Might or Right? JUNIOR HERO BLUES–Review and Giveaway!

Junior Hero Blues BannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary YA superhero romance from J.K. Pendragon. JUNIOR HERO BLUES is a standalone story following the exploits and struggles of an out-gay teen who’s biggest secret is he’s a junior hero learning how to control his new-found powers working for the Legion of Liberty. And, well, it seems like he’s fallen for his biggest nemesis at just the wrong time.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $50 GC.
Junior Hero Blues-f500About the book:
Last year, Javier Medina was your average socially awkward gay high schooler with a chip on his shoulder. This year, he’s…well, pretty much the same, but with bonus superpowers, a costume with an ab window to show off his new goods, and a secret identity as the high-flying, wise-cracking superhero Blue Spark.

But being a Junior Hero means that Javier gets all the responsibility and none of the cool gadgets. It’s hard enough working for the Legion of Liberty and fighting against the evil Organization, all while trying to keep on top of school work and suspicious parents. Add in a hunky boyfriend who’s way out of Javier’s league, and an even hunkier villain who keeps appearing every time said boyfriend mysteriously disappears, and Blue Spark is in for one big dollop of teenage angst. All while engaging in some epic superhero action and, oh yeah, an all-out battle to protect Liberty City from the forces of evil.

Welcome to the 100% true and totally unbiased account of life as a teenage superhero.

How about a little taste?

When I woke up, my mask was lying beside me on the ground, and I felt like my entire head had been squeezed like a pimple.

It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, and by the time I realized the Raven was there with me, she was putting my mask back over my eyes and checking my vitals. Masks have a way of obscuring expressions, but I could see her jaw was tight and her lips were even thinner than usual.

“What happened?” I groaned, my voice raspy. I was starting to get memories back, of the smoke and explosions of the battle, and of him. That bastard smashing my head into a mirror—I raised a hand to my forehead and felt crusted blood through my glove—and then of us fighting, and of a rather unheroic rage that had come over me as we did so. The last thing I remembered was my hands on either side of his head, shooting sonic waves into his ears so hard his eyes were rolling back, and his big meaty hands around my neck, squeezing me into darkness.

“Don’t know.” The Raven’s ambiguously Slavic accent was harsher than normal. “I found you here, with your mask off. Who did it, do you know?”

“Yeah.” I coughed. “Who do you think? Jimmy Black.”

*

I guess I should back up a bit. Jimmy Black was my sworn enemy, if you go for dramatics like that (I totally do), and I’d met him before all this crap with the Organization started. I’d been on a date with Rick Rykov. My first date. Ever, that is, and I was pretty convinced the whole thing was a setup to make fun of me, because that would be typical. But then Rick actually showed up at the café, and we sat there for twenty minutes drinking coffee and discussing our lives like regular people, and there was absolutely no sign of the whole thing being a prank or some plan concocted by him and his friends to humiliate me.

I mean, aside from being gay, Rick was, like, standard bully material. He was a football player, even—six feet of lean teenage muscle and popularity. And I have a theory that being gay in high school just pushes your social standing to an extreme either way. Like, if you’re already popular, and then you come out as gay, you become this amazing, brave individual who inspires change (exhibit A: Rick Rykov). But if you come out as gay, and you’re that weird little Spanish dude who came to America in first grade and couldn’t speak any English, who decided to compensate for that fact by eating a bug in front of his entire class, which was never forgotten, ever, by anyone…

Well, see exhibit B: Javier Medina (that’s me, by the way). Skinny, brown, nerdy. I’m sure you can picture it. That, combined with my family not exactly being wealthy, meant I got picked on a lot in school, even before the bug thing, so I’m a little skittish. Or possibly a lot skittish. You decide.

So anyway, naturally, considering my rather extensive history with bullies, when a superhot, superpopular football player came striding down the hall toward me after class one day, my first instinct was to run away. Unfortunately, Kendall (who apparently has superhearing that I don’t know about) had overheard that Rick was planning on asking me out and grabbed my arm to keep me from escaping. She’s pretty heavyset, and I guess she was using her weight to her advantage, because I was basically rooted to the spot despite having, you know, moderate superstrength.

So then Rick strolled up, cool as you please, and introduced himself. Like, he full-on shook my hand. As if it were a job interview. And then he asked me out, and I was thinking I might be stupid enough to eat a bug, but I sure as hell wasn’t stupid enough to think that Rick Rykov was actually asking me out on a date. So I told him to eff off.

Yeah right. I actually said something along the lines of, “Uhh…you want to go…on a date? With me? Wh… Why?”

And he said, “Because I like you. I think you’re cute, so I thought we could get to know each other a bit better over coffee.”

At this point, I was basically giving myself whiplash looking around trying to see if I was in the process of being ambushed with the eventual intent to stick my head in the toilet. And then I got kind of angry because, like, here I was, busting my butt every single day to save people’s lives and keep the public safe. Screw putting up with this high school bullying crap.

So I decided I would go out with Rick, and if he or any of his buff football friends decided to try to pull one over me, I was just going to spontaneously snap and beat the crap out of them (or at least use my powers to pull some fun tricks with them) and plead temporary insanity to Captain Liberty after the fact.

Rick seemed pleased, and a little surprised I’d agreed. We set a date, and I went fully expecting to be doused with whipped cream, or laughed and jeered at, or at the very least stood up.

But Rick was there, leaning back in one of the little spindly café chairs that looked like it might break under his weight and sipping some frothy drink. When I sat, he shook my hand again, and then we just sort of…started talking.

Which I know isn’t a big deal, because, like, people talk all the time. But not me. I mean, I talk to Kendall, because she’s my best friend and has been forever, and we tell each other everything. I talk to my parents, in Spanish mostly, which is still a bit easier for me, funnily enough (although I’m sure you can tell I have an absolutely superb grasp of the English language). But with everyone else? It’s kind of like the fewer syllables I can use, the better. I mumble my way through life. I just can’t make myself say what I’m thinking most of the time.

