Nearly Ruined by the SECRET AT SKULL HOUSE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M cozy mystery from Josh Lanyon. SECRET AT SKULL HOUSE is the second book in the Secrets and Scrabble series, and I couldn’t wait to read it! Like MURDER AT PIRATE’S COVE, Ellery Page, bumbling bookseller and outsider in a small town is caught is another tough situation when his former lover goes missing and Ellerys’s the prime suspect. I’ve also enjoyed MAINLY BY MOONLIGHT and I BURIED A WITCH if you’re interested in magical realism M/M odd-couple romance from this author.

About the book:
Ellery Page is back–and in hot water again!

Unlike everyone else in Pirate’s Cove, Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, reigning Scrabble champion, and occasionally clueless owner of the village’s only mystery bookstore, is anything but thrilled when famed horror author Brandon Abbott announces he’s purchased legendary Skull House and plans to live there permanently.

Ellery and Brandon have history. Their relationship ended badly and the last thing Ellery wants is a chance to patch things up–especially when his relationship with Police Chief Jack Carson is just getting interesting. But then, maybe Brandon isn’t all that interested in getting back together either, because he seems a lot more interested in asking questions about the bloodstained past of his new home than discussing a possible future with Ellery. What is Brandon really up to?

Ellery will have to unscramble that particular puzzle post haste. Because after his former flame disappears following their loud and public argument, Ellery seems to be Police Chief Carson’s first–and only–suspect.

My Review:
Screenwriter Ellery Page is finally settling into Pirate’s Cove, and maybe making headway with Police Chief Jack Carson. The scare of the murder that happened in his own bookshop, Crow’s Nest, is perhaps behind him. Maybe. But, now he has a new nemesis in town: his old college lover and renown horror writer, Brandon Abbott. Brandon has purchased the Skull House, a famed pirate domicile with a history of violence and murder. Twenty years ago, a local man was murdered there, and the prime suspect disappeared.

The townsfolk of Pirate’s Cove have been super tight-lipped over that unsolved crime, and Brandon’s appearance has everyone on edge. Brandon’s horror fiction usually pulls true crime and mixes it with the supernatural. Still, those old wounds run deep, and it’s not long before Brandon goes missing. And, Ellery is the number one suspect…again. They had planned to meet that night, and Ellery even drove out to Skull House to investigate–though Chief Carson made a stop there, too, at Ellery’s request.

Ellery’s character keeps getting smeared through the local paper, and bigger news agencies are taking note. Ellery is sure that Brandon was sniffing after that unsolved murder, and when the spotlight falls on Ellery he isn’t happy for the scrutiny. This mystery is filled with characters–from the ‘dear gramps mayor’ trying to silence the investigation, to the Ellery’s bookshop employee–who publicly vows Brandon will sincerely regret buying Skull House. I thoroughly enjoyed Ellery’s sheer mortification when the Skalliwags theater troupe puts on a staging of one of his “serious” plays–and it garners rave reviews as a comedy! Oh, Ellery is the guy who never wins, no matter how hard he tries. Determined to clear his name, Ellery usually ends up in worse trouble. Still, his self-deprecation and hubris is touching. Expect Ellery and Chief Carson to explore options and make waves in this sleepy town. I like how things are progressing regarding Ellery deepening his acquaintance with Chief Carson, even if we do not have any definitive growth in the romance area. Fingers crossed they find love, because Ellery really deserves it after all the crap he’s endured.

I flew through this story, much like the first book in this series, and I recommend it to fans of cozy mysteries, especially those starring LGBTQ characters.

Interested? You can find SECRET AT SKULL HOUSE on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Josh Lanyon is the author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure and unapologetic man-on-man romance.

Her work has been translated into eleven languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first male/male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan’s annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place). The Adrien English Series was awarded All Time Favorite Male Male Couple in the 2nd Annual contest held by the 20,000+ Goodreads M/M Group. Josh is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), an Edgar nominee and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads Favorite M/M Author Lifetime Achievement award.

