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!

Growing Up Wondering WHY CAN’T LIFE 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 LIFE BE LIKE PIZZA? is the first book in the Pizza Chronicles and features a high school freshman questioning his ethnic heritage, his friendships and his sexuality.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to get in on the $10 GC giveaway!
About the book:
RV is a good kid, starting his freshman year at the demanding Boston Latin School. Though his genes didn’t give him a lot of good things, they did give him a decent brain. So he’s doing his best to keep up in high school, despite all the additional pressures he’s facing: His immigrant parents, who don’t want him to forget his roots and insist on other rules. Some tough kids at school who bully teachers as well as students. His puny muscles. His mean gym teacher. The Guy Upstairs who doesn’t answer his prayers. And the most confusing fact of all—that he might be gay.

Luckily, RV develops a friendship with Mr. Aniso, his Latin teacher, who is gay and always there to talk to. RV thinks his problems are solved when he starts going out with Carole. But things only get more complicated when RV develops a crush on Bobby, the football player in his class. And to RV’s surprise, Bobby admits he may have gay feelings, too.

How about a taste?

Why can’t life be like pizza?

I’ve been asking myself the question a lot lately. I love pizza. Pizza makes me feel good. Especially since I discovered Joe’s. Joe’s Pizza is quiet and out of the way and allows me to think. And Joe’s combinations are the best. Pepperoni and onions. Garlic and mushroom. Cheese and chicken. And if you really want that little kick in the old butt: the super jalapeno. Mmmm, good. Gets you going again. And lets you forget all your troubles.

What troubles can a fourteen-year-old guy have? Ha! First of all, I’m not a regular guy, as anyone can guess from my taste in pizza. My parents are immigrants who are trying to make a better life for themselves here in the United States. Besides the usual things American parents worry about, like making money and having their kids do well in school, my parents spend more time worrying about the big things: politics, communism, fascism, global warming, and the fact they and their parents survived violence and jail so I-better-be-grateful-I’m-not-miserable-like-kids-in-other-parts-of-the-world.

Grateful? Ha! As far as I’m concerned, life is pretty miserable already. Instead of thinking about the World Series or Disneyland, I worry about terrorists down the street or the dirty bombs the strange family around the corner might be building.

I don’t know why I worry about everything, but I do. It’s probably in my genes. Other guys have genes that gave them big muscles or hairy chests. I got nerves.

And then there’s my name. RV. Yeah, RV. No, I’m not a camper or anything. RV is short for Arvydas. That’s right. “Are-vee-duh-s.” Mom and Dad say it’s a common name in Lithuania, which is the country in Eastern Europe where my parents were born. A name like that might be fine for Lithuania, but what about the United States? Couldn’t Mom and Dad have named me Joe, or Mike, or even Darryl? My brother, Ray, has a normal name. Why couldn’t they have given me one?

I even look a little weird, I think. Tall and skinny with an uncoordinated walk because of my big feet that get in the way and make me feel like a clod. Oh, yeah. I’ve been getting some zits lately, and I wear glasses since I’m pretty nearsighted. Not a pretty sight, is it? At least the glasses are not too thick. Mom and Dad don’t have a lot of money to spend, but they did fork up the money to get me thin lenses, so I don’t look like a complete zomboid.

What can I do? I try my best, despite it all. I’m lucky because I’ve done well in school, so at least my genes gave me a half-decent brain. Hey, I’m not bragging. It’s just nice to feel good about something when most days I feel pretty much a loser at so many things. When I was in grammar school, there were enough days when I came home from school and cried because some big oaf threatened me, or I got hit in the stomach during my pathetic attempts to play ball during recess.

Mom always tried to comfort me. “Nesirūpink,” she would say. “Esi gabus. Kai užaugsi, visiems nušluostysi nuosis.” We talk Lithuanian at home. Translated, that sentence means, “Don’t worry. You’re smart. When you grow up, you’ll show them.” Actually, not “you’ll show them,” but “you’ll wipe all their noses.” Lithuanians have a funny way of expressing themselves. Not sure I aspire to wiping anyone’s nose when I get older, but that’s what they say.

