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!

Getting Woke as JULIET TAKES A BREATH-THE GRAPHIC NOVEL–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ graphic novel from Gabby Rivera and illustrated by Celia Moscote. features a Latinx young woman navigating a path to independence coming out and finally exploring her lesbian and feminism facets of her life.

About the book:
A NEW GRAPHIC NOVEL ADAPTATION OF THE BESTSELLING BOOK!
Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But don’t worry, Juliet has something kinda resembling a plan that’ll help her figure out what it means to be Puerto Rican, lesbian and out. See, she’s going to intern with Harlowe Brisbane – her favorite feminist author, someone’s who’s the last work on feminism, self-love and lots of of ther things that will help Juliet find her ever elusive epiphany. There’s just one problem – Harlowe’s white, not from the Bronx and doesn’t have the answers.

Okay, maybe that’s more than one problem but Juliet never said it was a perfect plan…

Critically-acclaimed writer Gabby Rivera adapts her bestselling novel alongside artist Celia Moscote in an unforgettable queer coming-of-age story exploring race, identity and what it means to be true to your amazing self. even when the rest of the world doesn’t understand.

My Review:
Juliet Palante is a young, Puerto Rican college student in the Bronx and discovering herself as a Latinx feminist, acknowledging for her own self that she is a lesbian and fearing that her family will not accept her. She has a lot of family around her the love and support her–but her mama’s really devout. I loved her little brother, and how sweet and loving he was. Juliet is excited to gain a summer internship working directly with famed feminist Harlowe Brisbane, who lives in Seattle. Juliet ends up crashing in Harlowe’s house, nursing the wounds from her mama’s reaction to her leaving, and her sexuality.

Juliet is reeling a bit, surrounded by queer culture in Seattle. It’s an awakening, but she’s also politically woke by the people of color who are befriending her. As Harlowe reveals some internal prejudice, it sends Juliet further on her journey to reconnect with her cousin and aunt in Miami. It’s another big experience as Juliet finds unexpected kinship with fellow queers.

I did not read the original work, but I feel the graphic novel was beautifully rendered, and truly evocative of Juliet’s joy and struggle on every page. She’s a glorious Latina and her encounters with strong female, trans and other LGBTQ characters really shapes Juliet’s outlook, path and summer experience. I think readers who enjoy contemporary stories of queer culture, and coming out stories and stories of people of color from own voices, will probably love this graphic novel version of the best-selling novel.

Interested? You can find JULIET TAKES A BREATH on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:
Gabby Rivera is a Bronx-born, queer Puerto Rican author on a mission to create the wildest, most fun stories ever.

She’s the first Latina to write for Marvel Comics, penning the solo series America about America Chavez, a portal-punching queer Latina powerhouse. Rivera’s critically acclaimed debut novel Juliet Takes a Breath was called “f*cking outstanding” by Roxane Gay and was re-published in September 2019 by Penguin Random House. Currently, Gabby is the writer and creator of b.b. free, a new original comic series with BOOM! Studios. Stay tuned for her podcast joy revolution coming in 2020!

When not writing, Gabby speaks on her experiences as a queer Puerto Rican from the Bronx, an LGBTQ youth advocate, and the importance of prioritizing joy in QTPOC communities at events across the country.

Gabby makes magic on both coasts, currently residing in California. She writes for all the sweet baby queers, and her mom.

Catch up with Gabby on her website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Opposites Attract in TEDDY SPENSER ISN’T LOOKING FOR Love–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Kim Fielding. TEDDY SPENSER ISN’T LOOKING FOR LOVE connects a lonely designer-slash-marketing director with an introverted programmer. I enjoyed A SECOND HARVEST, LOVE CAN’T CONQUER, and THE LITTLE LIBRARY, so I jumped at the chance to read this one.

About the book:
Some people search their whole lives to find love. He just wants to avoid it.

Teddy Spenser spends his days selling design ideas to higher-ups, living or dying on each new pitch. Stodgy engineer types like Romeo Blue, his nemesis—if you can call someone who barely talks to you a nemesis—are a necessary evil. A cute necessary evil.

Working together is bad enough, but when their boss puts them both on a new high-stakes project, “working together” suddenly means:
–sitting uncomfortably close on the same plane
–staying in the same hotel room—with only one bed
–spending every waking minute together.

Turns out Mr. Starched Shirt has some hidden depths, and it’s getting harder to ignore the spark Teddy feels with every brush of their hands, with every knowing glance. He might not have been looking for this connection with Romeo, but will he ever be ready to let him go?

My Review:
Teddy Spenser and Romeo Blue both work for the same bare-bones tech start-up company trying to sell “smart vases”. Teddy is the designer and marketing director for Reddyflora while Romeo is the programmer for the tech-side. Romeo has his own office, one of only two in the shoddy Chicago digs. Their boss and the company president has the other. Teddy thinks that Romeo is a stuck up dude, even if he does fill out his stylish suits quite well. But, Teddy isn’t looking for love. Not since his last beau broke his heart. Teddy still can’t let go of all that hurt–and since he has little to occupy his time beyond design and thrift shopping, well, it’s hard to get over it.

Teddy imagines that Romeo is a nemesis, but really, he’s practically a stranger. He’s quite reasonable, actually, as Teddy recognizes once they get working on a redesign of the vase together. See, turns out the tech can’t exactly be hidden in Teddy’s austere design scheme, so they come up with a better plan to camouflage the bits that can’t be hidden and Teddy thinks’ the job is done. But, instead, he and Romeo are sent to Seattle to pitch their smart vase to vaunted designer and known technophobe, Joyce Alexander. Without her backing, Reddyflora’s capital stream is about to dry up and the company will collapse.

The trip to Seattle is revealing in many ways. Teddy sees Romeo as a compassionate man, assisting in the care for his nieces, as well as a stranger’s crying infant on the plane. They both struggle with the tiny hotel room, and one bed, but it’s only because they know so little about one another. The close quarters imposes a boundary across which they build emotional intimacy, and completing Ms. Alexander’s eccentric “tasks” also fosters a dynamic that unite Teddy and Romeo in their professional mission and in their personal lives.