So yeah, it was pleasantly surprising to be able to talk to Rick. He asked me questions and waited patiently while I answered them, and then offered information about himself. He lived with his parents in a really nice part of town, although pretty close to me, and had a sister and a cat. And I told him, a bit defensively, that I lived with my parents in a crappy little apartment that didn’t allow pets, and that my dad worked on computers and my mom worked at a gas station so we could have a little extra income. I was all set for Rick to be all judgey or awkward (or worse, feel bad for me) about my poorness, but he didn’t seem to care about that at all. He actually seemed to genuinely want to get to know me.

And then, just when I was starting to relax and believe that this was actually a thing that was happening and I wasn’t going to, you know, die, Rick’s phone rang. He had a sort of awkward conversation and said, looking really let down, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go to work. Last-minute thing.” Then his face brightened up a bit. “But we should do this again sometime.”

I agreed, and he went off, and I was left sitting there for about ten minutes finishing my coffee and thinking. And then my phone rang too.

I should have figured it out right then and there.

It was the Legion dispatch, about as polite as ever, which is to say one step up from a robot. Actually, scratch that, the Legion AI was way friendlier.

So she was all, “There’s an incident downtown, not far from your location. Can you respond?”

And I figured why not, since I was pretty pumped at that moment, and anyway, it was my job. Like, I got paid for it and everything. So I told her I’d be there in two minutes, and grabbed my bag and headed out.

Now, listen up, because I’m going to let you in on a little secret about switching from your civilian clothes into your superhero getup.

The telephone booth thing?

Utter bullcrap.

I mean, maybe except for old pros like Captain Liberty. I’ve seen him change into his costume so fast it was as if he must have been wearing a tear-away outfit, complete with, like, origami cape and boots in his back pocket. But for the rest of us, it’s three-plus minutes of awkwardly hunching on top of a building—try even finding a telephone booth these days—ripping off your clothes and pulling on the parts of your costume that don’t fit under them, and then you have to try to fit everything, including your shoes, into your backpack. And then you have to look for a place to stash your backpack where it won’t be stolen or crapped on by pigeons or something.

And the Legion really does expect you to respond to a call within only five minutes. I don’t know why they haven’t invented some sort of quick-change technology. Maybe they have, and they just don’t make it available to Junior Heroes.

It’s a complete rip-off being a Junior Hero, by the way. You’re supposed to be only assigned to low-risk stuff, but half the time it’s just as dangerous as anything else anyway, and the rest of the time it’s freaking boring.

My Review:
Javier is a high schooler who is out as gay, and loved by his parents who are immigrants from Spain and work hard for their very modest life in Liberty City. About six months back Javier had a freak accident and his body grafted with the energy of an alien life form that had been a Legion hero but was slain in the moments before. Now Javier is more than the weird kid who couldn’t speak English in primary school. He’s now a Junior Hero working for the Legion of Liberty. And, that’s an actual paying gig with a costume and everything. Javi hides his body from nearly enveryone because he’s covered in blue streaks, but in his alter-ego he’s the Blue Spark, with powers like almost-flying, and making shock waves, and sparks. He’s also really strong, but you know, not invincible or anything.

While out on patrol, Blue Spark discovers some Organization baddies robbing places. The head of this posse seems to be Johnny Black, who is a wise-cracking nefarious dude. He seems to be able to walk up vertical walls, and is super strong. This encounter reveals a secret plot by the Organization to gain access to the Legion database, digitally unmasking all the superheroes and their whereabouts in Liberty City. Battles between Organization and Legion operatives had been legendary, but there’s been a tentative peace for the last seven years or so–since the Legion had mostly eradicated the Organization’s forces. Now it seems as if they have been building up their team again, using a brainwashing agent known as a Hound to turn Legion members and new heroes to their malicious cause.

On the life front, Javier meets Rick, an attractive and popular boy at school, who seems like he wants to date him. And they hit it off. It’s so sweet and a bit overwhelming, which is why Javi doesn’t immediately notice the physical similarities between Rick and this Johnny Black guy.

I seriously adored this story. Javier is such a good and honest kid. He’s way out of his depth, but he’s striving to be the best person he can, while also keeping his big secrets. He learns pretty early that he’s fallen for Rick, and Rick is unfortunately under the sway of the Organization’s Hound. The ramifications mean they are always on opposite sides, even as Javier fights to win his mind and heart back. They have lots of discussions about right and wrong, and how to manage the divide across which they find themselves.

The tone and language of the story is perfectly aligned with a YA story framework. Javi and Rick have real-life teen drama angst, on top of the superhero/villain issues they both face. It’s a creative story with heart and interesting experiences and plotting. I loved Javi’s heart and his questioning of the situation and his plans. He loves his parents, and he’s trying to protect them, Rick, Rick’s family, his friends and all the people of Liberty City. He’s a good kid, and he does save the day, over and over, while also following his heart.

Interested? You can find JUNIOR HERO BLUES on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
J.K. Pendragon is a Canadian author with a love of all things romantic and fantastical. They first came to the queer fiction community through m/m romance, but soon began to branch off into writing all kinds of queer fiction. As a bisexual and genderqueer person, J.K. is dedicated to producing diverse, entertaining fiction that showcases characters across the rainbow spectrum, and provides queer characters with the happy endings they are so often denied.

J.K. currently resides in British Columbia, Canada with a boyfriend, a cat, and a large collection of artisanal teas that they really need to get around to drinking. They are always happy to chat, and can be reached at jes.k.pendragon@gmail.com.

You can catch up with J.K. on Instagram, and twitter.

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.

Now Available: THE SOCIAL CLIMBER–Excerpt & Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing an excerpt and giveaway for a new YA LGBTQ romance from Jere’ M. Fishback. is a coming-of-age story for a couple of high school kids whose aspirations to popularity lead to heartbreak and infamy. This is the second book I’m going to read from this author, both with near-historical settings in Florida. If you like New Adult coming out stories, you might try BECOMING ANDY HUNSINGER, which I really enjoyed.

Drop down to catch an excerpt and get in on the book giveaway, too!
About the book:
High school classmates, Josh Livingstone who’s gay, and his straight friend Simon LePage, hatch a plot to improve their status at school by creating new images for themselves. But their efforts ultimately blow up in their faces, leading to both comical and heartbreaking results, as they learn lessons in life and love the hard way.

How about a little taste…

Life’s never easy, is it?

I was born working class, so you might say I didn’t experience the finer things this world had to offer, not as a boy anyway. I grew up in Pinellas Park, Florida, a place mostly populated by working stiffs and their families, coupon-clipping retirees, and trailer park dwellers.