Whatever. I’m determined to put all that behind me. I’m starting a new life. My new life. Today was the first day of high school. I’m going to Boston Latin School. You have to take an exam to go there, so it’s full of smart kids. Besides smart kids, it has heavy-duty history too. It was founded in 1635, a year before Harvard. They already gave us a speech about that.

And about pressure. The pressure to succeed with all this history breathing down our necks. Pressure, ha! Doesn’t scare me. I know all about pressure. I’ve gotten pressure from cretinous bullies at school. I get it from cretinous Lith a-holes, who Mom and Dad keep pushing me to hang around with because they say it’s important to be part of the immigrant community. And I even get pressure from cretinous jerks in the neighborhood.

Cretinous. A good word. That’s something else about me. I like words. Real words and made-up ones. There’s something cool about them. Yeah, yeah, I know what people would say. You think words are cool? Kid, you’ve got more problems than you thought.

Well, I’m sorry. I do think words are cool. There’s something fun about making them up or learning a new one. Kind of unlocks something in the world. And I like the world despite all my worrying. It can be an okay place sometimes.

Okay, okay, I’m getting off track. I want to write about my first day of school. Mom and Dad gave me this new—well, refurbished, but new to me anyway—computer for getting into Latin school, and they keep after me to make good use of it. So, I’ve decided I’m going to write about my new life. My life away from cretins—Lith, American, or any other kind.

The first person I met at school today was Carole. Carole Higginbottom. She’s in my homeroom. She was sitting in the first row, first seat, and I was sitting right behind her. We started talking. She’s from West Roxbury, too, which is where we live.

West Roxbury is part of Boston. You have to live somewhere in Boston in order to go to Latin school. West Roxbury is a nice neighborhood, for the most part, with houses, trees, grass, and people going to work and coming home. Kind of an all-American place, I guess. We used to live in a different, tougher part of Boston, but Mom and Dad moved away from there because they said the neighborhood was getting too rough. They promised I wouldn’t get beat up so much in West Roxbury. I don’t know. West Roxbury is better, but I still have gotten a few black-and-blue marks with “made in West Roxbury” on them, so as far as I’m concerned it isn’t any perfect place either.

Carole lives in another part of West Roxbury, near Centre Street, which is the main street in the area. People like to hang out there. Mom says that part of West Roxbury is a little dicey. (Mom thinks a lot of neighborhoods are too dicey. Maybe that’s where I get my worrying from.) Anyway, Carole sure doesn’t seem dicey. As a matter of fact, she’s a little goofy. Tall and skinny with red hair, red cheeks, and a million freckles. And she has a really sharp nose that curves up like those special ski slopes you see in the Olympics. But I get the feeling she’s smart. She says she likes science. That’s good because I might need help with science. I’m better with other subjects like history and English.

Our homeroom teacher is Mr. Bologna, Carmine Bologna. He’s a little scary with slicked-back dark hair and even darker eyes that stare at you forever. He looks like he’s part of the organization we’re not supposed to talk about—you know, the scary one from Italy that’s into murder, racketeering, and drugs. Two guys were horsing around in the back of the class and Mr. Bologna came right up to them, said a few words under his breath, and just stared at them. Boy, did they settle down fast. I’m no troublemaker, but I’ll really have to watch myself. Don’t want to deal with the Bologna stare if I can help it.

Today was mostly about walking around, learning about our subjects, and meeting teachers. Besides all the regular subjects, I have to take Latin. I don’t have anything against it per se, but is it really necessary to learn a dead language? And then there’s the teacher, Mr. Aniso. He’s kind of light in his loafers. That’s another new phrase I learned recently. It refers to gay guys, and Mr. Aniso is so gay it hurts. I just hope he can’t tell anything about me. I don’t wave my wrist around the way he does, do I?

Yeah, that’s something else I have to come to terms with. I might be heading in that direction. Yeah, me. I can hardly believe it. Me! Why? It can’t be true, can it? I’ve been praying to God, asking Him not to make me gay, but I don’t think He’s listening. If He exists, that is. Maybe He’s not answering because He doesn’t exist.

