WHY CAN’T SOPHOMORE SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA–Review & Giveaway

Why Can't Sophmore BannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ YA coming of age story from Andy V. Roamer. WHY CAN’T SOPHOMORE SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA? is the fourth book in the Pizza Chronicles and features a high school sophomore determining how to navigate several difficult friendships, and if he should come out. I adored WHY CAN’T LIFE BE LIKE PIZZA?, WHY CAN’T FRESHMAN SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA?, and WHY CAN’T RELATIONSHIPS BE LIKE PIZZA? I highly recommend reading this series in order.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to get in on the $50 GC giveaway!
Sophomor Summer coverAbout the book:It’s the summer after sophomore year and RV plans to enjoy new adventures and new challenges after finishing two years of high school.

He gets a job as an usher at a movie multiplex but discovers the realities of dealing with job stresses and unruly customers. It’s also time for him to start learning how to drive, and his father is eager to give him lessons. But he’s not the most patient of teachers and RV is not the most capable of drivers.

RV opens himself up to a new relationship and it looks like the start of a budding romance—until it isn’t.

And then there is RV’s family… Luckily, as always, Mr. Aniso, RV’s freshmen-year teacher, is always there to talk over anything that might be bothering RV. But he’s away for the summer, so there’s only so much time and attention he can give RV. It looks like RV’s summer won’t be fun and games after all.

How about a taste?

I can’t believe it’s summer again. I’ve finished two years at Latin School. Halfway to graduation.

And I just turned sixteen. Yeah. Sixteen. Wow. Am I an adult? I can do some things, like drive once I get my license. I can have sex here in Massachusetts. As if I’m going to, LOL. Though my parents can still forbid me to see certain people until I’m eighteen. Whoa! What? I can’t buy a drink yet. And I can’t vote. But I can pre-register to vote? What?

So, I’m, like, half an adult? A third? Two-tenths? Three-eighths? Double LOL!

Do I feel like an adult? Sometimes. And sometimes I still feel like that scared, confused kid with so much to learn about life. So, what is life going to teach me next? Where do I go from here? Where do I go from here?

!#$!@#!@$#!$!!!

Okay, RV, chill out. Stop getting ahead of yourself. Learn to stay in the moment like all those books say. Not just books, but Mr. Aniso too.

I hear you, Mr. Aniso! Hope you’re enjoying summer in— Where did you go? Ames, Iowa? Helping out your partner Ben’s parents. You’re such a good guy. Will I ever be like you? Helpful. Confident. And strong. Yes, strong. Maybe not macho strong on the outside, but definitely on the inside. As I keep pointing out to Bobby.

Oh, Bobby. Took him to our favorite place in the woods today. It was a perfect afternoon. Blue sky, green trees, those hills in the distance that always make me believe there’s a future. A good future. I wanted to share it with Bobby. Wanted to celebrate the start of summer, sitting on our rock, looking out at everything.

I don’t think Bobby was into celebrating anything. He just sat there, not saying a word, looking out into space.

Celebrate. Maybe it wasn’t the right word to use. I know Bobby teases me whenever I use a fancy new word—me and my words!—but “celebrate” isn’t fancy, is it? It’s regular, something everyone does. I know he probably doesn’t feel like celebrating these days, given everything he’s dealing with, but I’m just trying to stay positive. Is that so wrong?

I glanced over at Bobby. He just kept sitting quietly, staring straight ahead.

Wasn’t sure whether to say anything else that might come out as annoying. Or better to keep my big mouth shut. Last thing I ever want to do is upset him.

I decided a question would be okay.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked quietly, staring straight ahead too.

“Nothing much.”

“Oh.”

“Nothing much,” he repeated. “Only about last summer.”

“Last summer?”

“Yeah. Do you remember how we began last summer?”

“When we went to the park, you mean?”

“Yeah. Larz Anderson Park. It was nice, wasn’t it?”

The memory of sitting on the hill in that little grove of trees, looking over at the twinkling lights of downtown Boston, came back to me. And then another memory. Bobby’s hand on top of mine, making me feel happy and secure.

