Finding Family THE EDGE OF THE WORLD–An Audiobook Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing an audiobook review for a contemporary M/M romance from Garrett Leigh. THE EDGE OF THE WORLD connects an rocker and a filmographer in the hunt for one’s heredity. I recently reviewed KISS ME AGAIN, which is performed by the same narrator. I thought this story would be a great kick-off to a string of rock-romance reviews.

About the book:
Shay Maloney is living his dream—on tour with his pirate/folk-rock band. But you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’re from, and that’s where moody filmmaker and researcher Ollie Pietruska comes in.

The band’s management persuades Shay to let a television company film a documentary about his roots beyond his adoptive Irish family, and Ollie comes into his life knowing more about Shay than Shay’s ever known about himself.

But while Ollie holds the key to Shay’s past, he’s also hiding deep scars. Even as the hardships of the tour bring them closer, Ollie’s demons threaten the blossoming romance. They might both reach the breaking point before Ollie realises he’s been standing on the edge of the world for too long, and it’s Shay who holds the key to his future.

A friends-to-lovers, rock star, road-tripping romance, with a guaranteed happily-ever-after.

My Review:
Shay Maloney is in his late 20s and the front man for a rising pirate/folk/rock band touring the UK. He’d been adopted as a young child by a generous and loving Irish couple, raised well and proud of his family. So he doesn’t think much of the offer his manager makes to have a documentary made about his life–assuming it’s about his adoptive family. But the filmmaker is all about the geneaology research, and his job was finding Shay’s birth heritage.

Ollie Pietruska has had some issues growing up in a family of Polish immigrants in London. He seemed to have a very promising career in film making but a car accident a couple of years ago has shaken his world-view. His burned body has healed, but Ollie suffers depression and anxiety, especially when riding as a passenger. Why he agreed to spend three weeks touring with Shay’s band is a question he asks himself nearly hour by hour. Still, he’s attracted to Shay’s magnetic personality, and the idea that he can reveal Shay’s hidden past–many of which seemed tied to Shay’s starry nature and music-making capabilities–are opportunities for a deep connection to grow. Ollie’s missed connecting with people for some time now, and though his physical scars often pain him it’s the mental scars that have kept him celibate and emotionally separate for these years.

Shay and Ollie have an almost instant attraction, and Shay’s curiosity about his heritage grows because he’s so in tune with Ollie as a guide through the process. Ollie seems to know how to present tantalizing bits to Shay to keep his interest, and keep him wanting to know more. As they travel together, Ollie sees the caring nature of the band, and how the members act as an extended or surrogate family. Shay is the leader, but he’s also their heart, and Ollie longs to have the closeness that would allow him to care for Shay, too. Shay’s diabetes plays a bit of a role in facilitating this, when Ollie get to come to the rescue at some key times. Shay’s a generally sober man to help maintain his health, but his performances are so energetic and intense it plays havoc with his blood sugar management. The bond between Ollie and Shay grows by bits and pieces as Ollie learns to share himself and his history in much that way he’s sharing Shay’s genealogy story.

The audiobook was really captivating. At just under 6 hours, the pace seemed right. The narrator, Dan Calley, was able to capture Ollie’s gruffness and Shay’s more melodic voice admirably. I could sense the pain and anxiety in Ollie’s thoughts as he worked through his fears of traveling as a passenger. And his fascination with Shay was really clear and present. It sometimes affected his ability to do his job, and that tentativeness was evocative in the audio. Shay’s musings are often more introspective than Ollie’s but his struggles maintaining his energy and sugar balance while on the road do erode some of his balance. He’s not eager to lean on Ollie, but he won’t stand on false pride. Plus, he really connects with Ollie, and the warmth and openness he finds the deeper their bond grows is really palpable in the audio. It’s not too heavy on the sexytimes and at times the filmography gets lost in the tour details, but it’s still a strong love story with a happy ending. Definitely recommend!

Interested? You can find THE EDGE OF THE WORLD on Goodreads, Amazon, Audible audiobook or iTunes audiobook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out Today! FIGHTING FOR EVERYTHING–Release Day Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a cover for a new contemporary romance from Laura Kaye. FIGHTING FOR EVERYTHING is the first book in her Warrior Fight Club series. It features a PTSD-plagued wounded vet, and the best friend of his life that he’s fallen hard for. I’ve loved RIDE HARD, and her veteran-centered HARD INK books too.

