Unexpected Horrors THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary LGBTQ YA thriller with romantic elements from Damian Serbu. THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET features a teen boy who sees ghosts battling it out with the malevolent spirit haunting his family homestead.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Jaret Bachmann travels with his family to his beloved grandfather’s funeral with a heavy heart and, more troubling, premonitions of something evil lurking at the Bachmann ancestral home. But no one believes that he sees ghosts.

Grappling with his sexuality, a ghost that wants him out of the way, and the loss of his grandfather, Jaret must protect his family and come to terms with powers hidden deep within himself.

How about a little taste?

I trembled at the thought of returning to Nebraska for my grandpa’s funeral.

Even he told me not to return.

Of course, you can’t explain the situation to your parents, or say your concerns out loud to anyone, without the world thinking you’d gone bonkers.

Still, after my uncle called Dad to tell us Grandpa died, Gramps tried for the past day to keep me at home.

Yeah, my dead grandpa warned me not to go to Fremont, which meant no way I wanted to go either. I trusted him dead as much as I trusted him with all my heart when he lived.

But what Gramps and I wanted did not matter. Because we all planned to get into Dad’s Blazer and drive back to Fremont, to the big Victorian house that had comforted me so much my entire life as the embodiment of Gramps’s love, to the small town we’d left behind years ago.

Unfortunately, none of these dreadful thoughts took me away from the reason I shut my eyes a moment ago and worked with all my power to keep them closed.

Sitting on my bed next to my suitcase and hugging my knees close to my body, I knew Gramps still stood in the corner with a frown. His ghost was upset, and his agitation had to do with my going to his funeral.

Keeping my eyes shut, I reached over next to me, at least comforted by the presence of my dog.

Then my mind played a fucked-up trick on me, as I giggled at my thoughts. I wished for a support group. Hi, I’m Jaret, and I see dead people. Like the frickin’ movie, with what’s-his-name acting in it. The Die Hard guy. Not that I ever wanted to see ghosts. Nope, never did. But ever since I was a kid, as early as I could remember, I saw them. And I learned pretty quickly to keep my mouth shut about my visions, no matter how many times I saw them. People would look at me like I went nutso if I told them such stuff. The other high school kids would freak. My own parents signed me up for the shrink farm when I was in third grade because I told them about the old man ghost in my classroom who made mean faces at me when I got an answer wrong. But could I blame them? My story sounded bonkers and scared the shit out of them. For all I know, the ghost sightings proved once and for all I am nuts.

Back to my senses, I took a deep breath and peeked over at the corner. Still there. Gramps shook his head, the way I remembered from when he wanted to teach me a lesson when I was little. The love had sparkled in his eyes even as he’d reprimanded me, and his ghost form adopted the same demeanor, despite his displeasure with my insistence on traveling to Nebraska.

I almost tricked myself into believing he still lived, except I had watched him materialize out of nowhere in my bedroom. One minute I stared at my hot picture of Captain America, the next Gramps blocked the poster from view as he appeared to me.

“Gramps,” I whispered. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say.” My head pounded with a headache, always a sign the dead had arrived for a visit. “Please help me. I don’t know what you want. Or how I’m supposed to do it. I’m not in charge around here! You know I have no power.”

He shook his head again, and the word “no” echoed through my skull.

“I got your message!” I yelled as a jolt of pain crashed through my brain. “You don’t want me to go back to Fremont. But I can’t not go. What would I tell my parents?” They’d scold me about making stuff up about ghosts again. Or could I even mention the episode to Jenn and Lincoln, my sister and brother? Too embarrassing. “Gramps, I’m sorry. I have to go. Please understand.”

Again Gramps shook his head, but then began to fade away.

“No. Please. I miss you—”

He disappeared, and Darth whined next to me, her ears back, her big brown eyes worried. At least my head returned to normal, except my stomach turned over in knots. A very, very bad force lurked in Fremont, bad enough Gramps’s spirit left his house to warn me.

I pulled Darth into a tight hug, so she pushed her snout into me. Even she tried to keep me from packing. She listened to Gramps’s warning and took his plea to heart. Yeah, I’m a strange case. I bond with dead people and dogs. I petted her and she whined again. “Don’t be sad. You get to go too.” Of course, I figured my assurance might make the fear worse for her.

