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

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

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

About the book:

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

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

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

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

How about a yummy taste?

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

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

I was ready.

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

Nothing to do now but wait for Tyler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your folks get off okay?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

Let The Love Continue ALL NOTE LONG–Review & Giveaway!

All Note Long Blitz BannerHi there! I’m so excited to share in the release day hoopla for a fantastic new contemporary M/M romance from Annabeth Albert. ALL NOTE LONG is a sweet and tender “fake boyfriend” romance which suddenly melds into the real thing. #Swoon! While this follows TREBLE MAKER and LOVE ME TENOR, ALL NOTE LONG can be fully enjoyed on its own.

Be sure to drop below and check out the excerpt, review, and $20 GC giveaway!

All Note Long (Perfect Harmony, #3)About the book:
Giving true love a spin . . .
Michelin Moses is a country music star on the rise. With a hit single under his Texas-sized belt buckle and a sold-out concert tour underway, his childhood dreams of making it big are finally coming true. But there’s one thing missing—a promise to his dying mother that he’d find it—him—when the time was right. With a little luck, he won’t have to wait too long . . .

Lucky Ramirez is a hunky boy toy who dances at The Broom Closet, one of West Hollywood’s hottest gay bars. He loves what he does, and he’s good at it—almost as good as he is at playing dumb when he spots Michelin Moses at the bar. What happens next is off the charts—and keeps Michelin coming back for more. He’s just not sure it’s the right move for his career. But if Lucky gets his way, Michelin will get Lucky—and no matter how the media spins it, neither of them will be faking it . . .

How about a delicious taste?

Michelin Moses had no business at a gay bar, especially not one as notorious as West Hollywood’s The Broom Closet. And the line to get in totally underscored that—the vestibule was a long, narrow tunnel filled with kids out to enjoy their Friday night. Babies, really. Fresh-faced young things who probably didn’t even need to shave jostled one another in the tight space, laughing and joking as they admired one another’s club wear and gossiped about who was fucking who.

Not that Michelin was listening in, but the space was so tiny it was hard not to. He didn’t have club wear to ogle. He had “please for the love of God don’t notice me” clothes. And the idea of openly pointing to another dude in line and announcing to one’s friends, “Oh yeah, I hit that last weekend” was so totally foreign that he couldn’t help but gape a bit. The plexiglass walls of the tunnel gave off weird shadows—neither the lights outside the club nor the dim track lighting along the bottom edge of the tunnel were enough illumination.

He tugged at the collar of his Henley shirt. Damn, it was hot in here. Too small. Too tight. Not enough air. Shut up. He was not claustrophobic. If this line ever moved, he’d feel better once he was inside the Closet.

If that’s not a metaphor for your whole damn life…

“ID please.” Finally, the line reached the bouncers who were taking ID. Michelin couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had to stand around like this, show ID. At least unlike these nineteen-year-olds with their fake identification, Michelin’s Oregon driver’s license was likely to hold up. The bouncer was a huge guy—so tall and jacked that Michelin felt for the tiny stool that held him up—with surprisingly small, delicate hands.

He held the card aloft before finally handing it back and nodding. “Okay, cowboy. Enjoy your night.”

At least he hadn’t laughed outright at the name. That was something. Shoving his license back in his wallet, he stumbled a bit coming out of the tunnel.

“Watch it,” someone barked behind him.

“Sorry,” Michelin mumbled. Hell, he couldn’t even successfully enter the Closet. A nervous laugh bubbled up in his throat, something he stamped right back down. Forget the stupid bar, coming out of his personal closet was out of the question, and he didn’t need the crowd jostling behind him to remind him of that.

“This your first time here?” a kid to the left of him asked—short little guy with far more bravado than brains. Michelin made a noncommittal response but the kid grabbed his sleeve, his eyes going soft and hooded. “How about you be my daddy for the night? We can make sure it’s your lucky night.” The kid winked.

Ugh. Getting lucky wasn’t even remotely in the cards for his night.