I don’t know. People on TV and in books say being gay is okay. Movie stars and rock stars are gay. There are gay mayors and other gay political types. That’s fine for them, but they don’t live with my family. Mom’s a heavy-duty Catholic. Dad’s a macho, “what-me-cry?” kind of guy. And my younger brother, Ray, well, Ray probably doesn’t care one way or another, but he doesn’t count anyway since he hates everybody. And then there are all those Lith immigrants, the community that’s so important to Mom and Dad. Most of them are so Old World and conservative. I don’t think being gay would go down well with them.

Not that I am gay for certain. I’m just saying it’s crossed my mind because…well, because I think about guys sometimes. And I notice them. Notice how they look when they’re coming down the street. Notice their eyes or their hair or the way they move. Just notice them.

Oh, I notice girls, too, but something about guys is different. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think about them as much or maybe more than girls. And I want to be with them. Is that normal? What’s normal anyway? To be honest, I’m so inexperienced. Never dated. Never even kissed anyone. Not like that anyway. No, I’ve spent my time worrying about communism, terrorism, and global warming. Like I said, I’ve always felt a little out of step with the rest of humanity.

Dealing with all this is just too much. To be nervous about things the way I am. To be speaking a language most people haven’t heard of. To have a strange name. To wear glasses and look nerdy. And now I might be gay? It’s all too confusing. I might as well start on antidepressants, or something stronger, right now.

But no. I try to look on the bright side of things. Take Carole for instance. She seems nice and fun, and maybe we’ll be friends. And if she likes me, I can’t be too weird, can I? I guess I’ll find out. I better not think about it. There’s enough to worry about as it is. I just have to take a breath and focus on my homework. Yeah, we got homework already. At least that’s one thing I’m good at. And when I go to Joe’s, well, life’s not so bad, at least while I’m eating my chicken and cheese or super jalapeno slice.

My Review:
Arvydas–called RV for short is the eldest son of Lithuanian immigrant parents. His parents emigrated when they were barely teens to escape the Soviet occupation and the hard life of the Old Country, but they haven’t forgotten their Lith roots. RV and his younger brother Ray have been taught to speak Lithuanian in their home–though Ray rarely does. RV is a bit embarrassed of his parents, to be honest, because their broken English makes them sound illiterate, and RV is really a literate kid. He’s been accepted into the Boston Latin School–a high honor–and he loves English probably the most of his classes.

RV has some deep secrets, though, most especially that he likes boys that way he thinks, even though he prays to God about it all the time. He’s pretty sure God doesn’t hear his prayers, much. RV goes to Lith church and has to hang with Lith kids, including the wealthy sort-of cousins that are some far relation to his mother’s family. RV’s parents fight a lot, mostly about money, but sometimes about RV and his “odd” ways. RV tries to be as quiet as possible so he won’t attract attention. He’s close friends with Carole, and army brat who’s moved a lot. Carole puts the moves on RV, and he’s kinda glad that she is willing to kiss him, but he’s not sure about how he feels when they make out. Is it weird that he’s sometimes thinking about his biology lab partner, Bobby, who is an attractive, black, super-athlete, when Carole kisses him?

Bobby is new to school and he’s friendly with RV, which is so confusing! They hang out at the same pizzeria sometimes, and Bobby is always asking for RV to look over his writing homework–which RV is so happy to do. It gives him more time to hang with Bobby after all. But, as the year wears on RV’s feelings about boys are really solidifying. He and Carole aren’t really working out. Bobby’s dating a really popular girl and RV’s dealing with jealousy, struggles at home, and the news that his effeminate Latin teacher has been hospitalized for was seems a gay bashing. Mr. Aniso was “swishy” in a way that RV feared appearing, and his students often made fun of him–RV included. But, RV does see Mr. Aniso’s extraordinary bravery, and he’s compelled to visit Mr. Aniso in the hospital where he learns about the man, not the teacher. Their visits help RV learn more about himself, too, and Mr. Aniso’s ready acceptance of RV’s questioning situation provides the support and context that RV really needs.