We had our own high school, but every year our football team sucked, due to lousy coaches, indolent linemen who wouldn’t hit too hard, and lack of a decent place kicker, since we didn’t have a youth soccer league in Pinellas Park. Some folks tried to start one once, but only three kids signed up. That’s right—three.

Are you surprised I actually know the meaning of a word like “indolent”? Well, I’m not stupid, as you will soon see.

Back to my early life…

Here’s an example of our pitiful Pinellas Park subculture:

When I was in fourth grade, our school principal, Lyman Reddick, got himself suspended for arriving at school with a loaded deer rifle hanging from the rack in his truck cab, the dumb shit. Even at age nine, I’d have known better. I mean, bringing a gun to a school full of kids—how stupid is that? He’s lucky the school board didn’t order his nuts cut off.

My daddy was a plumber. For a time, he worked for Sonny Saunders, snaking clogged sinks and sewer lines, fixing leaky faucets, and installing new toilets for folks who couldn’t or wouldn’t do that sort of work themselves. But Daddy was an independent cuss; he didn’t like the crap Sonny dished out to everyone who worked for him; plus, Sonny didn’t pay worth shit.

So, Daddy quit and started his own plumbing business. He had little cards printed up, calling himself “Rodney the Sunshine Plumber,” and he sent me and my older sister, Sarah, from door to door, handing out the cards offering new customers a 15 percent discount on their first service call. And it was kind of scary knocking on doors and ringing doorbells, especially at houses with Beware of Dog signs in their yards. I could hear the barking inside when I approached.

Sometimes, grouchy men or women would answer their doors; they’d tell me to get lost and leave them alone. But most folks were nice enough. They’d take a card and turn it over in their fingers while diddling their lips, and more than a few would say something pleasant like “It’s sweet you’re helping your daddy with his business.”

I believe there are many good people in this world, I truly do. It’s just the asshole minority who ruin everything for the rest of us.

About my parents…

Daddy’s from a village called Poverty Hill, South Carolina, right across the Savannah River from Augusta. His parents still live there in a double-wide trailer, off in the woods, with a deep well, a septic tank, four dogs, and a leaky roof. The nearest Walmart’s in Belvedere.

We only stayed in Poverty Hill once, when I was ten. What I remember best about that visit was Daddy and Grandpa getting into an argument after drinking too much George Dickel on Christmas Eve. Around midnight, Momma and Daddy rousted me and Sarah from our beds. They threw all our shit into the trunk of Momma’s car—suitcases, wrapped Christmas gifts, and even a turkey we’d brought from Florida. Then we drove all night, with Momma behind the wheel while Daddy snored in the passenger seat. We arrived in Pinellas Park just when the sun came up.

I’ll tell you, that was one crazy Christmas at our house. When we got home from Poverty Hill, everyone went to bed and slept till noon, and I don’t know who was in a worse mood when we all got up, Daddy or Momma.

Momma’s one-quarter Cherokee, and when she gets angry, you’d best look out since her blood takes to boiling and then all hell breaks loose. You know Momma’s mad when she starts throwing things: dishes, saucepans, ashtrays, you name it. And that Christmas afternoon, her target was Daddy. She kept pelting him with household items; I think she even threw a vacuum cleaner at him.

Daddy didn’t try to stop her. He just lay on the living room sofa, nursing his hangover and sheltering his head with a throw pillow while Momma hurled insults and tangible objects.

“Rodney, you sonofabitch,” she hollered after heaving a coffee can at Daddy. “That’s the last time you’ll drag me and our kids up to godforsaken Poverty Hill. And if I never see your folks again, it’ll be too soon.”

Momma didn’t get the turkey into the oven till three that day, so we had to eat dinner at eight. At least by then, Momma had settled down. She made Daddy get off the sofa and head for the bathroom to shower and shave.

“You’re not going to look like a bum at the table tonight,” she told him. “Set an example for your children, why don’t you?”

Momma was a fine cook, and dinner was very good, despite everybody’s soured holiday spirit. The turkey meat was moist, and the bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans were all tasty, especially when I drowned them in gravy. Halfway through the meal, we all started smiling a little, and Daddy even laughed a few times when describing his quarrel with Grandpa.

“The dumbass squandered most of his November social security check on lottery tickets, so he didn’t have any money to buy Christmas gifts for my momma, nor for Josh and Sarah.”

My name’s Joshua by the way, but everyone has always called me Josh, even my schoolteachers.

Like always, Momma and Daddy went overboard on presents for me and my sister. Sarah, who was eleven and getting to the age where her appearance mattered to her, received mostly clothing items and face makeup, while I got a Nintendo with several games, and also a BB gun, something I’d requested the past two Christmases but didn’t receive.

“You’re old enough to own one now,” Daddy said. “Shoot at cans and bottles in the backyard, by the garage, but leave the birds and squirrels alone. If I catch you taking shots at living things, I’ll take the gun away. Understand?”

Anyway, Daddy’s plumbing business did okay. He had a way with people; he could talk to a perfect stranger like he’d known the guy all his life. At first, he got business mostly by word of mouth, and then a general contractor started using him on jobsites to run sewer lines, hook up sinks, and install toilets. The money rolled in, and Daddy bought a new Silverado king cab. It looked so pretty and shiny, sitting in our driveway, but then the contractor went belly-up.

Without the contractor’s flow of business, Daddy fell behind on his truck payments, and eventually the bank repossessed the Silverado. It was a sad day, I’ll tell you, when they towed that truck away. Daddy had to borrow money from his brother, Vernon, who lived in Cocoa Beach, so he could buy a used truck, a beat-up F-150 with oxidized paint and missing its front bumper. The poor thing looked so forlorn, and I’m sure my folks felt embarrassed when the neighbors saw it, but a plumber has to have transportation. He has to carry his tools and all to wherever he’s working.

Momma was a dynamite seamstress; she did work for others in our part of town, making drapes, altering dresses, and letting the waists out on men’s trousers. Again, most of her work came via word of mouth, and it was all cash business. IRS never knew about income Momma generated from her sewing.