Josh is married and lives in Southern California. Catch up with Josh’s new on her website, Facebook or twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Tough Situations–THE OTTO DIGMORE DECISION–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a newly-released M/M contemporary adventure from Brent Hartinger. THE OTTO DIGMORE DECISION is a spinoff book to the Russel Middlebrook books I’ve read in the past, so I was really excited to read this one. I have really enjoyed his contemporary M/M romance series, including THE THING I DIDN’T KNOW I DIDN’T KNOW, BAREFOOT IN THE CITY OF BROKEN DREAMS, and THE ROAD TO AMAZING. Otto and Russel are back, fulfilling their dreams–they think. It all goes a bit wonky, and we have a tough situation.

About the book:
“If we get caught, they’ll throw us in jail. On the other hand, we’ll have been involved in one of the craziest Hollywood stories I’ve ever heard, and maybe someone will want to turn that into a movie!”

Otto Digmore is back, still trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood (despite his facial scars), but frustrated by all the schemers who’ll stab you in the back to get ahead. But then Otto’s good friend Russel Middlebrook sells a screenplay, a heist movie set in the Middle Ages — and Otto has been cast in an important supporting role! For twelve weeks, Otto and Russel will be on location together in England and Malta.

Problem is, once production is underway, it quickly becomes clear that the director is ruining Russel’s script. If the movie ends up being the bomb that both Otto and Russel expect it to be, it could ruin both their Hollywood careers forever.

But Otto and Russel aren’t willing to take that chance. Together, they hatch a crazy plan to make a good movie behind the director’s back. But how far are they willing to go to save their careers? Are they willing to become exactly the kind of scheming backstabbers they always said they hated? And what if Otto and Russel disagree?

Regardless of the answer, The Otto Digmore Decision proves the old adage about creative pursuits: that the most interesting drama always happens behind the scenes!

My Review
Otto Digmore is an actor in Hollywood, and he has a strong friendship with his long-time pal, Russel Middlebrook, who is a screenwriter. Otto and Russel with summer camp boyfriends way back in the day, but Russel is married to his high school sweetheart, and Otto has a long-term boyfriend, who is also his agent. They are both stunned and elated when one of Russel’s screenplays gets picked up by a studio. Ruseel had specifically written a part of the hero with Otto in mind, because Otto has some serious facial and body scarring from a fire in his youth. It’s hard for Otto to get parts because he’s not the classically-handsome Hollywood actor–and he’s still got to audition for the part.

And, beyond his wildest dreams, Otto gets the role. It seems as if Otto and Russel are finally making their way in the tough business of movies…until filming begins. The cast is tight, really quality people who are up for the mad-cap hijinks of Russel’s Middle Ages caper script, but the directer is messing it all up. A crony given the directing job based on patronage and familial ties, Otto sees the poignant bits of his role being ditched for slap-stick and cheap laughs. It’s disheartening to the cast and crew, who have become a unit allied against the directors lack of vision.

Otto, as the underdog hero, has a hard line to walk. If his director’s vision is realized, no one will consider this film as worthy of anything, thereby torching Russel’s screenwriting career and his acting career in the process. They are too new on the scene to withstand the professional fall out, not like some of the veterans in the cast and crew. It’s risky, but they hope filming the scenes as Russel intended will give the director more to work with in the editing phase–and that’s really when the movie and be salvaged. Otto channels the cast and crew to film scenes in ways that go against the director’s superficial staging, but that’s not the end of this caper. Nope, the director can still make it a mess with poor editing–and Otto has to decide how far he is willing to go to salvage what could be the most defining performance of his career.

This is a buddy caper, not a romance, with lots of help from sympathetic parties. Otto and Russel are the best of friends, and the difference in their compensation, location housing, and treatment reveals the distinction between writers and talent in Hollywood. Likewise, the risks to Otto are greater, if things go wrong and he’s caught tanking with the director. Let’s say that the director is mainly just incompetent–not particularly malicious–but he believes his incompetent work is superior not based on the cronyism that artificially elevated him, and that false entitlement brings in more narcissistic decision-making down the road. It’s also a fun behind-the-camera peek at Hollywood’s good and bad sides. I really enjoyed spending time with Otto and Russel again, though this story is all about Otto and his professional and personal insecurities. He is distinctly human, and his weaknesses resound beyond his singular character. I really enjoyed this story, though the end felt a bit rushed. The end is, however, mostly positive, and I eagerly turned the pages to ensure Russel and Otto get their happy (platonic) ending.