This coming of age/coming out story is tender and poignant, with a character who had many challenges to discover and overcome. RV’s family life is unstable, and his culturally bigoted parents will likely not accept his sexuality. RV’s large father, whose temper is often volatile, makes him feel unsafe to live his truth, but he is able to find allies in his life, including Mr. Aniso, Bobby, and Carole. The narrative is told through RV’s journal, so readers can be sure they are getting RV’s truest thoughts, and accurate representations of his emotional state, even when he’s confused and pondering. I honestly adored RV, who is so earnest and so nervous. He’s in an almost-constant state of panic, afraid to say the wrong thing to everyone. As his relationships grow, however, he learns who he can trust, and how to navigate the difficult conversations. He gains confidence, and with that comes some sparks of happiness.

I liked how Bobby and RV are able to carefully reveal that they both might like boys to one another, and how they might also like each other in that way. RV’s courage, and frustration, help this happen and it works out so well for him. There’s a TOUCH of romance here, in the most YA-friendly manner. I would gladly follow RV into more adventures.

Interested? You can find WHY CAN’T LIFE BE LIKE PIZZA? on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords. 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.

Surviving a MURDER AT PIRATE’S COVE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M cozy mystery from Josh Lanyon. MAINLY BY MOONLIGHT is the first book in the Secrets and Scrabble series, and I jumped in with both feet, even if it’s not a romance… I’ve also enjoyed MAINLY BY MOONLIGHT by Lanyon, which is a M/M paranormal romance, and will be posting about the sequel soon.

About the book:
Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, Scrabble champion and guy-with-worst-luck-in-the-world-when-it-comes-to-dating, is ready to make a change. So when he learns he’s inherited both a failing bookstore and a falling-down mansion in the quaint seaside village of Pirate’s Cove on Buck Island, Rhode Island, it’s full steam ahead!

Sure enough, the village is charming, its residents amusingly eccentric, and widowed police chief Jack Carson is decidedly yummy (though probably as straight as he is stern). However, the bookstore is failing, the mansion is falling down, and there’s that little drawback of finding rival bookseller–and head of the unwelcoming-committee–Trevor Maples dead during the annual Buccaneer Days celebration.

Still, it could be worse. And once Police Chief Carson learns Trevor was killed with the cutlass hanging over the door of Ellery’s bookstore, it is.

My Review:
Screenwriter Ellery Page has inherited his great-greataunt’s mystery bookshop, the Crow’s Nest, and crumbling estate in idyllic Pirate’s Cove–where everything is a pun on the historical founders of the town. It’s a big change from NYC, where he was floundering after his boyfriend left–taking their mutual friends with him. What seems to be a great chance at a fresh start is really just a step away from misfortune, as the bookshop had hardly any customers, and his home, Captain’s Seat, which was maybe built form the timbers of an old pirate vessel, is very aptly called a death trap.

Ellery is making the best of it, and he’s frustrated by the persistence of a motivated buyer for the bookshop, Trevor Maples. Trevor has been land-grabbing all he could in Pirate’s Cove, hoping increased tourism might help him turn a profit. He’s also up for mayor, and his bullish ways haven’t made Trevor many friends in town. Ellery isn’t willing to kowtow to a bully, but he’s suspect number one when Trevor Maples ends up dead on the floor of the Crow’s Nest the very evening after Ellery was overheard to vehemently promise to never sell. And it looks like the murder weapon was the now-missing antique cutlass that hung over the shop’s door.

An outsider in the town, Ellery’s sure Police Chief Carson will make 1 + 1 = Ellery’s arrest, adn the local paper is surely hounding both Ellery and Carson over the fact that Ellery isn’t immediately taken into custody. Fact is, the chief has seen Ellery having a meal in a pub minutes before the body was found…by Ellery. And as the evidence keeps getting found…by Ellery…it seems ever more likely that Ellery is being set up as a patsy. Ellery’s unwilling to get railroaded, however, and starts investigating a bit on his own. Which only brings him more confrontation. Especially when the second murder happens.

This is a really intriguing cozy mystery, with just a HINT of a budding romance. Ellery and Chief Carson are developing quite a nice rapport, even if Ellery’s not sure the lawman bats for his team. Well, until more than halfway in. Carson is a good investigator, and he’s frustrated that Ellery keeps taking daring chances to help prove his own innocence, choices that put Ellery in harm’s way more than once. The town and townspeople are as fun and quirky as one might hope, staging their Pirate Days festival that brings few visitors, but lots of gags for the locals.