Looking back, I realize our circumstances were modest by most folks’ standards. Okay, our house had three bedrooms and two baths, but the floors were bare linoleum and the furniture looked like it came from a thrift store. Thank god we at least had central air-conditioning, a blessing in central Florida’s sweltering climate.

Sarah and I were both good students, although Sarah was smarter and more popular than me. She always got straight A’s, while I earned a mix of A’s and B’s.

And god forbid if I got assigned to the same teacher Sarah had been taught by the previous year. It happened fairly often, and when it did, on the first day of school when the teacher called roll, things always went something like this:

“Joshua Livingstone?”

I’d raise my hand.

“Are you related to Sarah Livingstone?”

“She’s my sister.”

The teacher would cluck her tongue while shaking her head. “You’ve got some big shoes to fill in my classroom, mister. I hope you’re up to it.”

Great. Just great…

When I reached seventh grade, I attended Pinellas Park Junior High, a one-story brick structure with exterior corridors and a basketball gymnasium. PE was required for all students, and on my first day at school, I met with my instructor, Coach McCullough, and my male classmates in the gym, where the students sat on bleachers and listened to McCullough acquaint us with his expectations. A gruff, barrel-chested man with a mullet haircut, he wore football shorts, leather sneakers, and a T-shirt damp in the armpits. A whistle hung from his neck by a braided cord.

“Unless you’re sick, I expect each of you to dress out every time class meets, no exceptions.”

Momma had already taken me shopping at J. C. Penney for my PE uniform: a T-shirt with the school’s name on it, cotton shorts, a jock strap, athletic socks, and tennis shoes. We had to buy a combination lock for my gym locker too.

McCullough led us into the locker room, where odors of mildew and human sweat hung in the steamy air. Rows of lockers lined the walls, except on one end of the room, where the tiled gang showers were located.

“You’ll change in here each class period and lock your belongings in your assigned locker. At the end of class, you’ll have fifteen minutes to shower and get dressed before dismissal bell. Showers are mandatory for all students. Again, no exceptions.”

My heart raced and I swallowed hard.

I have to get naked in front of all these guys?

I glanced here and there. Some boys blushed and several more chewed hangnails or wagged their knees. So, I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt nervous about bathing with others. But it seemed we had no choice, and I figured if the older guys at our school had managed to survive gang showering, I could too.

Grow some balls, Livingstone. You can do it.

I’m excited to read this one and share my review on Joyfully Jay in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, if this one sounds interesting, be sure to check out the purchase links below.

Interested? You can find THE SOCIAL CLIMBER on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 gift card from NineStar Press.

Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Jere’ M. Fishback is a former journalist and trial attorney. He lives on a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf coast, where he enjoys watching sunsets with a glass of wine in his hand and a grin on his face.

Catch up with Jere’ on his website, Facebook, and Goodreads.

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!

Teen Love THE NEW NEXT ONE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a Teen M/M contemporary romance from life- and writing-partners Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood. THE NEW NEXT ONE features two closeted hockey teammates and best friends finally revealing their true feelings, and finding love they never had expected at an all-boys college prep high school. This book is a bit of a prequel to NICE CATCHING YOU, a New Adult hockey romance which I really liked. Other stories from these authors that I’ve enjoyed include WHAT HE REALLY NEEDS and TOO CLOSE TO THE FLAME.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the giveaway for a $25 GC.
About the book:
How much are you willing to give up for the man you love?

Best friends Nick Johnson and Tyler Jensen seem to have the world by the tail. The eighteen-year-old stars of their school’s hockey team are looking forward to playing in college and hoping for careers with the pros.

Nick and Tyler know a lot about each other, but there are a few important details they haven’t discussed. To start with, neither man knows the other is gay. Making things interesting, Nick has a massive crush on Tyler, something he’s kept to himself for a long time. And although he’s never said a word about it, Tyler has wanted to date Nick since they met.

On a cold Minnesota night after a big win, Tyler finds the courage to confess his feelings to Nick. When Nick admits his attraction to Tyler, their relationship turns on a dime. As they fall in love, they skate around the challenges of a secret romance in an all-male boarding school, but what will happen when the stakes rise dramatically in a sport not known for being gay-friendly? Will Nick and Tyler make the easy choice or the hard one?

The New Next One is a 20,000-word, new adult, friends-to-lovers romance featuring young athletes, plenty of steam, and a lot of emotion. The events of this book precede those told in the authors’ book Nice Catching You.

How about a little taste?

The two of us bundled up and walked south along the lakeshore. We talked about different things—school, what was going on in the NHL, and the big celebration of our championship that would happen the next week when everyone was back on campus. Ty reached for my hand after we passed the cabin. Even with both of us wearing mittens, it felt incredibly good to be out walking on a beautiful day, openly showing affection with my boyfriend. By the time you’re eighteen, holding hands with somebody you’re dating probably doesn’t seem exciting to most people; for me, it was huge, and I wanted to shout out loud. Instead, I pulled us to a stop and kissed him.

Afterward, he tweaked my nose. “I know everybody we play against thinks you’re a real bastard, but you’re actually a sweetheart.”

I gave it right back to him. “They all think you’re a bastard too. Haven’t decided where I stand on that.”

“What do you mean?” He turned his head to the side, looking very cute with tufts of hair sticking out from under his Penguins beanie. “I’ve always been nice to you.”

“I guess so.” I gave him another peck. “Why’d you make me wait all these years?”

I made you wait? Hell, I’m the one who finally worked up enough courage to do something about it.”

Turning him loose, I backhanded his arm and made a silly face. “I guess I’m glad about that.”

His jaw fell into an open-mouthed smile, and he shook his head. “Every man for himself, Johnson!”

He took off running, and I laughed hard as he bent over to pick up a fistful of snow. Quickly shaping it into a ball, he threw it at me and missed by a mile.

“You throw like a girl, Jensie!” I followed that up with a snowball of my own, hitting him in the middle of the chest.

“That’s it, you’re really gonna get it now!”

An epic snowball fight followed as we whooped and hollered, tossing chirps back and forth almost as fast as we volleyed snowballs. We worked our way into the woods as we ran. Ty was a good shot, and we played like little boys on recess after a hard morning at school. When we were both covered with snow and out of breath, Tyler stared at me until my heart raced with anticipation. Finally, he broke into a run. His hug was bone-crushing, and the hungry kisses were messy and delicious. The moment was all fire and promise, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the dorm. He pulled away from my mouth and mumbled, “You’re the most beautiful thing I ever saw, Nick.”