Today was and wasn’t the same. Bobby’s hand was resting on the rock right next to mine. I wanted to place my hand on top of his, connecting to that moment a year ago. But I didn’t dare. This was a different summer. And a different beginning.

My Review:
This is the fourth 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 previous books.

Arvydas “RV” is the eldest son of Lithuanian ex-pat citizens and living a middle class life in Boston. RV’s parents have worked hard for their modest American existence; it’s not exactly the American Dream they had envisioned upon emigration. RV has a younger brother Ray who is more outgoing and popular–he’s got a steady girlfirend and regularly challenges their parents on their conservative beliefs. In contrast, RV is very non-confrontational, and hides pretty much all of his feelings, all of the time. This is especially true about his sexuality, which RV is pretty sure that he’s gay. He did have a girlfriend, Carole, and he like the physical things they did, but his responses are away more intense when he’s with or near a boy he likes. One of these people is Bobby, who was his boyfriend–until he’d had a catastrophic concussion playing football and he’s been struggling to recover since.

It’s the beginning of summer and RV has a new job as an usher at a multiplex–which means doing whatever is necessary in the theaters, like clean up, ticket taking, and telling customers to behave when they are unruly. He meets Matteo there, and Matteo is a bit of a kindred spirit. He’s about the same age, and has gay or bisexual attraction. Casual attention seems to bloom into more, leaving RV both excited and guilty. Bobby is not really acting like a boyfriend, but he still wants RV to visit him at home and help with his recovery exercises. It’s tenuous and troubling because Bobby’s frustration with his physicians and condition is high and he’s sometimes angry with everyone that he’s so injured. He wants to recover and get back to football by the end of summer, no matter how dangerous or unrealistic this sounds. In truth, I felt his parents were problems here, for not being honest or realistic with Bobby, allowing him to hope for something that was never to be. And, it upset RV too, to see Bobby so determined, and be so scared for him.

During the summer RV connects with people that had been important in previous stories:  Carole, Mark, the S-head cousins, Mr. Aniso, even Joe the pizza guy. They provide support and struggle for RV to work with and against. Like Carole gets RV to have some fun tours with her boyfriend Guillome. And, Mark gets him thinking about whether gayness could, or should, be cured. Mr. Aniso and Joe are voices of reason and comfort, allowing RV to help them in turn. Even Ray, his argumentative brother, is a source of immense support, knowing RV’s sexuality and loving him unconditionally–challenging him to come out to their parents, and supporting him through it.

As RV is learning growing up is about overcoming challenges, and building friendships that will stand the test of time. It’s about loving yourself, and being your true self, whenever possible. RV has brushes with bullies in this one, those who pick on him for suspected gayness, and his levelheadedness and need to analyze the situation before acting sometimes aggravates the people around him. It was fun to watch RV practice driving with his dad, who is trying to build some type of rapport on common ground, except that RV is terrified of driving, and he’s really bad, at first. RV’s friends all consider him to be a pretty innocent kid, and he may be, but it’s refreshing that he’s not totally jaded.

Like the previous books, this story hits a great balance between voice and action, with RV both narrating and living his experiences. I’m glad I’ve read this series through, and would be happy to keep riding along on RV’s emotional and evocative journey. Highly recommend for readers who enjoy YA and tween LGBTQ stories.

Interested? You can find WHY CAN’T SOPHOMORE SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA? on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Books2Read. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $50 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.

Growing up thinking WHY CAN’T RELATIONSHIPS 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 RELATIONSHIPS BE LIKE PIZZA? is the third book in the Pizza Chronicles and features a high school sophomore questioning his if he’s ready to live his truth, and how to do that in a way that won’t make him a target. I adored WHY CAN’T LIFE BE LIKE PIZZA? and WHY CAN’T FRESHMAN SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA? I highly recommend reading this series in order.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to get in on the $10 GC giveaway!
About the book:
As RV enters sophomore year, his friendships and relationships create more questions than answers. RV still cares for Bobby, but Bobby seems a different, more distant person. RV’s best friend Carole is distracted by the ups and downs in her relationships with her French boyfriends, while RV’s new friend Mark is more focused on his family’s troubles. School is a mixed bag. RV enjoys the Spanish club he has joined, which is run by his beautiful Spanish teacher, Señorita Sanchez. But he struggles with other subjects and annoying teachers and always has to watch out for the school bullies who seem to know how to stay under the detention radar.