The end is satisfying, with the red herrings and dead ends all knotted up tightly. It’s the beginning of a series, which makes me nervous for more death in this quaint hamlet! But, it also seems to promise a little bit of romance for Ellery, who’s finally got his life on track. I adored Ellery and his deadpan narration, with his constant predicaments and hope for just keeping it all together. I’m all in for more of this, hoping we get some Scrabble to go with our secrets.

Interested? You can find MURDER AT PIRATE’S COVE 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!

Finding the Will To Go On–ON CHOCORUA–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M coming-out and coming-of-age story from Robin Reardon. ON CHOCORUA is the first book in her Trailblazers series, which features a college freshman doing things…that cause him great pain.

About the book:
A mountain. A blizzard. A young man new to hiking and to love, making mistakes in both.
First year of college. A great time to re-invent yourself. Nathan Bartlett takes the opportunity very seriously—maybe a little too seriously. And he makes mistakes.

His mistakes? Falling for a straight guy who reminds him of his beloved older brother. Getting too invested in the substance abuse disorders of two other students. And climbing a mountain in a snowstorm for all the wrong reasons.

But he also develops friendships that will be his for life. He faces his inner demons and comes up with a plan. And he realizes that answers to important questions are seldom waiting on the surface but must be worked for, or struggled for, or suffered for—and sometimes all three.

Nathan is a trailblazer on his own journey. His success will be measured not by how well he follows someone else’s path, but by whether he can forge his own. This first book in a series of three novels gets Nathan started on a journey that will teach him about himself, about life, and about love.

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. Nathan has always looked up to Neil as more of a father-figure than a brother, and loves him dearly. Neil’s favorite activity of all time is hiking, and there’s plenty of it to do in their native New Hampshire. Nathan never hiked with his brother as the opening of the story is Nathan preparing to climb Chocorua peak alone, in memory of Neil. So, we start at the resolution, and then Nathan leads us backwards on his tale of woe.

Nathan has known he’s gay for years, but he never acted on it, and never dated anyone in his small community high school. He has told Neil his secret, and prepares to find a way toward meeting a man while away at college. As a freshman, it’s a big, bold new world, and Nathan comes out to his roommate to begin the year. El Speed is cool with it, and even attempts to negotiate a connection for Nathan with a gay student he knows. It doesn’t pan out, but Nathan hits it off with a boy in his acting class, Alden, and develops an unrequited crush on Daniel, the manager in the cafeteria dishroom where Nathan takes a job.

The story is essentially all about Nathan finding his people, and making headway into adulthood. It comes across as genuine, if not inspired. Alder becomes very important, as a guide for Nathan into physical sex and emotional love, but the relationship struggles when Alder’s personal demons come to call. Daniel serves as a mixture of the carnal male affection Nathan desires, inexplicably mixed with the paternal love Nathan’s always craved and sought from Neil. Daniel is a couple of years older than Nathan–so he’s got some experience and maturity–and he’s an avid hiker. Nathan thinks learning to hike with Daniel will enable him to be even closer to Neil–demonstrating his “un-tutored” prowess in something at which Neil excels. Unfortunately, Daniel’s a terrible guide and he’s not interested in being anything more than a friend. Daniel’s inexperience and arrogance nearly kills both himself and Nathan the first time they go hiking.

Over the course of the first year, Nathan learns how to stand up for himself, to come out to those whose support he needs, and to support those people who are being wronged/harmed by the callousness of others. He wishes he didn’t have to learn these lessons in so difficult a manner–especially in losing Neil. Nathan deals with his natural anxieties far better than most, and he’s rather well-adjusted considering his many tragedies in life. His friendship with El Speed, and his relationship with Nina both grow and help him keep a steady course. It’s a pretty quiet book, and I think knowing about Neil upfront took a lot of tension away for me. I was patiently waiting for the time Nathan would get the notice, and I didn’t feel as much connection to the situation as it unfolded because I then knew ‘Oh, this is where he bites it.’ And it was sad, no doubt, but the gut punch of grief didn’t manifest for me, since I was inured by the knowledge it was coming. That said, there are more books coming in this series, and I’m eager to watch Nathan’s world grow and (hopefully) get happier.

Interested? You can find ON CHOCORUA 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!