I huffed in cold air while my heart tried to hammer through my ribcage. “Not as beautiful as you.” I pulled him closer for a slow, deep kiss, and when that finally broke, he got a naughty gleam in his eye.

“We’re already covered with snow, so—” He pushed hard, and I tumbled backward into a snowbank. He jumped on top of me, and we wrestled around, making out while we laughed and played. My scarf slipped out of place, and Ty kissed my throat over and over, making me as hard as one of the trees surrounding us. After more rolling around, I was on top, and we lay humping in the snow. We had on heavy parkas, and it was too cold to take off any clothes, so our game was destined to end in frustration. All the better for a mind-blowing first time later that night.

We’d long since removed our mittens, and when we stilled, I wiped some snow off his cheek. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve never felt this way before.”

“Nothing’s wrong, Nick. Everything’s right for once. We’ve got each other.”

My Review:
Nick and Tyler are both seniors in high school at a Catholic boys prep in Minnesota. They play on the once lauded hockey team, and are both closeted–even to each other. They are so afraid of letting anyone know their secrets, that they are both emotionally isolated.

Tyler finally drops some rather ribald hints that turn Nick’s thoughts in the direction that he might be interested in more then their deep friendship. Could Tyler be interested in him…that way? Nick is nervous to have any contact that could harm their relationship, but what if they could have something special… And how can they keep it on the down-low from the rest of their teammates?

This book felt really more upper YA than New Adult, with the students being in high school, and them looking forward to college. Their schemes to find alone time and practice their sexytimes felt appropriately juvenile to the ages of the characters. There is a little complication with a teammate who is inordinately inquisitive, but it doesn’t take long to sort those out. We have a heads up that this boyhood romance is not built to last, because Nick is the protaganist of a fully NA M/M romance that came out a few months back. It was sweet to see him actually find connection, and it was clear how much Nick really needs to live his truth–to have a boyfriend who truly cares for him, to feel whole.

Expect first times and heart-felt confessions. Expect promises made and plans to change. For an athlete-based romance there isn’t an enormous amount of sport in the book, more along the lines of athlete-adjacent situations like training facilities and locker rooms and sweaty encounters. The plans Nick and Tyler make are those of boys, hopeful and irrepressible, and totally unsuited to the new and unexpected paths they are meant to walk. It’s bittersweet watching their romance build, and then wane, as they come of age and enter college. There is a good resolution, and knowing that Nick does find a solid partner later into college, helps take the sting from first love.

Interested? You can find THE NEW NEXT ONE on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Authors:
Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood met in law school and were married in 2017. They live in a suburb of Washington, DC, and enjoy travel, friends, dogs, and advocating for causes dear to their hearts. Josh and Ryan love writing, and the romance they were so lucky to find with each other inspires their stories about love between out and proud men.

You can catch up with Ryan and Joshua on their website, Goodreads, and twitter.

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!

Brutal Battles Await THE NAVIGATOR’S TOUCH–A TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a LGBT fantasy from Julie Ember. THE NAVIGATOR’S TOUCH is the second book in the Seafarer’s Kiss series. I did not read the first book, but I felt it was fully enjoyable on its own.

About the book:
After invaders destroyed her village, murdered her family, and took her prisoner, shield-maiden Ragna is hungry for revenge. A trained warrior, she is ready to fight for her home, but with only a mermaid and a crew of disloyal mercenaries to aid her, Ragna knows she needs new allies. Guided by the magical maps on her skin, battling storms and mutiny, Ragna sets sail across the Northern Sea.

She petitions the Jarl in Skjordal for aid, but despite Ragna’s rank and fighting ability, the Jarl sees only a young girl, too inexperienced to lead, unworthy of help. To prove herself to the Jarl and win her crew’s respect, Ragna undertakes a dangerous expedition. But when forced to decide between her own freedom and the fate of her crew, what will she sacrifice to save what’s left of her home?

Inspired by Norse mythology and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, this companion novel to The Seafarer’s Kiss is a tale of vengeance, valor, honor, and redemption.

My Review:
This is a fantasy with an LGBTQ MC with inspiration from Old Norse legends.

Ragna’s family has been murdered and her town on a hidden island ransacked by invaders, and she’s sworn vengeance. As a teen girl, even one imbued with a gift from the gods, she needs help from many quarters, and she must pledge her fealty to secure the allies who could deliver her island from occupation. Ragna is a Shield-Maiden, a valiant fighter, battle-tested and trained but struggling with the loss of her hand, and the need to see her tormentor and former boss, Haakon, dead.

The Old Norse legends are constantly reinforced in the use of language and terms that harken directly from the Old Norse. Ragna is a compelling heroine, negotiating with her intellect and her magical gifts, and striking bargains with Loki and a female chief of the area, to gather the supplies and troops who could help her to free those few survivors of the attack. Ragna grieves the loss of her young brother, her mother and father, but hopes against hope that her cousin may have survived–among a fraction of others.

Ragna has a female companion, Ersel, a shapeshifting mermaid who’s been cursed by Loki. Striking a bargain with the wily god is an affront to Ersel, but it’s one of only few paths that Ragna has to vengeance. It’s a tough experiences, scheming and struggling to save her land and not allow Loki to wreak further harm on Ersel. I loved Ragna’s fierce heart and determination. Her mission to get back her land is worth sacrificing everything, including her own freedom, so to speak, turning herself into a mercenary to a degree. It’s a companion story to The Seafarer’s Kiss, but focusing on Ragna’s story and how she recovers her peace of heart after Haakon destroyed her world. It’s not a lovestory, though there is a bit of love expressed between Ragna and Ersel. I expect we might see some more of Ragna, especially, as she scours the globe for what Loki has required as a condition of their cooperation.

Plenty of LGBTQ characters here, with little fanfare; these persons are just ordinary people of this world, which was good to see and especially affirming. I think if you are a fan of stories that celebrate and re-consider mythology, as well as strong females, will likely enjoy this one. Make no mistake that this story contains dangerous adventures, murder and killing: the bad guys get their just desserts.

