Tough Love Learning YOU ARE NOT ME–Review & Giveaway!

you-are-not-me-bannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a New Adult coming-of-age story from Leta Blake. YOU ARE NOT ME, the sequel to PICTURES OF YOU, is set in Knoxville, Tennessee, and follows a newly graduated, newly out teen looking to find his tribe. There’s a dash of romance, but it’s bittersweet.

Catch the excerpt below, and be sure to enter the giveaway to win one of two copies of PICTURES OF YOU.
you-are-not-me-coverAbout the book:
Follow Peter into the summer following his senior year to face new beginnings, new friends, and old baggage.

After a tumultuous final year of high school, Peter Mandel needs a break. It’s the summer of 1991, and his secret relationship with his ‘best friend’ Adam Algedi is put on hold as Adam goes away to Italy for the summer. On the cusp of adulthood, Peter has a couple of months to explore who he is without Adam at his side.

Enter Daniel McPeak, a slightly older, out, responsible college guy with a posse of gay friends and an attraction for Peter. Drawn into the brave new world of the local gay club, Peter embarks on a whirlwind of experiences—good and bad—which culminate in a hotel room where he has to make the ultimate choice.

But Adam will come back eventually, and there are promises that have to be kept. As autumn draws near and college awaits, can Peter break free of the binds of twisted first love? And what exactly is Daniel’s role in his life – a brief temptation, or something more?

Join Peter in the second book of this four-part coming of age series as he struggles to love and be loved, and grow into a gay man worthy of his own respect.

How about a little taste?

The stool next to me wasn’t empty for long. Minty dropped onto it, his purple tutu rubbing against my chinos and his thin, white arms curled up to rest on the bar. He stared at me for a long, curious second. “I’ve met you before, right?”

“Yeah.” I shook off my disappointment and gave him my attention. “Last spring, up on campus.”

“Did we fuck?”

I almost choked on my soda. “No.”

“Right.” Minty frowned. “Did I suck you off?”

I stared at him.

“Well?”

“My car was broken down,” I said slowly. “Daniel helped me.”

Minty grinned. “Oh, right! I remember now. You looked amazing that night. Made of moonbeams. Everyone was made of moonbeams.” He tilted his head. “You look all right now too.”

“Thanks?”

Minty laughed and fluffed his tutu. He turned away from me to hammer his fists on the bar. “Jolly Zima, Barry! Watermelon! Hit me!”

Barry rolled his eyes, but he pulled a Zima out from the fridge and popped the lid, then reached under the counter and came out with a watermelon Jolly Rancher, unwrapped it, and dropped it into the drink. Minty slapped three dollars down and took a dainty sip.

“Ah! Perfection!” He turned to me with his eyelashes lowered flirtatiously. “Anyway, back to what you were saying. We haven’t fucked yet?”

Startled, nervous laughter bubbled out of my mouth.

“Minty,” Barry said. “Drink your Zima and leave Peter alone.”

“Sure thing. You’re the boss.” Minty sighed and leaned toward me conspiratorially. “He won’t fuck me either. What’s a girl gotta do these days? I mean, I look good, don’t I?”

I looked him over—white, though scuffed, ballet slippers, purple tutu, toned, pale, lithe arms, and his made-up face. “Sure. You look really pretty.”

Minty grinned. “Aw, you know how to make a girl feel nice.”

“Didn’t I just see you downstairs with two guys, though?”

“Two? Please. That’s just a warm-up.” He sniffed.

Renée appeared at my side, dropping an arm around my shoulder. “Minty, doll baby, I need you backstage in an hour. You’re my naughty boy tonight.”

“Okay, but I want to wear my tutu.”

“You’ll be gorgeous.” Renée grabbed hold of Minty’s face and looked him over. “We need to put some eyelashes on you too.”

“And red lipstick.”

“Yes! Every man in this room will ache to be in that pert ass of yours.” She glanced at me and then back at Minty. “Except Peter here.”

“He catches?” Minty asked.

“Like Johnny Bench, baby.”

I didn’t like my positional preferences being discussed like it was any of their business, but I was mystified that Renée seemed so certain about it. Was there something about me that screamed loves it up the ass?

“How do you know who Johnny Bench is, woman?” Barry handed Renée a milky-looking drink topped with brown liquor.

“I listen!”

“I’ve never mentioned baseball to you and you know it.”

“Of course not. You’d never do that to me. Earl at Ringo Comics, though, he babbles on and on about it when he’s trying not to come. Earl says I catch like a pro.” She patted her ass.

Daniel was right last spring when he said Robert and Renée were the same but different people. Robert could be sassy and forthright about his sexual shenanigans, but raunchy details rarely left his mouth. My face burned.

“Hear, hear!” Minty cried, throwing back his head to draw a long swig from his Zima.

Barry frowned. It was the first time I’d seen Barry look even moderately unhappy about Renée—or Robert’s—indiscretions.

“What?” Renée asked defensively.

“Earl’s positive.” Barry’s gaze bore into her. “You used a condom?”

“Of course!” Renée licked her lips and shifted nervously to her other foot, her hip cocking out. “I always do. You know that.”

Minty bit his purple-painted thumbnail, eyes going distant. “I’m probably positive. I should get tested. My mom wants me to get tested.”

Barry nailed Minty and Renée with a frustrated glare. He reached under the counter and pulled out two condoms. Then his gaze shifted to me and he pulled out a third. “For fuck’s sake, use these. Every time. Every damn time.”

Renée stuffed the condom in her bra. Minty held it up in front of his face and then gave it a kiss before lifting up his tutu to tuck it into the waistband of his white briefs. Nodding, I pocketed the one Barry handed to me, even though I wasn’t going to need it. Adam was in Italy and the casual sex Minty and Renée played with was something I’d never risk.