“No thanks.” He pulled away from the kid, scanning the cavernous space for signs of the private party room his friends had promised. And oh holy hell, knowing in the abstract that this place had go-go dancers was a far cry from actually seeing said dancers dispersed through the place on platforms and in cages and even on something resembling a trapeze. Gleaming bronze skin and tiny shorts everywhere he looked.

Fuck the private room. I need a soda. Something to relieve his suddenly parched throat. He turned toward the main bar area and ran smack into one of the elevated dancers’ platforms.  Two platforms flanked the opening of the club, directing the stream of traffic toward the bar, sort of like how a different sort of place might have large statues. Only instead of works of stone or ice, this…piece of art in front of Michelin was all man.

And what a specimen he was. The dancer probably wasn’t much older than the kids waiting to get into the club, but there was nothing juvenile about his tall, ripped body or that juicy bubble butt that he worked to perfection the way Michelin’s guitar player did a solo—each muscle working in concert with the others, each wiggle carefully choreographed for maximum appeal. Said butt was encased in a pair of shorts. Or at least Michelin guessed that one would call them shorts—they were longer than underwear, but not by much, and made of a clingy, silky red material. The stitching did things to the guy’s package that shouldn’t be legal.

Those muscular legs and that smooth, oiled chest also needed outlawing. The dancer had completed his look with thick, chunky combat boots, sunglasses, and a necklace with a medal on it. The boots and glasses upped the hotness factor to supernova, giving him an untouchable appeal that made it no surprise that he had a fair-sized crowd around his platform. Right as Michelin completed his muscle-by-muscle catalog of the guy, the dancer’s glasses slipped, revealing chocolaty eyes. His eyebrows went up, and the message he sent Michelin was unmistakable: You gonna stay there all night?

Oh fuck. Michelin was blocking the line of traffic, and more important, blocking access to the platform for the patrons who wanted to slip tips in the guy’s waistband.

Should he? He shoved a hand in his pocket, considering. Did he dare risk touching a piece of that gleaming skin? The lights reflecting off the dancer’s body totally made Michelin think of caramel dripping off flan—rich golden tones only enhanced by the contrast of the shiny black combat boots and his closely cropped black hair.

What the fuck was the protocol in a situation like this? Hi, I’m sorry I’ve been eye-fucking you for the last ten minutes, here’s a five? He’d never been to a straight strip club either. Hell, he avoided most bars like the plague. And eye-fucking? He never ogled—and not just because it could be disastrous to his career. Most of the time he simply felt oblivious, but something about the dancer perked up parts of Michelin that usually stayed dormant. Two people shoved around him to stuff money in the dancer’s shorts, their arms trapping Michelin briefly in place. Coming here had been a giant mistake, just as Gloria had warned him.

“You can’t go to that party! Gossip is already high about you mentoring two gay groups—”

“They’re not gay groups. They just happen to have gay members,” Michelin said wearily, already tired of this latest publicist the label had shoved at him.

“Whatever.” Gloria flipped her bony wrist. “They’re a risk you can’t take right now.”

“It’s no big deal. There will be straight people at the party.” Michelin didn’t bother with the “other straight people” pretext. Gloria knew the drill. “There’s no risk in celebrating a friend’s birthday.”

Except now, looking at the dancer, Michelin knew how wrong he’d been. This place was risk personified, and that dancer was the embodiment of everything Michelin denied himself. The dancer was a triple pour of top-shelf whiskey and Michelin couldn’t stop thinking about the heady rush touching him would bring. He should turn around now. Get back to his car now before he really embarrassed himself—

“Mi—boss! There you are!”

Oh thank you, small mercies, that Lucas stopped himself before he said Michelin’s name. Still, Michelin turned toward him warily. Play it cool, he tried to tell Lucas with his eyes.

Lucas nodded, just slightly. Message received. Like everyone else in the club, Lucas was in his early twenties and about a decade younger than Michelin, but at least he was one of Michelin’s favorite kids, especially because he was here to lead Michelin away from the temptation that was the dancer with the sculpture-worthy ass.

“The party room is back this way.” Lucas motioned with his hand. “Follow me.”

“Babe!” A familiar rangy figure with a punk haircut draped himself over Lucas. “You found him.” Cody had a smile for Michelin, but his affection was all for his boyfriend.