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

About Brent Hartinger:
I am Brent Hartinger, and I live to write.

For the last twenty years, I have made my living writing just about everything that involves words.

My most famous book is probably my 2003 gay teen novel, Geography Club, which has been adapted into a feature film starring Scott Bakula, Marin Hinkle, Ana Gasteyer, Justin Deeley, and Nikki Blonsky. It was released in selected theaters and on VOD on November 15, 2013.

You can find Brent on his website, Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Barely Surviving A TOUCH OF DANGER-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M shifter/paranormal romance from Elaine White. A TOUCH OF DANGER is the first book in the Surviving Vihaan series that features some shifters, and other former shifters, making their way on Earth.

About the book:
Drew’s life sucks. Saving money to escape his homophobic family is one thing, but his only paying gig at the moment is playing his father’s “only gay in the village” plus-one to every LGBT friendly business event.

Then his brother comes up with a plan. Sheffield needs someone to go undercover for his police investigation. Drew has all the qualifications: he’s gay, he has experience with exotic animals, and he’s college-aged. And he’s easily bought.

Going undercover to solve the mystery of a college campus smuggling ring was never in his plans. Neither was hot, perfect, house captain Rylee. The inside jokes about cats, animal prints, and talk of a place called Vihaan that forbids same-sex relationships, are just the tip of the suspicious iceberg.

Little does Drew know that he’s about to expose more than an illegal smuggling operation. The truth could be more lethal than he could imagine. And, despite it all, it might be his own secret past that kills him before the truth can be unveiled.

My Review:
Drew is a mid-20s out gay man who’s been shunned by his homophobic family for years. The only reason a recent reconciliation was made was because his wealthy and powerful father required a token gay attendee at work events. Having supported himself and his education by scraping by–and surviving an abusive D/s relationship–Drew is amenable to a bit of familial support, even if it comes with ties. Right now, he’s earning it going undercover for his brother Sheffield, a detective investigating a college frat for exotic animal smuggling. Drew is the perfect mole to discover if the gay frat brothers are keeping or selling big cats on the black market; he’s worked in zoos rehabilitating abused felines and is seeking a graduate degree in veterinary science.

Drew turns up on the doorstep of the frat and is welcomed on a temporary basis by the house captain, Rylee, who also offers him a spare bed in his own room. It’s a weird night with an inconvenient attraction and a blatant invite for sex from Rylee who manages his attraction to Drew in an awkward display. Yeah. Weird. In the next days, Drew is invited to stay more permanently, especially as Rylee senses that Drew has a secret lurking beneath his skin. Drew’s attempts to uncover the smuggling operation yield more questions than answers–and a tighter bond with his new house mates.

This was meant to be a mystery, I think, with the investigation that Drew is hatching, but his answers don’t make sense–lot many of the plot points. Drew learns that many of his housemates are refugees from a realm called Vihaan, a land where people are cat shifters. These men have arrived in the human realm because they couldn’t conform to mating females, and same-sex matings are illegal in Vihaan. Before escaping Vihaan, Rylee had a male lover, who conveniently turns out to be the same Dom who had kidnapped Drew, kept him in a drug-addled state, and raped him. Now in the human realm, Rylee and his compatriots cannot shift, but they still have cat DNA, which keeps the cops returning to the house looking for animals. Rylee is nervous that Drew’s experience with a Vihaan on Earth will lead to Drew developing cat abilities.

Drew’s afraid that his brother will come into the house and arrest Rylee and the rest of the Vihaan refugees. It’s a likely scenario, even if there isn’t evidence of any smuggling going on. The residents are all aliens, with false documentation and there are some shenanigans with recently arrived Vihaan that is highly incriminating. This also setting aside the Vihaan’s distant relation Foame brethren who live in-house and CAN partially shift.

The story was really confusing, and relied so heavily on convenience that I got distracted easily and wasn’t satisfied with the mystery plot the blurb hinted at. The tension was low, the sexytimes were awkward, and there was a LOT of explanations to sort out the other frat house members and their plights–definitely hinting at future stories way too hard. In all, I found it incomprehensible as either a mystery or a romance. The characters felt stereotypical and the love story forced. Drew found everything way too fast, with little difficulty and zero tension. Rylee was creepy-weird and his antics extra strange. Despite the repetition and over-description issues, I still felt like I didn’t understand the hows and whys of Vihaan, and how these refugees managed to finance the charity work they did to support other Vihaans in this realm. I didn’t think that Drew was touched by danger so much as disaster.