Interested? You can find THE NAVIGATOR’S TOUCH on Goodreads, Interlude Press Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Julia Ember’s books include The Seafarer’s Kiss duology, a Norse myth inspired retelling of The Little Mermaid, published by Interlude Press (Duet Books), and Ruinsong, a standalone high fantasy reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera, published by Macmillan Kids (FSG) in November 2020.

Ember’s work has been featured in USA Today, Bustle, Book Riot and Autostraddle, among many others. The Seafarer’s Kiss was named a “Best Queer Book of 2017” by Book Riot and was a finalist in the Speculative Fiction category of the Bisexual Book Awards. Julia has a lifelong appreciation for history and classic literature, and holds an MLitt in Medieval Literature from the University of St. Andrews.

A world-traveler who has visited almost seventy countries, Julia currently lives in Seattle with her wife and their city menagerie of pets with literary names.

Catch up with Julia on her website, twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Meeting His Match DRAGON LESSON–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M paranormal YA romance from Mell Eight. DRAGON LESSON is the sixth book in the Supernatural Consultant series, which features a dragon, a demigod and a passel of maturing dragon kits. Finally we get to see the mixed-magic kit Lumie grow up and find his mate. I fell into the previous titles DRAGON CONSULTANT, DRAGON DECEPTION, DRAGON DILEMMA, DRAGON DETECTIVE, and DRAGON ADVENTURES, and have loved watching these characters grow and evolve in each story. Lumie’s known his mate for all long time, but now they’re grown and in college–and trying to keep trouble at bay.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
All Lumie wants to see is Goldie’s beautiful smile, but the only ee wants to see is Goldie’s beautiful smile, but the only expression he ever shows Lumie is tears. When Goldie asks him for a favor, Lumie leaps at the chance to finally see Goldie happy.

Goldie wants to live a life free of the fear that has chained him for so long, but breaking free once and for all may come with a higher price than he and Lumie are prepared to pay.xpression he ever shows Lumie is tears. When Goldie asks him for a favor, Lumie leaps at the chance to finally see Goldie happy.

Goldie wants to live a life free of the fear that has chained him for so long, but breaking free once and for all may come with a higher price than he and Lumie are prepared to pay.

How about a little taste?

The first time Lumie had seen Goldie in the flesh was one of the oddest moments of Lumie’s life. Lumie knew Goldie. He knew that shining golden hair, rosy in the sun like the gold was touched by fire. And those big golden eyes surrounded by dark-gold lashes were something Lumie had seen in his mind’s eye for years and years. He knew the moment when Goldie would come into his life, when Dane and Mercury would rescue him, but Lumie hadn’t understood what five years of captivity with the enemy would do to Goldie. Lumie had been lucky. He had barely been a day out of his egg when Mercury had come for him. Goldie had been held captive for far too long, and it had destroyed something inside of him.

Lumie had tagged along with Mercury, his daddy, when Mercury went to check on a mother dragon that had been rescued along with Goldie. When Mercury went into the house where the mother was staying with her new eggs, Goldie had snuck out the back door.

Looking back on that moment years later, Lumie realized Goldie was shaking in utter fear, but at the time, all Lumie had seen was the boy from his waking dreams.

“Hi!” Lumie had chirped happily. Goldie, on the other hand, had let out a shriek. He had stumbled back from Lumie, holding up his hands as if warding off a blow. Mercury and Martha, an air dragon in charge of the village, had come hurrying outside, and together they had coaxed Goldie back into the house. Goldie wouldn’t look at Lumie even once as he hurried up the stairs.

The encounter had left Lumie horribly confused for years. He knew what Goldie’s eyes looked like when he was smiling at Lumie: shining and bright. He had foreseen that happiness, but only in a dream rather than real life. Lumie didn’t understand the fear he saw inside Goldie. For the next thirteen years, Lumie had visited the village at least once a week and made a point of saying hello to Goldie. Eventually, Goldie stopped screaming and running from Lumie, but his fear never vanished.

Lumie had yet to see Goldie’s smile in person.

“Which wire?” Alloy hissed. From the slightly frantic tone of his voice, Lumie realized it wasn’t the first time Alloy had spoken. Lumie took his eyes from the gleaming gold-colored plate he had pulled off the security alarm, got his thoughts back to the present, and focused on the two different wires Alloy had pulled out of the guts of the alarm.

“It doesn’t matter which wire,” Lumie replied with a shrug. “Just heat them both really fast, then cool them off suddenly. Total wire failure won’t set off that sort of alarm.”

“Don’t even think about it,” Mercury snapped from behind them. The overhead light flickered on, bringing the foyer of the house Mercury owned with Dane into focus. Mercury had bronze-colored hair that fell just below his ears, and his bronze-colored eyes were sharp as he glared at Lumie and Alloy. He was angry. Lumie looked at the alarm box they had stripped and were about to destroy, and then back at Mercury’s glaring face.

Oh, he was mad about the alarm thing.

“I was just teaching.” Lumie grumbled. He held out the gold-colored plate, and Mercury yanked it from his hands.

“A, you’re both nineteen and should know better. B, you both promised me a thesis statement for the essay you have to write and one page from your algebra workbook before bedtime. You can teach Alloy about alarm systems when you’re not supposed to be doing other things.” Mercury growled. Magic flashed through the air, and the gold plate flew back into place on the alarm. The four screws Alloy had dropped to the floor flew into their slots and twisted until they were in place. “Plus,” Mercury continued in a softer tone, “you both left fingerprints all over the alarm system. Eventually someone would have noticed your tampering, and you both would have been caught.” He pulled one sleeve down over his palm and wiped at the gold plate before reaching out to snap the outer housing with all the buttons back onto the frame.

Alloy bounded off, and Lumie reluctantly followed. He had actually finished the math, but he hated essays. It would only take ten minutes to scrape together the one-sentence thesis statement, but he didn’t want to. At all. He had taken the damn test Mercury had wanted him to. His results weren’t back yet, but he had thought he was done with school with the damned GED out of the way. Mercury having the tutor continue to pile on more homework was ridiculous.

Instead of following Alloy upstairs, Lumie headed to the kitchen. He deserved a cinnamon bomb before having to go do his work.