Managing the MONSTER OF THE WEEK–A Review

Hi there! Today, I’m sharing a review for a paranormal-type YA gay romance from F.T. Lukens. MONSTER OF THE WEEK is a sequel to THE RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR MEDIATING MYTHS AND MAGIC is about a high school senior who takes a part-time job so he can save money for college. But, his new job comes with all sorts of weird, and he’s soon caught up in disaster after disaster.

About the book:
Spring semester of Bridger Whitt’s senior year of high school is looking great. He has the perfect boyfriend, a stellar best friend, and an acceptance letter to college. He also has this incredible job as an assistant to Pavel Chudinov, an intermediary tasked with helping cryptids navigate the modern world. His days are filled with kisses, laughs, pixies, and the occasional unicorn.

Life is awesome.

But as graduation draws near, Bridger’s perfect life begins to unravel. Uncertainties about his future surface, his estranged dad shows up out of nowhere, and, perhaps worst of all, a monster-hunting television show arrives in town to investigate the series of strange events from last fall. The show’s intrepid host will not be deterred, and Bridger finds himself trapped in a game of cat and mouse that could very well put the myth world at risk. Again.

My Review:
Bridger Whitt is a high school senior with mere months to graduation. He’s dating an almost-hero, Leo, and a fab job helping intermediary Pavel Chudinov to help keep cryptids (think sasquatch), myths and magic folk from being noticed by humans. IN this he’s aided by his human bestie Astrid, Elena the werewolf, and a pair of pixies, Nia and Bran, and now his familiar “Marv” (aka Midnight Marvel) who looks like a kitten, but is not. Marv was a gift for his 18th birthday. Though Bridger and Leo have been dating a few months, they’re both still “unicorn-friendly” which means they’re virgins, because a unicorn will not approach a person who is sexually impure.

Bridger has been raised by his mom, but his absentee father has inexplicably returned and wants to build a relationship now that Bridger’s about to head off to college. It’s shady, but Bridger is used to the weird. What he’s not used to is having a reporter hanging around his tiny town of Midden, Michigan. Summer Lore is the host of the “Monster of the Week” show, and though she seems to be rather bored of doing her bit, she’s still an investigative reporter. It’s not long before Summer is trailing Bridger all over town, and trying to find out what happened when Bridger nearly drowned last term–in a rare and unexpected merpeople attack. While Astrid and Bridger try to diffuse this situation, some of his classmates are vying for the TV camera attention.

Summer’s aggressive tactics may be freaking Bridger out, but Pavel’s not that worried. Well, he puts Summer on warning, but Bridger knows it’s a matter of time before she’s at him again. Prom’s coming and Bridger and Leo are in the running for Prom Kings–which is a situation Leo’s dad has trouble understanding. But that’s not the worst thing. No, the worst thing is Summer trying to pry cryptid secrets from Bridger, even if she has to steal them…

This is as sweet and funny a story as the first book in the series. Bridger is an awkward and compassionate character and all his friends are interesting and cool. There’s some really troublesome issues surrounding Pavel’s position and Bridger’s status as his assistant–because of Summer’s interference. I loved getting to see Prom with a dash of magic a la magic portal, and graduation that becomes a bit of a showdown, what with the clashing guests. Bridger barely makes it to graduation, thanks to an out-of-control myth, but ends the book happily, in a lightly less unicorn-friendly state. It’s all tender and YA appropriate, and a book I’d read over and over. The one part I’m sad over is it seems that we’ve reached the end of this series! Otherwise, highly recommend.

Interested? You can find MONSTER OF THE WEEK on Goodreads, Interlude Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo.

About the Author:
F.T. wrote her first short story when she was in third grade and her love of writing continued from there. After placing in the top five out of ten thousand entries in a writing contest, she knew it was time to dive in and try her hand at writing a novel.

A wife and mother of three, F.T. holds degrees in psychology and English literature, and is a long-time member of her college’s science-fiction club. F.T. has a love of cheesy television shows, superhero movies, and science-fiction novels—especially anything by Douglas Adams.