About the book:
Loving her is the biggest fight of his life…
Home from the Marines, Noah Cortez has a secret he doesn’t want his oldest friend, Kristina Moore, to know. It kills him to push her away, especially when he’s noticing just how sexy and confident she’s become in his absence. But, angry and full of fight, he’s not the same man anymore either. Which is why Warrior Fight Club sounds so good.

Kristina loves teaching, but she wants more out of life. She wants Noah—the boy she’s crushed on and waited for. Except Noah is all man now—in ways both oh so good and troubling, too. Still, she wants who he’s become—every war-hardened inch. And when they finally stop fighting their attraction, it’s everything Kristina never dared hope for.

But Noah is secretly spiraling, and when he lashes out, it threatens what he and Kristina have found. The brotherhood of the fight club helps him confront his demons, but only Noah can convince the woman he loves that he’s finally ready to fight for everything.

How about a little taste?

“Noah, are you down here?” Kristina called from the top of the basement steps.

Despite the lack of response, she continued down and crossed the room to the mostly closed door in the back corner–Noah’s bedroom since he’d returned just before last Christmas. God, Kristina had thought she’d received the best Christmas present ever–Noah, home from Iraq, safe and sound.

Well, mostly sound, anyway. An IED blast had taken the hearing and most of his vision on his left side, and he’d struggled with bad migraines and equilibrium problems when he’d first returned. But he was home and he was alive, and having him back again had made it feel like she could finally breathe after years of knowing he was in danger every second of every day.

She knocked softly. “Hey Noah, it’s me.”

All she heard was a long exhale of breath, but it was enough.

Why hadn’t he answered her? Her stomach clenched as she pushed open the door far enough to see Noah standing in the dark doorway to his bathroom, his back against the door jamb, his arms crossed, and his head hanging on his big shoulders.

She didn’t need to ask if he was okay, because he was radiating not okay loud and clear. Kristina walked right up to him. “What’s going on?” she asked. Dim light from the rec room filtered over him, allowing her to just make out the tight clench of his square jaw, the narrowed cast of his dark brown eyes, the harsh set of his beautiful mouth.

Wait. What? Where had that little observation come from?

Noah shook his head, forcing Kristina to drop the ridiculous line of thought.

She stepped closer so that she could look more directly into his eyes. “Come on, Noah. It’s me.” She ached for him to open up, but what she noticed even more was the low buzz rushing through her body. From how close she stood to all his taut hardness. It wasn’t like she was just noticing that Noah was hot, like, dayum hot, but nearly five years in the Marines had matured him and built hard muscle that hadn’t been there before. And clearly her body was just noticing, probably because they hadn’t had the chance to spend much time together since he’d gotten back.

“Kristina,” he said, his voice so low it was nearly a whisper, or a plea. He leaned his forehead against hers. It was such a sweet, needful gesture that Kristina’s chest seized.

“First, I’m hugging you. Then we’re talking, buddy,” she said, wrapping her arms around his big shoulders and planting her cheek against his chest. The embrace wasn’t unusual-they’d always been affectionate with each other. She’d lay against him while they watched a movie or he’d sling an arm over her shoulders while they were out together. When things were bad with her dad, he’d hold her when she finally gave into her grief about it and cried. That’s how they’d always been.

He embraced her right back and leaned his face against her hair.

After a long moment, Kristina pulled away–

Noah wouldn’t let her go. His grip on her tightened, and he held her fast against him. Was he breathing faster? Was he trembling?

Against her belly, he hardened.

Kristina’s breath caught in her throat. Noah was aroused…by her? Or just, like, in her general vicinity? Or…? She swallowed hard as her thoughts flew.

As they stood there, suspended in the dark, stolen moment, the air around them flashed hot and closed in, narrowing the world to all the places their bodies touched. His erection grew, pressing against her with more insistence. Heat bloomed over her skin everywhere and she held herself perfectly still. Because this was different. This was not friendly. This was more.

A strange tension wrapped around them, and it scared and attracted Kristina in equal measure. She shuddered out a breath as her body came to life against his. Her breathing quickened, her nipples peaked, her core clenched.

Noah made a noise in the back of his throat like a moan, and his arms tightened around her, pulling their bodies totally flush.