Interested? You can find A TOUCH OF DANGER on Goodreads, currently on SALE at NineStar Press, otherwise, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple Books. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Elaine White is the author of multi-genre MM romance, celebrating ‘love is love’ and offering diversity in both genre and character within her stories. Growing up in a small town and fighting cancer in her early teens taught her that life is short and dreams should be pursued. She lives vicariously through her independent, and often hellion characters, exploring all possibilities within the romantic universe.

The Winner of two Watty Awards – Collector’s Dream (An Unpredictable Life) and Hidden Gem (Faithfully) – and an Honourable Mention in 2016’s Rainbow Awards (A Royal Craving) Elaine is a self-professed geek, reading addict, and a romantic at heart.

Connect with Elaine on her website, twitter and Tumblr.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Inexplicably Bound by DRAGON MAGIC-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a M/M/M menage fantasy adventure/romance from Megan Derr. DRAGON MAGIC feature for unlikely heroes on a quest to save their land from a demon.

About the book:
Four strangers. A shared moment long forgotten. A bond forged in desperation.

On the first day of the Festival of Counting, the beginning of the royal census that takes place every ten years, the royal city is filled to overflowing. Everyone is happy, excited, and proud to be counted amongst those who live in the glorious kingdom of Orhanis.

Then a demon strikes, killing thousands in mere seconds and leveling the city. As the royal castle burns, only four men remain to drive the demon away—and in their desperation, accidentally bind themselves together in a legendary Oath, unable to part ways until they find and kill the demon once and for all.

Mahzan, the King’s Jester, an orphan who clawed his way to the top and hides a fearsome magic… Sule, the notorious North Captain, who sacrificed everything to live as a strong, capable, highly respected man… Cemal, a priest who traveled the continent bent on revenge and now lives lost… and Binhadi, the mercurial shadow mage with a dark history and bloody ties to the throne…

Four men used to standing apart, standing alone, who must learn to stand together if they hope to save themselves and all of Orhanis.

My Review:
I enjoyed this tale of four men and the magic that binds them together. Orhanis is a land of magic, though not everyone embraces it. We begin with the Counting, a time of census for the citizens, and people crowding to the city where Mahzan, one of the king’s jesters is entertaining the masses. He’s a cunning man with hidden magic, and the ability to soothe the tempers of many. He notices key members of the crowd, including Sule–the Captain of the North Guard, Cemal, a jokey priest, and Binhadi, last of the shadow mages in his family. Each of these men holds magic–secretly in the case of all but Binhadi.

It’s not long before a fearmonger (an ancient demon) turns up and kills…most everyone in the king’s hall and throughout the castle and royal city. The jester, the captain, the priest and the mage are spared by linking their magic talents, and sending the fearmonger into temporary retreat. This inadvertently binds the four into a magical oath. Over time, they discover the extent of their bond, which binds and magnifies their powers until they face and defeat the fearmonger. And, thus begins the quest.

Their travels and trials bind them ever closer, bending their partnership into physical companionship. The menage, when it comes to be, is well-developed from mutual hardships and intimacy shared. Mahzan leads the pack here, happy for companionship wherever he can find it. Sule, due to internalized transphobia from his family, is a little more reticent. They travel the country of Orhanis trying to discover the origin of the fearmonger, and uncovering the violent history of their nation and the current rulers.

Their suspicions and struggles are magnified through a mental link, part of the growing bond. This allowed each man to truly see the heart of the others, and make a real effort to support one antoher. When their battle with the fearmonger comes, they are ready to sacrifice all–and create the most fearsome magic their world has ever seen. Treachery has infiltrated Orhanis, however, and the Epilogue set into the distant future gives the reader insight into the effects of the battle. A few reviewers were frustrated about this POV switch, but for me it confirmed the evil festering in Orhanis was still present, and there was a plan to eradicate it once and for all. I enjoyed this adventure. There were issues with pacing, at times, and the many POVs was a tiny challenge, but I felt the creativity of the quest and the deep characterization outweighed the flaws in editing.