Connect with F.T. on her website, Twitter, Tumblr and on Goodreads.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Becoming ALL BOY–A Review

Hi there!Today I’m sharing my review for a recently published transgender New Adult romance from Mia Kerick. ALL BOY is a coming of age and coming out story for a transgender teen living life on his terms. I have enjoyed many books by this author, including LOVE SPELL, THE WEEKEND BUCKET LIST, and THE ART OF HERO WORSHIP.

About the book:
Seventeen-year-old Callie Canter knows all about screwing up—and being screwed over. After her so-called boyfriend publicly humiliated her senior year, taking a fifth year of high school at Beaufort Hills Academy is her second chance to leave behind a painful past. But her need for social acceptance follows, and going along with the in-crowd is the difference between survival and becoming a target. Staying off the radar is top priority. So, falling for an outsider is the last thing on Callie’s “to-do” list. Too bad her heart didn’t get the memo.

With his strict, religious upbringing and former identity far away in Florida, Jayden Morrissey can finally be true to himself at Beaufort Hills Academy. But life as a trans man means keeping secrets, and keeping secrets means not getting too close to anyone. If he can just get through his fifth year unnoticed, maybe a future living as the person he was born to be is possible. Yet love is love, and when you fall hard enough, intentions crumble, plans detour, and secrets are revealed.

From multi-award-winning author Mia Kerick, comes a powerful, timely, and life-changing novel, which follows two teenagers nursing broken hearts and seeking acceptance, and who together realize running away isn’t always the answer.

My Review:
Callie Canter is at an exclusive prep school trying to finish her his school diploma now that she’s in a healthy place. In her hometown she’d been a victim of partner abuse, with a controlling, demeaning boyfriend whose constant criticism led to body issues, and whose release of a nude video completely humiliated Callie. She’s not sure about this new school, but she’s determined to use her therapy-gained emotional management skills to get past the crap she otherwise would have folded under. She’s got a great new roomie, and her soccer skills have garnered the attention of the kind of guys she’d usually dated: built jocks with more quips than thoughts. Except, those are the types of guys she’d been abused by in the past.

Instead, she’s really drawn to Jayden Morrisey. He’s thin and lithe, and funny and so smart! Why does Jayden live off campus and work, though? It’s peculiar, and intriguing. Jayden’s always standing up for Callie, and she likes that he’s not aggressively sexual, that they have a connection that is intellectual and emotional rather than only physical. Naturally, this makes Jayden a target for the suitors Callie’s attracted. He’s not big enough to stand up against the bullies, and the more he antagonizes them the more the threats ramp up.

Jayden has a big secret, it’s his first time living on his own, in his own skin–transitioning in dress and manner into the man he’s always been on the inside. He’s attracted to Callie, but he has a lot going on, not least of which is his hyper-conservative family who can’t understand why he didn’t accept the full-ride softball scholarship at a Christian college. This first taste as living authentically is an amazing experience, and Jayden considers coming out to Callie. But the guys chasing Callie aren’t willing to let her go–and make moves to “unmask” Jayden before he can discuss it with Callie.

I liked how authentic the relationship between Callie and Jayden felt, as well as the fast friendship she has with her roomie. Jayden’s got a hot mess to unravel, and he thinks it’s best if he does it off campus. While not ideal, Jayden heads home, and it’s up to Callie to make amends. That raises other issues that Callie must manage for herself, namely her dependence on others to define her self-image. Throughout the story, Callie’s insecurities in herself dictate her actions and inactions. That’s right, Callie’s lack of action cause Jayden great harm, and she has to mount a road-trip to help Jayden get justice. I liked how it turned out, even if I was disappointed by Callie for a large chunk of the book. The resolution is a heart-warming experience, with Jayden and Callie finding the refuge they needed to make their way into the world in healthy and positive ways.

Interested? You can find ALL BOY on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:
Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five nonpedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty-two years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.

Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled young people and their relationships, and she believes that physical intimacy has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press, Harmony Ink Press, and CreateSpace for providing her with alternate places to stash her stories.

Mia is a social liberal and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of human rights, especially marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.

Where to find Mia online: Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Wild Escapes in EXIT PLANS FOR TEENAGE FREAKS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ YA paranormal romance from ‘Nathan Burgoine. EXIT PLANS FOR TEENAGE FREAKS is a rollicking adventure featuring a high school senior with an inexplicable ability to teleport!