I sighed as I stood, Darth mimicking me, and then grabbed my suitcase and headed upstairs, Darth on my heels.

“Look at the bright side,” I told her. “First we have a long car ride through Nebraska! And—Dad informed us no one can take a cell phone. How cool, right? No contact with the real world the whole time!” While Dad often flipped out about our being on our phones too much, he’d lost it with total abandon today. He forbade any phones on the trip, whatsoever. We all caved, though, because, well, first the order came from our dad. We never won those battles. And I think we all figured the phone rage related to his grief.

Darth tilted her head at me, trying hard to understand my words. “Plus, Gramps doesn’t even have a computer!”

We always dealt with the old-world nature of visiting Gramps, but we needed to bury him, which made the whole thing feel like total bullshit. No phones. No computer. Like 1890 all over again. Not to mention the ghosts fucking with me more than usual.

All these dreadful thoughts continued to float through my head as one cornfield after another flew by on the trip to Fremont. I stared out the window the entire time. But my mind kept reminding me we hurried toward a black hole, with nothing good at the other end.

I stifled another inappropriate giggle. The latest horror movie, starring Jaret! The dark stairs seemed foreboding, so I headed right down them! The evil monster ran into the woods. I charged in there alone after the beast! Every movie watcher screamed to go the other way, but the idiot actor plodded right into the danger. Except I became the idiot. Fuck me.

Plus, my head hurt like I got it smashed between two elevator doors. No way to forget the bad premonitions when your head reminded you of them every second.

Thankfully, we all stayed pretty quiet for the entire trip, given the grief of the moment.

My Review:
Jaret Bachmann is a closeted high school senior with an even bigger secret than his sexuality: he can see ghosts. He’s been able to his whole life, but it’s particularly poignant now that his dear Gramp’s spirit is popping into his bedroom in Colorado to warn him against returning to the family homestead in Fremont, Nebraska. Jaret would love to be able to stop his family from returning there, but he doesn’t have that power, and he’s afraid if he tells his parents about his sight they’ll commit him; previous experience did land him in counseling until he recanted.

In Fremont, the entire family is staying in the ancestral home, Jaret’s family, and that of his dad’s brother as well. THey have decided they want to sell the house instead of keeping it, because his aunt is terrified of the ghosts that live there. No one has actually seen a ghost, okay, no one by Jaret and he ain’t telling. Still there’s a lot of weirdness. Jaret’s dad and uncle agree selling the house is a decent plan, but not before they locate the precious heirloom jewelry that Gramps had usually kept in some arcane spot under the floorboards–which is now empty. Everyone agrees that the jewels must be in the attic, because that the one place no one has looked–and the door is unable to be unlocked. It’s also the spot that Gramps’ ghost keeps warning Jaret away from…and he’s stuggling to keep it together until the funeral.

One good thing about returning to Fremont is meeting Steve, a football player who is inexplicably drawn to Jaret on the night they meet as Jaret walks his dog (and comfort animal), Vader. Vader has been a super ally for Jaret, barking her head off whenever malevolent spirits amble past. Steve is a nice distraction, but his interest seemed way too quick, considering he’s never found dudes that interesting, even ones related to the owner of the town’s famous haunted house. The interest is enough to give Jaret some courage, however, and he finally confides his big gay secret to more than just Vader.

This story is centrally about Jaret coming out about this powers to talk with the dead, (and more) and his sexuality. There is a deeply held family secret at the heart and root of Jaret’s abilities and if the family will only just listen and believe, he might just save the day. I thought Jaret’s deductions about his powers, and how gaining access to the sacred family gems revealed even more power that Jaret was able to harness. The story behind the ghost haunting the Bachmann family is rather sad, and has led to innocents dying in the past. The ghost is sure that homosexuality is a perversion that must be eradicated from the family, but the WHY of that conviction is pretty melancholy. Jaret’s a quick thinker, and great improviser, so he fakes it until he can make it–and that spunk made him more interesting.