Interested? You can find DRAGON MAGIC on Goodreads, Less Than Three Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple Books. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Megan is a long time resident of m/m fiction, and keeps herself busy reading, writing, and publishing it. She is often accused of fluff and nonsense. When she’s not involved in writing, she likes to cook, harass her cats, or watch movies (especially all things James Bond). She loves to hear from readers, and can be found all around the internet.

Check out Megan’s website, blog, twitter and Tumblr.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Rising to the Challenge–ON THE KALALAU TRAIL–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M coming-of-age story from Robin Reardon. ON THE KALALAU TRAIL is the second book in her Trailblazers series, which features a young gay man discovering his world, and himself. I’ve reviewed ON CHOCORUA, and was intrigued enough to read on.

About the book:
Self-discovery. Sounds simple, right? After all, you’re already there. You’re already you. So it can surprise us that it takes so much time, and so much effort. It surprises Nathan Bartlett.

Nathan has lost two family members in a few years. It surprises him to realize he hadn’t known them nearly as well as he’d thought, and this makes him question his own worth. And it makes him feel like he belongs nowhere. So he goes on a spiritual quest.

Professional hike leader Conroy Finnegan–sexy, very masculine, and charismatic–leads Nathan to the Kalalau Trail on the island of Kaua’i, “… a place where magic happens, where the very names are magical: Na Pali. Ho’olulu. Waiahuakua. Hanakoa. Hanakapi’ai.”

Conroy seduces Nathan in more ways than one. He leads Nathan to paradise and lets him find his own way back. Nathan begins his journey as a searcher. On the way he becomes a seeker. These states of mind are different. And they lead Nathan on different journeys.

Walk with him.

My Review:
Nathan Bartlett was orphaned at the age of one, and raised by his maternal grandmother with his sister Nina (a year older) and his eldest brother Neil who is six years older. In the first book, Nathan was a college freshman and he spent that year coming out, falling for the wrong guy, learning how to NOT hike mountains, and grieving Neil’s sudden death in a hiking accident.

As this story opens, Nathan is a senior in college. He’s still living with El Speed, his freshman year roommate, and their friendship is strong. Nathan has continued his quest to commune with Neil’s memory by hiking nearby mountains. He’s even convinced El Speed to make some hikes with him. Nathan meets Conroy, a seasoned hiker, on a solo hike, and they sort of hit it off. Well, they complete the day together and have sex in the brambles at the days end, but it’s likely a one-off. Not so, it turns out as Conroy’s housesitting a place in Durham, where Nathan attends school.

El Speed is pulling away-ish, preoccupied with planning his summer wedding. Nathan’s free time leads him into no-strings hook-ups with Conroy–who’s a relentless top. Turns out Conroy also plans and leads hiking trips as a business–a constant vagabond with no ties to any place. Nathan’s desperate for connection, but his sister Nina warns that Conroy’s not the right guy…again. And, Nathan’s isolation only increases when he loses another of his two remaining family members. In a bid to find some peace, he signs up for one of Conroy’s trips–to hike the dangerous and wild Kalalau trail on Kaua’i. Conroy has convinced Nathan that the journey will help him see the spiritual in the mundane, and grow as a human. It’s Nathan’s choice, but making the trip means he’ll miss El Speed’s wedding. Their relationship has been strained for months and missing the big day could signal the final snap severing their connection.

I really like Nathan, he’s a decent guy, and his life is an utter emotional mess. He loses everyone close to him–and he continues to reach for people to fill the voids of family. His trip to Kaua’i is enlightening in many ways, and his infatuation with Conroy has run its course. The Nathan we have seen in the beginning of the story is still naive, and still boyish, but by the end he’s a resolute man, willing to make the difficult choices. He’s grown up and lived through devastation, and found he can get beyond the mundane issues and see bigger pictures and distant futures.

The descriptions of Nathan, his travels, his thoughts are very complete, and evocative of anyone in a journey to know their self better. And, the lush trails of Kalalau are rendered with as much detail as a quiet night spent saying goodbye to his childhood home. Nathan’s childhood is over, and his adulthood–which sat so uncomfortably on his shoulders at the beginning of this story–is deep within his grasp by the conclusion. He will face changes, and adventure in the next book, I am sure. But, just maybe he’ll find someone to walk his lonely trails beside him. Fingers crossed!

