Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary transgender M/M romance newly released from Jay Northcote. SECOND CHANCE is a mature romance for two old mates who’ve reconnected under strained circumstances. Nate fell hard for Jack when they were schoolmates, but a lot has changed in twenty years…. Can their rekindled friendship ever be more?

About the book:
Everyone deserves a second chance.
Nate and his teenage daughter need a fresh start, so they move back to the village where he grew up. Nate’s transgender, and not used to disclosing his history, so it’s hard living where people knew him before. When Nate reconnects with Jack–his best friend from school and unrequited crush–his feelings return as strong as ever.

Jack’s returned home to get his life in order after an addiction to alcohol caused him to lose everything: his job, his driver’s licence, and nearly his life. He’s living with his parents, which is less than ideal, but rekindling his friendship with Nate–or Nat as Jack once knew him–is an unexpected benefit of being back home. Jack is amazed by Nate’s transformation, and can’t deny his attraction. Trying for more than friendship might ruin what they already have, but the chemistry between them is undeniable.

Doubting his feelings are reciprocated, Nate fears he’s risking heartbreak. Jack’s reluctance to tell his parents about their relationship only reinforces Nate’s misgivings. With both their hearts on the line and their happiness at stake, Jack needs to make things right, and Nate has to be prepared to give him a second chance.

How about a little taste?

A hint of cigarette smoke carried on the wind caught Nate’s attention, and he realised he wasn’t alone. A hunched figure sat on a bench by the church. Wearing a heavy coat with the hood up, their head hung low staring at the grass between their feet rather than at the landscape stretched out before them. A cigarette hung from bony fingers that protruded from black fingerless gloves. As Nate watched, the man—because Nate could see his face now—raised his head to take a long drag before stubbing the cigarette out on the bench.

A shock of recognition made Nate’s heart jump, thudding erratically. Jack.

Torn between conflicting urges to approach and flee, Nate stared at him, powerless to move.

How many years had it been since Nate had seen him? At forty-five Nate found each year passed faster than the one before. It must have been twenty years at least since he’d seen Jack, maybe more, and longer still since they’d spoken properly. Their last meeting had been nothing more than an awkward exchange of greetings when they ran into each other in the village pub one Christmas. The distance between them had cut Nate like a knife, so different to their teenage years when they’d been best friends, and almost inseparable.

Jack slumped forward again, letting the cigarette butt fall from his fingers. He put his hands over his face and Nate recognised despair and hopelessness, because they’d been his companions in the past. Acting on instinct, he approached.

“Sorry to intrude,” he said, pausing in front of Jack. “But are you okay? Is there anything I can do?”

Jack jerked his head up in surprise. His pale cheeks flushed as he shook his head. “Not really. Just having a bad day. You know how it is… or maybe you don’t.”

“I do.”

Nate studied him. The years had changed Jack, of course, but the essence of him was still the same. Sharp features, the strong nose Jack had always hated, even more defined with age, but more balanced now with dark stubble and the lines that the years were beginning to carve around his eyes and mouth.

As Jack stared back, Nate realised there was no recognition dawning on Jack’s face. To Jack, Nate was a stranger. Five years on testosterone had changed Nate to a point where Jack couldn’t see the person Nate had been before. Normally this was something Nate was glad about, but now he felt a pang of regret.

My Review:

Nate and Jack were the best of friends in school, but that was twenty-five years ago. And, Nate was Natalie, back then. Nate had a terrifying crush on Jack, who was out-gay before they left for uni, and he couldn’t bear to here of Jack’s sexy exploits so he dropped their friendship.

Nate’s sexual dysmorphia continued to grow into his twenties, even after having a child. Near his late thirties he recognized he was trans, and has had treatment since–to the point where he “passes,” which is a bit of a situation when he runs into Jack back in their small hometown.  Nate and his duaghter have moved to live in a smaller locale, and share Nate’s childhood home with his mum. Jack had a terrible break-up and became alcoholic, lost his license and job and is rebuilding at his parent’s home now.

Jack thinks Nate is a sexy man–and Nate’s not about to correct his misunderstanding on how they’ve known each other years–until it sort of washes out on a chance encounter. Still, Jack’s intrigued and Nate’s still suffering that darned crush. They agree to strike up their friendship once again, and soon add the physical. Because friends-with-benefits is sure to preserve their hearts. Jack doesn’t want to fall in love again, and Nate’s afraid to upset his life with more drama–now that his daughter’s well-recovered from some teenaged-angst/depression.