Dane was already in the kitchen when Lumie walked in. He was on the phone, though, so he couldn’t speak up to stop Lumie from raiding the candy basket on top of the fridge. The happiest day of Lumie’s life was the day he realized he had finally grown tall enough to get to his candy on his own. Somehow Lumie thought that might have also been Dane’s unhappiest day, but he tried not to dwell on trivialities like that. Dane was super special in the magic world. Whatever. So was Lumie. That wasn’t even arrogance talking. Dane was the son of a god and a crazy lady from across the pond. Grandma came to visit every once in a while. Lately she had started bringing along her spell books. Those were interesting to read. Lumie had nicked a few since they were so much more interesting than the books Mercury had him reading.

Lumie’s powers, on the other hand, were… Well, he didn’t really have a way to define what he could do. As far as he knew, no one could explain why his magic was so odd. He was a fire dragon, so playing with fire was his favorite pastime—he liked it even better than tormenting Dane—but sometimes he saw things he shouldn’t, he could travel in ways a fire dragon shouldn’t be able, and he generally confounded Dane with the things he could do. That was part of the fun, really, and Lumie tried not to dwell on things that weren’t fun.

With his long blond hair pulled back into a tail at the base of his skull, Dane looked severe. His blue eyes glared pointedly at Lumie, so Lumie picked up the cinnamon bomb wrapper from where he had dropped it on the counter and put it in the trash. Taking care of the wrapper now was better than Dane’s magic yanking him back into the kitchen to do it later. Plus, if Lumie left too many wrappers lying around, the basket suddenly had a dearth of cinnamon bombs for a few days. It was punishment that Lumie did not enjoy.

Dane hung up the phone before Lumie could escape.

“That was the new secretary of defense,” Dane said. He was frowning down at the screen of his phone as he spoke, but he looked up at Lumie, and Lumie couldn’t help freezing in place.

He had seen this before. Daydreamed it, really. In the kitchen with Dane looking so serious. Dane was about to tell him something that would change his life forever.

Lumie didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want to know. He liked his life right now. He was comfortable living in Dane’s home and eating the food Daisy, their caretaker, prepared for them. Nickel, Lumie’s adoptive brother, liked living away from home in the house he shared with his boyfriend, Platinum. All Lumie liked about that was since Nickel and Platinum had moved out, he had been allowed to take their bedroom for himself. Not having to share with Chrome any longer—not living in the constant mess Chrome was unable to ever properly clean—was amazing.

“He offered you a full scholarship to the college of your choice with the caveat that you come work for one of the defense agencies under his purview,” Dane continued before Lumie could stop him. “He apparently has an issue only someone of your skills can handle and is willing to do just about anything to get you to sign on.”

“He doesn’t know I’m available to hire through your consulting firm?” Lumie asked grumpily, used to speaking clearly around the cinnamon bomb stretching out one of his cheeks. It was too late; he had already heard what Dane had to say. His life was irrevocably changed. All he could do was try to keep the things he liked best safe when the turmoil hit.

“He wants to take out the middleman,” Dane explained with a shrug. “It will probably also cost them less overall to pay for your college and provide a steady work salary than to hire you through me.”

That didn’t surprise Lumie. Dane made the government pay through the nose. It allowed him to give people with fewer means the same service at a much more affordable price.

“Lumie, this is big for you. Your grades aren’t anything to laud, and you took an extra year to finish high school. Plus, a lot of colleges might discriminate against you because you’re a dragon. They’ll think you’ll wash out within a semester and not want to put any time or effort into accepting you.”

Everything Dane was saying was true. Dragons were one of the most uneducated creatures in the world—not because they were stupid or lacked the mental capacity for it, but because they didn’t have access to education in the wild where the majority of them lived. When they did venture into human civilization, their ignorance often caused someone to get hurt. Having someone from the secretary of defense’s office step in on Lumie’s behalf meant that none of those issues would be in his way, but Lumie had never been interested in college. He had taken his GED test only because Mercury and Dane had literally dragged him across the finish line. He didn’t even know if he had actually passed it yet.

“Alloy wants to go to college,” Lumie stated. He wasn’t sure if he was voicing a complaint that they hadn’t approached Alloy instead—even though Alloy lacked the specialized skills that made Lumie so distinctive—or whether he was grumpy that they thought they could buy him so easily.

“So we ask the secretary if he can get two college entrance letters,” Dane replied with an easy shrug. “Alloy might also have to agree to a few years working with the government too.”

“But he’s always liked what Daddy does and would apply to work for the SupFeds in a heartbeat if he could,” Lumie finished.

Mercury worked as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Supernatural Investigations, which investigated issues that stemmed from the supernatural world. Dane worked with them often in his capacity as a private contractor with his Supernatural Consulting Firm, and Alloy had always wanted to join Mercury. Again, something Lumie wasn’t interested in. He liked his independence—and his laziness, to be perfectly honest. He picked the jobs he wanted to do whenever he felt like doing them. Getting tied down with an agency would end all that freedom.

“Let me think about it,” Lumie finally said after a few moments of silence.

Dane nodded. His smile was completely understanding. “You know Mercury and I only want you to be happy. If college isn’t for you, we can probably still work something out. Let me know what you think. Don’t take too long,” he added. “I don’t think this offer is indefinite, so we need to call the secretary back by Friday afternoon.”

Lumie nodded and rushed to escape the kitchen. He went upstairs to his private bedroom and flopped facedown on the bed.

It was too good an opportunity to pass up. College would suck, but it would make Mercury so happy. Afterward Lumie was guaranteed to have a good job where he could use his special skills to their fullest. It really was an amazing opportunity, but it meant the end of his simple and easy life.

And there was also Alloy to think about. Alloy, who was running down the very long driveway—over two miles long—every afternoon to check the mailbox to see whether his GED scores had arrived. As soon as he had his official letter, he was going to start applying to colleges. How would Lumie feel every time Alloy got a rejection letter from a school, and Lumie knew he could have saved Alloy from that pain?

Lumie snorted in disgust at himself. Was throwing away his freedom worth it for Alloy’s happiness? Probably, damn it, but it wasn’t fair.

He threw his body off his bed and twisted his magic around him in a way no other dragon could. His bedroom vanished from view, and he reappeared just outside a small town. The nearest house was just across the street. Lumie quickly rounded the building to get to the backyard.

