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 the Will To Go On–ON CHOCORUA–A Review

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

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

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

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

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

Walk with him.

My Review:
Nathan Bartlett was orphaned at the age of one, and raised by his maternal grandmother with his sister Nina (a year older) and his eldest brother Neil who is six years older. Nathan has always looked up to Neil as more of a father-figure than a brother, and loves him dearly. Neil’s favorite activity of all time is hiking, and there’s plenty of it to do in their native New Hampshire. Nathan never hiked with his brother as the opening of the story is Nathan preparing to climb Chocorua peak alone, in memory of Neil. So, we start at the resolution, and then Nathan leads us backwards on his tale of woe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!