As with all books from Northcote, this one’s a steamer. It’s also sensitive, and engages the reader in the struggle for trans acceptance. The situation, coming “home” changed irrevocably but having acquaintances not honor that, is tense, and both Jack and Nate feel the pressure at times. Jack’s parents are rather boorish about it, often using wrong pronouns and calling Nate by his dead name. It’s upsetting, and Nate and Jack both must struggle through. Jack’s decisions aren’t the best in this regard, because he really cares for Nate, and is afraid to have he heart broken yet again.

I liked the shenanigans these two get up to, trying to have some private time in a place where privacy is at a premium, and watchful eyes abound. It’s a sweet and tender mature romance, and it had both gravitas and respect for person and situation. And steam. Don’t forget the steam.

Interested? You can find SECOND CHANCE on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.

One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has five books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.

Jay is transgender and was formerly known as she/her.

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

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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Kids Mastering THE ART OF BEING NORMAL–Cephalopod Coffeehouse Review May 2016

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.

This month I’m sharing a book that I totally enjoyed and think is a truly relevant read in this time of unsettling fears (unfounded IMHO) regarding transgender persons and their rights to free access/privacy. THE ART OF BEING NORMAL is a look into the life of teens who face gender dysmorphia–and may seek to transition. It’s a really excellent read I’d recommend to readers of all ages.

About the book:
Two boys. Two secrets.
David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…

My Review:
This is a contemporary YA story about two teenagers struggling with gender identity. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so forgive me if this is a little light on plot summary.

The book is set in England, and is delightful in its Britishness.

David Piper wants to be a girl. He’s 14 and tracking how his “alien” body grows and sprouts and becomes something he cannot tolerate. Everyone thinks he’s gay–but he believes he’s a girl trapped in a male body, and spends hours lounging in cast-off girl clothes when his family is out and he is alone. He is a social misfit, having only two friends–and wants so desperately to tell his parents how he truly feels–that he is transgender–but is afraid to disappoint them. David attends Eden Park school, housed in a rather affluent neighborhood, and yet still containing all the rude elements of teen society–David’s bullied mercilessly by a group of classmates.

Leo Denton lives in Cloverdale, a very poor neighborhood. I believe the term “Council Estates” is one that would be applied–which is the British equivalent of “welfare housing” in the States. It’s a mess of a place and he and his two sisters live with their mother, a gal very much in the market for a decent man. Leo’s father split before he was even born, and Leo idolizes the idea of having a father. That isn’t so hard when his homelife is dismal. Leo was a star pupil at the Cloverdale school, he’s brilliant at Maths, but an “incident” has caused him to transfer to Eden Park.

David wants to reach out to Leo, senses his deep loneliness, but Leo brushes off most attempts at friendship, including David’s. Leo wants to keep his head down and not cause a stir–even though the whole of Eden Park’s students think Leo must have been a troublemaker–maybe even violent–to allow his transfer. One day, when David is being tormented by the bullies, Leo snaps–his temper really has been a problem in the past. Their mutual punishment–detention–puts them in close proximity. Leo feels bad for David, sees something in him that he recognizes in himself, and he offers to help David in math–a subject David is failing.

They develop a tentative friendship, and this is problematic for Leo. As is his attraction and budding friendship (maybe more) with Alicia a self-styled singer/songwriter and one of the class’ most popular girls.

This is such a fantastic and affirming story. There’s a bit of a love interest brewing between Alicia and Leo which leads to consequences only Leo could have seen coming. David is Leo’s staunchest friend and supporter, and when things go bad at school it is David who tries to fix them. David has his own challenges, and being friends with Leo, and learning from Leo’s struggles, allows him to build the skills and strength necessary to come out to his parents, and begin the path towards transitioning therapies. I don’t want to say that things got easier for David after those revelations, but many of his fears were assuaged and his contentment regarding becoming his true self: “Kate” was so spectacularly joyous.

This is a teen book, but it’s really clean. Also, it’s touching and tender and poignant and captivating. I found myself so rooting for both David and Leo to find their own “normal” which required them to be honest, build friendships and allies, and those activities surely assisted them in reaching their goals. It was a fantastic read for teens, particularly those who may also be questioning their gender identity. I say this because it was a candidly told story that felt relatable and with sufficient depth of both character and plot to be a realistic emotional resource. I really enjoyed!

Interested? You can find THE ART OF BEING NORMAL on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Paperback copies are on sale right now, but the ebook and hardcover will be released May 31st. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Be sure to hop on over to all the other blogs sharing their fave book of the month, and keep reading my friends!

Not Comfortable IN HER SKIN–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a YA book from Trina Sotira, an author a met a few weeks ago at a book signing. IN HER SKIN introduces us to Tirzah/Troy a male-identifying transgender teen, who desperately wants to find love with his best friend, Heidi.