About the book:
Being the kid abducted by old Ms. Easton when he was four permanently set Cole’s status to freak. At seventeen, his exit plan is simple: make it through the last few weeks of high school with his grades up and his head down.

When he pushes through the front door of the school and finds himself eighty kilometers away holding the door of a museum he was just thinking about, Cole faces facts: he’s either more deluded than old Ms. Easton, or he just teleported.

Now every door is an accident waiting to happen―especially when Cole thinks about Malik, who, it turns out, has a glass door on his shower. When he starts seeing the same creepy people over his shoulder, no matter how far he’s gone, crushes become the least of his worries. They want him to stop, and they’ll go to any length to make it happen.

Cole is running out of luck, excuses, and places to hide.

Time for a new exit plan.

My Review:
Cole Tozer is two weeks from his high school graduation when his normal plan-making life gets upended. Instead of heading inside from the lunch courtyard, Cole steps through a door and into the aviation museum 80 kilometers away. Then, he botches the return trip–not entirely sure how teleport–and ends up inside his own locker at school. It’s only the perfect mess that he’s rescued by Malik King, a boy Cole has crushed on for some time. And then, he promptly passed out.

This isn’t the first time Cole’s had struggles with times and places. He wad kidnapped as a child–some of the nastier kids call him “Colenap” as a joke, but he’s re-evaluating that situation in light of his newly discovered teleporting ability. Still, he’s always been an odd ball, so he fastidiously plans to ensure he doesn’t get himself into any trouble, ever. And, now, with every door he walks through potentially being a door to another plans, Cole needs to keep his wits about him–or else he might just find himself in worse positions if he keeps thinking about Malik, who happens to have a curiosity streak a classroom wide and a glass door in his personal bathroom shower at home…

This is a really creative and interesting story, with a lot of great moments–like when Cole and Malik go out on their first…outing together. Turns out Malik is recently accepting that he’s bisexual, but he’s not exactly out, and he’s not sure how to deal with it. Cole’s experience as a sign interpreter of Deaf people helps him read the situations and draw connections that help Malik. Also, there’s some folks who are trying to track and attack Cole, to lock his teleportation down so he can’t get into trouble like back when he was a kid. Yep, for all his awkwardness, Cole’s precocious when it comes to his powers of teleportation. It takes some doing, but he manages to outsmart the beaurocrats and endear himself to Malik in the process. Well, for part of the climax, anyway. Cole gets some help with his traveling from a gal more experienced than he, and he’s able to save the day–and rid himself of the controllers on the teleportation pathway.

The pace of this book was brisk, and Cole’s narration is sardonic and adorably self-deprecating. His habits of mind: list-making, signing in ASL, extensive planning, all helped create a fully-developed, slightly goofy, teen boy. I was amused and “transported” along with him on this journey of self-exploration. I liked how the romance aspect developed–just the right tone for YA–and wanted to keep taking adventures long after the resolution closed. It’s a fun and sweet read, with a collection of realistic characters whose details I wanted to discover and figure out further.

Interested? You can find EXIT PLANS FOR TEENAGE FREAKS on Goodreads, Bold Strokes Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble , Kobo, and iTunes.

About the Author:
‘Nathan Burgoine grew up a reader and studied literature in university while making a living as a bookseller. His first published short story was “Heart” in the collection Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction. Since then, he has had dozens of short stories published, including in This is How You Die (the second Machine of Death anthology), and has released his first collection, Of Echoes Born (Bold Strokes Books).

His first novel, Light, was a finalist for both the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT SF/Fantasy/Horror, and the BOTYA 2013 Gay & Lesbian (Adult Fiction) ForeWord award. His second and third novels, Triad Blood and Triad Soul, are also available from from Bold Strokes Books. ‘Nathan’s first YA novel, Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks, released December 2018 from Bold Strokes Books, and is a finalist for the Prix Aurora Award.

A cat lover, ‘Nathan managed to fall in love and marry Daniel, who is a confirmed dog person. Their ongoing “cat or dog?” détente ended with the adoption of Coach, a six-year old husky. They live in Ottawa, Canada, where socialized health care and gay marriage have yet to cause the sky to cave in.

Catch up with Nathan on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!