Kristina’s breath caught at the hard press of his body and at the shocking arousal it unleashed in her.

This is Noah. This is Noah. This is Noah.

But it didn’t seem to matter to her body. The soft cotton of her dress became heavy and irritating against her skin, and all she wanted was for it to be off. So he could be all over her. This sudden, intoxicating need was brand new to her-in general and certainly with Noah. She wasn’t a virgin, but she’d never felt with another man the kind of desire rocketing through her just then. And all they’d done was touch.

Why was this happening?

Her hips shifted without her meaning to do it, and it made her belly grind against all that hardness.

Noah hissed in her ear. His fingertips dug into her back…and then wandered, one hand pressing low against her hip, one skimming up her neck into her hair. Holding her tight. Bringing her closer.

She was half sure she was imagining that they were locked inside this raging bubble of attraction, except that his heart thundered beneath where her head rested, his breathing had gone rough, and his skin felt every bit as feverish as hers.

She had to stop this…whatever this was.

Tilting her head back, the words were on the tip of her tongue. Her eyes locked with his, and even in the dimness she could see that they were blazing hot and almost predatory in their directness. It stole her capacity to speak, because she was unequivocally sure he’d never looked at her like that. Need roared off of him and through her, making her heart beat like a bass drum.

Kristina swallowed hard. What would she do if he kissed her? One kissing experiment aside, she’d never had to ask that in regard to him. Another question followed close behind: what would she do if he didn’t?

My Review:

Noah Cortez is seven months stateside after a disability discharge from the Marines. He’d been in the service five years, but a landmine stole his comrades, hearing and vision on the left side of his head. Besides the visible scars, Noah’s battling some pretty intense emotional shrapnel–which is why he’s tried to stay away form his childhood best-friend Kristina Moore.

Kristina knows something is seriously wrong with Noah; his lackluster attitude, hollowed eyes and fading body are big clues, but being present at one of his flashbacks is a wake-up call. FOr both of them. Noah’s depression and PTSD have been eating him alive, and he doesn’t want it to ruin his relationships, so he pulls away from everyone, especially when they tell him he’s not the nothing, damaged man he sees in his mirror, and feels in his mind.

Kristina, having lived with a parent with mental illness, wants to be Noah’s rock, but a new complication arises: their mutual attraction. They’d never been anything but platonic before, and now? They get steamy–for the moment. Noah’s sure that Kristina deserves better than a broken down, disabled vet, but she knows he’s her everything, and desperately wants to build a life together. Unfortunately, she learns he can’t return her love, not when he doesn’t love himself.

This is a great first book in a new series. The friends-to-lovers aspect was handled really well, with all the confusion that it can entail. Noah finds help in unexpected places–art therapy which leads him to fight therapy designed only for military enlisted and veterans. This Warrior Fight Club provides a safe space for Noah to work out his aggression and regain his balance, both emotionally and physically. He knows he probably doesn’t deserve another chance at loving Kristina, but he’s determined to be a better friend than he’d been when he returned home.  I loved Kristina, and respected her struggles, and frustration, with Noah’s hot-and-cold attitude. It was great seeing Noah turn his life around, though I wished for a little more insight into his challenges once he started seeking treatment. That said, it’s got an upbeat ending and sets up new characters to carry the series forward.

Interested? You can find FIGHTING FOR EVERYTHING on Goodreads, Amazon (US, UK, CA, AU) Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win one of 3 $10 Amazon or B & N gift cards.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

LauraKayeAbout the Author:
Laura is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty books in contemporary and erotic romance and romantic suspense, including the Blasphemy, Hard Ink, and Raven Riders series. Growing up, Laura’s large extended family believed in the supernatural, and family lore involving angels, ghosts, and evil-eye curses cemented in Laura a life-long fascination with storytelling and all things paranormal. Laura also writes historical fiction as the NYT bestselling author, Laura Kamoie. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and appreciates her view of the Chesapeake Bay every day.

Catch up with Laura on her website, Facebook, twitter, or sign-up for her newsletter.
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Big Choices, Big Love in FALLING DOWN–Release Day Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a release day review for a New Adult contemporary M/M romance form Eli Easton. FALLING DOWN is a heart-wrenching tale of an aimless war vet and the homeless teen he brings back from the brink.

fallingdownelieastonAbout the book:
Josh finds himself homeless at eighteen, but he has a plan. He’ll head north on the bus to New England and spend October there for his mother’s sake. She always talked about going to see the fall leaves someday. And when the leaves were done and the harsh winter came, Josh would find a place to curl up and let go. It would be a relief to finally stop fighting.