Now, please, I am no expert on transgender issues. If anything, I am sympathetic and wish to understand more. I admit naivete to transgender persons in my childhood, but watched BOYS DON’T CRY in my twenties. The poignancy of the pain of discrimination, the brutality, and the lack of connection chilled me.

Over the years, because I embrace human equality as a concept, I found myself without qualms whenever faced with transgender issues in the media and my own life. Earlier this year I watched the moving Youtube presentation of Ryland Whittington and began to realize that transitioning children seem to know very early on that they are in the WRONG body, and swift parents can be a real help to their kids–perhaps save their lives.

Last year one of the contestants for Miss Universe was a TG woman, and there is a rise in androgenous and TG fashion models, most recently Andreja Pejic came out as a TG woman. So, slowly, TG persons are finding a place in society–I hope that mainstream acceptance will become the new normal soon, before more lives are lost.

In Her Skin
About the book:
Tirzah would do anything to cover up her girl body: duct taping her chest, dressing like a guy at the skate park, even changing her name. But two things are holding her back from transitioning into an all-male body: her best friend Heidi and a full-ride soccer scholarship. And when Heidi’s family disapproves of Tirzah’s transition into Troy, Heidi disappears.

College instructor and former television journalist Trina Sotira challenges religious, gender, and social boundaries in this fast-paced adventure filled with love, friendship, and self-discovery.

My Review:
Tirzah/Troy is a male-identifying TG teen in his senior year of high school. (It is my understanding that TG persons wish to be addressed by gendered pronouns to which they identify, so I will use the male, throughout.) He is a star soccer goalie with dreams of college, these dreams shared by his involved father. His mother doesn’t understand Troy’s dress–he’s not into the frilly pink designer stuff she wishes to lavish on her “daughter” but Tirzah/Troy rarely visits his mother, who happens to be a TV news anchor in Chicago.

Tirzah/Troy has a deep love for his best friend, Heidi, who is a Bengali girl in a deeply traditional Muslim family in the suburbs of Chicago. Heidi has more than a passing affection for Tirzah/Troy, but prefers to date wild American boys–including the party boy JC–against her parent’s expressed wishes. In fact, Heidi uses Tirzah/Troy as a shield–her parents see that Tirzah/Troy is a girl, even if “she” dresses oddly, so Heidi is allowed to spend time with “her”…at first.

Soon, Heidi’s escapades with JC cause big problems, not just with her parents. Tirzah/Troy desperately wishes to be a romantic part of Heidi’s life. There are hints that this happens, but Tirzah/Troy also knows that it will only occur in private–as Heidi and all his friends still see him as a girl. JC even threatens to “out” Troy as a girl to some skateboarding friends they share, in order to ensure Tirzah/Troy’s cooperation in dating Heidi on the down-low.

Tirzah/Troy is not alone, however. His baffled father is supportive, to some degree. Girls on his soccer team are also cool with his transition–one is REALLY cool with it. Tirzah/Troy invests more of himself into transitioning, but his “maleness” begins to worry Heidi’s parents, and that–coupled with Heidi’s lies about JC–leads to some serious problems in their friendship.

Despite bullying, and complete separation from his mother, Tirzah/Troy aims to move forward in his transition, meeting other TG persons and allies along the way. He even tries to see if his college scholarship will apply if he plays for the men’s soccer team.

This is a deeply emotional story, with well-researched characters and moments of extreme anguish to which any teen (regardless of gender/sexuality issues) can relate. In the end, all people wish to find love and acceptance in their lives–and Tirzah/Troy is no different. His love for Heidi drives him to deny himself for a long time, and he is still an amazing friend to her. Heidi is, herself, very conflicted with her love for Tirzah/Troy and her culture-clash as a “traditional” Muslim girl in “modern” American society.

It’s a positive story that I think TG kids will really enjoy. It suffered a little from being, perhaps, too rushed at the end. I really wondered what happened to Heidi, and if Tirzah/Troy should have gone to see her that one last time, but it ends with a boatload of hope and acceptance for Tirzah/Troy’s transition, for which I think readers will be happy. There are some instances of drug use, self-mutilation, and sexual experimentation, but it’s done well, and should be no issue for older teen readers.

Interested? You can find IN HER SKIN on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
A former television news producer and long-time member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, Trina Sotira has spent over a decade writing for large audiences. Her academic work and Creative Writing studies have been featured at the Illinois Reading Council, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, SCBWI-Illinois, and ABC-7’s “Chicagoing.” She teaches Fiction Writing, Creative Writing, and Composition as a faculty instructor at College of DuPage under her dinosaur name: Trina Sotirakopulos.

You can find Trina on her website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends! 🙂