It’s a really sweet slide into coupledom, with Teddy styling Romeo once he learns that Romeo truly appreciates his aesthetic, and is willing to soften his look with gender-bending choices. Teddy loves the way green and blue silks accentuate Romeo’s brown skin tones. Romeo’s encyclopedic knowledge of nature, cooking and…everything is really attractive to Teddy–who can’t believe that such a buff and suave-looking man is so crippled by attention and is attracted to himself. Their mutual esteem is only balanced by their personal, self-esteem struggles. I loved how they bonded with each other and how loving Romeo’s family was when he brought Teddy home for Sunday supper. The end has one of those rom-com twists where they are forced to make decisions that could break them up, but they are really only more cemented together.

Sexytimes are more tender than passionate, but are fully enjoyable. I really adored this one, and with the little mini-Valentine’s theme it’s great book to pick up in January.

Interested? You can find TEDDY SPENSER ISN’T LOOKING FOR LOVE on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Kim Fielding lives in California and travels as often as she can manage. A professor by day, at night she rushes into a phone booth to change into her author costume (which involves comfy clothes instead of Spandex and is, sadly, lacking a cape). Her superpowers include the ability to write nearly anywhere, often while simultaneously doling out assistance to her family. Her favorite word to describe herself is “eclectic” and she finally got that fourth tattoo.

Catch up to Kim on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Happily Mated To a BLIND WARRIOR–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m so excited to share a review and giveaway for a M/M paranormal romance from the writing team of Jocelyn Drake and Rinda Elliot. BLIND WARRIOR is the third book in the Weaver’s Circle series and I was excited to read on in this paranormal romance/adventure series. Check out my review for BROKEN WARRIOR and WILD WARRIOR to catch up on the series developments.

Scroll down to catch an excerpt and enter the $10 Amazon GC giveaway below!
About the book:
Grey Ackles
The Soul Weaver feels useless.
A burden endangering his brothers.
The last battle with the pestilents cost Grey his sight and powers.
Now he’s dependent on his vision rehabilitation therapist Cort to learn how to function on a daily basis.

But as he grows closer to Cort, Grey is left wanting his powers back for a new reason—how will he ever know if the man he’s falling for is actually his soul mate?

Cort Newton
There is some really weird stuff going on at that house.

Spell books, guns, and a giraffe in the backyard?

But no matter how strange it gets, Cort is not going to leave the grumpy writer.

Adjusting to sudden blindness is hard for everyone, but Grey clearly has deeper reason for needing his vision back at any cost. Cort just wished Grey would confide in him.

Even with Grey’s secrets, Cort has never been drawn to a man like he is with Grey and he will do anything to keep this man safe.

Blind Warrior is the third book in the Weavers Circle series. It includes fast-paced action, running through Savannah, secrets, shapeshifting, brainwashed assassins, a gorilla, sexy times, fun with water, insecurity, three crazy old ladies, and magic!

How about a little taste?

Grey reluctantly got out of the vehicle and felt his way to the warm hood. “Gotta be a lot of glass bottles in there for me to knock over,” he warned as Lucien placed a hand on his biceps.

“We’ll steer you in the right direction.” Lucien pressed on his arm as they started walking. “You need the exercise.”

“Makes more sense for me to wait in the—” he broke off when a horrid smell hit his nose. It was like rotting meat left out on a hot summer day. “Shit, pestilents,” he hissed. Fear gripped his heart, his lungs freezing in his chest. How the hell was he supposed to protect himself?

Pestilents were these…humanoid creatures…from another realm who were trying to kill him and his brother Weavers. Their world was dying, and they wanted to leech energy off this one to save their own. Grey and the other Weavers had been tasked to stop them, using magic they’d gained from three goddesses. Insane. All of it sounded absolutely insane, but it was now his life.

One positive was that they were easy to spot, thanks to their awful stink. They rotted slowly in this world because they didn’t belong.

“I just smelled them, too,” Lucien grumbled under his breath.

“Can you see them?” Grey asked.

“They have to be in the store. Do pestilents drink alcohol?” Baer’s voice was moving away from Grey, possibly toward the Jeep.

“How the hell would we know?” Lucien led Grey back, too. Doors opened around him and he reached out with his left hand, coming into contact with the familiar durable fabric covering the rear bench seat in Baer’s Jeep.

“That’s it? We’re going to run?” Grey slid inside the vehicle, inwardly fuming. They were running to protect him.

“You expect us to just attack them in broad daylight in a wine shop?” Baer’s voice came from the driver’s side this time. “I can’t believe they’re rallying forces this fast. We had a three-month break last time.”

“There is obviously more than one set out there, or they wouldn’t have been chasing us over the United States.” Grey grabbed the front seats and pulled himself forward to lean between them as Lucien got into the passenger side. “I don’t think we should just leave them.”

Lucien cleared his throat. “I see only one at the counter now.”

“Doesn’t mean there aren’t more in the back,” Baer countered.

“Why don’t you go in there and lure him out?” Lucien suggested. “See that field behind those trees? We could fight it there.”

Grey saw nothing, but he didn’t bother to point that out. All he knew was, he felt wrong running and leaving any pestilents free to attack them later. Or even an innocent human who just happened to get in their way. If there were only a few, Baer and Lucien would be able to easily take care of them on their own. “I think that’s a good idea. But you should both go inside, just in case there are more than one.”

“And leave you help-er…alone out here?” Baer snapped. He cursed softly. “Sorry, Grey.”

But he was fucking helpless, and he knew it. Before losing his sight, his powers hadn’t done a lot when it came to fighting, but he’d been able to shoot a gun, use a knife. He wasn’t bad in a fight. And he’d been able to serve as a lookout, offer cover for his brothers. Now, he didn’t even have that.

Of course, his powers were tied to his sight, so he couldn’t use those. All he got were the occasional broken thoughts and emotions from others. His ability to see auras had been nipped in the bud. As was his ability to see into people’s souls, to read their past, motives, desires, and thoughts. He didn’t know if he could still manipulate people, hadn’t even tried.

“I’m going in,” Baer announced. “I’ll lure him into the field and shift into something fierce. We’ll dispatch this asshole, grab our booze, and go home.”

My Review:
This is the third book in a series and best enjoyed when read in order.

Grey Ackles is a part of the Weavers, a group of men who have special powers to fend off the invading pestilents–humanoids from another realm who have been siphoning off the energy of Earth from centuries to keep their own planet alive. He’s the Soul Weaver, which means he can see into a person’s soul and read their mind. In previous stories we me the Earth Weaver and the Animal Weaver, and Grey isn’t really proud of his gifts. He can’t shapeshift into a ferocious beast, nor can he compel earthquakes or trees to impale pestilents with their branches–so he feels a little “less” than his brothers in this conflict.

And, now Grey is blind. It’s a new development, following an attack on a cadre of pestilents. Grey was severely injured and though his brother’s mate used Healing powers to recover him, Grey is still blind and suffering terrible headaches. As part of Grey’s recovery he meets with a vision rehabilitation therapist, Cort, who is meant to help Grey adjust to his newly-blind life and surroundings. Grey is despondent, felling that he has let down his team of Weavers, but they only want to see Grey heal.

Cort has no idea what he’s getting into with Grey and the rest of the maniacs that live on the Weaver compound. Cort knows that he’s attracted to Grey, and he can’t help offering a bit of human comfort, as Grey needs it. Cort is drawn into the zaniness of the Weaver life, helping to recover the Water Weaver and seeing pestilents literally swallowed by sand dunes ore witness giraffes on parade, courtesy of the Earth and Animal Weavers, respectively. One thing is clear, Cort is unwilling to let Grey come to harm, either by his own foolishness or the recklessness of his “family”. And, Cort is more than a little intrigued by the open and loving gay partnerships he sees with these Weavers. It’s not long before Grey admits that he’s got sexy feelings for his vision therapist, oh, and it’s too dangerous for Cort to be out on his own because there is a pestilent warlock who’s busy turning all sorts of humans into mindless killer in an attempt to murder any one of five Weavers before the sixth can arrive and complete the Circle. This means that Cort needs to stay on their Weaver compound and let the feels increase while they keep close quarters.

As this is a continuing saga, this was a great installment to allow Grey to build a rapport with his soul mate before seeing him and recognizing the soul bond that links them. Grey had that ability while sighted, but he falls head first for Cort even knowing that he could be making a big mistake. There’s tons of intrigue and some battles extraordinaire, but in the end it’s a love story for Cort and Grey, who do indeed form a soul bond. It’s sweet and tender, because Grey needs so much TLC, and Cort is just the man to dole it out with compassion and discipline.

I’m totally hooked on this series and cannot wait to meet the sixth Weaver and watch the Fire and Water Weavers find their soul mates–and the Circle defeat the pestilents once and for all.

Interested? You can find BLIND WARRIOR on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott have teamed up to combine their evil genius to create intense gay romantic suspense stories that have car chases, shoot outs, explosions, scorching hot love scenes, and tender, tear-jerking moments. Their first joint books are in the Unbreakable Bonds series.

Catch up with Jocelyn and Rinda on their website, Facebook, and twitter.

Finding a Love That’s WORTH IT–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary New Adult romance from Chloe B. Young. WORTH IT relates an unconventional romance between a college sex worker and the nephew of his previous john.

About the book:
The price of love could be too high to pay.

Elliott Meyer is a dedicated student . . . and a part-time sex worker. College is expensive, and after his mother’s death left his family struggling, he’s desperate to avoid drowning in debt. Problem is, he just lost his only client. Time to hit the clubs and find a new benefactor before bills start piling up.

Enter Aiden Kent: rich, handsome . . . and the nephew of Elliott’s former client. Rather than letting this drive a wedge between them, Aiden offers Elliott an opportunity. Aiden’s stressed out and has no time for a relationship. He’s eager to hire Elliott to provide all the benefits of a boyfriend with none of the responsibility. And they both swear it’s only a little weird.

But when their business arrangement starts to become a full-on relationship, things get complicated. Elliott won’t accept money from a romantic partner, and Aiden won’t continue their relationship if Elliott’s sleeping with other clients. With his future on the line, Elliott’s left with a terrible decision: risk his bright academic future, or lose Aiden forever.

My Review:
Elliott Meyer is a 21 year old sophomore in college. He goes to school in LA and is determined not to borrow a penny to do it. His father, a police officer, has been in dept up to his eyeballs ever since Elliott’s mother died, following a prolonged illness. and the house up-keep is too much for his small-town cop salary to afford. So, Elliott has decided he’s going to earn his tuition money as a part-time escort. He had a sugar daddy a few months ago, and older, wealthy lawyer who enjoyed parading his blatant boy toy every place he could. And, he paid Elliott handsomely. IN fact, sometimes his money got int he way–because he became manipulative with his funding. Elliott walked away, but he didn’t get too far.

While out prowling for a new john, Elliott encounters Aiden Kent, the nephew of his previous “employer”. Elliott had met the man before, because Aiden is a lawyer at the same firm as his ex-john, which happens to have numerous Kents as staff and partners. So, Elliott figures he’s gotta scram from that scene, lest Aiden mess up his search for a steady john. It’s a little unsettling when Aiden, who is only 28, and both wealthy and sexy to boot, makes an offer for Elliott to consider. Aiden would like a companion, and regular lover, but the demands of his job at the firm tend to interfere with real relationships. Plus, he sometimes feel like prospective boyfriends are more into his name and wealth than who he is a s a person–a general homebody after working 60_ hours a week. For a monthly sum Elliott could spend three nights a week keeping Aiden company and having some spine-melting sexytimes, too. Despite the initial awkwardness, Elliott agrees.

This fake boyfriend love story follows a mostly predictable path of increasing familiarity giving rise to feelings on both sides. Elliott has some good prospects in the offing, including a possible scholarship and growing tutoring opportunities. But, he wants to help his dad too much to rely on piecemeal options. Within a couple months of their bargain, Elliott’s internal conflict is getting way out of proportion. He loves Aidan, so he can’t keep charging him for sex. Not if they are TRUE boyfriends. Aiden wants Elliott to lean on him, and let the money worries drift away, but it’s not something that Elliott can consider; he has no illusions about the monetary struggles of indebted college graduates, and with plans for a Master’s and doctorate, Elliott isn’t willing to gamble on Aiden’s charity or his own solvency.

I loved Aiden in this one and I liked Elliott a lot, too. It’s clear that he is still immature, at times, and that’s fine because most young people really don’t get grown until they are in the mid-20s. Elliott’s thoughts of returning to prostitution become more and more untenable as he deals with the temporary loss of Aiden from his life. It’s a nice wake-up call and allows us to see the vulnerable side of Elliott, who can be a bit prickly and snooty as a character, and meet his dearest friend and his father to straighten out his priorities. The end fell into place exactly as I suspected it would, and I’m glad to say it was entirely happy. There are lots of steamy, sexy moments from nearly the beginning, and they become more tender and passionate as the love story builds.

Interested? You can find WORTH IT on Goodreads, Riptide Books, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Misanthropic Love CAT’S GOT YOUR HEART–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary New Adult romance from Jem Zero. CATS GOT YOUR HEART is a sweet and snarky, enemies-to-lovers romance between a man who wants to replace his sister’s missing cat and the pet store employee who refuses to adopt a cat to him.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
A fluffy feline isn’t the only thing they’re fighting for…

Adopting a cat doesn’t sound hard. Then Jericho Adams meets Harinder Mangal, the surly pet store employee who loves animals and hates customers. Their first encounter inspires more than simple loathing—it puts the ball in motion for an absurd game of deceit that boasts a fluffy cat named Dumpling as the prize.

Harinder hates Jericho’s attitude, especially when it comes to owning a pet. He attempts to chase the other man from his store and is shocked when Jericho overcomes every obstacle, no matter how bizarre. Not only that, but he generates some of his own wild inconveniences that leave Harinder seething in his ugly sweater and mom jeans.

Before either man can get the other to crack, Harinder finds himself unexpectedly homeless. Despite their mutual antagonism, Jericho invites Harinder to crash at his place. The increased proximity makes it difficult for Harinder and Jericho to maintain their respective ruses, not to mention stopping themselves from actually caring about their pet-parenting rival.

How about a little taste?

Jericho Is Not Prepared

There’s a Petco another half hour down the bus line, but it’s snowing and Jericho doesn’t have that kind of time. Well, he does. But his phone is only at thirty-seven percent battery, and he’s not patient enough to go that long without entertainment. Fortunately, there’s a small hole-in-the-wall ten minutes from his apartment.

Aquariums & More doesn’t have a website, but according to Yelp, the “more” includes live pets. Half the Yelp reviews complain about hostile and unwelcoming employees, but that’s none of his business.

The pet store looks even shittier in person than it did in the picture. Multiple neon signs have been added since the pixelated, overexposed image was captured—probably somewhere in the early 1800s. Combined, they shine so brightly they distract from the puke-green awning, torn from years of weather, with faded navy font that looks like it’s trying to be Comic Sans but isn’t quite.

The visual assault is such that Jericho briefly overlooks the grime on the windows and how there seems to be something alive inside the trash can.

Any animal bought from this place is guaranteed to have three kinds of rabies and possibly congestive heart failure in addition to being intellectually dishonest and a kleptomaniac. It’s perfect for his sister, Shiloh, so Jericho spits a wad of tasteless gum into the cigarette disposal (he isn’t going near that trash can) and steps inside.

The bell on the door jingles merrily, but upon passing the threshold, there’s no one in sight: no customers, no pimply teenage employees, not even a grizzled old man to regale him with stories of putting live mice in freezers.

Alrighty then.

Along the entire front wall is what must be a six-foot-long, gargantuan tank full of…sand and wood? Jericho looks closer, blinking when he sees some small things skittering through the thick foliage. Oh, hermit crabs.

“They’re not for sale,” a rough voice says behind him.

He startles, but not enough to make a fool out of himself. Instead of swinging around to face whoever came up behind him, Jericho casually rolls his back. See? He isn’t bothered in the least.

“There’s a sign right there.” He points down at the far corner of the tank where Hermit Crabs $5 per ea. is written in Sharpie on an off-white piece of cardstock. It’s placed away from the reach of the fluorescent tank lighting as if someone doesn’t want it to be noticed.

A dark hand reaches into his line of sight and unceremoniously rips the sign off the tank. “That was a prank,” the other person says. “Feel free to ignore it.”

“Okay,” Jericho says—because sure, whatever—and turns toward the speaker. The voice made him expect someone at least moderately intimidating, but the fluffy hair, round cheeks, and full lips are suspiciously cherubic despite the rather genuine scowl. Also, this guy is, like, five feet tall, give or take a few inches. “Do you work here?” He’s dubious about whether or not this is customer service or an attempt at stealing his lunch money.

The guy rolls his eyes—which makes Jericho think the answer is no, and he’s about to be held at gunpoint in a pet store—and then he grabs the front of his mustard-yellow sweater and tugs the wrinkles straight to reveal a worn laminated tag that reads: Hello, my name is Harinder. The first thing Jericho notices is that his nails are painted black, although heavily chipped. The second thing he notices is the bottom of the nametag where the phrase How may I assist you? has been cut off at the bottom and heavily frayed.

Harinder drops the sweater and reaches up to brush his overgrown bangs out of his eyes, then folds his arms over his chest. It turns him into a puffball of rumpled wool and flyaway hair, which Jericho fails to find either professional or impressive. A hissing alley cat, at best.

Speaking of. “Do you have any kittens?”

If Harinder’s face looked offended before, now it looks straight-up murderous. “If you want a kitten, I invite you to look into one of the mills of inbred, abused, unloved, soon-to-be-abandoned, backyard-bred animals. Might I suggest Craigslist, or some cushy chain pet shop balanced on the rusty, beloved seesaw of quality photography and appalling ethics? There’re at least three of them downtown.

“If you want to pay five hundred dollars for an animal you’ll only care about until it stops being small and inoffensive, be my guest, but I’m afraid I can’t fff— I can’t help you.”

Jericho blinks very, very slowly. He didn’t miss that aborted f-bomb, but as with the Yelp reviews, that isn’t Jericho’s problem. He tries again. “Do you have any…cats?”

Hunching his shoulders around his ears, Harinder jabs a thumb at the wall behind him. “Cat kennels are through that door.”

“Thanks.”

There are, in fact, no kittens. However, the eight kennels filling in one side of the room give him enough to choose from. The moment he catches the attention of the room’s inhabitants, there’s a chorus of noise as all the cats come to the doors of their steel prisons to bat fluffy paws through the bars in a sordid appeal for pets.

Jericho obliges the nearest one, threading his fingers through a gap and allowing the animal to smash its head into them, purring enticingly. He wiggles his hand as best he can to facilitate a more effective petting motion. This one is a skinny tabby, and the note on the front of its—his—cage says he’s two years old and calls him Princeton.

It’s such an obnoxious yuppy name that Jericho can’t help but snort. What a terrible name for a cat. He shakes his head and moves to inspect the next prisoner.

In total, there are nine cats. Two green-eyed, gray longhairs inhabit one of the lower cages. They remain curled around each other, staring dispassionately at Jericho from the back of the kennel.

“Fuck y’all too,” Jericho comments, leaving both “Lacey” and “Casey” to their own shitty devices.

A ten-year-old Abyssinian boy going by the name of Sir Charles immediately becomes his favorite. Jericho loses about five minutes trying to cram his whole hand through the tight bars so he can stroke his sleek honey-colored fur.

He doesn’t think giving Shiloh a pet that might die soon is the best idea, and he isn’t prepared to take on his own cat, so he moves on.

He ends up two cages to the left, shoulder pressed against the wall, studying a creamy Siamese point. She has a shaggy medium-length coat, faint textured stripes, and piercing blue eyes, with which she regards him coolly before padding over to give his extended fingers an inquisitive sniff.

Her body is long and lanky. Regal, Jericho thinks for all of thirty seconds before he looks at her infocard and discovers that her name is Dumpling.

A short, surprised laugh bursts from his chest; Dumpling’s ears flick backward in disapproval. She’s perfect. At a solid four years, she’s old enough to know how to use a litter box and, hopefully, a scratching post, but isn’t quite aged enough that he has to worry about being strong-armed into frequent vet-related errands.

The adoption fee is sixty-five dollars. A little steep, but manageable. Before he can do anything about it, the door to the kennel room bursts open and Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony Performed Entirely by Cats nearly deafens him.

Harinder snarls. “What the f—” His teeth settle for a moment on his bottom lip. “—are you doing?”

“Just looking,” Jericho says, pulling his hand away from the cages and shoving it in his pocket as if he was doing something wrong, although he’s pretty damn sure petting cats in a pet shop is not actually illegal.

“I’ve heard people use their eyes to do that,” is the surly reply. Of course this jackass would go there.

“Gonna call the cops?” he asks, rolling his eyes. Jericho is used to threats of police intervention in his simple existence. No innocence when you’re Black. Even being albino doesn’t change that.

Harinder’s face clouds. “I wouldn’t.” Then he wraps his whole fist around a cable lying against the room’s back wall and gives it an unnecessarily forceful yank. A thick brown curtain rolls up to the ceiling, exposing a greasy window. Harinder doesn’t say anything more, but the message of “I can see you and will rain unholy hellfire down on anything that displeases me about your conduct” is clear.

Jericho doesn’t respond. He only finds his voice when Harinder turns toward the exit. “Hey, wait. I want to buy a cat.”

Harinder stops dead, spine stiffening. Again, Jericho imagines some kind of small, furry creature raising its hackles in a misinformed attempt to look threatening.

“We don’t sell cats,” Harinder says, voice gravelly.

“Uh, what?”

He turns around, jaw clearly set. “I. Said. We don’t sell cats, you—” He clamps his mouth shut.

“What are these here for, then?”

Harinder’s eyes flick to the kennels, then back to Jericho. “They’re up for adoption.”

Jesus fucking Christ. Jericho rolls his eyes again. “Fine. How do I ‘adopt’ a cat?”

My Review:
Jericho is an albino Black male approaching his 21st birthday and he’s upset his only living relative in the world, his twin sister, Shiloh, by allowing her demon of a cat (Mephistopheles) to escape into a dark night in their nondescript East Coast suburban town. He thinks that buying a replacement will heal the rift that’s cropped up. He lives alone in a one-bedroom and supports himself since he was 17 and escaped the “loving” supervision of their abusive uncle. Jericho owns his introverted nature and is 100% socially maladroit, but he is a successful cartoonist for his own webzine and Patreon supporters. So, it can’t be that hard to buy a cat, right?

He stops at the nearest pet store to home, Aquariums & More, because shop local, right? And that’s where he meets Harinder, a small, pudgy young man who is absolutely not going to allow Jericho to adopt one of the cats in the back. No, Harinder has hoops for days that he makes prospective adopters jump through, knowing that few will bother to continue with the process through a 10-page compatibility survey, bogus community service hours requirement, and anything else he can dream up to deter folks. See, Harinder’s pretty much primal when it comes to animals and he’ll piss off eighteen dozen humans if it means not letting one unsuitable pet owner take an animal from his care.

And, care Harinder imparts. He is fastidious in his treatment and cleaning of animal cages working well beyond his clockable hours as the sole customer-facing employee in Aquariums & More. Harinder’s boss, an aging Indian man, only keeps the store as a venue to showcase his custom tank builds, and he’s rarely on-site. Essentially, Harinder has license to torment uneducated customers and is unbothered by the terrible Yelp reviews. Jericho sees through his game pretty quick and being a contrary sort regards his mission to adopt a replacement cat for Shiloh as a challenge. And Jericho aims to win.

Being self-employed gives Jericho the flexibility to enter the store on the regular and meet or exceed all of Harinder’s ridiculous stipulations. His presence and keen observational skills puts Jericho in a position to recognize that Harinder’s actually very principled and dedicated to the animals at the store, engendering a grudging respect. . He also witnesses harassment of Harinder by friends of his housemate, and is likewise present when Harinder’s tenuous living situation implodes.

The snark and walls each man has built to protect themselves from the meanness of their existence begin to crack as Jericho solicitously brings Harinder and what remain of his belongings into his own apartment. It’s sweet and entertaining, and the attraction that Harinder has tried to not acknowledge definitely blooms in this hot house. None of this is too overt. These guys are generally not impetuous, and they don’t need more than companionship, at first. Of course, having Harinder in his place means that the ruse to adopt the cat is far more complicated, especially as Harinder has a deep desire to adopt the one cat that Jericho wants–if he could house a pet, that is. The more that these two men connect, the more the deception tears at Jericho, until it becomes too much to bear–and Harinder is not happy. Things had been going so well, though, that Jericho’s quick thinking and growing affection are soon enough overcome their conflict.

This is a fun book to read, with great pacing and a delicious slow burn. There are definitely race issues at play, and Harinder’s view of Jericho’s struggles is interesting, and supportive. I rather felt as if the author was writing a book from a British English perspective, as the American details seemed a bit vague and generic. That said, the characters were engaging, the plot creative and the enemies-to-lovers trope well-executed. Expect a happy ending and a well-housed cat, or two.

Interested? You can find CAT’S GOT YOUR HEART on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Jem Zero is a disabled lesbian who lives in a house built by zir great-grandfather with zir family and two rescue greyhounds. Zir work is unapologetically queer and strives to communicate the frustration of being limited by one’s meatsack & brainjuice.

While arguing zir way through an Accounting Certificate, Jem makes a living as a portrait artist and, similar to most tortured creators, is attempting to establish zirself in creative writing.

You can catch up with Jem on zir website, Facebook, and twitter.

Connected by THE LITTLE LIBRARY–A TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a Throwback Thursday review for a contemporary M/M romance from Kim Fielding. THE LITTLE LIBRARY connects a lonely historian with a cop on the mend. I enjoyed A SECOND HARVEST and LOVE CAN’T CONQUER, and I’m a big fan of Ms. Fielding.

About the book:
Elliott Thompson was once a historian with a promising academic future, but his involvement in a scandal meant a lost job, public shame, and a ruined love life. He took shelter in his rural California hometown, where he teaches online classes, hoards books, and despairs of his future.

Simon Odisho has lost a job as well—to a bullet that sidelined his career in law enforcement. While his shattered knee recovers, he rethinks his job prospects and searches for the courage to come out to his close-knit but conservative extended family.

In an attempt to manage his overflowing book collection, Elliott builds a miniature neighborhood library in his front yard. The project puts him in touch with his neighbors—for better and worse—and introduces him to handsome, charming Simon. While romance blooms quickly between them, Elliott’s not willing to live in the closet, and his best career prospects might take him far away. His books have plenty to tell him about history, but they give him no clues about a future with Simon.

My Review:
History professor Elliott Thompson is licking his wounds following the disastrous end of his most recent relationship. His ex is a criminal, and though Elliott was found innocent of conspiring with him, his university decided it would be best if they made clean break. So, he’s returned to his small California hometown, teaching online courses and masking his hurt feelings with an addiction to purchasing books online–particularly paperbacks. His home, however, has only so much physical space to contain these books, so Elliott’s solution to his book hoarding is to build a little library that he posts in his front yard. Elliott’s home is near a popular footpath, so his neighbors are a bit thrilled with the advent of free books just for their own pleasure. Well, mostly. He does have one homophobic jerk who makes more than a stink over it. Elliott takes great pleasure curating his library selection and seeing what books get taken–and what new ones are replaced by other readers!

Simon Odisho is a first generation American, born to Assyrian immigrants. His family is boisterous and caring, but also conservative, and Simon has kept his sexuality secret from them, and the members of the police force–while he was employed there. Unfortunately, a bullet in the line of duty has ruined Simon’s knee and his prospects in law enforcement. He walks the trail near Elliott’s home for his physical therapy, and he admires Elliott’s running on the trail and his little library.

The attraction between Elliott and Simon is mutual, despite the difficulties of their lives. Simon still wants to remain closeted, and Elliott is considering job offers that could take him away from this small town respite. In consideration of these conflicts, they decide to try something low-key and no strings, but that’s a sure-fire way to find the love you’d been seeking all along. There’s a little bit of steam and a little bit of humor–especially the first date scene which is laugh out loud. Through the growth of these characters we get to see how a community of supporters can change the bleakest of moments and experiences. And how books can change all our lives for the better. When I first read this one, I thought the bigoted neighbor was over-the-top and a bit of a caricature, but seeing this character in light of the way some folks are behaving in real life, regarding the pandemic, and racial injustice and being just uncivil in the highest degree, I could fully envision this character anew and recognize him for the danger he poses in our world today.

That said, it’s a pretty low angst romance with a bit of steam and a believable HEA for Simon and Elliott. It was an enjoyable read back when it came out, and again when I delved back for a TBT.

Interested? You can find THE LITTLE LIBRARY on Goodreads, Amazon, and Apple Books. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Kim Fielding lives in California and travels as often as she can manage. A professor by day, at night she rushes into a phone booth to change into her author costume (which involves comfy clothes instead of Spandex and is, sadly, lacking a cape). Her superpowers include the ability to write nearly anywhere, often while simultaneously doling out assistance to her family. Her favorite word to describe herself is “eclectic” and she finally got that fourth tattoo.

Catch up to Kim on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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.

Getting Together Can Be a HARD RIDE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M cowboy romance from AM Arthur. HARD RIDE is the fifth book in her Clean Slate Ranch series that features cowboys, cooks and city slickers–not to mention some actors, finding love with one another. I’ve enjoyed several books from Ms. Arthur, including SAVED, HERE FOR US, THE WORLD AS HE SEES IT, FINDING THEIR WAY, and recently reviewed ROPED IN so I was eager to read on in this series. Turns out, it’s a perfect way to continue Dad Week.

About the book:
Five Weddings and a Fake Boyfriend
City slicker Derrick Massey has always had a thing for cowboys. So a roll in the hay with Kendall “Slater” Stamos during a rustic weekend wedding is more than A-OK. But when Slater’s forced to hang up his saddle for the season, Derrick surprises even himself with his proposition: be my fake boyfriend and get my family off my back about finding a permanent partner.

Though unexpected, the arrangement is a win-win. Derrick gets a plus-one for a slew of summer weddings and Slater gets a place to stay while he recuperates…with lots of casual fun in between. Which is just how the sexy cowboy likes it: casual. Yet it’s obvious the chemistry between them is anything but.

With the countdown to their “breakup” on, the more time the two men spend together. And the more it becomes clear that what they have could be real, if only they let it be.

My Review:
This is the fifth book in a series, and is probably best enjoyed when read in order but is still enjoyable on its own.

Derrick Massey is a young urban professional running a non-profit business that assists families and ex-convicts trying to rebuild their lives. He’s in his late 20s and a suave black man. His brother Conrad is married to Sophie Bentley–Wes Bentley’s younger sister. Wes is married to Mack Garrett who runs the Bentley Ghost Town attraction, and his grandfather owns Clean Slate Ranch. Derrick likes the ranch, but mostly he likes the cowboys. While mooning over his single state in the wake of the two weddings he’d attended the day before, Derrick runs into Slater, a ranch hand, in the small gym at the ranch. And boy do they hook up. It’s perfect, and over too quick for Derrick’s taste.

Not long after, Slater is running an overnight camping ride with a bunch of dude ranch guests. One of the children wanders off and Slater falls off a cliff trying to save the boy. The injuries which could have been life-threatening amount to a leg surgery that keeps Slater in a cast for what looks to be months. And, that means he can’t work as a cowboy until he’s healed. He’s sure down on his luck and won’t be able to send much money back to his parents who barely get by and are currently raising Slater’s teenaged daughter, Rachel. What few people know about Slater–including his actual name–is he’s an ex-con who’d served time for aggravated battery. He’s a super private guy, and still ashamed of his time in prison.

Derrick has a slew of weddings to attend in the summer season, and desperately wants a date. Slater’s out of work and his bunk at remote Clean Slate is not amenable to recovery or making regular therapy appointments. So Derrick makes a fake-boyfriend pact with Slater–in exchange for living at Derrick’s city apartment and getting rides to therapy and doctor appointments, Slater will come to the weddings with Derrick as his plus-one. Slater agrees, reluctantly, and adds his own caveat: Derrick needs to drive him up to his parents home one specific week. Derrick later learns this trip is to see Rachel’s high school graduation.

I always enjoy a good fake boyfriend story, and this one is really sweet. Derrick’s home is a bit spare, but he makes it as comfy as he can. We get neighbor drama and new friendships which all support Slater’s growth from isolated ex-con into friendly entrepreneur. The chemistry between the men is high, and they eventually decide some sexual benefits can come from their arrangement. They learn a lot about one another, and their vulnerable moments strengthen their growing bond. As the days and weeks pass, both Derrick and Slater come to appreciate the general kindness the other has. They genuinely like each other and it doesn’t take long before the “fake” part of the arrangement is starting to look less and less real.

Naturally, there is a bit of separation in play, to create the climactic tension, but it does get resolved without too much stress. Derrick and Slater lean on their best friends/confidantes to help guide their way back to one another. It’s a sweet reunion, and I wonder if we don’t have a spin-off story that features Derrick and Slater’s twin neighbors. O.O

Interested? You can find HARD RIDE on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Kobo.

About the Author:
A.M. Arthur was born and raised in the same kind of small town that she likes to write about, a stone’s throw from both beach resorts and generational farmland. She’s been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long, in a losing battle to make the fictional voices stop. She credits an early fascination with male friendships (bromance hadn’t been coined yet back then) with her later discovery of and subsequent love affair with m/m romance stories. A.M. Arthur’s work is available from Samhain Publishing, Carina Press, Dreamspinner Press, and SMP Swerve.
When not exorcising the voices in her head, she toils away in a retail job that tests her patience and gives her lots of story fodder. She can also be found in her kitchen, pretending she’s an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments.

Catch up with Ms. Arthur on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Saving One’s Heart–THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M interracial romance from Lisa Henry. THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED is a standalone romance featuring a Samoan detective who’s relationship to a youth he once saved has matured into a deep love over the years.

About the book:
The past never stays buried forever.

John Faimu is an Australian-Samoan police officer who deals with hurt kids every day. He loves what he does, but he’s tired of the grind of shift work, and of trying to find a balance between his job, his family, and the young man who straddles the increasingly blurry line between both.

Caleb Fletcher was the teenager John saved from a cult eight long years ago, and he’s now the young man John wants in ways that neither of them should risk.

Eight years after his rescue, Caleb is still struggling with PTSD and self-harm. John has always been his rock, but now Caleb wants more. Can he convince John to cross a line and love him the way they both crave? And when the monsters from Caleb’s past come back seeking to silence him for good, will John’s love be enough to save him?

The Parable of the Mustard Seed is a M/M gay romance featuring hurt/comfort, first times, found family, and angst with a happy ending.

How about a taste?

Fucking hospitals.

John scrubbed his knuckles over his scalp. He felt more tired now than he had for a long time, and it wasn’t just the shift work. It was Caleb, and this place, and the knowledge that they’d been here before and they would be here again. Different hospitals, different beds, different scratchy blankets and too-cold air conditioning, but all of them stuck in the same old cycle.

Eight years of this.

It wasn’t always this dramatic. Most of the time it didn’t end in a hospital. Most of the time it was increasingly erratic behaviour. It was risk-taking. It was subtle and pervasive, but John knew how to read the signs. He’d talked Caleb down from plenty of metaphorical high places before. Enough to wonder every time if he was only delaying the inevitable. If Darren was, and the psychiatrists and psychologists were, and the pharmacists.

John sighed.

Of course it felt hopeless. It was almost three in the morning and he was sitting in a fucking hospital. Shit always felt dire in the middle of the night.

John reached out and brushed his fingertips against the back of Caleb’s right hand. His skin was cold to the touch, his fingers white and bloodless. Several of his knuckles were grazed. The wounds weren’t fresh.

Darren had said last week that Caleb had punched a wall. Out of nowhere. No warnings signs, no meltdown, just a sudden, furious burst of anger that had broken over him. And afterward, Darren said, when Caleb was sitting on the floor nursing an icepack, he’d refused to talk about it.

Sometimes even Caleb didn’t know what the fuck was happening in his head.

John’s fingertips brushed the wrinkled edge of the tape that held the canula in the back of Caleb’s hand. The plastic tape was dry and rough.

“I bleed and you’re here.”

Fuck.

John straightened and turned his face toward Caleb’s. His face was pale, his lips colourless. Dark circles carved out hollows under his eyes.

“Your dad called me,” John said. “He’s on his way.”

Caleb’s gaze dropped away.

John leaned closer and frowned. “What the fuck are you doing, mate?”

“Bad night.” Caleb pressed his lips into a thin white line.

“Were you clubbing?” John gestured at his clothes: dark jeans, a tight shirt, and—what were the kids calling them these days?—expensive kicks.

Caleb inspected the bandages on his arm. “Yeah.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Caleb.” John was always there to pick up the pieces, but he didn’t coddle Caleb. He never had, not even at the start. “You think I drove all the way here to listen to you lie to me?”

“I was with a guy.” Caleb flinched as he said it.

“Were you safe?”

Caleb’s gaze faltered. “I was with a guy.”

“So you said.” John wondered what reaction Caleb had been expecting. “Were you safe?”

Caleb nodded, turning his face away.

John studied him for a moment, unsure how to react. A part of him was afraid to react at all in case any reaction was an overreaction. Caleb wasn’t coming out as gay—he’d done that at nineteen—but by admitting to a sexual encounter he was coming out in another way: Caleb was coming out as human being who wanted to be touched. A human being with sexual needs. This was a big step. The biggest in a long time. Nobody had expected him to remain celibate forever; nobody thought that was remotely healthy. But fuck, this big step had turned into a hell of a stumble, hadn’t it? Caleb was in freefall.

John reached out and squeezed Caleb’s shoulder. “Did this guy try something? Something you didn’t want to do?”

“No.” Caleb shifted. His worried gaze found John again. “No, it was me, not him.”

John nodded.

“We went to a hotel.” Caleb’s gaze slipped away again. “He said I was a slut.” His voice hitched. “Said I was bad.”

John moved his hand from Caleb’s shoulder to his cheek. Caleb was still so cold. “If you tell me he was being a prick, I’ll track the fucker down.”

“The way he said it, I was supposed to like it. Wasn’t his fault.” Caleb closed his eyes. “I didn’t even mind, not much, not when he was there.”

John sighed. “What happened when he left?”

Caleb shuddered. “When he left, all I could hear in my head was Ethan.”

John tensed, and tried not to let Caleb feel it.

“So loud,” Caleb sighed.

John withdrew his hand. “Look at me.”

Caleb opened his eyes.

“Next time you hear Ethan Gray in your head, you don’t listen to him.” John shook his head. “You call you dad, or your doctor, or you call me, doesn’t matter what time, you call me and I will be there. You understand me?”

Caleb jerked his chin in a nod.

“You don’t cut yourself, Caleb.” John frowned. “You understand me?”

“Okay,” Caleb murmured.

The worst part, John knew, was that Caleb meant it, and would go on meaning it right up until the next time he was holding a blade against his wrists.

You’ll break my heart one day, Caleb Fletcher, I know you will.

John forced a smile. “Okay.”

Caleb sighed and closed his eyes.

John watched him until he fell asleep, then got up and hunted down a blanket.

My Review:
John Faimu is a gay, Australian-Samoan police officer who has kept a long-standing friendship with a man he rescued eight years ago. At fifteen, Caleb Fletcher was beaten half-dead and left to die in a locked shed in a religious commune. The police were there to investigate claims of children going uneducated, and found a hellscape of true believers and their unclaimed children barely surviving the Children of Galilee’s cult leader’s directives. Caleb had been kidnapped by his mother, a cult member, when he was only 4, and he didn’t even remember his true father, let alone his birth name. He did remember watching one of the cult enforcers beat his dear friend Simon to death in the punishment shed. All because Simon and Caleb held hands and kissed where someone could see.

The perpetrators went to jail–including Caleb’s mother–but not for Simon’s murder, because no one could find the body, and there were no missing persons notices outstanding for the boy. Though Caleb and another girl from the cult knew he’d been taken to the punishment shed, they were too unreliable to provide testimony to murder without a body for evidence. Caleb was returned to his father’s care, where he had years of medications, therapy and counseling to treat his PTSD, anxiety and depression. He has a reasonable aversion for christianity, as it triggers his memories of time with the cult. John was asked by Caleb’s father, Darren, to continue coming by and checking in on Caleb. They boy had made a bond with his rescuer, and John was happy to oblige; he was single and compassionate with time on his hands, after all.

Fast forward eight years, and Caleb’s a fully-grown, out-gay man. He’s not able to live alone, and struggles with self-harm when the depression gets too great. His med mix is in constant flux, but he’s trying hard to not be that broken boy John peeled off a shed floor. Caleb has been attracted to John since…ever. And as an adult he feels that John and he are well-suited, if only John wouldn’t make such an issue out of it. They are friends–they could be lovers, right? And, John’s afraid that he’ll hurt Caleb in any way that could trigger his self-harm. It’s entirely possible, but it’s also true that these men have had a lot of love for one another since their fateful meeting.

Bigger problem, the parole board has just released the offenders from Children of Galilee, and they are barred from seeking contact with each other, Caleb, or any of the other cult members that weren’t in jail. And, and the body of an unknown child was just uncovered near a creek bed in an area that had been bushland at the time of Caleb’s rescue, but now is a developed community. It’s a long shot, but if they can tie the DNA from the body to anyone from Children of Galilee those folks are heading back into the clink for murder. That is, if they don’t erase the witnesses before identity can be determined.

Caleb and John are such awesome characters. I loved learning about John’s Samoan heritage through this story. The inclusion of his family–struggling since his father’s recent death–helped round out the story. Glimpses of Samoan culture through foods, sayings, and vignettes were intriguing, and gave me insight I appreciated. Caleb’s story is heart-breaking, and his determination to be as functional as possible in his adult life was commendable and endearing. He’s so gone for John, and his desire to upgrade their relationship from caretaker to lover is poignant. It was super brave of Caleb to state his desires so plainly, and John–who knew years ago that Caleb would break his heart–finally relents believing that he could care for Caleb better than any other stranger. And they are good together, mush to Darren’s chagrin. (Well, he’s struggling with secrets more than sense.) It’s a little tricky at work for John, what with this investigation into the unidentified body and possibly leading back to Caleb, who is still a key witness in Simon’s death.

There ends up being some high-stakes situations in the end, related to the cold case of Simon’s murder. It’s in the moments when John fears losing Caleb forever that he knows he won’t ever let that man slip through his fingers again. I was turning that pages super quick, and fearing it was all going to go really, really bad before the climax. The story is told through John’s POV so there was a lot of fear, adrenaline, anxiety and grief running through those last few chapters–which translated well to me, even knowing it was a romance and we’d all get the HEA. I really liked this interracial, police romance, and the cop-witness dynamic was as intriguing as the older-younger dynamic, virgin hero situation and Aussie setting. Just a great read.

Interested? You can find THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters. Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.

She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly.
She shares her house with too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.

Lisa has been published since 2012, and was a LAMBDA finalist for her quirky, awkward coming-of-age romance Adulting 101, and a Rainbow Awards finalist for 2019’s Anhaga.

You can find Lisa on her website, Twitter, Facebook Author Page, Goodreads, and Instagram.