Mark spent his life trying to live up to the tough swagger of his older brothers until he pushed himself so far against his nature that he cracked. Now an ex-Marine, he rents a little cabin in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where he can lick his wounds and figure out what to do with the rest of his life. One thing was clear: Mark was nobody’s hero.

Fate intervenes when Josh sets up camp under a covered bridge near Mark’s cabin. Mark recognizes the dead look in the young stranger’s eyes, and he feels compelled to do something about it. When Mark offers Josh a job, he never expected that he’d be the one to fall.

The snow is coming soon. Can Mark convince Josh that the two of them can build a life together before the flurries fall?

My Review:
Homeless and grieving his dead mother, eighteen year old Josh Rivers decides to use his last bit of cash to travel from Alabama to New Hampshire to experience autumn. It was an unrealized dream of his mom’s, to watch the fall color erupt in all it’s glory, and Josh believes finding a beautiful vista where he can release his mother’s ashes, will put her to rest. Sticking around for the bitter winter snows in which to bury himself and his heartache under their peaceful white flakes sounds like a second great plan.

At 24, Mark Sullivan is the youngest of five sons, and a newly discharged Marine. Scarred by seeing friends die while on his active duty tours, he’s heartsick and drifting, performing odd jobs and living in a rented cabin two hours from his close-knit family so he can keep his homosexuality private. He’s sure his family will reject him, so he maintains the distance. Seeing Josh in his quiet area of New Hampshire, he recognizes that dead-eye stare, and it sparks Mark’s protective side. Needing some help on a big painting job he’s landed, Mark reaches out to withdrawn and skittish Josh.

As it’s only early October, Josh knows he needs some time to put his plan into action. The snow isn’t coming for at least a month and he’s not keen on starving to death under a bridge, so he accepts Mark’s offer of a safe space to sleep, a job, and food. As these guys work and live in close quarters, they develop a friendship. While Mark is definitely attracted to Josh, he won’t make a move, believing Josh to be too young and vulnerable for anything more than friendship. Josh’s depression had killed his libido, but his budding friendship with Mark has quelled his emotional tailspin enough to recognize his growing attraction and affection. It doesn’t hurt that Mark is generous and kind; they forge a tight bond in a short time.

Still, Josh is stifled by Mark’s seeming lack of interest, and when he challenges Mark’s resolve both men find a deeper connection than either’s had before. There’s so much emotion in these pages. Josh’s depression is palpable, and I was terrified regarding his end-of-life plans. It’s always hard for me to read a depressed character, because I identify with them so closely. The joy of watching Josh connect to Mark, and his climb out from that mortal abyss, was worth the anguish at the outset. Further, Mark’s a great guy, despite wishing to stay closeted. When it comes to maintaining his charade, and being the man Josh needs, however, Mark makes the absolute right choice. He’s rewarded by understanding, and love greater than he ever dreamed.

There are some extremely tense moments, and I freely admit I started to cry in the climax. That’s a good sign for me, it shows how deeply I connected with the story–which I felt was fantastic. For readers like me who are sensitive to stories with depression/suicide story lines, just know that there is a brilliant dawn waiting on the far side of the darkest night. The happy ending was realistic, and filled with joy. Highly recommend.

Interested? You can find FALLING DOWN on Goodreads and Amazon (US and UK).

Eli EastonAbout the Author:
Having been, at various times and under different names, a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a game designer, an organic farmer, an avid hiker, and a profound sleeper, Eli is happily embarking on yet another incarnation as a m/m romance author.

As an addicted reader of such, she is tinkled pink when an author manages to combine literary merit, vast stores of humor, melting hotness and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, three bulldogs, three cows and six chickens. All of them (except for the husband) are female, hence explaining the naked men that have taken up residence in her latest fiction writing.

Eli currently publishes with Dreamspinner Press and has a few self-pubbed titles as well. She also publishes thrillers under the pen name: Jane Jensen.