Interested? You can find ON THE KALALAU TRAIL on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Robin Reardon: “I am an inveterate observer of human nature, and my primary writing goal is to create stories about all kinds of people, some of whom happen to be gay or transgender—people whose destinies are not determined solely by their sexual orientation or identity. My secondary writing goal is to introduce readers to concepts or information they might not know very much about. On my website, robinreardon.com, see individual book pages for “Digging Deeper” sections that link to background information and research done for the novel.

My motto is this: The only thing wrong with being gay is how some people treat you when they find out.

Interests outside of writing include singing, nature photography, and the study of comparative religions. I write in a butter yellow study with a view of the Boston, Massachusetts skyline.”

You can catch up with Robin on her website, Goodreads, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Finding Common Ground as LAB PARTNERS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M YA romance from Mora Montgomery. LAB PARTNERS features two high school seniors whose chemistry camaraderie becomes much more.

About the book:
Sometimes you don’t know who you love, until they love you…

When Jordan Hughes arrives at Pinecrest High School, Elliot Goldman’s graduating year suddenly gets a lot more interesting. Smart, good looking and charming, Jordan isn’t exactly the kind of person Elliot’s used to having as a lab partner. But when they start acing their assignments, life is suddenly about more than boring lectures, bad cafeteria nachos, or relentless bullying, and for the first time ever, Elliot can’t wait to get to chemistry class.

As they start spending more time together outside of school, Elliot realizes he’s never met anyone quite like Jordan. And then everything changes one night when Jordan kisses him, making Elliot question everything about their relationship and about himself. The butterflies start to make sense—the trouble is, right now, nothing else does.

Love was the last thing on Elliot’s mind. But as he begins to figure out how he really feels about Jordan, he realizes that sometimes the last thing you are looking for is the one thing you need the most.

My Review:
Elliot Goldman is a high school senior in small-town Pinecrest, Michigan. He’s plagued by bullies who’ve attacked him verbally and occasionally physically because he speaks up for other kids–notably his brilliant twin sister Ellie. His main bullies, Morgan and Nate, have been on his case since middle school and lately Cole has joined their crew. Elliot refuses to make any reports of their behavior–against his parents’ wishes–because he believes their bullying will escalate if he reports them. Elliot has a good relationship with his workaholic parents, though he’s often alone while they work late and commute, enjoying his solitude and cooking dinners for the family. Ellie commutes to community college since she “tested out” of high school after sophomore year.

Elliot has a new partner in his AP chemistry class: Jordan Hughes. Jordan is an unknown quantity having only transferred to Pinecrest in the past few weeks. He’s tall and built like an athlete, and Elliot is nervous Jordan will terrorize him the way Morgan and Nate do. Still, Jordan is smart and efficient; Elliot’s never had such a good experience in science. Jordan isn’t content to only befriend Elliot in class, he begins to join Elliot and Holiday, Ellie’s BFF, at their outcast lunch table.

It’s not long before the bullies notice Jordan’s friendship with Elliot, and they begin to accuse Elliot of being gay, and Jordan’s lover. It’s such a shocking accusation that Elliot is stunned into fighting his bullies–and they beat him up badly. The only reason he’s not completely incapacitated is Cole convinces Morgan and Nate to stand down before they get caught. When Jordan learns the cause of Elliot’s injuries, he’s so upset, but he cares for Elliot–and reveals his own big secret: he’s attracted to Elliot. While Elliot’s body had been battered, it’s the memory of Jordan’s tender kiss that keeps his mind buzzing.

Elliot isn’t gay, is he? He’s barely had a friend beside Ellie and Holiday. He’s never really been attracted to girls, or boys, being so detached from his peers. Talking with Ellie, who identifies as asexual, helps Elliot see that sexuality is fluid and if Jordan makes him happy he should chase that happiness. So he does. Which causes the bullies to become even more bold. But the strength Elliot has gained from his connections with Jordan, Ellie and Holiday gives Elliot the will to reach out for even more help, and maybe his own happiness.

