep seeing one another. The vulnerability they both show, plus the hard conversations they make with their parents. Mai especially had a lot of difficult conversations that she floundered through, In the end, she made things right–but not before she made things bad between herself and Anthony. This story is a bit coming-of-age, and I liked how Mai finally got past her fears of abandonment, which fed her untenable perfection complex. Anthony learned that not thinking about his future was a way of closing off his life, not living it. Anthony was an easier character to like straightaway, but Mai was definitely sympathetic under her prickly exterior.

Interested? You can find HOW TO QUIT YOUR CRUSH on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo. I read a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Hi! I’m the author of novels for teens and tweens as well as picture books for toddlers. I love writing stories that will make you laugh, sigh, swoon…and if I break your heart I promise to patch it up by the end. 🙂 Coming May 4th in YA Romance, the follow-up to Announcing Trouble: HOW TO QUIT YOUR CRUSH. May the worst date win!

I live and sweat in Phoenix, Arizona with my hubby and a puppy who is training us.

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!