As always, RV’s former teacher and mentor, Mr. Aniso, is there for advice, especially when near-tragedy strikes and RV needs Mr. Aniso’s counsel to stay strong and provide help where it’s needed most.

How about a taste?

What’s Up with My Relationships?

I thought sophomore year would be easier. I got through freshman year okay, even got an award for good grades and good behavior. Yeah, I’m such an angel. It’ll take a long time to live that down. Whalen is in my homeroom again. Hope he’s over drawing pictures of his classmates, especially me. If he only knew the real me, maybe he wouldn’t have drawn that halo over my head.

Anyway, sophomore year sure isn’t starting out any easier. I can already tell my Chemistry class is going to be no picnic. I’m a right-brain guy, creative and nerdy, ha ha, not analytical and nerdy. And too bad I don’t have Mr. Aniso for Latin class this year. It would be great reading Julius Caesar with him, wouldn’t it? Better than having Latin with Miss Wagstaff. Reminds me of a librarian crossed with some of our nuns in grammar school. She’s tall and skinny with tight curly hair and these round granny glasses that make her eyes look huge. She never smiles, and when she gets mad, her eyes get bigger behind those glasses, her arms fly around, and she starts to screech like one of those scary prehistoric birds. Oh, for the days of Mr. Aniso.

And this year’s Math teacher, Mr. Felucci, never smiles either. He’s strict too. Reminds me of a mean, fat army sergeant who likes to put you on the spot in class. Not fun for my right-sided brain.

At least there’s Señorita Sánchez, our Spanish teacher. She’s from Spain and so gorgeous, even I might start to have fantasies about her. She’s tough, too, but nice about it. Doesn’t make us feel bad if we get something wrong.

So, school’s not all bad, right? I guess not. But it’s my life that’s—what?—kind of somewhere out there in some crazy zone, not exactly where I want it to be. Especially where my friends are concerned. Most importantly, Bobby. I still think we’re close, aren’t we? We did have that nice talk in our favorite place in the woods, where he apologized and said he still cared about me. I’m so happy for him. He was so excited about making the varsity football team.

But guess what? I haven’t seen him since then. Not alone anyway. He’s not in any of my classes. Oh, I see him in the corridors at school, where he’s nice to me, like he’s nice to everybody. That’s what makes him so great. Mr. Nice Guy, despite being a jock and making the varsity football team. He could be so full of himself, though he’s not. He’s just busy with school and practice. Always practice. So, friends have to take second place. Is that how it works?

And then Carole, my wonderful Carole. I thought when she got back from Paris, we’d be getting together a lot. But I’ve only seen her once. All she talked about was François. A gorgeous French guy she met over there. François this, François that. She barely asked me about my summer.

Well, okay. She’s got a huge crush. People who get crushes are a little off the wall, especially if that crush is on someone from a foreign country. The foreign person seems so exotic and all that. So, you have to give them some space, right? At least through the end of the year. Carole told me François and his family were coming to Boston to visit relatives for the holidays.

Then there’s my wonderful family. I haven’t known whether they’re coming or going for a long time, so it’s no use complaining about them. At least Mom and Dad got their citizenship, so that should settle things down for a bit. Mom can concentrate on her jewelry business, and Dad still has his job. Even if he loses his job, which he says can happen anytime, now that he’s a citizen it should be easier for him to find another job, right? Though to hear Dad talk about it, there are enough undocumented immigrants in the construction business, it’s just not out in the open. So why did we spend so much time studying that booklet with all those questions? He should be happy he passed the test. But he’s still complaining, now about all those undocumented guys. I wish he could be happy for a change.