On the whole, the language of the book was a bit lackluster, with lots of f-bombs and tired repetition of scenes giving the impression of laziness, instead of detail. How many times is the ghost going to accost Jaret? Or, send his mom to find him while he’s canoodling with Steve? Spoiler: all the times. The pace could have been tighter, but Jaret did read like and immature kid, so there’s bonus points for that. There were some weird plot situations that made little sense, like why Jaret’s dad would ban cell phones on this trip? What parent does this? Also, I got WAY tired of the autocratic dad thing, with Jaret’s dad and uncle making completely ludicrous plans and everyone going along because they were the “men”. I was glad Jaret finally grew a spine, and his ingenuity in taking care of the ghost was cool. The way he and Steve fell into “deep love” in a matter of days was less cool.

In all, it was a cool ghost story, with a teen finding powers deep within himself that enable him to stop the horror his family had been suffering for a few generations. The writing wasn’t as tight as I’m used to for YA, and the instalove was nearly more unbelievable than the paranormal magic thriller that served as a backdrop.

Interested? You can find THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published The Vampire’s Angel, The Vampire’s Quest, and The Vampire’s Protégé, as well as Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon and Santa Is a Vampire with NineStar Press. The Bachmann Family Secret is (clearly) now available.

Keep up to date with him on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

They are THE EXTRAORDINARIES–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing the love for a YA LGBTQ romance that’s out today from a long-time fave author, TJ Klune. I’ve mostly reviewed Klune’s paranormal Green Creek series (WOLFSONG, RAVENSONG, and HEARTSONG) on Joyfully Jay, but THE EXTRAORDINARIES I got for myself. I fell hard for BEAR, OTTER, AND THE KID years ago, and I pick up Klune’s books whenever I can, now.

About the book:
Some people are extraordinary. Some are just extra. TJ Klune’s YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is a queer coming-of-age story about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes he loves.

Nick Bell? Not extraordinary. But being the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom is a superpower, right?

After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, Nova City’s mightiest hero (and Nick’s biggest crush), Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’ll do it with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, Nick’s best friend (and maybe the love of his life).

My Review:
Nick Bell is a 16 year old out-gay boy who has a fierce group of queer friends. There’s Seth, who is likely gay but never dated anyone. He’s Nick’s oldest and dearest friend–Nick expects to spend a lifetime of friendship with Seth. Then, there’s Gibby, a take no crap baby butch black girl in her senior year. Gibby is in a committed relationship with Jazz, head cheerleader of their high school. And, Nick is sort-of friends with Owen, his rich and popular ex who relishes needling Seth.

Nick’s world is a little richer by virtue of true superheroes, dubbed “the Extraordinaries,” who save people with their superpowers. Nova City, where Nick lives, is home to Shadow Star, a superhero that can pull shadows to do his bidding, as well as his arch nemesis, Pyro Storm, who uses fire to wreak havoc. Nick is unabashedly crushing on Shadow Star, and has written literally hundreds of thousands of words in fanfic celebration of a possible love between Shadow Star and everyday boy “Nate Belen”. This mission and crush has helped lift Nick from the depression he suffered when his mother was tragically killed two years ago.

Nick’s dad is a cop and his only remaining family. They have a good relationship, but Nick struggles to connect with people in general due to his ADHD and neurodiverse situation. This is likely why he cannot see that Seth is actively pining for Nick–and it’s soon clear that Nick is missing the biggest secret in Nova City: he’s actually friends with the Extraordinaries that he idolizes.

Nick’s mission is to be normal at school, allaying his father’s fears for his future, but also to join the ranks of Extraordinaries, so he can:
1. get Shadow Star to fall in love with him, and
2. protect his dad from harm.
Much of the story is Nick strategizing hare-brained plans to unlock his Extraordinary potential. His awkwardness and complete obliviousness to reality is shake your head funny, but Nick isn’t the butt of jokes. His sincerity and desperation bring a gravitas to him, even when it’s clear that most everyone can see the bigger picture while Nick’s trapped in minutia.

Nick’s anxiety, depression and ADHD are a huge part of his character’s personality, and I really enjoyed the mental rollercoaster that Nick lived in. I felt how deeply it encompassed his worldview, and how frustrating it was to struggle with these hurdles minute-by-minute and pill by pill. Nick’s impulsive nature is further rattled when his dad gets injured while protecting people from the increasingly more dangerous battles between Shadow Star and Pyro Storm.

This is the first story in a series, and I seriously could not stop turning the pages. I was charmed and intrigued throughout, only slightly discombobulated by the fanfic opening. I adored Nick, and his narration is a masterstroke of YA voice. His one-sdied love afair with Shadow Star morphs into something much greater, and more satisfactory as he gains both knowledge and perspective. Expect some boys kissing!

We get some solid leads on the direction of the next story by well-placed clues about previous Extraordinaries that have disappeared, and the startling occurrences that shield Nick when Shadow Star and Pyro Storm are involved in battle. It’s a coming of age story, in many ways, but it’s also a coming to terms story, with Nick being a (lovable) petulant teen, confused why his dad now insists that Nick “leave the door open” when Seth visits his room. He clearly doesn’t get that they are only best pals! He’s also mortified by his dad’s “protection” demos involving items like bananas and vague threats of talks with his service pistol handy. There is so much awesomeness packed in this story, I can’t believe my iPad didn’t explode with cape-wearing kittens and chocolates filled with rainbow ganache.

I’d honestly read this story over and over, and highly recommend it to YA readers, and fans of superhero or LGBTQ stories. Like every Klune book I’ve ever read, I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel.

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

About the Author:
TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

You can catch up with TJ on his website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ YA coming of age story from Andy V. Roamer. WHY CAN’T FRESHMAN SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA? is the second book in the Pizza Chronicles and features a high school freshman questioning his ethnic heritage, his friendships and his sexuality. I adored WHY CAN’T LIFE BE LIKE PIZZA? and I highly recommend reading it first.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to get in on the $10 GC giveaway!
About the book:
RV, having successfully completed his freshman year at the demanding Boston Latin School, is hoping for a great summer. He’s now fifteen years old and looking forward to sharing many languid summer days with his friend Bobby, who’s told him he has gay feelings too. But life and family and duties for a son of immigrant parents makes it difficult to steal time away with Bobby.

Bobby, too, has pressures. He spends part of the summer away at football camp, and his father pushes him to work a summer job at a friend’s accounting firm. Bobby takes the job grudgingly, wanting to spend any extra time practicing the necessary skills to make Latin’s varsity football team.

On top of everything, RV’s best friend Carole goes away for the summer, jumping at an opportunity to spend it with her father in Paris. Luckily, there is always Mr. Aniso, RV’s Latin teacher, to talk to whenever RV is lonely. He’s also there for RV when he inadvertently spills one of Bobby’s secrets, and Bobby is so angry RV is afraid he is ready to cut off the friendship.

How about a taste?

Chapter One—Summer Solstice
I used to love summer. The long, languid days. No school. No homework. Sleeping late. Going to the beach. Staying out later in the evenings and watching the sun set over the hills into the darkening glow of the horizon.

Wow. Am I starting to sound like a poet or just a pretentious a-hole? What’s wrong with the paragraph I just wrote? There are no pretentious words in it, are there? Well, maybe “languid” is. I like “languid.” I don’t know where I picked it up, but I think it perfectly describes summer. Where everything is a little more s-l-l-o-o-w-w-w and easygoing. Where life seems good and there’s no homework. Yup, I’ll stick with languid. Hey, there has to be a benefit to liking words the way I do. I’m not just a nerd, but a poetic nerd.

Ha ha ha. Maybe it has something to do with being bilingual. I never used to think about it much before, but I guess I am officially bilingual. Talking Lithuanian at home. English in the outside world. Just kind of always accepted it, didn’t I? But I wonder what speaking two languages does to someone. Kind of like being split into two people. My Lith life and my English life. Are there really two people inside me? Scary thought. One of me is bad enough.

Luckily, Bobby Marshall doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, so why should I be?

Ahh, Bobby Marshall. I still can’t believe we’re friends. Or should I say “special friends”? I’m still afraid to even think about it. Me, RV Aleksandravičius—nerd extraordinaire, spawn of Lithuanian immigrants, word lover, nervous worrywuss, possible gay person—friends with one of the biggest jocks in school. The world truly is an amazing place.

But, as I was saying, I used to love summer. That was before I had to work. This summer I’ll be toiling away like the rest of humanity. And I’m not just talking about working with the Computer Fix-It company I started last year with Carole. That business has been kind of rocky lately. I’ll blame it on the bad economy, since everyone always blames everything on a bad economy.

No, I’m working at my first real job. I turned fifteen last week. I used to love my birthdays. The end of school. The start of summer. But not anymore. Dad has a friend at work, Mr. Timmons, whose brother, Ed, owns a garage and gas station. Dad was talking to him and lo and behold (another pretentious choice of words?), Mr. Timmons told him his brother was looking for someone to help with chores around the place. Since I’m not sixteen yet, I’m not supposed to work in the garage itself. But I can dispense gas and work around the store that Ed has attached to the garage. Nothing heavy duty, Mr. Timmons said. Ed just needs someone fifteen to twenty hours a week helping in the store and cleaning around the place. A great way to earn a little pocket money.

Fifteen to twenty hours! Dad, bless his parental heart, volunteered me. Said it was a great way to learn about “real” life. And to “round out my skills.” What, my skills are too flat or something? But Dad doesn’t stop. “Too much time with your nose in a book isn’t healthy.” “Develop some skills.” “A young man needs more than book learning.” On and on and on. Says it in the Mother Tongue, of course, but that’s how it translates into English.

Except it sounds more serious in Lithuanian. “Per daug laiko praleidi su nosim knygose.” “Išmok ką nors naudingo.” “Jaunam vyrui ne tik knygos naudingos.” Wonder why that is. Because it’s what we talk at home? Our “real” language? To Mom and Dad, English sure isn’t real. Even though they speak it, Mom much better than Dad. What is real to me, then?

Oh, well. In whatever language, I think Dad wants to have a macho son like the other guys at work brag about. Well, sorry, Dad, not all of us can be macho. And not all of us can be like Bobby Marshall either. A jock. Smart. And nice. Yeah, nice. He likes me. I still can’t believe it sometimes. He says I’m fine the way I am. Okay, Bobby, if you say so. I’ll believe you. I have to believe you. Have to believe someone likes me the way I am.

Oh, RV, stop feeling sorry for yourself. There are people who like you besides Bobby. Mom, for example, though Mom doesn’t really count because moms usually love their kids no matter how screwed up they are. But then there’s Mr. Aniso, my Latin teacher last year. Good old Mr. Aniso. He’s been great, especially when I’ve told him my worries about being gay. We’re becoming real friends. But he’s an adult. Adults only go so far for a kid. We need our peers to like us.

So what about Carole? You’ve gone through a lot with her, RV, and she’s still sticking by you. Yeah, that’s true. She’s a good egg. No, a great egg! I love you, Carole Higginbottom!

And what about Ray? Brothers are usually close, aren’t they? But not Ray and I. Too bad. He’s just off in another world. I’m sure he thinks it’s a cooler world than the one his nerdy older brother inhabits.

So there’s Bobby. He’s a guy. A regular guy. Something I’ve always wanted to be, but will never be, alas! (Another one of those words! Where are all these pretentious words coming from?). Anyway, if Bobby really likes me that would be amazing. I still can’t believe it happened.

There I am thinking about him again. But that’s okay, right? I mean, after all, we kissed and everything.

!!$$#*&!! Did I just write that? Yes. GET OVER YOURSELF, RV! YOU KISSED A GUY AND YOU LIKED IT. What’s wrong with that? You’re not hearing thunder from heaven, are you? This computer isn’t blowing up because you wrote those words, is it? So you might be gay. Chill out. Or you might be bi. After all, you enjoyed making out with Carole until she started falling for that zit-faced Tim— Whoa! Whoa!

I have to stop worrying about everything. Maybe Dad’s right. Maybe too much time on the keyboard, writing down my thoughts, isn’t good. But I like keeping this journal. Helps me sort things out. When Mom and Dad gave me this computer they said they wanted me to make good use of it. I think I have. Maybe not the way they’d want me to, but I think they’d be proud of me for writing so much. And I kept it up all school year. That’s good, isn’t it? Even if Mom and Dad would be shocked at some of the stuff I wrote here. I hope I keep up the writing during the summer. After all, I should have more time in summer, even if those languid days are cut by fifteen to twenty hours a week.

My Review:
This is the second book in a series and I’m going to sum up a bit of stuff that many be spoiler-y if you haven’t read the first book.

Arvydas “RV” …… (sorry I don’t have the tenacity to write his last name) is the eldest son of Lithuanian ex-pats living on green cards in Boston. RV’s parents have worked hard for their modest American existence; it’s not the American Dream they had envisioned upon emigration. They are up for citizenship, if they can pass their tests, but RV’s dad is a bit sour on the idea. RV also struggles to connect with his younger brother Ray, who seems like a “cool kid” while RV is an avowed dweeb and total book scholar.

It’s the summer following RV’s freshmen year at the prestigious Boston Latin School. RV is a real scholar and thinker, and he’s a bit nerdy if he does say so himself. He struggles to fit into his Lithuanian role, and he doesn’t fit in well at school. He has two good friends: Carole who was his first girlfriend, and Bobby who is somewhat of a boyfriend. Bobby had asked RV for tutoring help in the first book, but they both feel an attraction that leads to discussing their fluid sexuality. Bobby thinks he’s gay, but he doesn’t want ANYONE to know. RV struggles to understand his sexuality, but he’s thinking he’s gay because he’s really generally attracted to men. He worked on these ideas while visiting his dear Latin teacher, Mr. Aniso in the hospital last winter. Mr. Aniso is clearly gay, and was brutally bashed one weekend. Their mentor-friendship has grown over the course of the summer when RV has felt more and more isolated. Carole is in Paris with her dad, a military man with a new appointment, and Bobby spends more and more time at football camp.

Bobby is black, Mr. Aniso is gay, and RV is the child of immigrants, and potentially gay–or bisexual. They each experience prejudice in their lives and RV documents this with the kind of unflinching honesty only a confused child can bring. Mr. Aniso and Bobby both agree that RV is innocent, but in different ways. Mr. Aniso affirms RV’s goodness and willingness to see the best in people, and Bobby is a little on the pressuring side, willing to explore their sexuality in a way that’s a bit too fast for Bobby.

I really liked the side characters here, even Ed, the garage and gas station owner that RV works for. Ed is without question the embodiment of white American male supremacy, but RV is able to talk to him in ways that diffuse his inherent racism. He’s a product of his environment like many unacknowledged racists, and RV is able to shift his bigoted paradigm. RV also grows the strength to stand up for his family, and his feelings, once he figures out the depth of them.

This 15 year old’s digital journal is the meat of the story, and RV’s private thoughts really cut to the heart of racism and prejudice over several classes. In a time when there is heightened awareness of the institutional racism and racial inequity in America, RV’s insight is a welcome call out for people to just be more human, and understand that their personal experiences does NOT invalidate the injustices experienced by others.

I adore RV and will follow him on his quest for truth, justice and the American experience. Trigger warning for incidences of gang behavior, teen drug use, and a shooting.

Interested? You can find WHY CAN’T FRESHMAN SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA? on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Andy V. Roamer grew up in the Boston area and moved to New York City after college. He worked in book publishing for many years, starting out in the children’s and YA books division and then wearing many other hats. This is his first novel about RV, the teenage son of immigrants from Lithuania in Eastern Europe, as RV tries to negotiate his demanding high school, his budding sexuality, and new relationships. He has written an adult novel, Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon, under the pen name Andy V. Ambrose. To relax, Andy loves to ride his bike, read, watch foreign and independent movies, and travel.

Catch up with Andy on his website and Facebook.

Nearly Ruined by the SECRET AT SKULL HOUSE–A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Tough Situations–THE OTTO DIGMORE DECISION–A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Barely Surviving A TOUCH OF DANGER-A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Elaine on her website, twitter and Tumblr.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Inexplicably Bound by DRAGON MAGIC-A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk with him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Finding Common Ground as LAB PARTNERS–A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Figuring Out THE MIXTAPE TO MY LIFE–A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!