This is a first book from a young author. I liked it, mostly, as the story is filled with likeable characters and realistic plot movements. There were parts, especially in the beginning, where there was a lot of information and little plot motion, so the pace bogged. There also were some repetitive bits, with the bullying. Elliot’s parents are almost criminally negligent in their absenteeism and how they allow Elliot to dictate his terms regarding not reporting his bullying. For me, as a parent with boys who were bullied in middle school, it’s not really up to a kid to decide to report bullying. IN the face of these issues their continued absence is unconscionable–and extraordinarily plot convenient. When Elliot decides to truly fight back, it’s through another student, not the power of his folks. I wasn’t blown away by the decision, again it seemed convenient. Even the epilogue irked me, that Elliot’s parents are so clueless to recognize their son’s sexuality when he’s had a boyfriend for going on 6 months, was yet another example of their deficiency.

That said, it’s a cute story, with age-appropriate angst and romance. There’s a little bit of kissing, as Elliot comes to terms with his sexuality and falling hard for Jordan, who is a sweet and supportive partner. I think teen readers will enjoy this somewhat predictable questioning/coming out story that ends happily for Elliot.

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

About the Author:
Growing up in a small town forced Mora to be creative as a means to entertain herself. In her free time, she focused her energy on music, writing, and school. Mora graduated with an associate degree from her local community college a month before receiving her high school diploma. She is currently pursuing two majors related to engineering at university, and her tuition is paid for with the money earned through her music and writing.

Catch up with Mora on her website, twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Figuring Out THE MIXTAPE TO MY LIFE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a near-historical LGBTQ YA coming of age/coming out story from Jake Martinez. THE MIXTAPE TO MY LIFE features a closeted high school junior reconnecting with his middle school crush, who’d saved him from a beating years before.

About the book:
Justin Ortega might as well be starring in his very own coming-of-age 80s movie. If only he could find his dream boy to pull up in front of his house in a red convertible and sweep him off his feet, already! At seventeen years young, he isn’t quite Mexican enough for his South Texas town; isn’t manly enough for his father; can sometimes be too much of a smart mouth for his mother; and as for the other kids at school—let’s just say he’d be cast as the quiet nerd with a heart of gold…and an ear for music.

The one solace Justin has is his love of 80s hair metal bands, which he listens to on his beloved Sony Walkman. The songs, lyrics, and melody keep him just sane enough to escape the pressures of school and help navigate the hurdles life brings. Especially with the doozy this year is shaping up to be. Not only does he have to try out for a captain position which is rightfully his, but his best friend has found a new girlfriend, leaving Justin to fend for himself in a school where he’s mostly known as simply Coconut.

Enter Dominic Mendoza. Sweet, funny, and a blast from his past, the hunky football player has moved in next door. Justin could never forget how Dominic protected him in the eighth grade, nor the way Dominic made him feel, then…and now.

Except, this isn’t a movie. Confusion, friendship, and love won’t guarantee a happy ending unless Justin can learn to accept himself for who he truly is. Hair bands and all.

My Review:
Justin Ortega is a high school junior growing up in South Texas in the mid-1990s. He’s sure he’s gay, and has come out to his best friend Benny, who is an ally. Justin’s father is a high school football coach, and his hard-line stances clash with Justin who is the definition of non-confrontational. There’s a culture clash with Justin’s Mexican-American parents, who are religious and highly suspicious of his friendship with Benny. They also don’t make light-skinned Justin, or his younger brother, learn Spanish–thinking it’s more American to only speak English. This leads to struggle with Justin’s bilingual Spanish-speaking peers who accuse him of “playing white” call him a “coconut”–brown on the outside and white on the inside.

It’s the end of summer, and Justin’s vying for the cymbal captain post in his marching band. Band’s usually a place where Justin feels safe, despite a trio of percussionists who are bullies, one who is his primary competition for cymbal captain. Justin retreats into his 80s rock mixtapes on his Walkman whenever he feels stressed. He’s a little frustrated that Benny has been secretly dating Lila, a fellow percussionist, for a month or more. He’s always liked Lila, but they were never really close. This relationship with Benny brings them far closer, and she’s an ally as well. Justin’s parents are SO happy to see that Benny has a pretty girlfriend, and they encourage Justin to find one too. He’s overwhelmed, knowing he can never please them this way.