Catch up with Eli on her website, Facebook, and twitter.
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Big Problems For GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE–A Review

Hi there! I’m so excited to share a review for a newly published contemporary YA romance from Paula Stokes. GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE s a bittersweet contemporary YA adventure/romance that deals with PTSD, OCD, and general anxiety in a teen girl who’s survived some pretty tragic moments.

Girl Against the UniverseAbout the book:
Maguire is bad luck.

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.

From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.

My Review:
Maguire was eleven when the car she rode in went off a mountainside and her father, uncle and brother were all killed. She was twelve when she rode a rollercoaster that went off the track, seriously injuring all 19 other passengers beside herself. She was thirteen when she went to a slumber party where every other guest ended up with gut-clenching illness. And six weeks ago, her abandoned candle burned down the neighbors’ house. Maguire believes that she’s Really Bad Luck, and she has a notebook filled with instances and coincidences that back up this claim.

Now sixteen and living in her third house in the past four years, preparing to enter her second high school, Maguire wishes she could just be home-schooled. She doesn’t want to make any friends, and potentially be responsible for any of them getting hurt, or worse.  Worried about Maguire, her mother insists that she attend therapy, and this is where the book opens, in a therapy session between Maguire and Dr. Leed. When the hour is up, Maguire notices the tall, attractive boy who enters the office in her stead. This boy, Jordy, reaches out to prickly, unapproachable Maguire as part of his own “homework” for therapy. And, they sort of hit it off. Maguire learns that Jory is semi-famous, but none of that seems to matter and Jordy appreciates that.

Inspired by Jordy, and knowing that she needs to get over her many phobias if she’s going to fly to Ireland with her mother for a five year memorial for her father, uncle and brother, Maguire actually begins to engage in her therapy. She’s terrified of riding in cars with people, using public transit, being out in public, going to parties, and has terrors imagining a bus ride, let alone a trans-Atlantic flight. So, with Dr. Leed’s help, Maguire sets her own list of “homework” so that she can reclaim her life and defeat the sinister powers of the Universe that have ripped so much from her.

Along the way, Maguire joins her high school tennis team, where she makes real friends for the first time in years. She also connects with Jordy, who is happy to help Maguire in any way he can–even if it means crossing his parents. See, Jordy IS a big deal; he’s a tennis wunderkind all set to go pro, if he can finish high school and stand up against his parent’s plans for college. And, maybe, he and Maguire may become more than friends…

This is a bittersweet read, because Maguire is a kid trapped by tragedy. She has a loving mother, step-father and new step siblings, but she dwells in the past. She’s terrified of her own mystique:  believing that she’s cursed. By really engaging with her therapy, and investigating the truth of her situation, Maguire learns to overcome her anxiety, by reasonable measured steps and slowly escalating “risk.” It was an affirming story, that realistically demonstrated how a kid struggling with several mental issues could overcome her fears by challenging herself in safe ways. I really liked that there weren’t a ton of catty gals, or hecklers. I liked that Jordy was a stand-up guy, and that he never gave up on Maguire, even when she did hurt him, succumbing to her fears when he needed her most. Maguire’s self-discovery wasn’t all forward motion, which was also reasonable. She had backward steps and tough choices. She cried, and she healed, and she fretted, but she made it all happen. It takes courage to go on, and survivor’s guilt was also likely a big factor in Maguire’s self-isolation.

I really dug the whole arcane “luck” charms that Maguire built into a ritual, not for herself, but because she wanted to ensure the safety of those around her. It’s rather ironic that she never wanted herself to be safe; she expected her bad luck really only affected those around her. Jordy was a great guy, and I liked how down-to-Earth he was. He’s got a bright and shiny future all laid out, but agonizes about his people-pleasing tendencies, and the high likelihood of failing to set proper boundaries. These were reasonable issues for an athlete of his caliber, and his pathway through therapy was also interesting.

For a teen romance, this was really tame with only a few kisses, some dithering regarding embarking on an official relationship v. secretly dating. Those issues held real relevance for Jordy, as approached legal adulthood and struggled to assert his autonomy over that of his parents’ wishes. In total, the book was a clean read with plenty of morbid reminiscences and a healthy portrayal of mild mental illness, teen relationships, and healing.

I’d wish Maguire luck, but I think she’s learned that she makes her own.

Interested? You can find GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE on Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Book Depository, and IndieBound.

About the Author:
Paula Stokes is half writer, half RN, and totally thrilled to be part of the world of YA literature. She started out writing historical fiction under a pen name and is now branching out into other YA genres.