The flash of golden hair in the sunlight caught Lumie’s attention first, and he eagerly hurried forward to Goldie’s side. Goldie wouldn’t have the answer Lumie wanted, but just being by his side for a few minutes helped soothe his roiling thoughts.

My Review:
This is the sixth book in the Supernatural Consultant series and likely best enjoyed when read in order–but can be enjoyed on its own.

Lumie (short for Aluminum) is an 18 year old fire dragon kit, just maturing enough to be striking out on his own, but he’s not really keen on it. It’s nice living home with his foster fathers, Dane and Mercury. Dane is a half-god who controls the supernatural creature realm in the northeast US, and Mercury is a precious copper dragon with magic of his own. Lumie was experimented on in the egg, and maybe as a hatchling, but he was soon rescued by Mercury and later they were all picked up by Dane, as Mercury had fallen ill and couldn’t care for his six rescued kits. Over the years Dane and Mercury have made a cozy family–one determined to shut down dragon experimentation for good. Lumie’s magic is far different from a normal fire dragon, he can teleport, and walk through even Dane’s impenetrable wards. And, he’s prescient, with an uncanny ability to see the future. And Lumie know that his future is tied to Goldie.

Goldie is a precious gold dragon, which has more innate magic than ordinary element dragons. He was kept in a human lab for years before he was rescued, and the pain and terror of those days walks with him still, despite being 19. For near on a decade, Goldie has watched Lumie hang about the edges of his life in the quiet household where Goldie was adopted, as Lumie visits nearly every week. Lumie has flashes of Goldie smiling at him with love, but that’s a premonition; Goldie’s hardly ever even spoken to Lumie in all their time together. It’s funny that Lumie has almost verbal diarrhea around Goldie, who listens closely and wishes for half the fearlessness of Lumie. Lumie has big news for Goldie, though–he’s been offered a guaranteed admission and full scholarship to any college of his choice, if only he will agree to work for the Supernatural Federation, a government agency tasked with managing the well-being of supes and humans alike. Lumie has no interest in college, but his dear brother Alloy really wants to go, and Lumie suspects that Goldie does as well–he’s extremely into their schoolwork, though Lumie doesn’t know why. Lumie sees the promise in this offer, though, and promptly negotiates acceptances for Alloy and Goldie, once they agree.

Ultimately, Lumie sees the college path as a way to get Goldie to move in together, and maybe he’ll get to see that love-filled smile. It’s actually not too long before Goldie and Lumie are learning a whole lot about themselves and one another. Their college has all sorts of magic theory classes, and Lumie finally learns the source of his unusual magic powers. Goldie also learns how to shut out the emotions of those around him–and use his unexpected gift to waylay bad guys. And, just in time too, because they are now on assignment to track down some dudes who’ve been kidnapping supes and forcing them into bloodsport for gambling rings. Lumie had never expected his magic would fail him, but his new education helps him see a way past his captors, and right into Goldie’s arms forever.

This is a YA paranormal romance with innocent first kisses and dreams built on a vision of the future. It’s sweet and entertaining, with just the right amount of action to balance the romance. I love how Lumie had to really grow beyond his lackadaisical life, and skills, to become capable of being responsible for himself and Goldie. And Goldie’s growth from timid and shattered to fierce enough to defend his life-mate? So engaging. The more of these stories I read, the more I can’t wait to read another. I wonder if Alloy will find his mate in the next installment!

Interested? You can find DRAGON LESSON on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.

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

Amateur Sleuthing When MURDER TAKES THE HIGH ROAD–A TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a contemporary M/M mystery from Josh Lanyon. MURDER TAKES THE HIGH ROAD is a standalone murder mystery with romantic elements featuring a librarian on a tour of Scotland who finds himself discovering more than adventure.

About the book:
A librarian finds himself in a plot right out of one of his favorite mystery novels…

Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can’t pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.

Carter’s roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa’s books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler’s death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there’s anyone on the tour he can trust.

Drawn into the intrigue, Carter searches for answers, trying to fend off his growing attraction toward John. As unexplained tragedies continue, the whole tour must face the fact that there may be a murderer in their midst—but who?

My Review:
Carter Matheson is a librarian on a mission to enjoy his first trip abroad–visiting sites in Scotland incorporated into the mystery-thrillers of his favorite author Vanessa Rayburn–even if he has to spend it with his ex, Trevor, and his ex’s new boyfriend. Carter considers this the trip of his lifetime, and the way the intrigue unfolds it might just be his last.

Carter is one of few uncoupled people on the tour, and due to the Trevor fiasco he’s sharing his room with an unknown man, John Knight, who is pithy and mysterious in his own right. Carter is nearly killed by a shove into traffic, and later his room is trashed, presumably by someone with a vendetta. Thing is, the mischief maker must be someone on the tour, because who else would be perfectly positioned to strike? It’s a busload of middle-aged mystery buffs, so everyone had a theory, and they aren’t all that quiet about sharing them. Plus, Trevor’s really laying it on trying to work a jealousy angle–or maybe win Carter back. Carter’s confused, and not just about his relationships. He’s got an eye on John, whose behavior isn’t bordering odd–it’s downright fishy at times. But, Carter’s also a bit attracted to the man, and he’s not sure if John’s staging all the trouble, or the target of it.

I loved the way Carter thinks, and analyzes the situations. He’s not super intrepid, but he does strive for logic, which is a departure from some of his tour mates. He’s quick to see through Trevor’s shenanigans and note the idiosyncrasies of the people he meets in his travel party. He and John become allies of a sort, and they do connect in that bump and grind way without a whole lot of preamble. This is more of a mystery than a romance, and there’s just enough of a flavor for these guys to add a further complication. I liked how there was more than one set of nefarious activities happening and that put Carter and John at cross purposes, at least for a little while. The descriptions of the Scottish countryside, travels and manor homes are just intriguing enough to tempt a would-be traveler. The end is super fast paced, with Carter figuring out the big murder mystery and John being in the right place at the right time to make the ending happy. For strangers on a European tour, the resolution provides a glimmer that these guys have more than a vacation fling. Fun, engaging, fast-paced and with lots of blind ends and hair pin curves, I really liked this one.

Interested? You can find MURDER TAKES THE HIGH ROAD 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!