Justin has had bullies plaguing him for years. One, Ivan, is a big football player and almost beat Justin up back in eighth-grade, openly accusing him of being gay–which Justin had not come to terms with. At that time Dominic, a fellow student, came to his rescue. Dominic’s father was a huge homophobe and pulled Dominic from the school, fearing that associating with Justin would turn Dominic gay. Now, three years later, Dominic’s parents are divorced and Dominic and his mom have moved into the house next door to Justin. Justin’s really excited to reconnect–he never forgot Dominic’s kindness, and has had a crush on him since that time.

Dominic is eager to build a friendship, and is really protective of Justin from the beginning. Their friendship is growing into something more–especially when Justin confesses his sexuality, and his attraction. Dominic returns these feelings–he’s suffered physical and emotional abuse from his father, which led to his parent’s divorce. His mom knows he’s gay, and she’s supportive, if confused. Dominic is still playing football, and now his coach is Justin’s dad. He’s pleased they are friendly–thinking that a burly offensive lineman like Dominic is a manly friend, and far better for Justin than Benny.

The drama in band continues, though, and it leads to a big crisis. Within the final two weeks of summer, Justin gets his first kiss, first kiss with a guy, a boyfriend, and a situation that sends himself, Benny, Dominic and Lila on the run–temporarily. Justin and his parents have conversations that needed to happen years before. They recognize that Justin is the boy he is, and they love him even if they don’t necessarily understand. And, their support is so needed by Justin, who’s life was careening out of control for a bit there. With all this love behind him, Justin is ready to stand on his own feet, stand up to the bullies, and be a stronger man for it.

For me, this one was very interesting. But, I’m a child of the 90s and I understood the many, many pop-cultural references that Justin and his friends experience. Corded phones, MTV showing MUSIC VIDEOS (gasp!), the songs that speak to Justin’s heart, what a “mix tape” is–these are touchstones of my youth, but I wonder how they resonate with kids now. The music, especially. None of the songs Justin refers to are in frequent play today–and even listening to them with my kids, they associate that with “listening to old music with mom” moments, not the poignant, life-affirming experiences that will trigger nostalgia later. Music, and its dissemination, has changed considerably in the last 30 years, and kids do not seem to have as many emotional connections to it as the people of Justin’s generation would have. It’s cute that the author has built a Spotify playlist of the tunes referenced, to guide his readers into it, but I’m not sure if it will have traction for young readers. I was also a little troubled by the writing, with tense shifts that happen constantly, sometimes within sentences, throwing me off.

Justin is sweet kid, a bit over-emotional at times, with a huge inferiority complex. He’s too light-skinned, not bilingual, and lacks the machismo to integrate well with his peers. His love of American rock music is another point of separation, not to mention his sexuality. Justin’s tendency to shut people out with his Walkman creates a further barrier to overcome in terms of connection. It is through opening up, with Benny, Lila and finally Dominic, that allows him to grow into a functional kid. He makes even more friends as as result, finding at least one friendly bisexual boy he can relate to, and another straight boy who doesn’t care about his sexuality. The moral seems that being honest, open and out will help Justin navigate his life. And, that’s a valuable idea in our current time. Justin and Dominic do recognize–and this is driven home by the parable of Justin’s Tio Mando–that they exist in a society where threats to them exist because of their sexuality. They are careful to whom they reveal themselves as safety measure, and that stands as a touchstone for teens who might have similar home or societal pressures even today. I liked the story, and would recommend it for readers who enjoy coming out stories and near-historical, teen gay romances.

Interested? You can find THE MIXTAPE TO MY LIFE on Goodreads, Deep Hearts YA, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo and Smashwords. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Jake Martinez is a former South Texas resident who has found a new home in Chicago. He has been writing all his life, but has only recently sought to be published. His debut novel, The Mixtape to My Life, reflects on life as a gay teen growing up in South Texas. Jake holds an MFA in Creative Writing and loves to write plays and screenplays. Aside form writing, you can find him hanging out at home with his husband, their newborn son, and an eclectic group of fur babies.

Catch up with Jake on his website, twitter, and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!