My Review:
This is the second book in a series and best enjoyed when read in order. It’s June 1991, and the AIDS epidemic is at it’s peak, as is tension with Middle Easterners, as we’re in the midst of the Gulf War.

Peter Mandel is nearly nineteen, and just graduated from high school in Knoxville, Tennesee. He’s gay, and out to his parents and a few friends, notably his boyfriend, the BF’s siblings, and his drag queen boss. Peter otherwise keeps a low profile because he’s been attacked for his sexuality, and to spare his mother pain; as a child she’d seen her elder brother brutally killed for being gay.

Peter’s boyfriend Adam thought he had a fool-proof plan to shield them from scrutiny: he got a girlfriend, Leslie, who he maintains a sexual relationship with, as well as with Peter. It killed Peter for their time together in senior year, but now it’s summer and Adam’s gone to Rome to live with his parents until college begins in the fall. His letters and calls to Peter all describe the big changes that will happen when he’s back, but Peter’s not so convinced. He’s not comfortable being a piece on the side any longer, and he cares for Leslie, too–feels like a big jerk for lying to her, in fact.

Peter meets Daniel through Robert/Renee, the lovely black drag queen he works for. See, Peter’s a photographer, and he does Renee’s publicity, as well as helps edit his filmography of famous drag queens. Daniel is a college student at UT, just like Peter, and they develop a good friendship, as well as an attraction. Daniel doesn’t want to make a move, though, knowing Peter is holding out hope the he and Adam will build a stronger relationship when Adam returns–despite the fact that they’ll attend different colleges in different states–and Leslie will be with Adam.

So, yeah. There is a bit of romance, as Daniel and Peter spend more and more time together. Peter gets to know all of Daniel’s close friends, and he sees how important it is to live his truth. Plus, he’s filling out of his gawky-awkward stage, and finding that men are very much attracted to him whenever he gets out to the gay clubs. Should he wait for Adam? Is he only prolonging the heartbreak?

This book is really rich with description of the times and occurrences. I love the throwbacks of corded phones, answering machines and film cameras. Developing!! Argh! There’s also some really poignant moments regarding HIV/AIDS because Daniel is an outreach volunteer, and he gets Peter involved in some home care visits with a man who’s dying of AIDS. Wow! That was so freaking intense, and I only expect it’ll get more so in the next book. The context of HIV/AIDS is such a strong element of the book, with every person advising Peter on his safety, and some serious problems when risks are unnecessarily posed.

Emotionally, Peter struggles with doing what he believes is right, and what is right for him. So many times I wanted to just pull him in for a long hug, and tell him to Get Rid Of Adam!!! Alas, I’m but a reader, and I must follow the path he chooses. The good part is: all of it. It’s gritty, and scary, and captivating living life through Peter’s opened eyes. He finds unlikely allies, and builds true relationships–even repairing a lot of the damage within his own family. His parents’ benign neglect was more damaging than they realized, and they do a lot of soul-searching and reconnection in this book. That was fabulous. Peter does make mistakes, and I think he gets pretty lucky in some parts–particularly dealing with some substance use he wasn’t quite ready for. While the romance is almost incidental to the story, it does exist. Expect it to be bittersweet. The end is upbeat, and I’m eager to see how Peter takes to his first semester in college.

Interested? You can find YOU ARE NOT ME on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win on of two ebooks of PICTURES OF YOU.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Author of the best-selling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.

You can find out more on her website, Facebook and twitter.

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Cephalopod Coffeehouse Oct 2016–BEAUTIFULLY UNIQUE SPARKLEPONIES-A Review

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

This month I’ve read a wide variety of books, from paranormal, to YA to erotic to gay, and mostly those were all romance. It’s my comfort zone, and I like to be comfortable. Who doesn’t, right? Well, I’ll be honest, I’ve been pretty uncomfortable about the elections coming up. If you haven’t guessed, I’m a liberal. That’s my prerogative. I’m a college educated woman with two degrees in science. My family wasn’t wealthy; neither of my parents completed college, and really only had a handful of courses between them–all taken later in life. Despite having seriously awesome need-based financial aid, I just had my twenty year reunion, and I’m still paying back student loans.

As a woman in science, I’ve seen some great and not-so-great things, but I’ve been in a professional role that is generally more egalitarian and merit-based than most other professions. I’m also trained to gather evidence and make measured judgments. When all the “revelations” regarding Donald Trump began coming to light–that he’s essentially lecherous and likely a sexual predator–I was drawn back to the writings of Chris Kluwe. You may remember his impassioned essays in the days before marriage equality, invoking a juggernaut of rational, honest and logical arguments in favor. His piece on Locker room talk reminded me how much I enjoyed his straight-talking sense-making pieces, and so I picked up his BEAUTIFULLY UNIQUE SPARKLEPONIES. It’s not necessarily a political book, but it certainly has a lot to say regarding…well, everything.

busMy Review:
I hardly review non-fiction. It’s not my thing. But I do love thoughtful, insightful essays which I tend to pick up in my daily quest for “What’s happening outside of my house?” information. BUS is a large collection of essays ‘on myths, morons, free speech, football and assorted absurdities.’ In short it’s a hodgepodge of really fascinating topics that were immediately relevant a few years ago, yet still provoke thought today–mostly because they are still part of the big mix of ideas and activities we know exist, but don’t focus on day-to-day.

There are a number of essays about the need for marriage equality. Court victories have brought this to pass, but with the rumblings of Republican candidates talking about instituting new bans, and overturning recent court decisions, it’s still important to focus on the underpinnings and moral conflicts inherent in disenfranchising a significant portion of our population based on their sexuality. I echo his sentiments here, and hope that we can work toward gender/sex equality forthwith. No reason men should get paid more than me for doing the same work after all. I have a family to support, too, folks.