Like Ray. What? My little brother happy? Yeah, there’s been a change in him in the last few weeks. He sits at the dinner table, smiling sometimes. Offers to pass the potatoes. If Dad tells him to put away his phone, he does it without arguing. Doesn’t even say anything smart-alecky back in English. Almost acts like the good obedient son of immigrants his parents want him to be. Really? Ray talking Lith-speak? “Taip.” “Ačiū.” “Ar galiu daugiau bulvių?” “Yes.” “Thank you.” “May I have more potatoes?” How long is that going to last?

Like I said, with my family, I never know if they’re coming or going or running around in crazy circles.

Well, at least there’s Joe’s Pizza. Always Joe’s. One thing I can count on. Even though it looks like Bobby’s football teammates have discovered it, Joe’s Pizza is still a good place to come and chill out. Maybe I don’t need to find another place. How could I ever leave Joe’s? And one good thing about football practice. It’s not just Bobby who’s so busy. All those guys are busy after school practicing. So, they haven’t been coming here much. It looks like I’ll still be able to come and have my slice in peace, at least until football season ends.

So, RV, just settle down and start your homework. You can always write more in your diary after your three or four hours of hitting the books. Who am I kidding? I’ll be so tired then, I’ll be sick of looking at the computer screen. I’ll just want to go to bed. That’s what I get for being smart and going to Boston Latin School.

Am I smart? There are a lot of smart kids here, so I don’t feel so smart. It takes a lot of work just to keep up. But I wouldn’t be happier being dumb, would I? No. How about just kind of average? Not that either.

So here I come, sophomore year! You’re not going to get me down, even if I have no idea where I fit in or what you have in store for me!

My Review:
This is the third 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 two books.

Arvydas “RV” …… (sorry I don’t have the tenacity to write his last name) is the eldest son of Lithuanian ex-pats newly naturalized and living a middle class life in Boston. RV’s parents have worked hard for their modest American existence; it’s not exactly the American Dream they had envisioned upon emigration. RV has a younger brother Ray who is more outgoing and popular. They have struggles because Ray is willing to stand up for himself and his ideas, while RV is very non-confrontational, and hides pretty much all of his feelings, all of the time. This is especially true about his sexuality, which RV is pretty sure that he’s gay, but maybe he could be bisexual.

It’s sophomore year and RV has new challenges. His boyfriend Bobby is a fellow student at the prestigious Boston Latin School, but they don’t see each other much because Bobby just made the varsity football team, and is spending all his time at practice or hanging with teammates. RV and Bobby had issues before, because RV didn’t understand why Bobby, who is an only child and a studious young black boy, is so driven to succeed. And to keep his sexuality a secret. RV isn’t sure he wants to come out, but Bobby is over-the-top terrified of anyone knowing. RV’s also a bit irritated that Carole, his previous girlfriend and still good friend, is preoccupied, hoping her summer boyfriend from France will visit at Christmas. With Bobby and Carole so busy, RV continues to cultivate friendships.

Mark is a boy in his Spanish class who seems friendly. It turns out he’s a Pentacostal Christian, and his devout family is in crisis now that his older brother came out as gay. Mark has so many questions about sexuality, and attraction; both boys are attracted to their Spanish teacher, but again, so much fear over potential gay-ness. It’s upsetting for RV who doesn’t even have the answers about his own feelings. The story, like the previous one, is mostly told through RV’s personal journal where he explores the conflicts of his life with scrutiny and vocabulary. He’s not sure how to approach his parents about his sexuality questions, but he’s developing a stronger relationship with Ray, which he’s happy about. We get a clear-eyed view of RV’s internal and external struggles as a 15 year old boy, with identities in the LGBTQ spectrum as well as the immigrant experience. He’s a polyglot, speaking Lithuanian and English fluently while also studying Latin and Spanish; words are his absolutely his jam.

This book is centered on relationships, those of friends, family and confidants. As some wax others wane, in the typical teen fashion. Bobby has a big injury that strains their already fraying relationship, so RV needs to lean heavier on his other supports. The story hits a great balance between voice and action, with RV both narrating and living his experiences. I’m glad I’ve read this series through, and would be happy to keep riding along on RV’s emotional and evocative journey. Highly recommend for readers who enjoy YA and tween LGBTQ stories.