Ordinarily, Michelin loved being around the two of them and the other guys he mentored. Their energy was infectious, and their passion for music renewed his own.  But tonight, Michelin’s stomach cramped as he followed the two of them to the rear of the club. Happiness practically rolled off them and their movements were totally in sync with each other. Once Michelin had thought he might get to know what that was like, but those days were long past.

“Don’t even think about doing anything now. You’ve got too much riding on this year. Don’t be foolish. You’ve got the number one country song in America right now. Don’t mess with your momentum.”  Gloria’s voice rang in his ears. Nope. No way was Michelin ever getting what his friends shared. No sense in pining for it either. He had a career he loved, friends who made him laugh, and family at his back. He’d known what the trade-offs were when he decided to trade his rock stardom for country crossover success.

Tonight’s strange melancholy mood had him aching to get back home, push all these feelings into working on a new song. With any luck, Michelin could say happy birthday to Jalen, make a round of greetings to the other musicians he was mentoring, and get the hell out of Dodge. Preferably without running into the dancer again. He didn’t need another reminder of how little he fit into this world—or how much he wished life were a bit different.

My Review:
4.5 Stars for this contemporary M/M rock romance.
This is the third book in a series but can be read as a standalone.

Michelin Moses is a rocker-turned-country singer. He’s in his late 30s and hardly ever been kissed. Yes, for realz. He’s a closeted gay man, who is also demi-sexual. That one falls under the Ace spectrum. In short, he’s generally only able to be sexually active with people with whom he shares an emotional connection.

While attending a birthday party for one of his proteges, Michelin finds himself seeking connection to one of the go-go dancers, Lucky, who is actually quite polite to him. Their interaction soon balloons into a gigantic mess that outs Michelin. Part of the damage control involves getting Lucky to pose as Michelin’s boyfriend–and that’s super awkward because Lucky is out-and-proud, loud on the YouTube, while Michelin is a veritable hermit.

The aftermath is not pretty. Michelin is attacked by the country music machine for being less than wholesome, and he fears his new record will be canned, panned and banned. It’s a heartbreaking experience for him. In the meantime, Lucky is a steady support. He makes it very clear that he will accept nothing from Michelin–he’s been burned by rich men in the past–and he puts up the most believable front of “true love” as could be conjured by the PR spin doctors.

I really liked Lucky because he was kind and compassionate, for the most part. He saw how difficult all of this was and kept his own emotions in check. Lucky’s world was tipped sideways too, and whatever notoriety he may have gained from publicly dating Michelin won’t actually pay the rent, or get him into the Vegas reviews he longs to dance in. Michelin soon forms the connection he needs with Lucky, it’s impossible given their close quarters, but just when he’s actually ready to embrace Lucky as his second gay (or any) lover, he gets more bad news from his record label.

Expect some really emotionally frustrating experiences for Michelin. He’s a man all about his music, and having his professional life ripped apart because of his personal life is essentially soul crushing. He doesn’t want to be the Gay Country Singer, he just wants to be A Country Singer, but he soon realizes that he really has no control over his perception by others. I could respect his feelings on being a standard bearer; not everyone is capable of shouldering those expectations. I could also relate to his private self and public persona, and how those two people were very different. It was good that Lucky wasn’t an opportunistic jerk, and I really loved how he grounded Michelin, in many ways, but most of all affectionate touch. What a balm to Michelin’s soul to have Lucky at his side.

The end is a giant grand gesture sort that definitely had the tears filling my eyes. The sexy sexplorations that Lucky guides Michelin through were my fave combo of sweet and hot. It looks as if we’re poised for another book in this series, and this time the MC seems to be a guy we won’t immediately like. I’m eager to continue in this world of music and steamy man love.

Interested? You can find ALL NOTE LONG on Goodreads, Kensington Books, Amazon (US & UK), Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Google Play, and Kobo. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $20 GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

Annabeth Albert avatarAbout the Author:
Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter. In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two children. Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency.

Find Annabeth online on her website, Goodreads, twitter and Facebook.
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