When she’s not working (rare), she’s kayaking, hiking, reading, or seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She’s petted tigers, snuggled snakes, snorkeled with stingrays, and once enjoyed the suction-cuppy feel of a baby elephant’s trunk as it ate peanuts from her palm. Her future goals include diving with Great White sharks, learning Krav Maga, and writing a whole slew of novels, not necessarily in that order.

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

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Stuck in the Middle–HIATUS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M/M menage contemporary romance from LA Witt. HIATUS is a bittersweet, but realistic, read featuring a married couple who is divorcing and their third–who tries to keep them together.

HiatusAbout the book:
Three’s a disaster when things come unraveled.
Rock star Nate Keller is on top of the world, but his headlining tour has one drawback. It keeps him away from his boyfriends, Theo and Cameron, for weeks at a time. Yet after four-and-a-half years—and a lot of hard work—the trio is still going strong.

But then Cam comes to visit with devastating news. After seventeen years together, he and Theo have agreed to a trial separation. Nate tries desperately to fix his lovers’ broken relationship, but there’s only so much he can do from the road.

At home, Cam tries to carry on, but feels like his whole life is spiraling out of control. Theo struggles to cope with the split as his depression worsens. They’re both spinning their wheels, quickly losing hope they can keep it together—and keep the man they both still love.

Desperate, Nate drops everything in a last-ditch attempt to pull their trio back together before they hit rock bottom. Except their love could already be shattered beyond repair.

Warning: Contains two men who must face how broken they are before they can fix their failing marriage, and the man who loves them both—but doesn’t know how to save them.

My Review:
This is a bittersweet menage M/M/M story that explores a disintegrating marriage, and the reasons behind the collapse. It has a happy ending.

3.5 stars.
Cam and Theo are a married couple. They’ve been together 17 years–since college–and just over four years ago met Nate, singer in an up-and-coming band. They were up for some fun, and it worked so well, that Nate joined them, permanently.

Well…the book opens with Nate ecstatic for one of his rendezvous nights on the road with his sexy boyfriends, only to find Cam waiting for him. Because Theo is moving out of their house back in LA. Nate’s blindsided and hurt, and Cam’s a mess. They make love, but it’s bittersweet.

Rinse and repeat that a few times. Sometimes Theo comes, sometimes Cam comes, see–while they can’t live together, neither wants to lose Nate. It’s a bad situation.

What Nate learns, as he strives to get his men back together is that Theo’s been suffering depression for a long time. And, Cam’s been struggling with borderline-OCD and panic attacks for a long time, and neither noticed the other’s problems because they were too wrapped in their own mental illness.

There is a lot of bitter in this book. There are also points of extreme sweetness. As a person who’s suffered depression, I felt it was more bitter than sweet. As a person who’s weathered rough patches in a long marriage, it was raw to experience echoes of similar distance in the characters on the page.

It ends with a very reasonable and relatable and realistic reunion. That was really satisfying, but I still had a LOT of angst–some on the page, some of my own baggage–to heft before I got to the good parts. Those good parts coming at the very end of the book.

Poly romances are often hard to relate to, but it’s not hard to relate to the unraveling of love. Nate was such a dear, really stoking the fires to get Cam and Theo to reconcile, but his efforts were in the wrong place, because only the people breaking up can do the making up–as Theo and Cam realized.

The mental illness issues were carefully described, and felt very real–especially the depression as I have first-hand experience with that. I liked how the solution was never complacent, not: “we’ll get over it.” Once Cam and Theo claimed their issues, they got productive help managing their emotional state. Part of their delay seeking counseling was fear that any marriage counselors would tell them they needed to cut Nate loose. I could relate with that fear, as poly relationships are not given the same weight as marriage, and that prejudice proved a hindrance to their health. Still, there were several lights at the end of the tunnel, and the end proved to be both happy and sexy.

In all, it worked for me. I just wished it had been a little more upbeat.