Further, there’s lots of discourse on privacy, chiefly the illusion of it, our collective laziness as a society, and building ourselves echo chambers that amplify and reinforce our beliefs. I’ve certainly seen this in several venues this election cycle, with people clamoring over (non-existent) election fraud–evidenced because everyone they know and speak with is voting for a particular candidate, ergo that person must win. If not, it’s rigged I tellz ya!! Being a scientist, and having friends and family in both camps, I see more than one side, even if I don’t agree with both sides equally. And, I think that’s a big part of Kluwe’s book: being open to many facets of experience in life. Being empathetic, and just. Making learned, informed decisions. Being active in life, not simply reactive.

There’s also some ‘assorted absurdities’ which are entertaining and fun. He’s a quick wit, and doesn’t hesitate to self-deprecate. Kluwe’s candid about his nerd life, his obsessive reading, and his cluelessness regarding girls as a younger man. He also readily questions his role in society, how he–as a pro football player–lived in a rarefied space, and why? There’s a lot about religion, and the guiding principles that don’t apply to people who do not ascribe. I felt a lot of resonance there.

While non-fiction isn’t my bag, per se, I’m super glad I finally picked this one up. It gave my brain some excellent gymnastics, and ironic ‘entertainment’ to ponder. Kluwe’s brand of creative swearing is a hoot, but even when he’s not profane he makes a shit-ton of sense. Fans of George Carlin, Louis Black, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Samantha Bee will certainly find this book to be worth their time. If nothing else, I’ll always remember Kluwe when I consider reclining my airplane seat.

Interested? You can find BEAUTIFULLY UNIQUE SPARKLEPONIES on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and libraries everywhere.

Thanks for popping in, and be sure to check out my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers as they share thoughts regarding their fave book for October.

Map of Love: HERE’S THE THING–Review and Giveaway!

heres-the-thing-tour-bannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a sweet contemporary YA F/F romance from Emily O’Bierne. HERE’S THE THING is a straight-talking story of a sixteen year old girl who’s trying to make sense of her love life. And semi-failing at it.

It comes out October 19th, but you can get all the info now, and pre-order it below. Check out the excerpt and e-book giveaway below.

heresthething-coverAbout the book:
It’s only for a year. That’s what sixteen-year-old Zel keeps telling herself after moving to Sydney for her dad’s work. She’ll just wait it out until she gets back to New York and Prim, her epic crush/best friend, and the unfinished subway project. Even if Prim hasn’t spoken to her since that day on Coney Island.

But Zel soon finds life in Sydney won’t let her hide. There’s her art teacher, who keeps forcing her to dig deeper. There’s the band of sweet, strange misfits her cousin has forced her to join for a Drama project. And then there’s the curiosity that is the always-late Stella.

As she waits for Prim to explain her radio silence and she begins to forge new friendships, Zel feels strung between two worlds. Finally, she must figure out how to move on while leaving no one behind.\

How about a taste?

As soon as she hears the words “New York”, the blonde princess perks up.

“You actually lived there?” Her voice is still measured, but I can hear the hint of intrigue. Suddenly I’m worth something. She straightens her blazer, looking curious and a touch self-conscious. Like the mention of that city has chafed at the all-comforting sense of superiority she held a second ago when she sized up my loose-haired, loose-jeaned, couldn’t-give-a-crap eyeliner look. Now her perfectly braided hair, subtle eye make-up, and her prefect’s badge don’t stand a chance against me (well, New York). It’s like she suddenly feels like the boring provincial cliché she is.

Please don’t think I’m a bitch, describing this girl like that. I’m not a bitch. Really, I’m not. It’s just that you weren’t here ten minutes ago. I swear it was surreal. She was nice as pie when Mum was here, making small talk, telling us about the school excursions and clubs and extra university prep courses they offer. Then, the minute Mum went in to chat with the senior school coordinator, she went on this total backspin from perky polite to general disinterest. All before the office door even closed.

Of course, that was before I uttered the four, golden ‘lived in New York’ words. Now she’s all ears.

So excuse me for judging, but you have to admit it’s kind of deeply shallow on her part. Like something out of a bad teen movie. She’s one of those popular girls, all shiny and judge-y and awaiting her comeuppance, the one who underestimates the new girl at the start. This, of course, casts me as the nerdy but likeable girl. The one who’ll either seek revenge on all the high-definition girls like this evenly tanned overachiever next to me or else become wildly popular by getting a makeover from a gay man, making some excellent quips, and then dating from the girl-clique’s private male gene pool property.

Believe me, people, when I say that NONE of this is going to happen. What will happen, if Mum and Dad magically convince me go to this school, is that I will put my head down and stay as invisible as humanly possible. Because if she is a taster of the school social menu, I plan to officially bow out of all interpersonal efforts.

We’ve already taken the full tour of the school and grounds, led by the blonde, in chirruping prefect mode, and the principal’s assistant. Apparently this school’s so exclusive that potential Golden Ones don’t even get to meet the principal until they’re properly signed on, fees paid. Together they schooled Mum in everything this place has to offer. Because she’ll be the one paying the fees for the Olympic swimming pool and the sky-lit art rooms, right? And while I dragged my feet behind them, I didn’t get a chance to find out if all the other students are carbon, depressing copies of this one either. All the girls (yes, only girls, which you would think would make me happy but it actually doesn’t) were tucked away in the classrooms. But my guess is, given the North Shore location and the amount of zeroes I saw on the fees list, that this sample of blonde wayyy-upper-middle-class Sydney sitting right here is probably representative enough for me to turn and run for the hills. Or at least back to the inner west.

“Like, New York, New York? Not the state,” the girl asks, wrinkling her nose slightly as if she can’t imagine that hallowed city allowing rabble like me in. Which, of course, shows how little she knows about the place. If she thinks I’m rabble, she’s got another thing coming when she and her fake designer suitcase finally make it there. If New York knows how to do anything, it’s how to produce prime rabble. It prides itself on it.

“Yes, the city,” I say patiently instead of sighing the sigh of the withering, which is what I really want to do. If I were Prim, I probably would have. I’m the kind of person who can manage to stay on the right side of polite, but Prim’s got zero tolerance for girls like this. But then, Prim’s got zero tolerance for most people. “We lived in Midtown.”

The girl looks blank.

“It’s the middle of Manhattan, near Times Square,” I explain as two girls in uniform, looking just like this one but brunette and sans prefect badge, peer into the office. One says something, and the other cackles as they pass. I shudder. Get me out of here. Now.

Blondie perks up some more. “That’s where they have the New Year’s parade?”

I nod.

“Did you go?”

I fight the urge to roll my eyes. I wouldn’t be caught dead there, fighting for a square inch of space with a gazillion tourists and out-of-towners. The parade is what television is made for. It’s for parents and old people and the rest of America to watch while New York goes out. Prim and I had planned to spend New Year’s Eve planning our New World Order. I don’t have time to fill you in on the details right now, but let me tell you this much—this girl here would have trouble surviving once we run the show.

Before I can respond, Mum is finally ejected from the coordinator’s office. I’m so relieved to see her I have to stop myself from jumping up and hugging her. She gives me a thin smile like she, too, has been to private school hell and back.

The coordinator is right behind her. She’s a shaggy middle-aged woman wearing a pastel sweater dress straight out of the eighties. Now I really feel sorry for Mum. Ten minutes in the presence of that outfit is probably pushing at the edges of human endurance.

“I hope to see you next week, Zelda,” the coordinator says to me. “Meaghan will show you back to the gate, won’t you?”

Blondie McPerfect nods enthusiastically and leads us back to the car park full of shiny land cruisers and zippy hatchbacks. She chatters all the way, practically igniting with excitement when she hears Mum’s line of work. I smirk to myself. It must be killing her that two such unimpressive-looking people’s life CVs are impressing her so much.

I tune out and watch the school go by. The playing fields are movie-set green, the sprinklers keeping the summer sun from doing its worst. That’d be right. Last night’s news said parts of the Blue Mountains are ablaze with bushfires, but North Sydney is lush.

As soon as Meaghan leaves us with a wave and a faux-friendly see you next week, I turn to Mum. “I’m not going here. No way.”

My Review:

Zelda is a sixteen year old girl in turmoil. She’s a native Aussie who’s just returned to Australia after 10 months in NYC, where she’s befriended Prim, a beautiful, caustic girl who is the object of Zel’s affection. Their parting was less-that-optimal, and Zel’s afraid that Prim hates her. Plus, she must adjust to life in Sydney, and a new school. Again.

Zel’s a good girl, and she gets along with her parents. She has no friction regarding her lesbian sexuality, but she struggles to find appropriate targets for her crushes. It’s a find line between friendship and more, she comes to realize, and she doesn’t want to make the mistake she did with Prim.

She follows her cousin Antony’s lead and takes Drama, though Zel’s terrified of performing in front of an audience. In the class she meets Michael, Ashani and Stella, and they are all mates for the big performance production they have to script for the class project. Meanwhile, Zel works hard at her photography for Art class, the project there involving developing the many rolls of flim she used to capture subway rides and exploration days with Prim, back in NYC. See, they planned to ride each line to its end, and then see where that took them. There were only three lines left after Zel made her fateful mistake, and Prim didn’t see her again before she moved.

Working with her partners is a challenge, but it becomes something really special, particularly the political action part of the performance. Zel’s captivated by the challenges of refugees living in detention colonies, and how their sense of home is skewed from that of a citizen. Stella and Zel become close as their project winds on, and it’s sweet to see how Zel misses most of the signs that Stella finds her attractive. Still, Zel needs to let go of her fascination with Prim, and that happens eventually, and in a way that was really tender.

I liked this YA romance because it really felt grounded in real life. There are no over-the-top grand gestures. Just ordinary kids muddling through and making emotional messes of themselves, before sweeping up the pieces and making it all work out. All the characters felt solid and present, and I enjoyed the by-plays and ‘drama’ of all the class drama.  Don’t expect any homophobia or tension regarding sexuality; these characters have solid support networks and courteous friends. Zel’s parents adore her, and the feeling is mutual.

I also loved the attention to setting. Zel explores her new Sydney digs, as well as relates her New York explorations via flashback. I was really taken by the sweet vignettes of each locale and Zel’s comparisons between them–and also her more sedate former home in Canberra. I felt transported via plane and subway to many places I’ve never been and others–like Coney Island–which I’ve visited, which is a big plus for me, as a reader. In short, it’s a solid read, with the appropriate level of teen angst, and some sweet tenderness at the very end. It’s an innocent book, with just a bit of kissing on the page.

Interested? You can find HERE’S THE THING on Goodreads, and pre-order it in advance of its 10/19/16 release on Ylva.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win one of 10 e-books of HERE’S THE THING.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Thirteen-year-old Emily O’Beirne woke up one morning with a sudden itch to write her first novel. All day, she sat through her classes, feverishly scribbling away (her rare silence probably a cherished respite for her teachers). And by the time the last bell rang, she had penned fifteen handwritten pages of angsty drivel, replete with blood-red sunsets, moody saxophone music playing somewhere far off in the night, and abandoned whiskey bottles rolling across tables.

Needless to say, that singular literary accomplishment is buried in a box somewhere, ready for her later amusement. From Melbourne, Australia, Emily was recently granted her PhD. She works part-time in academia, where she hates marking papers but loves working with her students. She also loves where she lives but travels as much as possible and tends to harbour crushes on cities more than on people.

Living in an apartment, Emily sadly does not possess her dream writing room overlooking an idyllic garden of her creation. Instead, she spends a lot of her time staring over the screen of her laptop and out the window at the somewhat less pretty (but highly entertaining) combined kebab stand/carwash across the road.

Catch up with Emily online on her websiteGoodreads, and twitter.
ef137-yabounktourbutton

A Great Beginning With NOT YOUR SIDEKICK–Review & Giveaway!

nys_tour_fbHi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a YA LGBTQ-friendly superhero novel that kicks off a three book series from CB Lee. NOT YOUR SIDEKICK is set in the US, a little over a century into the future, when superheros and villains take center-stage in the world…and Jess isn’t very super.

Check out the excerpt and be sure to enter the $25 GC and book giveaway below!

nys-front-900px-tumblrAbout the book:
Welcome to Andover, where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain.

On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, whom Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

How about a little taste?

His eyes glowing, he stands in the doorway. Master Mischief’s mechanical armor clanks as he steps into the room. The faded “M M” logo is blistered in purple paint on his chest.

Jess’ brain stutters. Has he figured out her parents’ secret identity? Is this is a kidnapping? A ruse to draw her parents out? She steps back and grabs for the pepper spray in her backpack, but that’ll be little help. Mischief is blocking the only exit.

He’s not an A-class villain, but Jess has never met any villain in the flesh. Despite all the funny T-shirts and silly videos of Mischief, and despite Jess’ arguments that some of what he does isn’t villainous at all, it’s hard to shake off years and years of seeing villains do terrible and destructive things in the news.

And now a villain stands in front of her; his electronic suit crackles with power.

Mischief can manipulate tech, but what is he’s doing here, in the heart of Monroe Industries? He’s certainly in his element. Anything electronic that isn’t too complicated, he can manipulate and control for a limited time. Jess has seen him direct cars to rebel against their owners and reprogram traffic lights and signs and computers.

Jess swallows and stands her ground. He’s silly. He mostly does harmless pranks. He’s ridiculous, not scary.

But it’s one thing to casually joke about villains and another to see one in person.

“I know we were deliberately vague in the job listing and interview, but I hope you understand why we needed the utmost discretion,” Mischief says. The voice is a little different than what she remembers, but that could be her imagination. It’s more electronic—is that a thing?

“Master Mischief?” Jess asks.

Mischief tilts his head; he almost fills the doorframe. But Mischief is quite a few inches shorter than Mistress Mischief, and the difference is always exaggerated in the comics.

He looks taller than Jess, and the suit—she can see black fabric at the knees under the metal armor, as if it doesn’t quite fit. And the logo is old, too; this version of the suit hasn’t been seen for at least a year. “What’s going on here?” Jess asks. “Why do you have Master Mischief’s mecha-suit?”

“Ah, I see you figured that out. I’m M, by the way. Nice to meet you.”

“Who are you?” Jess demands. “Do you actually work for Monroe Industries?”

“I’m not Master Mischief, that’s for sure. But yes, he works for Monroe Industries, and I do too. I was his assistant—am his assistant. He’s busy at the moment, and I’m running his lab in the interim.” M folds his arms and tilts his head and lights flicker without a discernible pattern on his helmet’s front panel. “You can laugh now. Villains need jobs too.”

Jess doesn’t laugh. It makes sense, actually. Mischief’s power of technological manipulation would be incredibly handy here; if his meta-powers weren’t low-level he’d be a formidable and almost unstoppable villain. As it is, he can’t use his powers for longer than probably twenty minutes at the most before he has to recharge, just like her parents. “If you’re his assistant, why don’t you have your own suit? What do you do exactly? And is this internship with Monroe Industries or with you and Master Mischief?”

M shakes his head, and makes a noise that almost sounds like a laugh before it is garbled into electronic static.

“I’m wearing an old prototype of his suit because we’ve been incredibly busy working on other projects. New mecha-suits aren’t a priority right now. And yes, you will be working for Monroe Industries, in a subsidiary with special interests. If that’s something you’re still interested in?” M asks.

“This isn’t a kidnapping, is it?”

The panel on M’s helmet blinks various shades of orange, and he throws up his hands. “No, no, absolutely not,” M says. “We wouldn’t kidnap you, do you—do you want to leave?”

My Review:
Jess has grown up in Andover, a smallish town in the Nevada desert, several hundred miles from what remained of Los Angeles, after the Disasters and World War III are just stories in history books. Nearly 100 years ago, when humanity was still fighting to survive, there was a series of large solar flares that caused cataclysmic events, and generated the first generation of meta-humans, humans with super posers, of any type.

Some, like Jess’ father and elder sister Claudia, could fly, some, like Jess’ mother, had super strength. But the degree of “super”-ness wasn’t consistent. Like, Jess’ father can fly for about an hour before he needs to rest and recharge his strength, while Claudia can fly for several hours without fatigue. Jess’ parents were refugees from Asian countries who emigrated to the North American Collective years ago–and were welcomed due to their meta-human status.

Jess, well, she can’t to anything super. She’s tried, and tried to determine if she has any recognizable power, but she’s sure that’s not the case, and with her 17th birthday looming, she’s sure none will surface. Being a Meta-Human and training to help others is Jess’ ambition, and without any trace of powers that seems impossible to occur. So, she decides to give up wishing for powers and look for a job. She’s hired as an intern at Monroe Industries, where they make MonRobots–personal helpers in the home, like Roombas with Artificial Intelligence–so they serve as housepets, too. Only the very wealthy can afford actual pets in these times.

Jess has two close friends, Emma and Bells–who is trans–and she has a crush on the beautiful Abby. Though Jess identifies as bisexual, she’s never dated anyone, and has been attracted to Abby for two years…in secret. Imagine her delight/dismay when it turns out Abby is also interning at Monroe. While working with the mecha-girl, “M” who is her supervisor and an assistant to the C-class villian Mister Mischief, Jess gains a new insight into the hero/villain feuds that loom within the North American Collective–the governmental agency covering the populace within what remains of the US. Jess now notices all the superhero fights seem choreographed, and the villains/heroes seem…off. Plus, she’s noticing inconsistencies in her NAC-monitored e-textbooks and NAC-controlled holonews. Villains are seemingly missing, but never reported captured or incarcerated. Where are they? Jess had already wondered, as her parents had a duty to defend Andover from the nefarious shenanigans of Mister and Mistress Mischief–but no one had seen the fiendish duo in months…

While Jess works for M, she also develops a closeness with both M and Abby, and that’s a lot more delightful. They make a great team, and spend hours building a friendship, though Jess fears letting her attraction become known and chasing Abby away. Little does she suspect Abby and M are very much the same. Also, Jess enjoys the idea that she may be helping her parents’ nemesis’ as she feels very much left out of the super loop. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the “Heroes” arent’ doing very heroic things, and there’s a vast conspiracy in the NAC–using the heroes–to destabilize power in adjacent parts of the world. It’s also clear that the “villains” might be prisoners of the system, and subject to inhumane experimentation. This is a nightmare scenario, and it seems Jess’ sister Claudia might be in the mix.

This was an engaging read. Jess is an ordinary girl, wishing to be “more” and she strives to find how she could be helpful, useful, to humanity. Her friendships with Emma and Bells are sweet, and her growing relationship with Abby proceeds cautiously. Expect some kissing and not much else. That said, there’s all the emotional highs and lows of crushes, and first love. Plus, there’s the whole superhero intrigue, and a government plot that’s up to the kids to unravel and reveal. I really enjoyed the world-building here, and this dystopian futurescape was really well-described and considered. The romance is a significant part of the story, but the same importance and careful attention is given to the mystery and the adventure. Jess learns that she does have some powers, and that she’s not destined to be a sidekick, but an equal in a real partnership–with Abby. I also loved that Jess is Chinese-and-Vietnamese, and her compelling experiences as “other”–not being Asian enough/white enough…which is an unique conundrum that I generally enjoy exploring.

The book ends with a comfortable resolution; not all the plot threads are tied tight, but what remains is clearly the larger plot arcs regarding the government conspiracies regarding meta-human tracking and imprisonment. Years of testing have resulted in serums that can enhance or remove a meta-humans powers, and the stage is set for some real family drama–and battles–to come. It’s billed as a three book series, and I can’t wait to read the next installment. Due to the “superhero” aspect of the plot, expect some charming comic-type art within the book, as well.

Interested? You can find NOT YOUR SIDEKICK on Goodreads, Interlude Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, AllRomance, Smashwords, Book Depository, and Indiebound.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 GC to Interlude Press, or one of FIVE e-books of NOT YOUR SIDEKICK.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
C.B. Lee is a bisexual writer, rock climber, and pinniped enthusiast from Southern California. A first-generation Asian American, she is passionate about working in communities of color and empowering youth to be inspired to write characters and stories of their own. Lee’s debut novel Seven Tears at High Tide was published by Duet Books in 2015 and named a finalist in the Bisexual Books Awards. This summer, C.B. was named to Lambda Literary’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices.

You can find C B online on her website, Goodreads, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Out Today! INTO YOU Release Day Blitz and Excerpt!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a release day blitz for an upper YA/New Adult-ish M/M romance from Jay Northcote. You know I’ve totally enjoyed other New Adult titles from this author, including HELPING HAND, LIKE A LOVER and PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT, but INTO YOU is a totally different kind of book. It features younger boys who seemed destined to be besties forever, until one kiss throws them for a loop–and how they NOW get back to being real.

intoyouAbout the book:
What do you do when the body you wake up in isn’t yours?
Olly and Scott promised to be best friends forever. They grew up on the same street, went to the same school, and did everything together. But one hot summer night, teenage experimentation caused hurt feelings and confusion, and their friendship was destroyed.

Four years later they’re both eighteen years old and in their final term at school. Scott is a football star and Olly’s preparing for a main role in the school play. After a heated argument in the street—witnessed by their mysterious, elderly neighbour—they wake up the next morning stuck in each other’s bodies.

With no idea how to get back to normal, they have to co-operate in order to hide their secret. Spending time together rekindles their friendship, yet feelings run deeper for both of them. With the end of school fast approaching, the clock is ticking. Unless they discover how to change back, they could be stuck in the wrong bodies forever.

A little taste…

The sound of music playing pulled Scott from a thick blanket of sleep into wakefulness. He lay curled on his side; his room was darker than usual, as though someone had come in and closed the blinds while he slept. His bed felt weird, softer than it should be, and it smelled different.

He sat up, blinking in confusion as he looked around. He took in the room, the details unclear in the half-light that crept around the edges of the blind, but it was enough for him to realise where he was.

The posters on the wall were new, but the layout hadn’t changed in four years.

What the fuck?

It wasn’t possible. Logic told Scott there was no way this could be happening.

He’d gone to sleep in his own bed—he hadn’t been drunk or high. So why the hell was he waking up in Olly’s room with no recollection of how he got there? And where the hell was Olly? The music that had woken him was coming from a phone on a docking station by the bed. He picked it up and pressed some buttons until it stopped. His brain was fogged with sleep and he couldn’t think clearly.

Scott got out of bed on shaky legs. His hip ached as though it was bruised. Actually, his whole body felt weird. Perhaps he was sick? Maybe this was all some bizarre hallucination?

Pulling the cord to raise the blind, Scott flooded the room with light. He looked down at himself, only….

He closed his eyes and shook his head. When he opened them again, he still didn’t see himself. His body was too thin, his skin too pale, the hair on his legs darker than usual, and he definitely didn’t own any snug purple briefs like the ones he was currently wearing.

Stomach roiling with disbelief and terror, Scott turned to the full-length mirror on the wall and blinked.

Olly’s reflection stared back looking as horrified as Scott felt. Scott raised his hands to his face, and so did Olly in the mirror.

“This isn’t happening,” he said.

The voice was Olly’s too, softer and a little higher-pitched than Scott’s own.

It was the weirdest, most vivid dream Scott had ever had.

He pinched himself hard. “Ouch!”

Why wasn’t he waking up?

* * * * * * * *

Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep!

Olly shot up, heart pounding at the shrill sound. He opened his eyes and blinked in the sunlight.

Ugh. Too bright.

He looked around wildly and closed his eyes again, refusing to believe what he saw. Obviously he wasn’t awake yet because he couldn’t be in Scott’s room. He hadn’t set foot in Scott’s house in years.

Olly cracked his eyes open again but still saw the white walls, the posters of Scott’s football heroes that Olly remembered from years ago, and the freakishly tidy desk that definitely wasn’t his.

The alarm clock by the bed was still making an awful racket, so he found the button to silence it.

“Scott?” he said hesitantly, then coughed.

What the fuck was wrong with his throat? His voice was deep and rough sounding. Oh God, no, please don’t let him be getting a cold. He couldn’t afford to lose his voice with all the play rehearsals coming up.

He pushed the duvet off and swung his legs around to get out of bed. He’d find Scott and work out what the hell was going on. Maybe he had some weird amnesia after his accident yesterday, although he hadn’t hit his head. There had to be some explanation for why he was apparently in Scott’s bed rather than his own.

Then Olly looked down at his legs—and froze.

They were thicker and more muscular than they should be. Olly only dreamed of having legs like that. The hairs on them were light brown instead of dark, the skin more tanned. He looked at his hands, they were all wrong too, thicker and sturdier than they should be. He lifted one to run it through his hair, the way he often did in times of crisis.

“What the fuck?” No long floppy fringe falling in his eyes. Instead he found short-cropped hair and his ear piercings were gone.

Now convinced he was dreaming, because that was the only possible explanation, Olly got up to look in the mirror. Scott’s handsome face stared back at him, the mouth slack with surprise and the blue eyes wide.

Olly shook his head in disbelief. No way could this be happening. No way. This was the stuff of Hollywood movies, not reality. But cold, creeping panic rose in his gut, because apart from the fact that he appeared to be in the wrong body, everything else felt normal. Way too normal for it to be a dream.

“No,” he said loudly, putting his hands up and touching Scott’s nose, Scott’s cheekbones, Scott’s lips. He felt every brush of his fingertips. “Oh, Jesus Christ on a bike, this is not happening. No.”

I seriously LOVED this. Expect my review next week.

Interested? You can find INTO YOU on Goodreads, Amazon (US and UK)

About the Author:
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England, with her husband, two children, and two cats. She comes from a family of writers, but she always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed her by. She spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content. One day, she decided to try and write a short story–just to see if she could–and found it rather addictive. She hasn’t stopped writing since.

You can find Jay on her website, Twitter, Facebook Author Page, and Amazon.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

signal boost

Paranormal Lovin’ WRIGGLE AND SPARKLE-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a newly released paranormal M/M police shifter romance from Megan Derr. WRIGGLE AND SPARKLE is unlike most shifter stories, in that, the main characters are a kraken and a unicorn. While this is MOSTLY a M/M romance, there are M/F elements, because, well…krakens can change gender. Which I found to be fantastic. This book made me smile all day and half the night.

Wriggle & SparkleAbout the book:
Lynn is a kraken shifter in every way: detailed, tenacious, resilient, and hard-working. Also possessive, vain, arrogant, and demanding. It makes him an excellent agent for the Federal Bureau of Paranormal Security and Investigation—and impossible to work with, as the long list of partners who have transferred away from him will attest.

His newest partner is a unicorn, possibly the worst type of paranormal for work that often turns ugly and violent. Everyone knows unicorns are too delicate for such things. Then Anderson proves to be a unicorn like no other, the kind of partner Lynn has always wanted—the kind of partner he wishes was more. But if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s that the only thing harder to keep than a partner is a lover.

Warning: Contains tentacle porn.

My Review:
This is a collection of paranormal M/M romance novellas that feature the “Paranormal FBI” partners Lynn Seymour, a kraken shifter, and Anderson Meadows, a unicorn shifter.

Soon into their first case together Lynn and Anderson begin a very delicious and dirty sexual relationship. I was enthralled with the variety and intensity of sexytimes these two got up to, especially as Lynn, being a kraken, can change his sex. Anderson seems to prefer the male Lynn, but he has no trouble loving up the lady bits either, when Lynn goes undercover.

There are five or six novellas that follow “Wriggly” and “Sparkleson” as they build a life together, even if their work partnership fizzles. I really enjoyed their hi jinks and how they were smart investigators–and handled all the misadventures they got rolled up into, even by accident. I don’t want to reveal all the fun stuff. I came into the book expecting to be amused, and that expectation was absolutely exceeded.

Lynn is a wealthy kraken, who will spare no expense for his beautiful, snarky Sparkleson. Anderson had never planned to settle down, but he is enthralled by Lynn’s possessiveness and deep affection. Oh, and the sex is phenomenal. Tentacles abound. And, later on, lady-bits, too. There’s so much variety that Anderson never needs to look for another partner. Lynn’s love for Anderson knows no limits and Anderson’s amazed to realize this is the case for him, too.

Expect meddling family, murderous family, snark, snark and more snark, spoiling of a unicorn, the thorough taking of one shifter by another on the regular, many solved crimes and bad guys brought to justice, and a happily ever after so sweet I need a dental x-ray.

Interested? You can find WRIGGLE & SPARKLE on Goodreads, Less Than Three Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance. 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!

Cephalopod Coffeehouse July 2016–Discovering the Truth of TWO BOYS KISSING–A Review

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Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

Today I’m sharing a review for a fantastic YA book by David Levithan. I first read his collaboration on WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON with John Green, but TWO BOYS KISSING is his own work, and it is staggering. It won the Stonewall Book Award, and Mr. Levithan was honored with the 2016 Margaret A Edwards Award in June. You may want to check out his acceptance speech, which is fantastic.

Two Boys KissingAbout the book:
New York Times bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

My Review:
I wonder if I can get this book on my son’s high school’s reading list. Truly.

Two Boys Kissing is an interesting and engaging read following the lives of roughly nine characters over a weekend. The focal point of the book is a Guinness World Record breaking kiss–32 hours and change long. It happens between two former boyfriends, to raise awareness of homophobia, specifically a hate-crime beating of a classmate. In the tapestry of the story we encounter two boys who meet at a gay prom, and experience the newness of first attraction/love. We experience the sedate affection of an out couple, who still struggle to define their identities. And, we follow a loner boy whose world implodes when his parents discover he is gay.

The narrator is a haunting Greek chorus of the dead. Gay men who were beaten, murdered, slayed by their own hand, or ripped away by the chilled fingers of AIDS. The insight, the care, the lightness of this chorus of men I wished I’d known brings me, as a reader, personal melancholy.
Such waste. Such misfortune. Such tragedy.

Still:

We do not want to haunt you too somberly. We don’t want our legacy to be gravitas. You wouldn’t want to live your life like that, either. Your mistake would be to find our commonality in our dying. The living part mattered more.
We taught you how to dance.

No, the chorus is there to hover and inform, not imbue with guilt.

There are few things that can make us quite as happy as a gay prom.

Ignorance is not bliss. Bliss is knowing the full meaning of what you have been given.

There is a power in saying, I am not wrong. Society is wrong. Because there is no reason that men and women should have separate bathrooms. There is no reason that we should ever be ashamed of our bodies or ashamed of our love. We are told to cover ourselves up, hide ourselves away, so that other people can have control over us, can make us follow their rules. It is a bastardization of the concept of morality, this rule of shame.

I seriously had chills in reading this book. At the heart of it, Craig and Harry are two boys who are willing to make a public stand. Their classmate Tariq was assaulted by a group of gay-bashers while waiting for his father to pick him up from the movies. He was alone, and wondered how they knew. Through careful omniscient vignettes we learn that Craig is closeted, on the verge of coming out, while Harry is out. Harry’s parents are supportive, and when Craig is overwhelmed with sadness following Tariq’s beating and their budding friendship, he enlists Harry’s help taking a stand–doing something the fallen couldn’t even contemplate in their time: planning a public kiss to beat all others.

Meanwhile, nearby, Neil and his boyfriend Peter have many a date night. Peter’s parents are cool with him being out. Neil’s parents silently accept, but do not openly approve of their son. They experience the moments of Craig and Harry’s kiss via the live webcast, but also in person when they are compelled to be there, to witness a moment in history that is specifically relevant to them.

Meanwhile, nearby, the GSAs of neighboring high schools have organized a gay prom in a community center, and blue-haired Ryan meets pink-haired Avery. Can Ryan accept that Avery was born different? Those moments of sheer magic, finding a kindred spirit, and potential partner. Potential joy and potential pain are in high concentration.

Meanwhile, nearby, Cooper’s father sneaks into his room to discover the explicit chatting he’s been doing on gay websites. The rage is astounding, and sets depressed and despondent Cooper on a reckless search for something, something more than the nothing of his life and how he feels about himself.

The story is fiction based on an historic record-setting kiss between two college boys. The characters in this story are all teen boys in high school. Parallels to their experiences are being drawn throughout, and when tragedy seems to be about to strike, there is still hope. The kiss is not without problems. Both Craig and Harry must stand the entire time, lips touching. There is no time for toilet breaks, to eat, barely enough to take a sip of water via a lip-locked straw. No one can hold them up, or prop them in any way. Haters come to call and attempt assault, despite the presence of law enforcement. The kiss is live-streamed, news broadcast and subject to grave disapproval–of the parental kind. Distractions abound, and at any moment either Craig or Harry could succumb to the fatigue that is tearing at them, but they strive to achieve what neither could have done alone: be a beacon of hope, be an agent of change on an international level.

It’s hard for me to read a book with no chapters. Life intrudes, and makes me need to “find a stopping place.” This book made me never want to stop, despite the life intruding part.

Interested? You can find TWO BOYS KISSING on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores and libraries everywhere.

About the Author:
David Levithan is an American children’s book editor and award-winning author. He published his first YA book, Boy Meets Boy, in 2003. Levithan is also the founding editor of PUSH, a Young Adult imprint of Scholastic Press.

You can catch up to him on his website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and, maybe, head on over to my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers, to see what books they found most interesting this past month.