Interested? You can find WHY CAN’T RELATIONSHIPS BE LIKE PIZZA? on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Books2Read. 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.

Embracing an AMERICAN LOVE STORY–a TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a sexy contemporary multicultural romance from Adriana Herrera. AMERICAN LOVE STORY is the third book in her Dreamers series, and you can find my review for AMERICAN FAIRYTALE, AMERICAN SWEETHEARTS and AMERICAN CHRISTMAS, too.

About the book:
No one should have to choose between love and justice.
Haitian-born professor and activist Patrice Denis is not here for anything that will veer him off the path he’s worked so hard for. One particularly dangerous distraction: Easton Archer, the assistant district attorney who last summer gave Patrice some of the most intense nights of his life, and still makes him all but forget they’re from two completely different worlds.

All-around golden boy Easton forged his own path to success, choosing public service over the comforts of his family’s wealth. With local law enforcement unfairly targeting young men of color, and his career—and conscience—on the line, now is hardly the time to be thirsting after Patrice again. Even if their nights together have turned into so much more.

For the first time, Patrice is tempted to open up and embrace the happiness he’s always denied himself. But as tensions between the community and the sheriff’s office grow by the day, Easton’s personal and professional lives collide. And when the issue at hand hits closer to home than either could imagine, they’ll have to work to forge a path forward…together.

My Review:
As a Haitian immigrant Patrice Denis has fought prejudice in the legal and academic realms his whole life. He grew up in NYC with his loving mother, and crew of loyal friends, but he’s not beyond the struggle just because he’s now a young professor in Albany, New York. His experiences with law enforcement have always been fraught, and it seems that profiling incidents between the police and young men of color in and around Albany are escalating to problematic levels. Patrice is also struggling with his attraction to Easton Archer, a white assistant DA who seems to be filling his head, despite his wishes. Easton is charming and earnest, but can he truly understand the struggle of a Black man–an immigrant man–when he works for the justice system?

Patrice has held himself so close and so tight for so long, but Easton’s willing to shoulder some of his worries. But, when people who don’t have a voice are put at risk, well, Patrice is sure that Easton will let him down. Further, when the police seem to target Patrice, it’s not a question of tolerance, but one of justice, and one that Easton may not be able to manage.

This book got to me on many levels. There is a scorching love story between Easton and Patrice that is full-on absorbing. But the social justice themes, with Patrice–an educated and articulate man of color–having troubling interactions with police opened the conversation further about prejudice and racial profiling. This book was published in 2019, before George Floyd and the 2020 summer of the BLM marches, so we can see that these themes have been part of the culture and media of POC and mainstream urban folk for a long time. I guess, I mean to say this book didn’t arise out of the BLM movement, but speaks to a formalized and ingrained struggle that POC and immigrants have experienced time out of mind. Easton’s response was very white suburban–and it absolutely revealed the power of white privilege that Patrice was so vehemently fighting against.

While it seems so odd-couple, the plain truth is these were two amazing male characters with a lot of love, and a desperate need to find and expose injustice to better society as well as their own lives. Their passion and compassion made for a romance that has me still recalling details now nearly two years after I read the book. They are strong, and kind and just, and they love one another, beyond the deep divides of institutionalized racism and culture. Highly recommend.

Interested? You can find AMERICAN LOVE STORY on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. I read a review copy provided by NetGalley.

About the Author:
Adriana Herrera was born and raised in the Caribbean, but for the last 15 years has let her job (and her spouse) take her all over the world. She loves writing stories about people who look and sound like her people, getting unapologetic happy endings.

Her debut Dreamers, has been featured on Entertainment Weekly, NPR, the TODAY Show on NBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Oprah Magazine.

When she’s not dreaming up love stories, planning logistically complex vacations with her family or hunting for discount Broadway tickets, she’s a social worker in New York City, working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Catch up with Adriana on her website, Facebook, or twitter for all that!

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Weathering Change is THE GREATEST SUPERPOWER–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a Middle Grade LGBTQ story that really resonated with me from Alex Sanchez. GREATEST SUPERPOWER features twin middle school boys dealing with their father’s unexpected male-to-female transition. This is the second book I’ve read from Mr. Sanchez; check out my review of YOU BROUGHT ME THE OCEAN, a M/M teen graphic novel featuring Aqualad.

About the book:
As summer draws to a close, 13-year-old Jorge wants nothing more than to spend his days hanging out with his fellow comic book-obsessed friends. But then his parents announce they’re divorcing for a reason Jorge and his twin brother never saw coming—their father comes out as transgender.

My Review:
Jorge is a 13 year old incoming eighth grader at his Texas middle-school. He’s kind of quiet and artistic, the complete opposite of his sporty and outgoing twin, Cesar, who has a pretty girlfriend and is angling to be student body president. Their worlds were rocked at the beginning of summer when their parents split up somewhat unexpectedly.

See, Jorge new there was trouble in his parent’s marriage, but he didn’t think divorce was an option. And, when his mom and dad sit him and Cesar down to discuss why dad is moving out they are both dumbstruck. He’s transgender and transitioning to a female–and this means he needs to move out. Because, while he and his wife still love each other, they can’t really live together as spouses any longer. It’s unsettling for Jorge and Cesar on so many levels. Jorge depended on his dad for so much, since he had stayed at home, working freelance while his mom had a higher-pressure job outside the home.

This book is so sweet and so poignant, with a lot of layers. Jorge watches as his father (deadname: Norberto) becomes Norma, weathering the animosity Cesar lashes out each time he returns from a visit. Also, he’s struggling with inadequacy as a Mexican-American; he’s fair like his white mother, while Cesar is dark like their Mexican-American father, and Cesar’s clearly unhappy with his dark skin–to the point it kind of drives a wedge between them. Cesar won’t spend any time with Norma, and threatens Jorge not to reveal their secret. Thing is, they live in the same neighborhood and Norma, who is out-and-about in her female experiences. Jorge knows it’s only a matter of time before she is recognized by his friends. And, as he’s coming to terms with it, but it’s still so awkward and there is still so much hurt and betrayal. It was interesting to see Jorge positioning himself with his friends to write a comic about a trans character–who’s superpower is defeating the bullies of the world…rather fabulously. And, their support really is a balm when Jorge needs it.

Jorge also develops a big crush on a new girl whose sensibilities are aligned toward acceptance and equality. They have a connection, but it’s hard to be real while also hiding a huge secret. Through this girl Jorge’s befriending a genderqueer person in his middle school. It’s enlightening, seeing this person’s struggle and relating it to his father’s experience. Jorge’s attempts to keep his father’s transition a secret are jeopardizing the friendships he’s so desperate to hold onto. Meanwhile, his relationship with Cesar is deteriorating.

I really loved how Jorge processed the struggle of his parents’ marriage ending, his father’s pain and difficulty in living his truth, the recognition that relationships are hard–even in middle school. It’s so tenderly rendered, with such love for Jorge whose emotional challenges are intense. These months in his life mark a huge turning point in his growth, and I loved that the character really acted as a kid does, and with a kid’s sensibilities. Jorge gets mad with his dad, doesn’t understand the bone deep ache Norma experiences and then really listens to the situation.

This is a special kind of book. I would highly recommend it for LGBTQI children, families that support them, and anyone who loves a good family-centered realistic middle grade story.

Interested? You can find THE GREATEST SUPERPOWER on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

About the Author:
Alex Sanchez has published eight novels, including the American Library Association “Best Book for Young Adults” Rainbow Boys and the Lambda Award-winning So Hard to Say. His novel Bait won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Book Award and the Florida Book Award Gold Medal for Young Adult Literature. An immigrant from Mexico, Alex received his master’s in guidance and counseling and worked for many years as a youth and family counselor. Now when not writing, he tours the country talking with teens, librarians, and educators about books, diversity, and acceptance. He lives in Penfield, New York.

You can find Alex on his website, twitter, Facebook.
target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Goodreads.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

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.

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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.