Interested? You can find HIATUS on Goodreads, Samhain Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Lauren Gallagher is an abnormal romance writer who has recently been exiled from the glittering utopia of Omaha, Nebraska, to an undisclosed location in South America. Along with her husband, a harem of concubines, and a phosphorescent porcupine, she remains, as always, in hiding from the Polynesian Mafia. For the moment, she seems to have eluded her nemesis, M/M romance author L.A. Witt, but figures L.A. will eventually become bored with the wilds of Spain and come looking for her. And when that time comes, Lauren will be ready. Assuming L.A. doesn’t have her hands full keeping track of Lori A. Witt and Ann Gallagher, which she probably will.

Visit her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Perfecting THE ART OF NOT BREATHING–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA novel from Sarah Alexander. THE ART OF NOT BREATHING is a little bit romance, a lotta bit grief and healing, as the main character Elsie struggles with the disintegration of her family after the death of her twin brother.

The Art of Not BreathingAbout the book:
Since her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone.

Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.

My Review:
This is a well-written novel about a family slowly eroding following tragedy. It is set in the Black Isle of Scotland.

Five years ago Elsie’s twin Eddie was swept out to sea while they played at the beach for their 11th birthday. His body was never recovered, and her family has never recovered.

Eddie was a smaller child, and though chronologically 11 years old, he was far smaller than Elsie and not able to be educated in the school system due to developmental delays that may have stemmed from gestational issues or a birthing accident. He was several developmental years behind his twin, and Elsie defended him ruthlessly. They have an elder brother Dillon who witnessed some of the events on the beach that fateful day, but neither he nor Elsie, nor their parents, speak of it. Ever.

We start out the book on the eve of Elsie’s 16th birthday, with the family preparing for their annual memorial visit to the seashore to pay respects to Eddie’s cross. It’s all very emotional, and bitter, what with Elsie feeling forlorn for the loss of her twin, and the loss of her own celebrations. What she rarely admits to anyone is that she “hears” Eddie within her, and she speaks to him often. She wants to know what happened on the day of his drowning, but no one will ever speak of it.

As Elsie makes her way through she suffers horrible bullying, depression, and the knowledge that what remains of her family is disintegrating. Dillon’s got a girlfriend, but there’s something very off about him lately; he’s growing scarily thin. Her father spends as much time at work, or traveling for work, as possible, and her mother is a functional alcoholic.

During the course of the book we learn that Elsie loves spending time near the water, as it helps her feel close to Eddie. Eddie was a boy who loved the shore, and the dolphins, and Elsie creates a haven for herself at an abandoned boating club–which is now being refurbished by Mick, his son Danny and nephew Tay. They want to run scuba tours and freediving classes. Elsie has been continually warned against going into the water, but her rebellious side allows her to be goaded into it–and there she experiences flashbacks of that fateful day.

Driven to determine the full truth of the horrors of Eddie’s final moments, she begins to train with bad-boy Tay, and eventually the mean and enigmatic Danny, so that she can make deep freedives into the inlet where Eddie drowned.

It’s a really fascinating look at the way loss changes the dynamics of a family. There are so many converging problems: her father’s anger and withdrawal, her mother’s depression, her brother’s eating disorder. Elsie, in pseudo middle child form, feels a deep need to piece everything together. The emotions run high, and it’s a thrilling experience for Elsie to have the interest of a boy–for the first time ever. All her training for freediving alters her appearance, and gives her a different mindset–she aches to achieve a final communion with Eddie, and that was really poignant, if rather troubling.

I really related to Elsie’s determination, and understood her seemingly flighty nature. No one has seemed to care about her in a very long time, so why should she bother? And yet, she finds the strength to do so. She’s not a very admirable character, in many ways, but I felt that her faults were those of circumstance. She feels as if she’s a pariah, and she’s often treated that way. Tay is the one guy who sees her, not the Twin Who Lived, and that’s a refreshing experience for a girl who mostly fades into the shadows.

In all, the book was interesting, and I found myself rapidly turning the pages as the drama became more and more intense. Expect some super dark moments, and a renewed life for a girl whose seemed to end when her twin died. The ending is definitely upbeat.

Interested? You can find THE ART OF NOT BREATHING on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Sarah Alexander grew up in London with dreams of exploring the world and writing stories. After spending several years wandering the globe and getting into all sorts of scrapes, she returned to London to complete a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College in 2013. Previous jobs include: tomato picker, travel consultant, mental-health support worker and suitcase administrator. Now she works in publishing. Sarah lives in London with her husband and two chickens. THE ART OF NOT BREATHING is her first novel.

You can catch up with Sarah online on her website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends.